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Sponsorship

YourLogoHereNot so long ago, doing laps around the park, we came upon some guy from a new team consisting primarily of Cat IVs (the team was advertised as such which is why we knew.)  The jersey was decked out with sponsor logos.  Someone questioned how the heck a Cat IV team could have so much sponsorship.  Simple, sponsorship is a myth.

Sponsorship at our level comes in two forms: the benefactor and the discount deal.  That’s not to say that some teams get true sponsorship money (i.e., advertising dollars spent to associate a product or company with a team) – some local teams do get that kind of money and a lot of it.  They’re just the exception rather than the rule.

The benefactor is straight forward.  Someone knows someone who a) has in interest in the team for whatever reason (e.g., relative of a rider, a person who loves cycling and what’s to be associated with a team in some way, etc.) and b) has the wherewithal to provide the money.  Over the years, we’ve had the parent of a rider who gave us money under the “guise” of having the logo of the company he worked for on our jersey.  We’ve had the doctor of a rider give money because he was into cycling and it allowed him to be closer to the team.  We’ve had the owner of a company who wanted some kit also give money.   What none of those “sponsors” expected was to get anything back for their investment other than the kit we promised them.

The discount deal is probably the most common form of sponsorship.  A business will offer the team members a discounted price on their products in exchange for their logo placement on the kit.  The most common of these is the bike shop sponsor, followed quickly by the cycling-related business (for several years we had Gu give us an athlete-deal.)  Sometimes it’s not even a cycling related company – we once had a new local brewer offer to give us beer in exchange for a logo on our jersey – but it always a product that local riders might have an interest in.  The “investment” here makes sense because a) the company is getting money for their product, and if I had to guess, still making a profit on it and b) these products are typically geared at amateur cyclists, who not only see the brand name on the jersey, but generally get to see the product in use at the same time.

The reason that local teams don’t get true sponsorship or a lot of it, anyway, is simple.  They don’t have anything to offer.  They’re not on TV, they’re not in the press, they don’t generate interest – it’s not like a million people are tuning in around the globe to see who’s winning the Spring Series in Central Park.  Sure cycling continues to grow as a sport in the US, but  how many people outside of the handful of cyclists (and we are a relative handful compared to the masses) even see other jerseys let alone take the time to see who is “sponsoring” the team.  There’s nothing in it for the sponsor.  Zero, nada, niente, zilch.  So the next time you see a jersey covered in logos on some local amateur, don’t believe the hype. 

For years, I put together a sponsorship proposal and sent it out diligently.  We had some successes, but by and large mostly discount deals were on offer.  Finally, a couple years back after thinking about, the core of our team came to the decision that we wouldn’t seek any more sponsorship.  Sure we’d love to not to have to pay for our kit, but in the end we enjoy not having anyone tell us what races to do or when to race or the number of races we have to do even more.

That said, anyone want to sponsor us for the upcoming season?  I’d still like some free kit.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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Friday’s Bell Lap

Humility
From time to time I’ve mentioned that I find the local cycling scene, or more accurately local cyclists annoying (we’ll, maybe I’ve implied it more than directly written in).  Here’s an example of why.

Rider X was lamenting the fact that his kit was slightly different from the kit of his two teammates, each of whose kit, coincidently, was also slightly different.  This was on the start line of a cross race, where I’ve been told an eerie quiet descends before the gun.  Rider X was then heard to say something to the effect that he’d call his the state track champion’s skinsuit.  Reportedly loud enough for everyone to hear, of course.

Why is that at the lower levels of our sport, and let’s face it, apart from the odd occurrence, e.g., George Hincapie, the very best cyclist in New York is still a pimple on the derriere of cycling in the grand scheme of things, the backs are always arched and the attitude always rides high?  As a bunch, and I know it’s a gross generalization, but in all the years I’ve been riding and racing, I’ve found it to be a fairly accurate one, the local peloton is brash, unwelcoming and unfriendly.  Newbies suck, that guy’s not as good as me, I did that hill in this time, look at that Fred, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Gus have so narrowly defined themselves that their self-esteem seems wrapped up in being a “cyclist” and towards that end, they have to stand up and shout their accomplishments, lest someone not know and think any less of them because of a poor showing.

I debated about writing about Rider X (and in fact called him Rider X) because I heard everything secondhand.  But I have had enough firsthand experience with him to believe that there isn’t any embellishment.  It’s always all about him.  This is the same guy who shows up to a 9W training ride with tubulars (borrowed tubulars no less).  This is the same guy whose teammates buy him breakfast when they’re on training rides.  No big deal in-of-itself until you decide to publically note the fact and lament that your teammates weren’t around on particular ride so you didn’t know where your snack iscoming from.  Maybe I’m picking on Rider X because I personally find him annoying and yet he’s managed to infiltrate my riding circle.  But, he’s not alone, especially not in the local peloton.

I’ve had the luck and good fortune to ride with some of the best the sport has to offer, all of whose names I’ve invariably dropped at some point (and am happy to do so again) in the course of writing A View From The Back – Fondriest, Tafi, Moser, Cassani, Motta, Clerici, Scinto, Sorensen, O’Neill, Fornaciari, Biasci, Magrini.  Holding aside Moser and Sorensen (exceptions that prove the rule perhaps), they were all incredibly approachable, friendly and modest.  While their fortunes are tied up in the fact that they are pros or ex-pros, they never give you the impression that they define themselves in terms of their cycling.  Sure it’s easier for them in some respects.  They’ve got nothing to prove to anyone.  Their accomplishments on the bike speak for themselves, and for the most part, they are still able to ride you into the ground.  But they’ve also got to listen to every cockamamie cycling story and inane question and they do so with grace. 

Not the local rider though.  They scoff at everyone and everything because they’re racers.  More than anything else though it’s the insecurity that baffles me.  I’ve no doubt Rider X’s comments were made because he knew he was not going to do well in that cross race.  In his insecurity, he had to let everyone know that he is a great, amateur track racer.  So insecure that he judges himself and therefore believes everyone else does so as well, on his performance at any given race.  Why else would anyone have the need to proclaim their championship to the masses in a completely different discipline?   How sad.

Of course, you should take racing seriously and do everything you can to do as well as you can, just as you should thoroughly enjoy the results you might reap.  And yes, I get that you do need to have some of that ubiquitous killer attitude to do well.  And that’s fine.  But at the end of the day it’s just a bike race and amateur one at that.  There’s so much more to life.  A little perspective goes a long way, especially once you figure out that there’s more to life than how you raced yesterday.  Heck, might even make you a little happier too.  That would bode well for the rest of us.

Random Pic
Thanks to No One Line who tweeted this rather funny cartoon.

Recumbents

Especially for MtJ
Get your umbrella out because you’re going to need it.  See you Tuesday.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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VueltaEnough with the once-a-minute twitter updates on what’s happening in the Vuelta.  Who cares?  It’s enought to make one swear off the internet.

Except for the Spanish or and the Basque (apparently there is a difference) does anyone actually care about the Vuelta a Espana?  Apart from the Spanish riders, unless a guy missed or had a poor showing at the Tour de France, thinks he’s in contention for the Worlds or happens to be unfortunate enough to ride for Team Saxo Bank, he’s not racing the Vuelta.  That leaves a slew of anonymous racers and who wants to see that?  There’s a reason OLN/Versus dropped its coverage many years ago – no one wants to watch it.  The Vuelta has long been the Cooper Manning of Grand Tours.

It’s positioning on the calendar does it no favors.  This late in the season, it’s hard to focus on riding a bike let along watching twenty-one races over three weeks.  Finding out whether Alejandro Valverde can beat up on Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson, well what’s to find out?  If Valverde can’t beat up on that cast he ought to voluntarily submit to the two-year ban he’s fighting.  While the climbs of the Tour are legendary, the climbs of the Vuelta are legendary if you happen to know what subida means.   Toss in the fact that winning the Vuelta doesn’t exactly ensure a hall-of-face career (Aitor Gonzalez ring a bell?) and sorry if I am a little less than motivated.

About the only thing the Vuelta has going for it is that it’s not the Tour of California which now that it is moving to May will include a junior team from Pongibonsi – the only Italians willing to miss the Giro.  The only thing that that made that race somewhat appealing race in the first place was the presence of the Europeans.  Although, I’m sure this is just another part of Levi Leipheimer’s plan to ensure he wins in California.

Anyway, if those twitter tweets are anything to go by, I am apparently in the minority in regards to the Vuelta (although I have noticed that even the most gung-ho Vuelta tweeters are hitting a wall in the third week.)  Same is true of the banter one over hears while riding around for the six-millionth lap in Central Park.

I guess in the end, it’s nice that we have full TV coverage of all three grand tours here in the States for the first time in years, although I’m worried about whether Universal Sports will still be around after what’s sure to be abysmal ratings for the Vuelta.  Without Universal Sports, where else can will I get to watch something truly riveting, the professional ski jumping circuit?

That’s today’s view from the back.

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With dreary weather hitting New York and no prospects of racing this weekend, I’ve got Italy on the brain for this Friday’s Bell Lap.

LeviBeggar

Help me make sure the only race I have a chance of winning doesn't go away

Sorry Levi, But A Granfondo Is A Race
Tired of having friends pester me with questions about Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge GrandFondo, I finally checked out what all the hubbub is about.  While I supposed it’s a commendable effort (although, I’m not so sure asking cycling fans to help pay for the Tour of California is exactly altruistic.  For that matter, isn’t one of the beautiful things about professional cycling that it’s open to the public free of charge?  You can take your family to see a pro race and it won’t set you back the $500 dollars taking in a Yankees game will.  And don’t start with having the Tour of California is good for the sport.  It might be helping bike manufacturers, but it is not doing anything for local racing in New York or anywhere else outside of California, if it’s doing anything there), there are some rather disappointing elements that go strictly against the very Italian tradition Leipheimer claims inspired his event (can’t call it a race according to Leipheimer.)

By its very nature a grandfondo is a race.  In Italy they make up the vast majority of the amateur calendar.  I mentioned this once before, but for those new to the granfondo, they are mass start bike races that are akin to the New York City Marathon.  There are elite riders competing for the top places and winnings, there are riders competing to win their individual age groups and then there is vast majority of riders who want to test themselves to see if they can finish.  They are generally large affairs (the largest can have up to 9,000 riders.)

But make no mistake these are races.  The winners usually come from one of two categories, former professional racers at the end of the career or guys who missed out on pro contracts as dilettante (essentially U23s) hoping to catch the attention of a pro team.  For example, Simone Biasci, one of Cipollini’s lieutenants at Mercantone Uno and Saeco, ended his career as leader of Team Whistle, a granfondo team in which the majority of riders were paid to race full-time.  In 2005 and 2006, Raimondas Rumsas, 3rd in the 2002 Tour de France, was cleaning up on the Grandfondo circuit for Team Parkpre.  If you want to ride in one, you need a valid license (although many times those rules are over looked for foreigners looking to participate.)

The King Ridge GranFondo will apparently have a timed section, on a climb.  In Italy, these type of Gran Fondo, essentially an individual time trial held on one section of a larger course, are called alla francese.  They’re still races.  In fact, I had one of my best results in the 2005 Giro del Lazio which was alla francese, 6th in my category and 20th overall (I used to be able to climb pretty well) and even won a prosciutto for my efforts.

Point is, these are races not massive bike orgies.  The King Ridge website must have the words “not a race” at least a dozen times.  So in essence, Leipheimer is organizing a big charity ride where the charity is his favorite professional bike race.  A bit dubious, no?

If I had to guess, it is a combination of insurance issues and potential problems with the United States Cycling Federation that are keeping Leipheimer from calling this a race.  That said, it would be nice to see the tradition run to the fullest and for Leipheimer to find a way to create a true Granfondo.  It might even make the astronomical entrance fee ($115 for an individual entrant) worth it.

The granfondo in Italy are generally affordable to drive better participation, typically between $30 and $40, and that includes the pacco gara which is a gift every participant gets (at Andrea Tafi’s GF della Vernaccia the pacco gara included a bottle of Vernaccia wine, a bottle of local olive oil, a box of local pasta, a jar of local honey, some sports nutritional products, a hand towel, a copy of a cycling magazine and a water bottle) as well as the post-race pasta party.  At the King Ridge, there’s no pacco gara and the post-race meal is an extra $8.

Andrea Tafi knows how to run a granfondo

Andrea Tafi knows how to run a granfondo

I recognize there are vast cultural differences between the US and Italy as relates to cycling.  I can’t imagine the hoops Leipheimer had to go through to get the various municipalities to close roads, provide police support and the like.  But then again, he’s doing this to ensure that the only bike race he can win remains on the calendar.  To ask you to pay for it by invoking the great tradition of Italy’s granfondo, well, you can do a whole lot better Levi.

Quintessential Italy
Looking out the window at the rain today, reminded me of the following which has nothing to with cycling other than the fact that I happened to notice it because I was looking out my office window waiting for the afternoon group ride to pass by.

It was 2004, and I was in my office at my then employer’s headquarters in Rome.  Only on rare occasions could I make the local group ride during the week, which went out at 1pm, but I could see them on their way out as my office overlooked the route off in the distance.  My office also overlooked a small piazza which was directly behind my building.

One day, as I’m waiting for the group to roll by, I am looking out of my office window onto the small piazza.  A person is somewhat walking across the street in front of a roundabout in the piazza.  At the same time a bus is going around the roundabout at breakneck speed – the piazza is the last stop before the bus makes its return trip and there were very few passengers that use the stop, so busses usually fly around the roundabout.

I gasp aloud as I watch as I am sure I am seeing a dead man walking.

The bus is flying and the walker, who has the right of way, has no idea the bus is bearing down on him.  At the last minute both bus driver and pedestrian look up and see the disaster that is about to happen.  The pedestrian starts running away from the bus (not out of the way mind you), while the bus driver slams on the brakes.  This is just in the nick of time, luckily for both, and the impact is light enough that the pedestrian does not fall down when the bus hits him.  Wallet, papers and mobile go flying and are strewn about the ground, and the pedestrian is holidng his wrist, but only lightly as if it is not really badly hurt.  Other than the shock of it all no harm done.

This could happen on any street in any city anywhere in the world, especially in New York.  No big deal.  Of course, the ensuing argument with arms flying, fingers pointing, face to face screaming, body bending gesticulation over who was in the wrong (yes the bus driver got out of the bus to argue with the person he had just hit) could only happen in Italy.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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I have a lot of rules (again friends might call them neurosis) one of which is if it’s raining when I wake up I’m not racing.  It’s not so much about the fact that there will be blood from the inevitable crashes as it is that riding out to the race in the rain, standing in the registration line in the rain, pinning your number in the rain and then waiting around for start in the rain leaves you pretty soggy.  Now if it starts raining once we’re riding so be it.  It’s actually kind of enjoyable.

So what I was doing at the Mengoni Grand Prix start line this past Saturday is a bit of a mystery.  After seeing Noah float by my apartment at 4am and lightning striking the Empire State Building a couple of times, I would have been headed back to bed except that the stupid radar loop on the weather channel showed a clearing, the eye of the storm if you like.  That, and the fact that after the Spring Series, my opportunities to race in Central Park are nil, except for Mengoni.

One problem with racing when it has been raining is that the field is generally small; smart people stay home.  Registration took two minutes which meant that a lot of smart people had signed up.  As the ten of us where waiting for the start of our race (okay, there were 59 starters even though 85 had pre-registered), one of the officials said it looked like we had a beautiful day for racing.  Obviously from Mount Waialeale, Hawaii.

Another problem is that you can’t see anything.  Even before the race this was a problem.  I was pinning my number on when a girl from the Lipsmacker team rolled up and asked where the bathrooms were.  A few moments later, I went to for my ritualistic pre-race, uhm, relief.  Finished, I’m getting on my bike when Ms. Lipsmacker emerges from the men’s room, asking if she’s used the wrong bathroom.  I’m no expert, but generally, the urinals are a dead giveaway.  Apparently not being able to see was not an issue as she finished second in her race.  Maybe I should start using the women’s room before races.

Need In Central Park?

Needed In Central Park?

I had my sunglasses on for the first half-lap, but all the grit and water made it impossible to see through the glasses.  Of course, without the glasses all the grit and water ends up in your eyes so you still can’t see.  Wouldn’t be so bad, if not for “Horsesh!t Alley”, the bit on the east side from 60th street to before 72nd street where the carriage horses that take visitors for a lap of the park leave an ungodly amount of, well, given the nickname of that stretch, I’m sure you can figure out what they leave behind.  I was still getting stuff out of my eyes on Sunday.

As for the race itself, it was incredibly slow which explains why, very uncharacteristically, I made a counter attack to get into a two-man move after another move was caught on the west side.  The slow pace and the fact no one else could see, so they sure as heck couldn’t see my attack, enabled me to get clear.  I’m pretty sure I would have stayed away until the end except that the rain started coming down clearing the grit off the road enabling people to regain their eyesight and for the fact that I suck. 

The course itself was strewn with leaves and sticks which made the race a tad bit sketchy with guys swerving to avoid all sorts of “hazards”.  It reminded me of a Spring Series race last year where a storm the night before had left the Park full of debris.  There was some sort of running race later that morning (it must be nice to be able to wake up at 7am to compete in a sporting event in the park).  As we were heading up Harlem Hill for the last time, crews from the running race were washing down the course with hoses to rid it of all the leaves and branches.  Because of course we all know how dangerous in can be to run in those conditions.  We need a NYC Cyclists’ Union or something.

While a guy did slide out on the downhill at the top of the park, the big crash in our race occurred on the last lap and was another of those stupid crashes.  Here’s my take on what happened.  Two guys went into the joggers’ lane to go around a couple of walkers (not sure why they had to go into the jogger’s lane, but if I had to guess as usual guys were riding on the white line and the couple probably was too close to the white line.  With no way to squeeze back into the pack the joggers’ lane was the only place to go.)  Guys in the field got distracted looking at what was going on in the joggers’ lane and the next thing you know a bunch of them are on the ground.  Those were the only two crashes in our race but every race seemed to have some major spills.

Anyway, it was nice to race in Central Park again after almost four months.  Next race is in the middle of September in Prospect Park.  Look for me in the women’s room.

That’s today’s view from the back.

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This Saturday is the Mengoni Grand Prix in Central Park, arguably the most prestigious park race on the calendar.  The race is sponsored and named for Fred Mengoni,   My history with Mengoni the race is short – this will be my third in the past five years – but for three years, Mengoni the man was intertwined in my cycling life, even if he doesn’t have any idea who I am.

George Hincapie & Fred Mengoni (c). M. Quezada

George Hincapie & Fred Mengoni (c). M. Quezada

As soon as you start racing in New York, you hear about Fred Mengoni, at least that was the way it was back when I started.  In addition to the Mengoni Grand Prix, Fred also sponsors a local team with some top local talent.  Coupled with that was the fact Fred was a fixture on his bike in Central Park, you might still catch sight of him today even though he’s well into his 90’s.  So I knew who Fred Mengoni was, at least the New York version of Fred.

In July 2002, I was living in Rome watching the Tour de France when the commentators mention they have a special guest from the United States on the phone.  It turned out to be Fred Mengoni, and I was just a tad bit perplexed.  Still coming to grips with Italian, I really didn’t get too much of what Fred was saying, so I wasn’t sure why he would be on the phone and why it would be a big deal.

(c)P. O'Hare.  Cipollini wins 42nd Giro Stage - No idea what happened to the full size photo

(c)P. O'Hare. Cipollini wins 42nd Giro Stage - No idea what happened to the full size photo

In May of 2003, I was in the VIP booth at the stage finish in Montecatini Terme when Mario Cipollini won his record breaking 42nd Giro stage.  Later that night there was a “spettacolo” (a show) in the center of town which featured Maurizio Fondriest, Cipollini, Francesco Moser and Fred Mengoni.  “What the (expletive deleted) is Fred Mengoni doing here?”  So I walked up to him, introduced myself, told him I “knew” him from New York and asked him.  Still couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

In June 2003, my wife and I have VIP passes for the last stage of the Tour de France via our friends at RAI Sport.  These passes were different than passes for other races I got over the years.   They were laminated, came with a fancy Tour de France necklace so you could display them at all times.  In short, they were very official looking, when I hopped the fence to go buy us some rain jackets (while I could have easily gone inside the structure they had set-up, I had no intention of giving up my spot where the riders turn on to the finishing straight), a crowd of people came rushing over to see who I was.  Just a guy trying to buy some rain coats folks, now make some room.  The passes also had a name printed on them, the name of the person they were intended for – “F. Mengoni”.

In October 2004, I went to watch the World Championships in Verona.  Pre-race, I am walking around with my wife, dodging in and out of various sponsorship tents, when who walks out of a limo?  Fred Mengoni.  By now, I’m expecting to see him, so having a little fun, I reintroduce myself, give the brief version of our history, and playfully ask him if he’s scouting me out as a rider and that’s why he’s following me.  Understood less of his response than before.

All that time, I never really knew why Fred Mengoni was at all these events.  Short version, Fred, born and raised in my beloved Italy, came to the US with $50 dollars and became a real-estate mogul.  He was influential in getting Greg Lemond over to the World Championships in Europe.  He’s been instrumental in helping develop US Cycling and was inducted to the US Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1994.  Among the alumni of his GS Mengoni team are Hincapie, Mike McCarthy, Alexi Grewal and Steve Bauer.  They’ve also named a professional race in Italy for him where he is a hero for all his work in cycling.  Actually that’s probably the long version too.

Anyway, back in the US in 2005, a few weeks before I am about give Mengoni the race a shot for the first time, I see Fred rolling around in the park.  I reintroduce myself, re-deliver our history and tell him I’m doing his race for the first time.  Don’t understand a single word this time around.

Going into the 2005 race, I figured I was a shoe-in for the win.  It’s a Cat 3 field only, and I’ve got three years of Fred shining his light down on me, so how can I not win?  The result: You can blame that race for this blog if you want.  I had my first and certainly not last, view from the back.

(c)M. Quezada.  Look familiar?  Racing at the 2005 Mengoni Grand Prix

(c)M. Quezada. Look familiar? Racing at the 2005 Mengoni Grand Prix

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More interviews demand a short Bell Lap today.

A Little More Doping
I can’t seem to let it alone, so here’s a one last bit on doping.

Bernhard Kohl has confirmed that his team manager bribed paid anti-doping labs to analyze samples so that “we knew how far we could go and still not be caught.”  Yet more confirmation that there is no limit to what will be done or taken to circumvent current doping controls, which in turn renders the controls ineffective except in the cases where the athlete makes a mistake.  Are we still naïve enough to believe that only Di Luca, Astarloza and the like are the only ones taking something and the rest of the peloton is “clean”?

Now This Is Racing
Keep your road racing, your mountain biking and everybody’s new darling, cyclo-cross.  This is true bike racing.

2009 Nocturne Series (c) Larry Hickmott

2009 Nocturne Series (c) Larry Hickmott

I came across this picture on Fuzzy Thinking the other day.  It’s from the Nocturne Series an annual criterium series in the UK (David Millar won the elite race in the Edinburgh edition in May) that also features a folding bike race.  If you think local park races are sketchy . . .  The rules stipulate proper business attire, and judging from the video, there’s little doubt why the UK has fallen among the world’s business powers.

A little research reveals that folding bike racing is not limited to the UK.  In fact, it has its own world championships of sorts.  The 4th annual Brompton World Championships will be held in October (it happens to be in the UK, but the first two editions where in Spain). 

Speaking of local park races, there’s yet another race in Prospect Park.  Look for me on a Dahon.

That’s today’s rather abbreviated view from the back.

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