It’s been a little while since we last spoke to Richard and with ‘Cross Nats just around the corner, it seemed a fine time to catch up about all things ‘cross.
RKP: Richard, you’ve been racing on the road since Sean Kelly was a junior, yet you turned to cyclocross relatively recently and quickly became a big convert. What brought this about?
RS: I don’t think “recently” is accurate. I was at the World’s in London’s Crystal Palace in 1973 when Eric De Vlaeminck won his seventh title and also witnessed the first-ever USA team compete in what was the amateur event earlier in the day. I was hooked then!
RKP: You’ve been legendary in New England for sponsoring racers over the years. How many years have you supported a team of some sort?
RS: As a sponsor, I started doing a ‘cross thing in the middle 1990s as part of the NECSA Junior Development program that I was a bicycle supplier to. The success of that spawned some relationships that took my commercial and benevolent interests to the next level by 1998 or so. I was having more fun in the ‘cross environment than I can recall ever having on the road. The people, the venues, the racing, the time of the year—all of it drew me in and I have never left!
For the record, the Richard Sachs Cyclocross Team as presently known it began 12 years ago. On the road side, the sponsorship program that launched all of this in the early 1980s ended by 2003.
RKP: You’ve sponsored some big names in cyclocross including Jonathan Page and Adam Myerson. How is it that you came to sponsor such accomplished athletes as these and others?
RS: I have never recruited a rider. Both of these cats you name approached me. In 1999 if I recall the chronology correctly, Jonathan called from the airport on his way to spend the several months in Germany. His was a comeback of sorts since he was away one full season focusing on off-road with the Diamondback team. He had no ride for 1999 and took a chance to call me. I said “yes” after thinking about it for a day or so. We Fedexed him a box with two frames, kits, and whatever we had to offer. I first saw him later that year when he arrived home for the Natz in KC, the winter storm event that no one will ever forget, due to the conditions.
Adam’s was a different story and his began in 1996. He approached me at the Tour of Somerville regarding a ‘cross sponsorship. It was a privateer thing, separate from what I was doing with NECSA. The liaison was a complete success from the start. Adam was the consummate pro and marketer. He knew at an early age what the sponsor-racer relationship entailed and gave more than good value for all involved. After two seasons sponsoring Adam alone, we rolled his situation into the NECSA fold for another season or so.
For the record, Adam was our team’s and our brand’s first-ever National Champion (Collegiate Men) and Jonathan, three years after he first signed with us, became our fifth or sixth Stars and Stripes winner with a superb ride at Napa.
RKP: You’re a one-man shop and pay another guy (Joe Bell) to actually paint your frames. Your wait list will outlast the Obama administration and you aren’t taking new orders. Why persist in sponsoring racers if it isn’t really going to contribute to your bottom line? Is this your version of tithing?
RS: I started a team sponsorship program in 1983 and haven’t taken a break from the sport since. At the front end, I sponsored because I was once sponsored. It’s as simple as that. Through all the years, all of the riders, all the sponsors who have helped along the way and have ultimately moved on, one constant is that I continue to support a team because when I was a serious racer (on the road) I had the good fortune of receiving support. There’s no reason to think about it more deeply than that atmo.
RKP: Let’s take a moment to talk about your team’s resume. Would you please refresh my memory of all the big wins and epic performances riders have delivered aboard your frames?
RS: Regarding ‘cross, I am fond of summoning up the fact that we (not me, the team…) have won ten National Championships since 1997. Several were U23 events, some were Juniors, one was a Women’s 30-34 race, several were at the Collegiate level, and one was Page’s win in the Elite Men’s division. I am going by memory now, but I think RS ‘Cross Team riders have raced at the World Championships at least eight different times. Actually, with regard to wins and epic performances, these are and have always been the icing on the cake. My first, last, and in between laundry lists for the sport, the support, and for the riders involved are, 1) represent the sponsors superbly well, 2) do everything it takes in a four month period to make great memories so that, down the road, we all look at each venue, and every weekend and wish we could bottle it all and make it last forever, and 3) help our fellow team mates achieve as many personal racing goals as possible.
(For background read this: http://rscyclocross.blogspot.com/2009/09/19-september-2009-memo-to-richard-sachs.html).
RKP: But it doesn’t end there does it? Judging from your team newsletters, you have been delivering some spankings to the other old guys in New England. You’ve had a good season this year, no?
RS: Results-wise, this has been our deepest season yet. Personally, my goals for 2009 were to race well at all the venues that were priorities for the team. These include the UCI races, the USGP events, and the Verge Points series here in the northeast. I also want a top ten at the Natz in Bend. So far I have won five times—Grenogue, twice at the USGP in Trenton, and then another two times at the NACT races in Southampton, New York. In the Verge Points series I have hovered between third and fifth all season and the last two events are this weekend. On the national level, in the USA Cycling Men’s Masters Cyclocross Rankings, I recently fell from first to fourth in all riders between the ages of 30 and 99, but still have a decent lead in the 55-59 grouping in which I mostly compete. And what can I say about Pookums, a.k.a. Matt Kraus? He was second at the Natz in 2008 in the Masters 35-39 division and finally, after a good long career in the Elites, decided to focus on age-graded racing. Matt has won a bunch so far this fall and is on track for another high finish in Oregon. Dan Timmerman and Josh Dillon are also on their games this season and the long term results speak to that. They are leading the Verge Series in first and second overall, and Dan also is in fifth place in the USA Cycling’s standings for those Elite Men racing in events on the Cyclocross National Calendar. Dan has won at least four UCI events and between him and Josh, the pair has podiumed at least seven times. Will Dugan, reigning 2009 Collegiate National Champion, is also having another fine year with us with many top tens going back to early September. Will’s focus for ‘cross includes parsing out his efforts and using the Natz as the Golden Fleece for the season, after which he’ll start life as a pro roadie with Team Type One. His first training camp with them comes within ten days of the races in Bend next weekend!
RKP: From the photos I’ve seen, your team travels together pretty much, even parking together at the races. It’s a pretty tight-knit bunch it seems. How deliberate is this on your part?
RS: Yes, it’s all part of the plan. The deal is this: we’re a bunch of pals who race. We race hard and often, and our priorities have become the UCI level events. We travel well, stay together, share lots of mid-week emails and laughs, and live for the weekend. ‘Cross fukcing rules atmo, and all that. We’re more like an extended family, a troupe, a private club, a cabal—I could go on….
RKP: You parted ways some weeks back with upcoming talent Amy Dombroski. She says she left the team, but rider contracts normally require agreement from the sponsor as well. I was blown away that anyone would want to leave such a successful formation. Why did she leave?
RS: I initially heard from Amy in the summer of 2007 when she asked for a spot on the RS ‘Cross Team. We had a full roster by that point so I declined. She asked a second time this past May and I thought it could be a good fit, particularly because we had no representation in the women’s field. We went back and forth on how the program works, what the schedule includes, and she was on board with us by late June.
I maintain contact with the riders on the team electronically. Countless emails and phone conversations are exchanged with all members of the team leading up to September, and everyone is CC’d on everything. All know full well by the summer what the plan is for the fall. We are a fully sponsored, soup-to-nuts team and completely looked after by a host of industry suppliers. For the sake of transparency, I should mention here that Amy refused to use the wheels the rest of us were racing (as well as winning on) at all. After agonizing over this very difficult situation that began before ‘Cross Vegas and having to repeatedly address this issue for over a month, I gave Amy an ultimatum: She could either comply with the standards we have in writing and each agreed to way back in June, or all liaisons with my team and its support system would end immediately.
After exhaustive exchanges about stationary weight versus rolling weight, chats about commitment and integrity, and doing all I could to pacify the needs of the sponsorship program without actually going Jersey on one of my riders, I accepted a compromise from Amy. She asked me if I could buy some wheels (from the sponsor) that she deemed light enough to pass her smell test. I ordered two sets of these wheels, delivered them to her in time for USGP in Kentucky, and was happy to see that she podiumed there that weekend. As I routinely do, I spammed out all the pic links to my sponsors on Monday. Cole was ecstatic to hear the news. Finally, after over a month of excuses about the wheels and the brand, she (Amy) finally had a set of Cole wheels in her frame at a race. I’ll add here that, despite Amy’s assertion that her Cole wheels would make her uncompetitive, she had never even USED Cole wheels up until the USGP in Kentucky—or so I thought. I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that all of this revolves around a judgment call about some parts that were never ever pedaled.
But I digress. Upon spamming out the pics I zeroed in on an image or three and realized that these were not Cole wheels at all. After receiving the very wheels Amy asked me to get so that this unfortunate chapter would sink into the past, she took the stickers off the rims and applied them to whatever she was using all along. When I called her to the mat on this, she apologized and admitted to the deception. There’s more to it than I can write here, and all of it is tethered to what I consider a complete lack of respect for a system of support that works extremely well. I thought the ordeal, especially after all the excuses I had to make for her, and all the hand-holding that occurred—after all of this, the relabeling debacle was a major league slap in the face atmo. That’s when I decided to open a window and ask her to come in and fulfill the obligations we all made to each other in the summer, or leave through it.
Looking back on the situation, the issues, the arrogance, and the cavalier attitude that I was met with through every conversation I had with her regarding the wheels and related stuff—it was a very bad rider-sponsor relationship. I have to take blame and responsibility for some of it because I could have been more direct about the wheel thing as soon as I sensed there was a problem. I hoped it would right itself with some prodding, peer pressure, and some long race weekends where the team’s energy would somehow communicate that her choices and actions were wrong and counterproductive. That it lasted until mid October will always be on my conscience because I believed we had a good solid foundation of support and trust, and were well on the way to becoming friends in addition to being teammates. And I’ll further qualify that by adding that, in all of my years running a team, I have never had a bad rider-sponsor relationship.
RKP: Couldn’t re-decaling a set of wheels (or any other component) make you look bad to your sponsor, maybe even endanger your relationship with that sponsor?
RS: Without even getting into the ethics of it or what goes on in behind-the-scenes deals made in other levels of the sport, using any part or component that isn’t supplied by a team sponsor (all parts and suppliers being in place and fully committed by the early Summer before each season begins) is not allowed. Except for this 2009 situation, it has been not an issue that has reared its head in our midst. And, to make it worse than worse, to do a relabeling gig after all the meetings we had about brand loyalty, commitment, and integrity, reflects a character trait that I do not wish to associate with personally or professionally.
RKP: So are you saying Dombroski was willing to risk sponsorship of the entire team just to have what she believed would make the difference in winning?
RKP: Do you give your riders any latitude about what equipment they use or do you specify everything?
RS: I don’t have to. We are a fully supported and sponsored team with every single part supplied by a long term industry brand name. We race on SRAM drivetrains, Oval Concepts stems, ‘bars, and seat posts, Cane Creek headsets and cantis, Cole Wheels, Crank Brothers pedals, Selle San Marco saddles, Wippermann chains, Clement tires, wearing Verge kits, Rudy Project helmets and eyewear, and most of us using Northwave shoes.
RKP: Has anyone complained before?
RS: To me—only Amy
To others—only Amy as far as I know.
RKP: ‘Cross Nats are coming up. You will be facing riders that you haven’t raced against this season. Any guys out there have you concerned?
RS: Will, Josh, Dan, Matt, and myself have all been in fields this year that have the best from the categories we race within. We have at least five wins in UCI races, countless podiums and top tens, Matt has won several Masters 35+ events, and I have won five 55+ races All of us are in very good shape and extremely motivated. Atmo the Natz will be just another day at the office.
RKP: Care to make any predictions about how your team members will go in their races?
RS: We’ll finish the season as we began it: representing all of our sponsors and suppliers in the best manner possible and continue giving good brand. We’ll use the last two weekends to crowd in many more memories that will carry us through the off-season months, and we’ll be there for each other another 20 days or so to ensure that we all get as close as possible to meeting our personal goals for ‘cross.
In-the-trenches images courtesy Anthony Skorochod, CyclingCaptured.com