Shoes have a new fastening system taking over. Dials, be they from Boa or imitators, are now gracing the pro-level shoe offerings from just about everybody. Specialized and Lake and Scott have been on this for years, but now they’ve been joined by Diadora, DMT, Gaerne, Louis Garneau, Northwave, Sidi, Vittoria and Pearl Izumi. Izumi was, amazingly, one of the first to bring the Boa dial system to market, dropped it, and is now back.
Shimano, owner of Pearl Izumi, is sticking to the two straps and buckle system. The ranks of holdouts include Fizik, Giro, and Mavic. Strikingly, all claim high technology to be their calling card. Giro, for one, is still standing firm with their retro-cool lace-up Empire shoes.
Orange is the New Black
Last year, fluo green was the hot color. This year, it’s orange. Mostly fluo orange, but not entirely. Poc totally rocked the orange; the color is tied to their brand identity. But there was plenty of orange to go around, particularly for shoes and helmets. Shoes, preferably in shiny, perforated microfiber, are going orange at Giro, Northwave, Lake, and others. In helmets, Giro is joining the orange crew that Lazer and Rudy Project already started.
Wide Rims are the New Black
At first, it was a trickle. Now it’s a flood. Starting with Hed’s C2 and moving to Zipp and far beyond. Wide rims are just about everywhere. Easton has the Fantom rim, on their EC90 Aero 55 clincher and tubular. The new EC90 is really wide, 28mm, and, a more blunt nose, and the clincher is tubeless compatible. Easton has also redesigned their EA90 SLX into a wider, tubeless-compatible aluminum rim. And the new Easton wheels sport new hubs, the Echo, which relies on standard straight-pull spokes. Ritchey is debuting a wide, shallow-section aluminum clincher, the Zeta II and is tubeless-compatible. The roll on Phantom hubs, which look flangeless but have internal flanges so that the wheels are built with J-bend spokes.
For the people who long for wide rims to build into their favorite hubs, American Classic is now selling a wide, shallow, tubeless compatible rim. The AC RD 2218. Being American Classic, the rim is light, 375g, and currently available in 24 and 28 drilling.
Classic Bars are the New Black
Classic-bend drop handlebars are coming back. The long loopy drops of old are being updated with short reach and shallow bends. Zipp and Ritchey have newly-designed classic bends, taking a similar route to Shimano’s classic bend bars. On the other hand, FSA’s, and 3T’s, and Deda’s longstanding classic drops are plying the older, longer and lower bends. Also of note is that cable grooves seem to be disappearing from aluminum bars. A Ritchey rep told us it was what the pro’s requested because it adds more to grip on the tops. A Zipp rep told us it allowed them to make the bars lighter and stiffer.
Massive Data Integration is the New Black
SRM came to the show with their new PowerControl 8 head unit, set to be released in 2014. A slick touch screen that has sensors rather than relying on warm fingertips is just the beginning. The unit is also working with GPS where you can tune the accuracy by selecting the number of satellites, or turn it off to increase battery life. And they’re adding the metrics popularized by Allen/Coggan—normalized power, IF and TSS. And more. It will work with all ANT+ power meters and connect to both Bluetooth and WiFi. It will be waterproof, and even have a small speaker.
Wahoo Fitness is also expanding its offerings. Their smartphone-based software company is going in a zillion directions—using your smartphone to record and push data to social media, to training programs, and integrating it with a trainer. At the Wahoo booth, they had a Wahoo-based trainer, the Kickr, hooked up to a software partner, Kinomap, where you can watch a geolocated video (quick, get a Virb) that has the elevation data interpreted to resistance and sent to a trainer so you can ride what you’re watching—and even try to keep up or exceed the pace that the person filming it did. You can also use the trainer to ride or race Strava segments.
Topeak is also working the Bluetooth/smartphone angle with their PanoBike App and system, which also includes handlebar- and stem-mounted cases, Bluetooth transmitters, and an app that not only serves as the computer, but a diary and can work with a bike computer.
Bluetooth-transmitting heart rate, speed, cadence sensors, is also a path PowerTap is starting to follow. They’ll have the same, including a PowerTap hub that transmits a Bluetooth signal. This way your smartphone and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like laptops and tablets, can pick up the signals. CycleOps (part of the same company as PowerTap, but spun into its own division) is also debuting Virtual Training software. Theirs combines both indoors and outdoors, with a heavy social media component and even video. For the indoor, you need one of their PowerBeam or Indoor Cycle units or Wahoo’s Kickr hooked up to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and logged into their Virtual Training site.
CycleOps’ system combines a training dairy with your trainer and social media. Ride routes you’ve done, ride routes others have done and shared, race people on created routes, compete with others on time, mileage, whatever metric you want. And if the one site isn’t enough, your data can easily be shared with social media sites and other training software.
Taking integration in another diretion is BikeSpike. It’s a GPS transmitter that currently is housed in a water bottle cage. The transmitter turns on and sends out signals telling its location. Mate it with your smartphone and it’s a bike computer, it sends the ride BikeSpike’s social media platform, an anti-theft device, and a crash-alert system. If you like keeping tabs on loved one’s riding, you can set a perimeter, and get alerts when the device goes beyond. The device can also tell how the bike is oriented to the ground, and that can work into their platform to a visual that shows how the bike is leaning.
Road Tubeless Tires are not the New Black
Despite the rapidly-increasing number of road tubeless rims on offer, the same cannot be written of road tubeless tires. The choices for tires are not expanding, nor did it seem that the companies selling road tubeless tires are dramatically expanding their offerings.
Road Rotor Disc Brakes are not the New Black
Here, too, there is lots of talk, but little action. Shimano was touting theirs, but it was hard to find a road racing bike equipped with them, other than a Colnago that Shimano was carting around. SRAM seemed a bit more measured, coming with a fleet of Specializeds, but focusing on their Hydro-R, hydraulic rim brakes, rather than their Hydro-D, hydraulic disc brakes. Most of the road bikes that were equipped with discs were of the “gravel grinder” variety, save the BMC GF01, which is kind of a racing version of a gravel grinder, carbon-fiber but with a beefy fork and massive chain stays.
The quest to make the bike go faster never ends. Once the big things are taken care of, it’s time to focus on the little things. And when the little things seem dialed, it’s probably a good idea to check back on the big things, just in case something has changed. And then back to the little, just because something else might have been overlooked.
When I read about Friction Facts and their claims that variations in chains and chain lube results in a measurable difference in terms of energy cost to propel a bike, I was intrigued. Especially when part of the solution was a proprietary paraffin mix. A semi-secret sauce? How much better could high-tech old-school waxing be? I purchased the set of reports they had on offer to take a look. Turns out, the differences can be big.
This piece gets fairly technical. There’s a reason. I’m trying to explain everything on the assumption that the reader isn’t familiar with every little bit of info. And, as with watts, little things can add up to make big differences.
Chain and Drag
Friction Facts tested five top-of-the line ten-speed chains, with five samples each, and averaged the results. According to Friction Facts, the standard Wippermann Connex 10S1 chain, Wippermann’s lightest chain, a chain I’ve run on my bike many times, has 8.85 watts of drag straight out of the box when the five samples tested at 250w were averaged. In the tests, the 10S1 also showed the least variation from chain-to-chain, with the spread between the least efficient and most efficient a total of .45w. And when the 10S1 was relubed with light oil, the friction dropped to 7.04w at 250w. In other words, a 1.81w difference (0.724%) is found by changing lubes. And the differences are much bigger for “optimized” chains, with many of them coming closer to 5w, a whopping 2%!
In case you’re wondering, the oil used for the Friction Facts tests was a non-cycling oil. Specifically, an electric motor oil from a company that doesn’t make or market cycling-specific lubricants. This was a deliberate choice, both to show no favoritism to any bike-specific brand, and because the oil has no additives, like Teflon, that could potentially affect results.
1.81w is pretty small, but all things being equal, can result in some noticeable differences. To give a sense of what kind of difference 1.81w makes, we went to Analytic Cycling. If you haven’t been to the site, it is a must-visit of the tech set. The calculators are incredible.
Utilizing the Speed For Given Power calculator, you can quantify what 1.81w means. Because it is in a part that directly propels the bike, the wattage can be directly added to the rider’s power. Assuming the default frontal area, average drag coefficient, riding at sea level on a typical asphalt road and no wind, a 150lb rider pedaling a 17lb bike at 250w goes 11.22 meters per second or 25.01mph. Take that 1.81w savings and add it to your power, and the same rider goes 11.25m/s or 25.17mph. In other words 3cm farther per second translates into .16mph increase in speed. Or .64mi in four hours—over a kilometer difference in a four-hour ride by changing chain lube. Even at an easier 200w, where the same rider is doing 10.78m/s, the rider with the lubed chain is still traveling 3cm faster every second.
This is why looking for “marginal gains” is something just about everybody should consider. Marginal gains is a term the Sky professional racing team has popularized. Essentially, it means that accruing tiny improvements, on the order of one percent or so, wherever they can be found, can add up to race-winning differences. It’s hard to imagine that people wouldn’t want the cumulative effect of small gains, even if they can barely feel them. And it’s easy to see why professional cyclists should care: ride the 80 hours or so of a Grand Tour as a time trial, that marginal savings could be worth over 20 kilometers, or almost a half-hour.
In other words, 1.81w is a big deal. Wondering if the data was reliable, I got in touch with Tom Petrie, whose company, Velimpex, imports and distributes Wippermann chains. Presumably a chain expert, I figured he might have something to say on the matter. He got back to me with a proposal. Test two Wippermann chains out in real-world conditions; see if the difference is measurable. One was the stock 10s1, the other was the stock 10s1 with the Friction Facts chain wax applied. He sent one chain directly to me, another to Friction Facts, who did their magic and sent it my way.
Jason Smith, the man behind FF, sends a report along with each chain he optimizes. The particular chain he sent had 5.51w of friction, 3.34w lower than standard, with factory lube, in the range of what he reports is possible with Wippermann, and above the 5w guarantee he has for the other chains he optimizes. But his reports indicate that he’s been unable to get the Wippermann chains down to 5w. Still, the 3.34w drop in resistance takes that same person above from going 11.22m/s to 11.28m/s. an extra 6cm per second, an extra .22mph, raising that same theoretical rider’s speed from 25.01 to 25.23mph. After four hours, you’ve gone .88mi farther.
Wippermann comes with an advantage in chain testing. Their Connex link is a tool-free, reusable master link, which makes swapping chains easy. It’s also something that Smith recommends using with all the chains he optimizes. This way, you can warm up on your standard chain, swap out the standard chain for the optimized one in less than a minute, put in the rear disc, clean hands, and head for the start house.
I started with the two Wippermann 10S1 chains. My basic idea was: take them out of the box, size them identically and then alternate chains on repeated tests. Do many indoor sessions so the tests are repeated over time, and then take the optimized chain out and see how long it goes before it starts squeaking. Smith actually runs the chains he optimizes for 20 minutes before sending them out, so there isn’t a need for any break-in period. And, as he believes the treatment is good for around 200 miles, there’s little reason to waste any mileage on breaking it in. Since that chain wasn’t going to be cleaned, we also started with the standard chain straight out of the box, no lubing or cleaning. It would be our daily chain and would only get wiped down, if necessary, before an indoor session, and only lubed when absolutely necessary. This way, I figured I’d be treating the regular and optimized chains the way people looking for performance advantages would be.
The plan was to ride with them doing repeated runs on my Kreitler rollers at three different loads: 150, 250, and 300 watts, to see if I could find any differences at the different power numbers and if those differences could change depending on load. I’d do one chain for a half hour. Then the other.
The only way to know if the differences, assuming there were differences, are actually there, is to control as many variables as possible. I used a digital pressure gauge to make sure the tires were within 1psi of 105psi for every ride. I made sure the room was within a narrow temperature range of a few degrees Fahrenheit. I let the bike sit in the room for at least 15 minutes before starting to make sure the power meter was properly acclimated. I zeroed out the power meter offset before each test. I either used the rollers with no resistance or with the headwind unit attached and the gate closed.
A perfect scenario would have been to have a test bike just for riding indoors. But I went with my regular road bike that was going indoors and out in the winter. So there could be variations on bearing drag and the wear of the tires could potentially make a difference. I started the test on Vittoria Rubino Pro tires, but as they looked pretty worn and was worried they wouldn’t last through the test period. So, after a few runs, I swapped in Specialized Armadillo Elites, a nice slow super-durable tire.
I also ended up having to send back my Quarq Cinqo and replaced with a Quarq Elsa. This was a potential boon, as the Elsa is supposed to be more accurate than the Cinqo. But here you’ll see the limitation of testing with a powermeter. The Cinqo has a claimed accuracy of +/-2%, a 4% potential variation. Assuming +/- 2%, 3.34w is equal to the variation at 83.5w of power. The Quarq Elsa has a claimed accuracy of +/- 1.5%, where the margin of error spread equals the power savings at 111.3w. And after we changed chain rings and tested the accuracy thereof, we ended up recalibrating the Elsa.
The idea of testing out the chains at three different loads, 150, 250, and 300 watts is to find if the change in load could result in any differences. I ended up riding at 154w and 247w, and the 300w ended up being a bit too optimistic in terms of what I could consistently hold for fifteen minutes.
I took the chains out of the boxes, sized them, and then kept them separated. They’re easy to tell apart at the start. One has wax flakes all over it and the links feel stiff to the touch. It’s a bit hard to believe the chain is faster that way. But, as I started to pedal, the wax flew off so quickly on the first run that there was no need to clean it. The other one was slightly greasy. I left it as is.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II.
My choice for doing GFNY was heavy on novelty, light on challenge. No idea what to expect, would it seem like a race, a group ride, a tour, an ‘athon? There was the challenge component to it. Of course, doing well is something, and winning would be nice, but it wasn’t a reason for participating.
Looking at the numbers, it seems that novelty and tourism were high on the list of reasons to come. According to the promoter, there were 5,000 registered riders. Of that, 20% were from outside the United States, and 50% of the foreigners, or 10% of the total, were from Italy. Of the remaining 4,000 riders, about 2,000 were locals and the remaining 2,000 were from outside the NY-Metro area.
Indeed, getting to the start demonstrated the importance of tourism and novelty. To get to the start line, participants rode onto the highway access ramps to the George Washington Bridge, part of Interstate 95. Many riders stopped to capture cyclists riding on the ramps. The payoff was standing still on the bridge; looking south you see Manhattan’s skyline beginning to shimmer, looking north you see the beginning of the Hudson Valley through a gauzy fog.
When the Fondo started at 6:59am, it was suddenly a race. Speeding off the bridge was great, but hitting the first park road along the Hudson, eight miles of hills, curves, and potholes, perched between a cliff wall and a stone wall, with a pack of people who didn’t know where they were going reminded me to back off. If I had some external confidence, like licensing requirements, I think I would have been more comfortable riding along. I saw someone execute a cyclocross dismount while his rear rim was riding on a completely flat tire. Hearing people go into the red on the first five-minute hill told me to back off, climb comfortably and create my own group rather than fighting for wheels on a pockmarked road when overall time didn’t count. I let what seemed to be a big group go over the hill and hoped to form another.
Got a small group, of sufficiently friendly folk, and continued at a good, but conversational pace. Met some folks but still able to roll nicely and enjoy the views. Passed through the towns of Hudson towns Piermont and Nyack with police letting cyclists pass through the intersections without stopping. Completed the first hour at around 21mph. The group grew from behind to be huge. Eventually, we came to the first timed climb, 35 miles in, right after a rest stop, where many pulled off. The Passo Del Daino as it was dubbed by the organizers, Buckberg Mountain to the locals. It was steep enough that drafting wasn’t an issue. I figured it was roughly a five-minute hill and I gave my best five-minute effort, yo-yoing with another rider much of the way up. I took him in the final 30 seconds.
The effort led me away from the group I had been in. Then the route quickly turned onto a narrow, somewhat technical descent I knew well. Loving the curves, I bridged up to another group, something I wanted for the Montagna dell’Orso (Bear Mountain) climb; it’s shallow enough for most of the length that drafting can help. But my new companions, too, thought drilling it over a non-timed climb was the smart play. I let them go and did Bear on my own. Strikingly, the timed climb began right after another rest stop. At least this one I’d be able to visit on the way back.
For Bear, the drill was ride the four miles at my limit and then ease all the way back down, and noodle to the next appointment. I passed a few of my former companions on the way up, and only a minute or so over my goal time for the hill. It’s a climb where the end takes forever to get to, but you’re at the top before you know it. Easing down the first few miles of Bear was a bummer; the dead-end road can be good for at least the mid-40s mph and was paved relatively recently, but the fear of hitting an ascending cyclist was too great. After leaving the access road and railing the open road descent past the second rest stop, another group came from behind to join me on the next ascent. This gang was none too friendly. Arguments ensued over small things like gear selection; some definitely saw this as a 110-mile race. Why they needed to argue about what kind of cadence was appropriate was beyond me. These guys were too angry to be around. Fun, this group wasn’t, so when they attacked the next untimed climb, I let them go.
Cimb three, the Colle Andrea Pinarello, was shallow enough and long enough that drafting mattered. I started it alone, and couldn’t find a rhythm. Three guys passed me on the way up. It felt like a climb too far.
There was a promise of well-stocked rest areas throughout the ride. I finally stopped at one two miles before the final timed climb. It was devoid of riders and well-stocked. A cup of Coke, a gel, some Gator and I was off again. Didn’t want to be weighed down for the climb.
On the last timed climb, Colle Formaggio, on the only roads of the day I didn’t already know—a neighborhood of McMansions built during the housing boom, an odd sight in the New York region, and weird to ride through a treeless landscape after being in the woods all day–I caught a rider at the summit and we started chatting. First person I chatted up in 68 miles. 42 miles to go and nothing left to do other than roll in.
His story was rather different. My partner of the moment had been recruited to help someone do well at the event. He and, I believe, two other guys were supposed to pace their leader through the fondo, but the leader was too antsy and had them drilling the pace so hard that one rider dropped the others and didn’t realize it. The others stayed back, but without their third rider, the other two blew up, and their leader forged ahead. As we were chatting about eats, that temporary teammate who had ridden ahead caught us from behind: he had waited at a rest stop and the group passed him without him awares. He was feeling good and had an itch to chase down the leader to help him through the rest of the ride.
My partner told him that the leader was at least five minutes ahead. The guy ramped up the pace and I decided to go with, and within five or six miles, we saw his leader. He asked that I ride to the front, keep the pace high and stay away from the back, “because it’s going to be ugly.” I recognized the leader. He was a foul-tempered guy I had been with on the road from Bear Mountain and let him go rather than dealing with his anger.
I respected my new partner’s wishes, dutifully rolled to the front of the new group, just as his leader accelerated. He eventually fell back, and I kept the pace high. After a minute or two, the berating began, “Oh, the Judas!” and it went on for some time. Thankfully, it was right before the last rest area. I peeled off as they went ahead.
At the stop, I saw a riding acquaintance, asked him to wait for me to fill up my bottles. He declined; something was moving him to get going rather than waiting a minute. But as I was filling my bottles, another riding acquaintance asked the same of me. I complied. We finished up together.
We rolled south on roads we had raced north earlier in the day. At the end of these quiet roads, we were led onto a busy street, the only road that leads to the finish, and we sped up as we battled cars for position over the final miles, an anti-climatic way to end the Fondo.
At the finish in Weehawken, there was a chicane to slow everyone down, and the circuitous finish also made it possible for riders to get a finish-line pic with the New York City skyline in the background. Folks were also waiting at the finish to bestow medals upon the finishers, and give them a traditional Italian finish line kiss. The last one turned out not to be part of the official package; an old acquaintance, an Italian journalist who was covering the event for an Italian paper, was there.
The finish area was a repurposed parking lot. Windy and somewhat desolate, with a big tent and a stage set up for a party, but as an early finisher, few were there. I only wanted to eat and go, but with the promise of prizes, and the time needed to find and scarf a meal, it made sense to stick around to see how the scene built up as the afternoon went on.
It was a ride. It was a day. It would not have been the same as riding alone, or with a gaggle of friends. I don’t know if I should have done it, but I was glad to have. This year? The entry fee makes me feel as if I should try other such events, on roads I know less well. I can still ride these roads with friends and Strava the climbs.
In retrospect, I had done myself wrong. The “competition” aspect of it led me to not follow my bliss of just hammering the Fondo until I could hammer no more. Crazy as I didn’t win anything and many of the fastest finishers where from out of the country. Dumb.
This GFNY gained some accidental notoriety in the month following the event. Two riders from the day were busted for doping. Two positives out of ten tests. One was a New York City rider who seemed to be an up and comer, and the other was an Italian in town for the Fondo. That the organizers decided to have drug testing will forever keep GFNY in my good graces. Some scoffed at the thought that people would dope for a gran fondo, but it demonstrates that the event is real racing. In contrast, the real racing at Battenkill was not subject to any drug testing.
As regulated group rides go, it was a decent time. If I had treated it the way I imagined a Gran Fondo should be run, I would have had a great time.
Tom Schuler on Team Sponsorship
Tom Schuler has been part of two of the most successful cycling teams of the modern era. He raced for the 7-Eleven team from its inception to its end (1981-1990); started as an amateur and turned pro with the team in 1985, racing the ’85 Giro d’Italia and winning the ’81 National criterium championship and ’87 USPRO road championship along the way. After retiring from competition, he first went to work as an assistant director at the Motorola team before going out on his own. He managed the Saturn Professional Cycling Team with his company Team Sports, from 1994-2003. 7-Eleven was arguably the first outside corporate sponsor to embrace American cycling in what we think of as the modern era. The Saturn team showed both a depth, with a dominating domestic men’s team and dominating international women’s team, and an integrated marketing approach that hadn’t been seen in cycling before or since. If you went to a race where a Saturn member was racing, chances are, representatives from a local Saturn dealership were also present.
Team Sports has also managed several other cycling teams including: Advantage Benefits/Bissell, Colavita, Quarq, TargetTraining, Team Type 1, Volvo/Cannondale. The company began by managing an inline skating team. They currently are managing the Timex Multi-Sport team, now in it’s 12th season, the Zoot Ultra Team, now in it’s sixth season. Team Sports also promotes events, including road racing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, Xterras, and is the promoter behind the 2012 National Cyclocross Championships in Madison, Wisconsin.
Thanks to his experience, he’s in a great position to discuss the hows and whys of team sponsorship, which is why we sat down with him to better understand his experience and ask him about the current state of sponsorship in bike racing.
JP: Why, in your opinion, do pro cycling teams exist?
TS: Why does bicycle racing exist? The bicycle is a wonderful vehicle and people will always go faster and race each other. There’s both an individual winner, but the team supports that individual. It’s also drafting and help. Teams lend themselves well to sponsorship. The team isn’t called Alberto Contador, but Saxo Bank. You can brand a group of athletes a team and give them a name.
JP: Do sponsors lead with business or love?
TS: We’re going to talk about patrons of the sport, and sponsors. There are always patrons of the sport, people get emotional and they support that. Major league sports have patrons, like George Steinbrenner, but the people would do it regardless of business metrics. Certainly Fred Mengoni comes to mind in the US. I don’t know the patrons in Europe that well. There are patrons that have a brand and promote that brand by using something they’re passionate about. We have corporate teams like Saturn that need to show and justify their return on investment.
JP: Did you initiate the sponsorship program with Saturn?
TS: The start of Saturn started at their agency, Hal Riney Partners, in 1990. They later got absorbed by bigger and bigger agencies. He (Riney) was the voice behind Bartles and Jaymes, among other things. But he was primarily a creative guy. He was Saturn’s initial agency in 1989. They needed an activity that was doable for a new company. They looked at a lot of activities and landed on cycling. It was both youth and family, both male and female, it was affordable, and from their estimation, there wasn’t any auto company that staked a claim on cycling. Being from San Francisco, they hooked up with Warren Gibson. He ran it the first two years. He reported to Hal Riney and Saturn and switched it back to their agency in Detroit, Carlson Marketing Group. They’re a huge group based in Minneapolis, but has a Detroit division.
So, Warren ran into some problems with budgets and the typical thing there. So they looked for a different person to run it. And that’s how I ended up with it.
Simultaneously, were talking to Volvo about the new sport of mountain biking. Two car companies launching. It was a busy time for us. (For the Saturn team) We reported to Saturn and the Carlson Group.
JP: How did you come up with what the team did?
TS: They wanted the team to reflect their customers, their target audience. So, both who they are and who they want to be. Their metrics showed that cycling related to their customer base. It was split pretty evenly between male and female. That’s rare with a car company at that time. They figured cycling was practiced by women and men.
JP: So is this was why you had a strong women’s team?
TS: There was a men’s team for the first two years. They said there was no reason we shouldn’t have a women’s team. We got a women’s team going last minute with three athletes. Jeanne Golay, Julie Young, and Jessica Grieco. Eventually we became the world’s number one women’s team.
It was a great value to have the women’s team; it cost very little.
We always presented the men’s and women’s team as equals, as one team. They don’t get any less budget, any less treatment. We presented them as we presented the men’s team.
Saturn presented themselves about the customer experience. So they wanted to be different. So they wanted one price, they were retailers not dealers. The atmosphere should be welcoming and more comfortable for women.
JP: How did you go about doing metrics?
TS: They used at least a couple of measurements. IEG, International Events Group, were commissioned to look at it. They’re engaged by clients to measure the results of sponsorship. About halfway through, they looked to determine ROI. They were investing in events as well as the team. The team was their main property in cycling. They determined that their best ROI was the team and they decided in the last few years to do it even better.
(Eventually) They wanted to hire an expert in cycling to work at Carlson as a contractor, so they hired Michael Aisner (promoter of the Coors Classic—JP). So they hired him to come up with all sorts of activation strategies, making targeted PR, placed many stories in national publications. So we were racing the same, but we were activating at a much higher level for those last few years.
JP: Did he increase ROI?
TS: Absolutely. It showed robust returns. Me coming up with the metrics myself isn’t fair.
JP: Can you share the numbers?
TS: I don’t know, but it was a multiple of their investment, and it was good to keep us going for many years. When it came time to renew, it had to make sense.
JP: Why did they pull the plug, was it not working anymore?
TS: One of the basic tenets of sponsorship, you’ve addressed the audience for a long time, they know you, so you move on to another group. So they moved on to marathoning.
JP: So success can cost you?
TS: The decision makers were told “everyone in cycling knows you” so address another group, like runners, and make sure they know Saturn.
JP: Was the Volvo sponsorship run with the same kind of vision and support?
TS: Probably not as sophisticated for marketing and activitation. They liked the involvement with Cannondale, they liked the image it produced. It was a high-end car with a high end bike. Activation-wise, they used a number of agencies, but not the same. Metrics-wise was both North American and then Europe. After the team took off in the US, the Europe side decided that it was a way to reach younger customers. And Europe was initially cold on it. They eventually took it over.
JP: How did these programs compare to the Saturn program in terms of what the sponsor wanted and what you gave them?
TS: I think by far Saturn was the most sophisticated in terms of spending on activitation and success at determining return on investment. The Colavita men’s team is now Jamis-Sutter Home, and the women’s team will get sponsorship money but not management from Colavita. TargetTraining, Rick (Spear) was a good patron of the sport. Team Type 1 always had to work for a sponsor and provide ROI. Phil Southerland is not a patron, but a manager, his sponsorship has to have a marketing return. Advantage Benefits/Endeavor/Bissell. Mark Bissell has been a patron, but does work it into their marketing mix. The Quarq team was supposed to be a marking platform for Quarq shoes. The job of the team of promoting sales should always be there, but sometimes the measuring stick is not always used the same way to connect to end sales. Connecting to sales is something sponsors all try to do at various levels.
Image: Alex Steida, Photosport International
Every week, it seems like there’s bad news on the pro team sponsorship front, a steady drumbeat that began with the announcement in August that team Highroad/HTC was unable to land a sponsor. In their wake, Leopard-Trek, the hot new team of 2010 merged with Team RadioShack. Then Team Geox, fresh of their surprise Vuelta victory lost their title sponsor. Garmin-Cervélo apparently secured and then lost a French co-sponsor, BigMat, which may or may not take a leading role on the French team FdJ. There are rumblings that Saxo Bank-Sungard (about to be Saxo Bank) isn’t on sound financial footing, but there have always been rumblings about Bjarne Riis’ formations. And Euskaltel-Euskadi, a reliable formation if there ever was one, is allegedly on shaky ground after next season.
It can be depressing. But we’re going about it as the cycling fans, like the cyclists, we are. We’re worried about doping; we think it might be the state of the world economy. Rational responses, and concerns I share. But I can’t help but feeling that we’re sane people in the psychiatric ward. There’s comfort in feeling right in crazytown, but it probably isn’t the way to success.
I see this most strongly when looking at how we beat ourselves up over doping. And how we let the world beat cycling up over doping. I have no doubt that doping is a problem in cycling. I want to get rid of the dopers, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. At the same time, I am certain that doping is a problem across the entire spectrum of sports, and cycling is doing more to root out doping than other sports. Yet when doping in sport comes up, cycling seems to get more attention than other sports, which work mightily to sweep their doping problems under their rugs. Look at how pro baseball tipped off their players when testing was first initiated. Look at how professional football barely gave a penalty for doping, and is now backing away from their pledge to test for human growth hormone. And this is before anyone discusses what seems to be common use of cortisone in pro football, something that is supposed to be strictly limited in cycling. The notorious Dr. Fuentes of Operacion Puerto fame claims he worked with football (soccer) and tennis players, yet nothing has been heard of that.
Look at sponsors in other sports. It’s easy to see that businesses have no trouble backing tainted athletes. Tiger Woods wrecked his carefully-cultivated public persona on his own, yet most of his sponsors stood by him. Accenture didn’t, but Rolex came on board. There has been no exodus of advertisers from The Super Bowl broadcast over drug use in football. Mark McGwire, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger was caught with steroids by a reporter in his big home run chase in 1998 (the reporter who noticed it in his locker): McGwire denied it, admitted it, and is still popular and employed by the team he “disgraced.” I don’t think sponsors care about perfect actors, but a patina of cleanliness and plausible deniability.
Doping isn’t a real issue. Nor is the world economy. There’s high unemployment, but corporate profits are at record levels. Products always need to be marketed. There’s a oft-repeated story told by marketers about how going in to The Great Depression, cereal manufacturers Kellogg’s and Post were about even in market share. Post decided to cut back on marketing, while Kellogg’s increased their marketing budget. At the end of the depression, Kellogg’s was the dominant player, a position they’ve held ever since.
Companies need to advertise their goods and services. Sometimes it’s something new; sometimes it’s reminding the public of something that’s already around. Some products always have a need to be marketed. Cars, banking, insurance, telecommunications, beverages, and lotteries are some of the evergreen advertisers. Massive companies with huge operating expenses and big advertising budgets. HTC, a mobile phone company, the most recent sponsor of Highroad, doubled their profits from $20 billion to $40 billion between 2010 and 2011. Whether or not this was a result of Highroad’s success is never discussed. Their advertising budget in the United States alone was $50 million per quarter, or $200 million dollars a year, starting in 2009. It’s easy to imagine their worldwide advertising budget was over a billion dollars annually. And that would make a $10 million dollar budget, probably much more than what Highroad received, for strong ProTour team is less than 1% of HTC’s advertising budget.
Highroad’s owner, Bob Stapleton claims that his team offered an amazing Return On Investment (ROI). HTC either disagreed or didn’t care. This plays against a core belief for the cycling fan: that their demographic is valuable. Let’s assume that Highroad had impressive data that showed investing in the team yielded an incredible ROI. It wasn’t enough.
American tifosi look at the growing popularity of the Tour de France in the U.S, with daily reports in major newspapers, dominating cable TV presence, and then add in the fact that the Tour is the most-watched sporting event in the world, eclipsed only by the quadrennial events of the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup, and figure that there must be advertising gold to be made out of camera time at the Tour. Mix that in with the growth of cycling both for commuting and recreation. It seems to herald a consumer who is tech savvy, spends on her health, and has plenty of disposable income.
For better or worse, perception plays a big part in determining value. Almost a decade ago, the ABC television network was poised to bring Late Night with David Letterman to their channel, which would have meant canceling Nightline. Funny thing was, Nightline had more viewers, but they were seen as less important than the Letterman viewers. And Nightline viewers made more money. They were deemed less important because they were older. Cycling could be suffering from a similar problem. Maybe cycling eyeballs aren’t important enough. Frustratingly, they will remain probably not important enough until they are.
But the reason our eyeballs might not be important enough is that ProTour-level racing has grown to cost sponsors something. It’s not nothing, but it’s not big money like a Formula One team (probably over $100 million) or an ad buy at the Super Bowl ($3 million every 30 seconds). This could put sponsoring a ProTour team out of reach for a passionate company chief, who might have sway in terms of how his company’s marketing budget is used, but not to the tune of several million dollars. At the same time, $10 million might be too small for the biggest companies to consider, as the impact might be hard to see, and consequently measure, as making a difference.
This could be why at least half the ProTeam organizations seems to have angel investors backing them. It also could be why many Pro Continental outfits have their jerseys littered NASCAR-style with small sponsors, many of whom get a benefit out of sponsorship, but the benefit is tied up with seeing themselves as good citizens or promoting their passion. These sponsors like the ROI, but it probably isn’t what drew them to get involved, nor is it what’s keeping them involved.
And this is the big place where being the rational person in the psych ward cannot only be counter-productive but self-defeating. We’re providing data that proves investing in a cycling team is a smart business decision. It makes us feel good that we can prove the value of bike racing. But in so doing, we’re giving out a means for potential sponsors to not only turn us down, but dismiss us. We’re telling potential sponsors we’re good for them, like we’re telling them to eat vegetables when they want to be sold on the idea that it’s a juicy steak.
While I’m sure there’s data demonstrating to potential sponsors of big time sport in the U.S. the value of sponsoring commercials during baseball games and the benefits of having a company name next to the scoreboard or any number of proposals involving businesses putting money into sports, I doubt the data is what sells the companies on putting their dollars behind a sport. I bet they’re sold on the passion, and yes, they have the data.
They way we’ve dealt with this reminds me of how cyclists advocate for cycling in the U.S. It makes sense on an environmental level, on a health level, on an economic level, and most cyclists are happy about that. Then a non-cyclist points out that a person riding a bike might get sweaty and the discussion is over.
We’ve tried rational. Rational doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it’s time to roll out crazy, an attractive crazy, and start focusing on that.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
For reasons unknown, this past Sunday, The New York Times ran a story on crashes in pro racing. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since this year’s Tour ended. Mostly because the reasons that most proffer don’t really explain what’s going on.
The Times article is here.
The biggest problem of all is that we’re relying on anecdotal evidence, and the Times is no different. The reporter gathered his anecdotes and offered them up. Ten deaths since 1995, though few mentioned because, they apparently aren’t worth mentioning. Thankfully, he does point out that no one is investigating. Seems to me that this is a matter for the UCI and the professional rider’s union (CPA) to investigate, but he doesn’t ask Pat McQuaid, nor CPA chief Gianni Bugno what they’re doing about it.
If racing my bike was my job, I’d want them investigating. At the very least, maybe an investigation of the reported crashes at the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta. The three big stage races. Maybe looking at them can help point to things that might merit further research.
With the Tour, the biggest cycling stage in the world, every team has an incentive to ride aggressively, everyone wants an opportunity to get in front of the camera, everyone wants a dig at a stage win, just about every racer is probably thinking, no matter what their assignment is, if they just do one more thing, they might be able to score yellow, just for a day, and it won’t derail their team leader’s chances at his stated goal. Seems like a recipe for lots of crashes.
Stakes are highest for most riders and teams at the Tour, no doubt. But there are big crashes at the Vuelta and Giro as well, and they often take out a favorite, or two. And every year, there are crashes at the Tour, and crashes at every race. Every year at the Tour, and other big races, favorites are either caught up in the crashes and drop out or are caught behind them and are knocked out of contention before the critical stages or sectors begin. We’re not always paying attention in other races. But somehow, this year seemed different. There were lots of explanations; the most interesting I read was a cleaner peloton is both more evenly matched and more fatigued.
Maybe more evenly-matched causes some problems, but more fatigued I find hard to believe. It strikes me that such a comment assumes that every last cyclist was doping, because otherwise, the clean cyclists would probably have been more fatigued ten or fifteen years ago than they are now. Even if every last cyclist was doping, there is plenty of evidence that there are both high-responders and low-responders to doping products, EPO in particular, and the low-responders would presumable be at a greater disadvantage than they are today, assuming a cleaner peloton.
I think it’s safe to rule out road conditions as being a big problem, as road conditions are generally better today than they were in the past. I also think it’s safe to rule out “road furniture” on the transitions in and out of towns for most crashes. I know the road furniture theory is a popular one, and the awful Craig Lewis-Marco Pinotti crash at this year’s Giro has been attributed to road furniture, but even their crash deserves at least a little questioning. Was there any footage of it? I couldn’t find any. Maybe road furniture is responsible, but maybe it was just what they hit and the cause was something else. Maybe the crash would have been worse had it not been for the road furniture. I have no reason to doubt either person’s sincerity, but unless we have a better idea of what happened it seems premature to assign blame.
To me, another strike against the road furniture theory is that at this year’s crash-ridden Tour, it didn’t seem like any crashes were the result of road furniture; most of the heavily-reported crashes seemed to have happened on straight roads or in the mountains. There’s also evidence that the Tour and other big races work with local governments to remove some traffic circles and speed bumps where they think their removal will improve safety. I noticed what appeared to be traffic circle modifications during the World Championships as well. I think it’s safe to rule out narrow roads, as not only were wider roads once seen as a culprit, but narrow roads were once all the peloton used.
I’d like to offer up a few alternative explanations to the common cries.
It’s possible that crashes are as common as they’ve always been, but that broken bones are more common today than they used to be, making the crashes more serious and more frequently race-ending. As such, I think one potential culprit is osteopenia. If you haven’t heard of it, consider it osteoporosis lite: bone mineral density is lower than normal. I think it should be considered a factor in all crashes where bone breakage occurs, whether it is in training or racing. Anecdotally, there seem to be more and more stories about guys breaking bones in training crashes the past several years. Even “normal” cyclists can have reduced bone density as a result of all the miles they put in, so a Tour rider, particularly a climber who has meticulously starved himself down to his ideal race weight, probably has thinned his bones beyond what the average mileage-hound has done. I heard physiologist Allen Lim discussing hearing about crashes and thinking that every crash has the potential to break bones during a Grand Tour. When I put it to Dr. Michael Ross, a former team doctor, he unhesitatingly said, “yes.” It also could be a sign of cortico-steroid abuse, something Dr. Ross pointed out, as the result is same. Yes, these guys are racing hard, yes, they’re going fast, yes, they’re hitting the ground hard, but looking at how emaciated riders like Brad Wiggins and Chris Horner are at their Tour weight, I have to imagine their bodies catabolized bone matter to keep going. It strikes me as an evolutionary strategy that certainly helped early humans survive famines, but it also could be how crashes are breaking collarbones, ribs, pelvises, wrists, hips, and so on. For all the discussion about injuries resulting from race crashes, lots of guys seem to be breaking bones training; Dutch rider Robert Gesink had his season ended for him shortly before the World Championships when he fractured his leg while out training.
Some have suggested the culprit could be the machine itself. The bikes don’t seem to be the problem as catastrophic failures from normal riding have largely disappeared, and it’s hard to believe that a bike breaking after hitting the ground is injuring riders. Others point to stiffer wheels and too-light bikes, but I doubt those lines of thinking. I’ve seen little evidence that wheels are vertically stiffer than they used to be, which would be where the problem would lie in straight-line crashes. Tires are just about the same today as they were 25 years ago, and bikes still flex and tire pressure can be adjusted to account for stiffness. Steve Tilford speculated on his blog that some of the sketchy downhill riding was due to racers not training on their race wheels. He may be right. But I think the problem might extend to all racing. Not all carbon-fiber braking surfaces brake equally well. Some are grabby, some pulse, some give the unsettling feeing they’re not slowing down, even in the dry, some work fine in the dry but are questionable in the wet. Most pros can only ride the wheels they sponsors want them to ride, so they could be stuck between taking the risk of crashing or taking the risk of getting dropped more easily. I think many amateur racers would take the same risk, at least in the dry. People might suggest disc brakes, but I even with discs, tire traction, or lack thereof, will be a problem in the wet.
Another potential culprit is the training schedules of racers. At one time, pros probably raced much, much more before showing up to the Tour—the Tour came after both the Vuelta and the Giro and racers typically raced from February into June with smaller training blocs in between. Yes, they might not have been as fast as racers today, their training and nutrition wasn’t as precise, but by racing, they were training themselves to be more skilled in the peloton. And now the peloton is bigger. Riding in a pack takes skill, a skill that is honed by practice, unless there are some Wii games I don’t know about. Some weekend warriors in the US race more than Tour contenders between the start of their season and the Tour. Consider that this year, Chris Horner didn’t race at all between his victory at the Tour of California in May and the start of the Tour. Alberto Contador didn’t race at all between his Giro victory and the Spanish nationals, where he raced the time trial and road race, and then came to the Tour.
Or maybe the converse is true. Cadel Evans barely raced all spring and seemed to be able to race his few races with no crashing issues, though his preference is to race at the front. Maybe the pack as a whole are better bike handlers today and more comfortable riding closer to one another which makes it easier to crash several riders at once when one thing goes wrong.
The biggest issue is probably randomness, volume, and the nature of riding in the peloton. Just take an assembled group of cyclists, 189 riders is 21 teams worth, and have them ride an average of 100 miles a day for three weeks. Even if they were all riding solo, there would be crashes. Knowing how many riders go down in training and how frequently would be interesting to know, and something to compare to all the race crashes.
Some point to the packs being bigger as a culprit in crashes. There could be something to this, though the phenomenon of large fields began in 1986 when 210 riders started. And this time probably is when the super-large fields started occurring at the top races throughout cycling. Previous to this, it seems that races were in the range of 30-50% smaller and largely composed of teams racing in their home country—the Tour with French riders on French teams, the Vuelta with Spanish riders, the Giro with Italian and so on.
For riders, racing is their job and they owe it to themselves to demand research to determine what the real issues and culprits are. At the same time, they probably shouldn’t push for any changes until serious research is done. As a response to the extreme length of the 1987 Tour (22 teams of nine riders apiece riding 25 stages totaling 4231km), there was a movement to standardize the lengths of Grand Tours and shorten stages. This was seen as doing, among other things, reducing the incentive to dope. We know how that worked out.
Race radios are sure to come up as a safety thing. There’s no easy answer with them. Yes, directors can alert their riders to dangers up ahead, but there are downsides to trusting the voice in your ear. What if the director is wrong? What if riders interpret silence to mean everything is safe ahead? When hard helmets were first mandated by the USCF in the 1986, there was an argument that people would take more risks because they knew their head was safe. That never made sense. But I read a story about Erik Zabel’s role for the HTC-Highroad team. Supposedly he’d preview the stage finish and then relay what he saw to the team car, and Ralf Aldag or Brian Holm would then tell the riders. He apparently saw a turn that looked tricky but was convinced the leadout train could take it without braking. Hincapie lead through, didn’t touch his brakes, and Cavendish won the stage. Did this make for safer racing? The first guys made it through and probably so did the entire field. But what if he had been wrong? Is it good for the riders to trust such judgements?
It’s situations like these when I’m glad I’m not a pro bike racer. But it also makes me wonder how safe conditions are for all bike racing.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International