News feature, February 8, 2006
After months of secrecy the United Pro Cycling announced its sponsor and a planned structure of support from fans. Ashley McCullough was in New York City for the team's launch.
The US' latest professional team, United Pro Cycling, unveiled its title sponsor in New York Tuesday morning, revealing that car maker Toyota would be backing the new squad. The team will also be funded by support from fans, team owner Sean Tucker announced.
Tucker is clearly hoping that the riders and directors he has recruited will be an irresistible draw for fans. The team includes USPRO champion Chris Wherry, U.S. time trial champion Chris Baldwin, Pan Am Games champion Ivan Dominguez, former U.S. Olympian Tony Cruz, and four-time Argentinean national champion, Juan Jose Haedo. The fan support business model has worked for the Euskaltel-Euskadi team in the Basque country, but failed to bring in enough revenue to support Australia's iTeamNOVA in 2002 and 2003.
It's a new way of working for an American team; U.S. domestic squads have always followed the traditional cycling model of seeking support from a large naming sponsor. But when the sponsor decides its priorities lie elsewhere, the team can go from dominance to nothing overnight.
"The problem with the existing structure is that after a couple years of building a great team, a sponsor will fold and the team will disappear. Not anymore," says Tucker.
"I wanted to create the cycling dream team and bring the enthusiasm for cycling found in Europe to the United States," Tucker says. "So I created a model that's been 11 years in the making from the influence of the NBA and the NFL. And we're hoping other teams will follow suit."
Tucker has constructed a fan membership and sponsorship structure, similar to that of NASCAR and Formula 1. He founded United Bicycles, L.L.C. to be the team's individual brand, supported by a corporate sponsor, and he believes that model ensures Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team's longevity in the sport beyond any given sponsor's involvement and offers fans a long-term relationship with the team. Fans are given the opportunity to subscribe as members to the team at different levels, starting at a free level, and elect to receive e-mailed newsletters with team race results, rider interviews and photos, exclusive team merchandise discounts, and special offers from team sponsors.
"Fans should be able to take part in the successes and failures of the team, just like they do with basketball and football," Tucker says.
Additionally, a percentage of all paid memberships will go to support the United Cycling Foundation, a non-profit subsidiary of United Cycling, L.L.C. addressing homelessness and environmental causes.
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. spokesperson, Jennifer Savary, said the company is delighted to be on board. "The sport of cycling illustrates a long-term commitment to goals and meticulous attention to detail, two of the values Toyota stands behind firmly," said Savary. Toyota is the exclusive car and truck sponsor of the team, in addition to being the team's title sponsor. This multi-year deal marks Toyota's first-ever sponsorship of a domestic pro road cycling team and is claimed to be the largest deal ever signed for a domestic team in North America.
"We're very excited to support the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team because they bring so much passion to the sport," said Jim Farley, Toyota's vice president of marketing. "Cycling is about always moving forward and improving on everything you do. At Toyota we can absolutely relate to that."
When Sean Tucker was looking to hire team directors, two names popped into his head: Frankie Andreu and Harm Jansen. Frankie Andreu, nine-time Tour de France finisher and captain of the United States Postal Service team in 1999 and 2000, was the first person recruited to the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team and was instrumental in the acquisition of many of the squad's top performers.
"Sean had these creative new ideas," Andreu said of Tucker. "This model is so different. It's really exciting to be a part of it. My co-director, Harm, and I were able to select the best riders in America and when we brought them to training camp, we knew we'd done well. The way these guys were all getting along at camp was amazing. Together, we're going to be unstoppable."
Harm Jansen, a Dutch national champion with 17 years of full-time racing under his belt and 180 career wins, said he was finishing up his thesis in civil engineering when Tucker called him.
"I told him 'Sean, can you give me a little time? I'm not so good at multi-tasking.' I was preparing for a whole new career. But I didn't have to think about it long. Cycling is where my heart is. I have so much passion for this sport. In about ten days, I was in. And I couldn't be happier. We're going to take a really active approach this season. We're coming to race hard and win."
The Inside Scoop
The top two riders of the new squad, Chris Wherry and Chris Baldwin are seasoned veterans with successful careers in the U.S. and stints of racing in Europe. Between the two of them, have raced with almost every other rider on this new squad. They also bring two stars and stripes jerseys to the team; Wherry is reigning USPRO champion and Baldwin is U.S. time trial champion.
"I'm really excited about the coming season," Wherry said. "The way this team came together, with me coming from Health Net, Chris coming from Navigators, and other guys pulling out from other teams, it's really made the talent pool more dispersed. And that's what makes racing fun. There's not going to be one team that dominates this year."
"When the teams get more balanced, the U.S. scene gets more exciting," Baldwin agreed.
The heavy domestic racing schedule marks a transition for both riders, however, as they've both spent significant time racing in Europe over the past couple years.
"With races like Tour of California and Tour de Georgia," Wherry said, "now the European teams are coming here. Which means we get to race against them on our own soil. That's going to be really fun."
"I'll miss the racing a bit," Baldwin said, "but I certainly won't miss the travel."
Chris Wherry was brought on early in the negotiations while Baldwin came on quite a bit later.
"I knew he (Baldwin) was looking to come back from Europe," said Wherry, "so when they asked me about other guys I'd like to ride with, he was someone I really wanted to get."
"That's one of the great things about this team, too," Baldwin said. "It's the most democratic of any team I've ever been on. It's the most Three Muskateers mentality I've ever seen. One for all and all for one. Everyone is looked at as an important cog in the machine."
"It's definitely really democratic." Wherry added. "They're looking to raise awareness of the whole level of the sport and that starts with the riders. They actually came to us and asked which equipment we wanted to be on. And how often do teams do that? Generally, you show up to training camp and you get what you get. These guys came to us and said 'What tires do you want to ride? What do you trust going into a corner at 60 miles an hour?' Sean really made it a point to include us. That just shows how much they're thinking outside the box with this team."
To that end, another unusual move for the team is its partnership with Easton Sports, Inc. for the design and fabrication of the team's bikes. Each bike will be custom-made for the rider.
"Generally the bike sponsor puts out certain sizes and the guys are fitted as best as can be," Sean Tucker said. "But we want to ensure that our riders have the best possible bikes to help them deliver great results. And that starts with giving them bikes that really fit them."
"The greatest thing about this team, though, is the group of riders," Baldwin said. "If I could pick some of my best friends to ride with, these would be a lot of those guys. And it was really evident at training camp. The camaraderie was amazing. Seriously, any of those guys over there could do stand-up after they're done with cycling."
"They're sofunny!" Wherry agreed. "We are going to have such a great season."
It pays to like your teammates. No matter how good each rider is
individually, he needs his team behind him in order to win.
"If I win, it's 70 percent the team and 30percent me," said Juan Jose Haedo.
If the reality is anwhere close to the level of confidence being radiated by Tucker, Jansen, Andreu and their riders today, the Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team will be a cohesive and dominant domestic force this season. Their inaugural season kicks off with the inaugural Tour of California, February 19-26, against 15 of the world's top cycling teams.
Chris Wherry (USA), formerly of Health Net-Maxxis
Tony Cruz (USA), formerly of Discovery Channel
Chris Baldwin (USA), formerly of Navigators Insurance
Bobby Lea (USA), formerly of Team Northwestern Mortgage
Ivan Dominguez (Cuba), formerly of Health Net-Maxxis
Juan Jose Haedo (Argentina), formerly of Colavita-Sutter Home
Ivan Stevic (Serbia), formerly of Aerospace Engineering
Justin England (USA), formerly of Health Net-Maxxis
Heath Blackgrove (New Zealand), formerly of Beveren, Belgium
Jose Manuel Garcia (Mexico), formerly of Mexican national team
Mariano Friedick (USA), formerly of Jelly Belly-Pool Gel
Stefano Barberi (Brazil), formerly of TIAA-CREF
Sterling Magnell (USA), formerly of Team Monex
Derek Wilkerson (USA), formerly of Colavita-Sutter Home
Josh Thornton (USA), formerly of Neptune-Fuji
Sean Sullivan (Australia), formerly of Team Barloworld, South Africa
Chris Stockburger (USA), formerly of U.S. national team
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.
Cendant Hotel Group
Easton Sports, Inc.
OS Performance Nutrition
Tifosi Optics™, Inc.
United Bicycles, L.L.C.