By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Las Vegas
While a lot of recent news about Lance Armstrong has overshadowed the wheeling and dealing happening at the Interbike trade show, one aspect of his return actually has relevance specific to the industry. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Armstrong is investing millions of dollars into component maker SRAM, as part of the deal with Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., subsidiary of the recently collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers.
While the two entities are relatively separate, the infusion of cash from Armstrong is expected to have a positive impact. Lehman had actually courted Lance prior to any knowledge of his comeback, beginning as far back as 2007. And the fact that Armstrong will be riding SRAM as part of the existing sponsorship with Astana is apparently just coincidence. "The funny thing, when we did the deal with Lance we were unaware that he was planning to return to competitive cycling," Charlie Moore, a managing director of Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking told WSJ. "It's serendipitous."
"It's great to have that kind of intelligent money, really knowledgeable money to be part of the company," SRAM chief executive Stan Day told Cyclingnews. "It's a small piece of the total investment but it is a meaningful piece to be sure. We are excited that Lance is interested in riding are components and investing in our components, and that is a great combination."
"We certainly weren't the first in the industry to hear about it, but it came onto our plate three weeks ago," said Day. "We were as surprised as the whole industry but also pleased. Lance brings great credibility and great draw to the industry and it is good to have him back."
The combination of Lance as a technical advisor, investor and now sponsored rider is quite a coup for SRAM in terms of battling for a share of the market with Armstrong's former component maker Shimano. Armstrong had been with the Japanese company for so long that he still rode their components at Wednesday night's Cross Vegas race at Interbike.
"We couldn't switch his bike out and have him go into a race right away!" Day laughed. "But he's ridden our product a lot over the last several months and he is comfortable with it. He likes the weight, stiffness and the use of carbon. It will be interesting to work him closer and get his ideas. We will incorporate that with our other athletes' feedback."
Day was present at the press conference where Armstrong gave details about his comeback and his opinions on doping in cycling and sport in general. "I agree with him," said Day. "We have rules. Let's test for it and if somebody gets caught, kick him out and get on the with the sport. Quit whining about it! We are all big grown men at this point and if somebody breaks the rules, get out and keep playing the game."