By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
An elite team in the midwest, with designs on making the jump to UCI Continental team status either this season or next, has landed two key sponsorships that will help make their plans possible. Major clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch has agreed to be the title sponsor of the Abercrombie & Fitch presented by Inferno Racing team. This agreement will span next season with possibilities for renewal beyond.
Inferno director Chad Thompson says this will be the start of a new level for the elite team as it transitions into a pro squad. "This year's team is brand new but is spawned off of the elite team. We became a 501 (c) 3 and incorporated in Ohio." The Ohio connection is key to the sponsor, as Abercrombie & Fitch is headquartered outside Columbus.
"We knocked on everybody's door, and Abercrombie & Fitch's Leslee Herro who is a cyclist, was interested in hearing what we had to say. We had all this sponsorship and commitments but no money. And within two days we had an answer. They are also really into our charity aspects with the Peloton Project. So they are sponsoring us through their philanthropy department."
Another major sponsor of the team is Masi, who is returning to major team sponsorship after a short stint with the Diet Rite women's team a few years ago. Masi Brand Manager Tim Jackson says that restarting his sponsorship program with a new team as a benefit for both. "For Masi, it's an excellent opportunity to get back in the door for sponsorships. We are just now developing a TT frame, so we can't physically support a Pro Tour team yet. They've got a couple of guys who are good TT riders on the team, so I'll get some valuable feedback from that."
When asked about the risk of sponsoring a new team, when many do not get off the ground in their first year, Jackson responded saying, "I don't see it as a risk. With Abercrombie & Fitch signing on, they have the money. Chad is hoping to grow the program and keep it rolling. He sees this as a pedestal to launch an even bigger program. With AF on the team, they'll generate press no matter what. If they end up at Georgia, they are going to be like the other small teams like Jittery Joe's and act as the giant killer. "
Regardless of the level the team competes at this coming season, Thompson knows that the performance of the team, both on and off the bike, will be key in flourishing the partnership. "Bringing a cool, mainstream sponsor means we have to prove ourselves. Not just through winning, because we are going to win, but also through our charities and through our communication."
2006 Abercrombie & Fitch p/b Inferno roster
David "Shawn" Adams - OH
Andrew "Andy" Applegate NC (Multiple National Championship Titles)
Jim Baldesare (2002 US men's National Elite Criterium Champion) - OH
Ryan Gamm - OH
Jeremy Grimm (20005 Ohio state Criterium Champion) - OH
Jered Gruber - GA
Rich Harper (2005 Georgia Cup Champion) - NC
Mark Hekman (Ranked 5th in 2005 USCF/NRC Criterium standings overall) - NC
Abe McNutt - OH
Malachi "Reid" Peacock - GA
Ryan Rish - OH
Todd Shaker - OH
Tim Swain - OH
Chad Thompson (Team Director/ rider) - OH