By Gregor Brown
The announcement of new backer Saxo Bank came as welcomed news for Bjarne Riis' team as its main backer, CSC, was set to leave the sport at the end of this season. The Danish investment bank, with operations worldwide, will start as co-sponsor for 2008 and take over full sponsorship from 2009. CSC Sports Director Scott Sunderland was delighted with the news and considered it perfect timing as the team is readying for the Tour de France.
"It is a global and multinational sponsor. ... They have headquarters all over the world. It is a concept similar to the team – with 17 languages and 15 nationalities," explained Sunderland to Cyclingnews. "We also do a very global programs and it suits them very well. ... They see how we work with Bjarne's philosophy – his values of teamwork and commitment – and this is what they want to instill into their work force and show their clients as to what they are about. They came to Bjarne Riis, without them [CSC - ed.] going to them."
Sunderland and the riders of the Danish team, which includes Milano-Sanremo winner Fabian Cancellara, were faced with the news of CSC leaving the sport this March. The sponsor had backed the team since 2001.
"When I had the meeting with the guys in Tirreno-Adriatico, I said, 'Guys, you have CSC as the name on your jerseys, but you are the team, and what this is all about,'" Sunderland continued. The team went on to win the race with Cancellara, in his build up to the Milano-Sanremo and Spring Classics. "We were all very confident, and they just had to continue winning bike races and doing what they do best. Bjarne, [media officer] Brian Nygaard and [managing director] Trey Greenwood were very busy and we were always confident.
"The timing was perfect, just after the Giro d'Italia and not having to wait until the eve of the Tour de France or after the Tour. However, the riders were all prepared to wait until after the Tour before they started signing up for other teams."
The French Grand Tour is typically the time when riders make contacts with other teams for the coming season, but with Saxo Bank onboard the team directors can start to renew contracts and the riders can focus on racing.
"The riders can now concentrate on what they need to be doing, and that is riding fast and winning bike races. From my prospective as a Team Director, that is great. Life is going on for the rest of the staff as well; people want to build houses and start families, and now they know the team is going on for the next three years and possibly five years, with the two-year option. Things are feeling secure, and that is good for everyone."
The signing of a multinational company is seen as a positive sign given cycling's recent tribulations. "It shows that even over the rough times with cycling in general – and in the team with Bjarne and T-Mobile last year – that with great business and dedication sponsors like this will still be attracted to the sport and it is the new way to go with the sport. ... These are serious people and they are not going to be gambling on something if it is not worthwhile."