By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
The word 'controversial' is becoming synonymous with the fledgling US domestic team, Rock Racing, and its outspoken owner, Michael Ball, the flamboyant, Lamborghini-driving executive behind the fashion label Rock & Republic, the team's principal financial sponsor. Registered as a 'Continental' team with the UCI – the lowest level pro team ranking – it had announced plans to enter major ProTour events in Europe, even though UCI rules prevent teams at this level from competing. It also announced the signing of riders such as Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla, who both have alleged links to the Operación Puerto investigation, it named currently suspended rider Floyd Landis as involved with the team, and parted ways with director sportif Frankie Andreu.
The team's ongoing evolution has resulted in considerable media coverage and the latest headlines surround its rocky relationships with leading players in the cycling industry. In short, the team's relations with equipment sponsors have been as much of a roller coaster ride as with its roster.
Several companies told Cyclingnews that they experienced inconsistent treatment from Michael Ball and Rock Racing. Indeed, the musical chairs it has played with bike sponsors in the past six months is the most salient example. For the 2007 season, Rock Racing was riding Scott bicycles. According to Adrian Montgomery of Scott USA, the team was slated to ride Scott bikes again in 2008. "We had an agreement, but not a contract, for the 2007 and 2008 season," said Montgomery. "I couldn't get a good contract ... he (Ball) has to be able to opt out of anything."
Montgomery indicated that Ball had "good lawyers" and as such, he found the legal process difficult. He said his experience was "the same thing he is doing with his athletes".
Still, Montgomery was planning on being with Rock Racing in 2008, as a USA domestic addition to their principal sponsorship of the ProTour-level Saunier Duval team, now known as Saunier Duval-Scott. "I had it all set, including the dates that they would be built," he said of the Rock Racing agreement. "I had all new 'Addicts' (Scott's high-end model) with chrome Rock Racing decals – a really sick design. I gave him a great deal for 2008, but it didn't include all his other 'teams'." The teams Montgomery referred to were supposed plans for a younger development team and women's squad, along with the main squad.
Montgomery told Rock Racing that he could not supply the amount of bicycles requested. "Saying things like we don't have enough inventory probably made Michael think we are small-time, but that is the nature of the business – we can't have all that inventory in stock just lying around," he added. "And it's very unlikely that we would even have the right sizing!"
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