by Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
With uncertainty always present from year to year in cycling sponsorships, a multi-year increase in a budget from a sponsor is rare - even more so in women's cycling. But TEAm Lipton is defying the norm with a huge step-up in budget and plans reaching far down the road, all the way to the next Olympics. TEAm Lipton's manager Julie Upton told Cyclingnews that the team will be expanding for 2006, and in a big way. "We have letters of intent from several really good riders and we have a multiyear deal from Lipton to build towards the Olympics," said Upton.
While the team has existed to date as a developmental team with several young riders, Upton says that was a test balloon of sorts for Lipton, and its parent companies Unilever and Pepsico. "We are starting with women - in a way testing the waters, so we are not opposed to starting a men's team [in the future.]"
So far the test has proven quite effective for the Lipton brand, according to Upton. "We've had so much interest from Lipton around the world saying thanks for putting this together, since it is so different from the tradition marketing of Lipton. We can't keep up with our supply of uniforms going to Germany and other countries!"
Though the brand is worldwide, the team will remain focused on the U.S. for the near future, with a purposeful intent to hire only U.S. riders in order to make an Olympics run. "We are only a domestic-based team," Upton explained. "The brand managers from the U.S. are on board, so we wouldn't do a European tour at this point. The only thing that makes sense for us would be theTour of Holland, since [Unilever] is headquartered in Holland, and it would be only a PR move."
Though no names of new riders have been disclosed, the hints at money indicate that the new team could afford some of the better U.S. riders. "Our budget is signed off, but I don't want to talk specifics, but it's good! And there are incentives and increases over time." Regardless, the team is not abandoning its roots as a developmental team. "We did have more a developmental program, and some riders were clearly on the radar in terms of ability, so we are retaining two or three of them - Kristen LaSasso, Liza Rachetto and possibly Katherine Lamden.
Velocity Sports Management, the management company of the men's cycling team Navigators Insurance, will manage the team, with Michael Engleman in talks to be the team director.
One key idea Upton plans on seeing though for next year is the team's mainstream media success. "Luckily our media impressions with our current team have far exceeded our hopes. That is as important to us as winning races - keeping up with the media exposure - and we hope to do more grass roots events next year."