Ben Coates, the team liaison for Trek has told Cyclingnews that the American bike manufacturer will support Team Leopard for ‘multiple years’ in a partnership that will aim to give the brand a greater ‘European presence’.
Coates was speaking at the launch of the ProTeam in Luxembourg last week where Trek was unveiled as the co-sponsor of Brian Nygaard’s team.
“We actually reached out to Kim [Andersen]. I caught wind of a potential new programme coming together during the Tour last year and there were some rumblings of it before that, but we didn’t have any real knowledge of anything coming together until then,” Coates told Cyclingnews.
“I reached out to Kim and that spurred a set of meetings that took place during and just after the Tour. We met with a few members of the team early on and followed up on that until we had a deal signed in the fall.”
Trek, who already provide bikes for Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack, as well as the Trek-Livestrong under-23 programme, may have made the first moves but their initial steps were not based out of a desire to be a co-sponsor.
“We didn’t necessarily go and reach out to the team saying that we wanted to be a co-sponsor, it was a negotiation platform that we came into and it made sense for us to be on the title line. From the first negotiations of real time we fell into that and we wanted to be a named sponsor of the title.
“Our communications with the team were private and they went from ‘we want to be a part of what you’re doing’… We didn’t go in saying that we wanted to be a title sponsor but it certainly wasn’t like we got talked into it because of money or anything. It spurred in the early conversations.”
With a deal done, Trek and Leopard waited several months before announcing the team name. While Nygaard used the opportunity wisely to drum up publicity for the yet-to-be-named team, little was written in relation to Trek, who were hardly mentioned when it came to speculating on co-sponsors. Coates doesn’t believe that it was a wasted opportunity for publicity that the team name, or at least the Trek element, was not unveiled sooner.
“I don’t think so. We are very considerate of our fellow manufacturers and teams. There’s an unwritten rule somewhere that it’s kind of okay if some guys ride your bike before the end of the year but that it’s not okay for some companies.
“Rather than get into the murky waters of whether we can promote this team our contract is effective from January 1. We’re not the type of company to go and attack someone else for doing it and releasing early but we know that other companies will.”
“Cycling is a small community and we like to be friends in that community and it’s not worth having that risk or that we really truly can’t promote until Jan 1st.”
The 3 million Euro question
On the eve of the team launch, speculation in L’Équipe spoke of €3 million as the figure stumped up by the bike manufacturer. However Coates would not confirm numbers.
“I have no comment about the dollar figure. There’s no information and it’s a private deal that we made. The team have enough money and came up with a bank guarantee and we’re funding a portion of the team.”
Finances aside, Trek see this as a long-term partnership. Nygaard has a four year licence and while he made it clear on stage that the team would always be called Leopard, Coates added that the collaboration was for multiple years, although he would not elaborate on the exact length.
“Our intention is to be a partner in the team for as long as we can. We have a long-term deal that’s really all we’re willing to discuss at this point. It’s for multiple years and it’s long term. It’s extensive,” he told Cyclingnews.
“The motivation here is to be part of the programme and there’s a lot of different reasons but it boils down to a couple of specific things, where we want the best riders to ride the best bikes and we want to be partners with the teams that make the best sense.”
RadioShack came into the sport for a two-year stint and all indications are that they will leave professional cycling at the end of the season. Armstrong will finally say his farewells and Johan Bruyneel has been keen to sign riders only on one-year deals going forward – all of which means that the opportunity to work with the likes of the Schlecks and Fabian Cancellara was too good to turn down, while Trek believe that any overlap between the two squads will cause no harm to their business or their ability to provide for both teams.
The US is currently Trek’s biggest market but their fastest growing share of business comes from across the pond, in Europe.
“We felt like our presence in the pro peloton needed to grow and that we had a very good team with RadioShack and we’re very happy with them, but we just felt that we needed more presence in the peloton and with that we needed a European presence.”
“RadioShack are very much American and are close to our hearts with this being an American company. But Trek is a global brand and our distribution is massive outside the US and we need to start thinking of our company as a worldwide company. So partnering with a team that’s a little more internationally seen with a European identify will help our business world wide. Our biggest growth potential is in Europe.”
During last year’s negotiations when Phinney had at least three ProTeams chasing his signature – BMC, RadioShack and Leopard – Trek tried to facilitate a move for the American rider. With Armstrong facing a possible fall from grace and retirement, the US bike business is busy looking for a marketable personality and Phinney ticks that box. As well as a talent on the bike, he oozes confidence and a smart self-awareness of his potential.
“The message that is clear for us and our company is that we want the best riders riding Trek all over the world and so if the opportunity comes about where we can facilitate one of the best American riders to ride on a Trek bicycle then we’ll do so. Right now we have a large American presence in RadioShack and some of those riders have been facilitated by us and the Trek Livestrong team.”
As for Phinney: “It was certainly discussed but it was outside of our power to bring him here as a bike manufacturer. There were conversations but it just didn’t work out and it didn’t make sense for everybody. We couldn’t make it work.”