By Sue George, Mountain Bike Editor
A few of the Trek / VW team's domestic racers of 2008 have been left looking for sponsorship just one month before the New Year. Although Trek recently stepped up to sponsor an international World Cup - level team sponsoring elite downhillers and cross country racers, sources are reporting to Cyclingnews that Trek's national and regional American domestic squads are being downsized or eliminated.
"Nope, I'm not racing for Trek in 2009," confirmed Lea Davison to Cyclingnews. "I'm currently unattached and I don't have a team. It's a big bummer."
Davison has put the word that she is available out to top teams, but it may be too late to win a spot on another national-level squad. "I found out a week ago. I've been doing a lot of brainstorming. Tomorrow [Tuesday - ed.] I will have a meeting with my agent."
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed," she said optimistically. "I'm looking to independent sponsorship - maybe I can cobble together something for 2009 and then we'll see what 2010 brings?" Davison is considering options like racing part-time on the road in Europe.
"As far as I know, I've heard there will be no national Trek team. We've been in existence for 10 years and it's been a great program. The feeder program [Trek factory regional team system - ed.] was a great thing for the national-level team."
Joining Davison in the hunt for sponsorship are 2008 teammates Ross Schnell and Jeremiah Bishop.
"I'm reviewing my options - including a current offer from Trek for next year," said Bishop, who is the 2008 US National Champion in both the short track and the marathon disciplines. "With due diligence, I will pursue co-sponsors to make that possible. I have a great relationship with Trek dealers, reps and international distributors and employees and management at Trek and I'd like to continue that. However, the current sponsorship offer is not sufficient to retain my services for next year."
Bishop said he is negotiating with two potential teams, one of which may turn into a new mountain bike team venture for 2009. He declined to comment on the future of the national or regional Trek squads, and Trek Brand Manager Michael Browne could not be reached for comment.
In contrast, long-time Trek / VW racer Chris Eatough confirmed that he will indeed remain a Trek-sponsored racer for 2009.
"I have a contract for 2009. Trek assures me that they will uphold that contract," said Eatough, a former 24 hours of Adrenalin solo World Champion and National Ultra Endurance (NUE) series winner.
He added, "I think I will pursue a similar racing schedule for 2009. I'm lucky that I do have a contract and I know what's going on for next year when a lot of people don't." Eatough said he will focus on races like 100 milers and the BC Bike stage race.
With the future of Trek's domestic sponsorship in doubt, some mountain bikers may be joining the ranks of road racers facing a tough sponsorship climate. That may be due in part to the current domestic and global economic downturn, to the post-Olympic year timing of 2009 or both.
"In the current economy, it's not a good time to be a bike racer," said Davison.
"There certainly is something to the theory that the post-Olympic year can be difficult," said Bishop. "The sport's biggest players invest a lot into that, and at some point, they look at the bottom line and decide to reign it in."
"I think it's a combination of both factors," concluded Davison. "Always the year after the Olympics, there is a dip in sponsorship dollars. And that is accentuated by the economy right now. The good thing is that right now most of the teams are staying status quo except for Trek."
Despite the uncertainty of her path for 2009, Davison is keeping her long-term sites set firmly on the 2012 Olympic Games in London. "The main thing is that I need to keep pursuing my goals." Davison said that whatever her sponsorship, she will target the two North American World Cups in Canada as well as the races at Windham, New York and Mount Snow, Vermont. She'll also try to make it to Europe for a few World Cups like Offenburg, Germany and Houffalize, Belgium.
Read a recent in-depth interview with Davison.