Among the UCI Continental teams rolling up the carpet after the 2012 season, the Wonderful Pistachios squad featured arguably the most high-profile sponsor of the bunch. Aside from the ubiquitous $30 million "Get Crackin'" advertising campaign it launched earlier this year, the world's largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios also sponsors NASCAR auto racing, championship boxing and myriad other national and international events.
But the California-based company drew the line at renewing its support of the cycling team it has sponsored for the past two seasons.
"It was kind of an eye opener, because we did a good job for them," said team owner and general manager Josh Horowitz. "We did everything we could have done for them. Overall they were really happy. A lot of cyclists in the company came out and supported us, but ultimately what it came down to is that for a company like Wonderful Pistachios, what we're doing is so unbelievably insignificant to them. When they're advertising during the World Series and during the finale of Dancing With the Stars, this is not a lot of money for them to support us, but as far as they're concerned it's not even worth it."
The squad, which originally joined the Continental ranks in 2010 as Adageo Energy, will join Team Exergy, Chipotle-First Solar and Competitive Cyclist on the domestic cycling trash heap next year. As many as 60 professional riders could find themselves without contracts for 2013, and Horowitz is also throwing in the towel.
"There's just been a lot of disappointment," he said of his run at owning a pro cycling team. "I've decided that pro cycling in the US is not a viable way to make a living. With everything that's been going on with Lance and all the other turmoil in the sport, there was just no way I was going to waste my time and try to find new corporate sponsorship in this environment."
Horowitz said his decision to leave the elite level of the sport is born from a frustration at what he sees as a poor performance by the UCI in widening cycling's appeal beyond hardcore fans.
"That's why Wonderful Pistachios didn't renew," he said, "because they know the only people we're reaching are cycling fans."
The UCI's decision to ban cameras from riders or their bikes during races is just one example of how the international governing body has missed an opportunity to expand cycling's appeal, Horowitz said.
"We need to try things that make the sport more fun," he said. "But the UCI and other rule makers have said, 'No no no. It's got to be the same way it's always been.' You see all these other extreme sports doing so well and their athletes are getting heavy endorsements and all that because they're not afraid to make their sports interesting. It's not just that the only people we appeal to are cyclists, it's that the only people we care to appeal to are cyclists."
To that end, Horowitz said he will focus his future energy on his latest effort, the Broken Bones Bicycle Company, which offers an "edgy" line of carbon road bikes that Horowitz hopes will appeal to a younger generation that may not see cycling as a "cool" avenue to pursue.
"I think there's a fundamental problem with the sport," he said. "And I think through Broken Bones maybe I can do more from that edge to make the sport appeal to younger audiences. So one of my things is making cool, funky bikes that appeal to young kids. Right now a young kid looking through a bicycling magazine is going to go through it and think that this sport is not cool. They like to ride their bike, but they're 18, maybe 20, and they want to do a sport that's cool. Maybe if they're flipping through that same magazine and they see one of our ads, maybe they'll think there is something cool and edgy about it."
The Wonderful Pistachios UCI Continental team featured 13 riders on its 2012 roster and employed 12 riders in 2011.
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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