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Rock Racing searches out sponsorship

Rock Racing's Michael Ball

Rock Racing's Michael Ball (Image credit: Jon Devich/Cyclingnews.com/epicimages.us)

The Rock Racing team has added some more outstanding results to their palmares at the Tour of Utah which kicked off on Tuesday in Salt Lake City. However, despite the squad's ample success this season, its riders' occasionally mismatched gear could suggest that the team under financial distress.

Spaniards Francisco Mancebo and Oscar Sevilla have highlighted the early stages with their surprise two-up victory in stage one that gave Mancebo the overall leader's jersey. He went on the maintain his overall lead in stage two, in which he placed second. Their top results come as no surprise after Sevilla won the overall at the Cascade Cycling Classic last month and placed fourth overall in the Vuelta a Madrid prior to that.

However, the squad has been seen with the occasionally mismatched kits and equipment that could suggest financial difficulty lurks beneath their on-the-road success. Most noticeably, the team's marque rider Sevilla is currently riding his De Rosa bike from last year despite the team's current Kestrel sponsorship. Other riders have been photographed wearing different kits and helmets throughout the season in the past.

Team owner Michael Ball has made it no secret that he has made some significant cutbacks and acknowledged the team's financial struggle. However, he claims the equipment inconsistency is due to a lack of sponsorship interest. "I'll be really candid about this," said Ball who claims the team is waiting for their bikes to arrive.

"Some of our current sponsors, with the exception of the great ones like LG and Shimano, have had issues with us," he said. "They look at us for some reason and think I'm a certain way and so the team doesn't deserve them. But I don't get it because the only people they are affecting are these riders. They try to ding me, and it's wrong."

After clearing the air regarding the lack of team equipment, Ball went on to calm the concerns regarding lack of funding. He assured that even thought the team has downsized due to financial cutbacks, it will be back next year with the same core riders and it may possibly be in a better financial position.

"Business is first these days and my hobby is second," Ball said. "We will be here next year for sure. But I changed my business model, and l am no longer supporting the sport they way that I did."

"I realize there were riders I had to cut, but I only had so much money to pay out of my own bank account. It was unfortunate," he said. "We are still looking for new sponsors for next year, and we are looking for a new approach to the team. You guys will see all that soon. We will be launching some new things at Interbike."

The first sign that Rock Racing was under financial distress came when Cesar Grajales and former Rock Racing riders Chris Baldwin and Michael Creed received a letter of termination back in May. Although Creed's letter cited his termination as a lack of performance, Ball followed up by stating that the three riders were instead "let go due to a lack of funding".

Ball maintained that a decease in budget is the reason that the team has been reduced to primarily focus on the professional team roster. Creed said his final goodbyes to his former teammates and joined the Team Type 1 banner in June. Baldwin went on to sign a contract with OUCH p/b Maxxis while Grajales has stuck with the Rock Racing team.

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.