The New Professional Team Model

Sep 23 2010

Taylor Phinney by flickr user OTBPhoto cc-by-ncI wrote (before my little break) about two investment approaches taken by various teams: a willingness to develop riders, and settle for good-not-great results in the process, versus full-on pressure to glean the best possible results immediately. I argued—using the example of Bernhard Kohl and the 2008 TdF—that while the first method may seem inferior, its long-term returns outweigh the short-term gains of the second approach.

Perhaps more evidence of that comes courtesy of Taylor Phinney’s recent decision to pledge the first few years of his for-real pro career to Team BMC. Phinney’s acquisition by Livestrong’s U23 squad was viewed something of a coup (as well as a personal swipe by Armstrong against Slipstream’s Jon Vaughters) back in 2008, and I think his contract decision is just as significant this time around.

While the recently-crowned US TT champ cited “mental security” and not having to fiddle with a new bike before he rips the legs of the world at the 2012 Olympics, I think the fact that RadioShack was assembled as one-shot profit-seeking vessel for Comeback 2.1 might also have something to do with it. I dunno—maybe looming disciplinary hearings and federal investigations for team management aren’t the deterrent I’m assuming them to be, but RS 2011 doesn’t strike me as something I’d want the rest of my career to hinge on.

BMC, on the other hand, seems like a team taking a longer view of success. Though ostensibly built around Cadel Evans, the Aussie’s season-long approach to racing and long history of near misses (in many cases to the less-scrupulous) defies the RadioShack mold. Similarly, the rest of the team’s efforts have been day-in, day-out workman-life affairs, and beyond a brilliant pair of legs from Marcus Burghardt at the Tour de Suisse, more notable for misses than the wins.

It’s also worth noting that, organizationally, BMC began as a US Continental Squad, battling it out at decidedly less prestigious American and Suisse events. Sure, Och’ and Andy Riis might have had some atonement to do—an alleged “Floyd-brication” indicates as much—but it’s got to be re-assuring when sponsors and management are coming in on the ground floor, rather than throwing cash at an existing product and hoping for an immediate return.

While the Phinney signing seems to add further evidence that starting small and building your way up (remember that Garmin kicked off as as a minor US development team in 2003), both BMC and Garmin also illustrate that at some point, you’ve got to try and make that jump to becoming a full-fledged international squad. Though the team put on an excellent show at the Tour this summer, BBox’s inability to land a sponsor for next season should provide ample warning on the dangers of languishing in a particular niche for too long.

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11 Responses to “The New Professional Team Model”

  1. skippy 24 September 2010 at 6:07 am #

    Team building is a tedious business so “Throwing money in the well “to achieve a particular target may be the reason Radio Shack behaved as they did to showcase Lance ! The future efforts of the Radio Shack team may well revert to building individuals and thus long term success.

    Cycling teams have individual approaches and the great majority of the riders live with the uncertainty of how the “Promises made” on signing the contract will stand up as new riders are recruited and “Talent is revealed” during the season.

    Phinney is only doing what “Wiggo” did with more fanfare, but will he phizzle out and fail to deliver in the same manner?

    Finished with the Vuelta and cannot find anything good to say about the experience, can see why i promised myself not to return in 2005 and why “El Diablo” fails to visit.

    Parrabuddy needs followers or i shall consider that i am wasting my time supporting a lost cause ! YOU may not consider “Disabled/Physically Challenged Sport” INTERESTING BUT MORE AND MORE OF THE FORCES SENT IN HARMS WAY ARE BECOMING INVOLVED ! Through no fault of their own they find themselves taking up sports that YOU & I would not wish to participate in so find your way to support their efforts as they attempt to serve their country once again .

  2. Barry 24 September 2010 at 6:40 am #

    I don’t find it too surprising that he opted out of radioshack. I can not imagine any circumstances where you would want your first professional team to be in jeopardy from the beginning.

    plus I think it is awesome that Phinney broadcasted that LA is a vindictive b@stard by walking out of the meeting and then freezing him out when he said he was down with BMC.

    I am curious how the possible fallout of found doping in the USPS team back in the day might affect Hincapie, as it seems he has taken the youngster under his proverbial wing.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome if BMC opened their wallet for Cancellara, and let their star recruit learn form the master?

  3. chris 24 September 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    Also, with guys like George retiring in the next year or two, BMC has a handful of strong 26 and 27 year-olds (notably Bookwalter, Burghardt, and Murphy) to fill the gap while Phinney gains experience.

  4. Zlatko 25 September 2010 at 6:43 am #

    And if the rumors about TTT in TDF next year are true Cadel has a great shot at gaining time on rivals with Phinney, Burghart and possibly even Cancellara in the team. Even if Phinney is deemed too young to go through whole tour for sure it would be smart to bring him to the first week and add firepower to TTT effort?

  5. Sven 25 September 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Looks like Trek-Livestrong is really the feeder team for BMC with Tim Roe joining them too…

  6. Joe 26 September 2010 at 12:19 am #

    yes BMC have had some great signings. Evans will be well supported next year and BMC’s cobbled classics team is scarily good (Hincapie, ballan, Burghardt, van avermaet, quinziato, phinney, kroon) though they didn’t peform that well this year, with a team like this surely at least one of them will pop up in the cobbled races for a big result.

  7. Don Kapowski 26 September 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Hey Cosmo,

    Nice conclusion. “Start small and build yourself up” is the way to go for pro cycling teams. I wonder what the finances look like for both BMC and Garmin. BMC is a slightly different situation, since their budget can be disguised as some type of impossible to measure bike industry marketing buy. That might help them sleep more soundly, but I’d question how BMC is any different than Cervelo TestTeam. Will BMC use Phinney to get another large Corporate sponsor (read: what CSE should have done if they weren’t all getting pedicure’s during the Phinney meeting).

    Given the current picture, isn’t BMC facing the same issues (and financial complications) that caused CTT to fold? In the event that BMC has an investor(s) beyond Andy Riis who are willing to keep plunging millions of dollars into the team, will they continue to invest?

    I’m sure Phinney will get what he needs from BMC, and for the Olympics in 2012, but you’re starting to dive into the question of “what’s the business model for current protour cycling teams?”

    Currently. I don’t see one that is sustainable – especially when the game is played by deep pockets (Sky / BMC) who can open their pockets and enter an arms race for the best riders in the world.

  8. Sven 29 September 2010 at 5:44 am #

    What’s going on over at Trek-Livestrong?
    They’ve lost another young talent today: Alex Dowsett to Sky.
    Makes you think something is very wrong over at Radioshack….

  9. pro team cycling 6 September 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    how about HTC-highroad?
    i like BMC professional team. but i not sure which one is my favorite in all famous teams. i think i just like cycling!

  10. bike clothing 7 September 2011 at 2:40 am #

    “BMC, on the other hand, seems like a team taking a longer view of success.” i absolutely agree you!

  11. 2012 9 September 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    Given the current picture, isn’t BMC facing the same issues (and financial complications) that caused CTT to fold? In the event that BMC has an investor(s) beyond Andy Riis who are willing to keep plunging millions of dollars into the team, will they continue to invest?

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