The rumor mill has been working overtime lately in regards to Team RadioShack. Domestically the team has had great success with overall victories in the Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Utah and Pro Cycling Challenge (AKA-Tour of Colorado). However, in the races that matter in Europe (Tour de France, the Classics) they scored a big zero. Additionally, their title sponsor doesn’t have any stores in Europe, which made it seem odd that they’d sponsor a squad with a European focus. As I’ve previously written, the company has had some hard times financially which I have to assume makes the board of directors of this Texas based company second guess why their logo is on the backs of skinny guys riding bikes in Europe and not on the hood of a stock car doing 200 mile per hour laps in Talladega. So what might happen to the squad in 2012?
As the UCI Overlord said on his Vokle show last week, team director Johan Bruyneel is going to make a major announcement regarding the team within a couple of weeks. One rumor the Overlord floated was Mark Cavendish will join the squad in 2012. A stronger rumor that won’t die, despite the repeated denials, is Leopard-Trek was going to merge with RadioShack. The thought of this combination caused Alberto Contador to say there would be no way anyone could beat the combined forces of the Schleck Wonder Twins with Shackers Chris Horner, Andreas Kloden and Janez Brajkovic. But why would Leopard-Trek want to combine with them? The Shack has performed, at best, as a kick ass Continental Pro squad. Why hook up? It’s all about the title sponsor.
As you know, “Leopard” is just the name of the company that owns the squad and isn’t a financial contributor. The team is being propped up by Luxembourg real estate mogul Flavio Becca who is paying most of the 15 million Euro. Trek Bikes is said to be chipping in three million Euro. However, the problem is that like most true businessmen they don’t like to play with their own money. They like investors. So far, even with a successful season behind them, Leopard-Trek hasn’t been able to get anyone to sign on the dotted line for the “Leopard” part of the jersey. That might be making Becca nervous. A merger would take the fiscal weight off of Becca’s shoulders. However, the problem is the rider cap that the UCI demands of the teams. Thirty riders is the maximum amount that a squad can have on the roster. Leopard-Trek has 27 riders signed for 2012 and RadioShack has 13. I’m no math major, but even I know that’s well over 30. Unless a bunch of riders on both those squads suddenly have “back problems” like Roman Kireyev of Astana, there’s going to be a registration issue with the UCI.
To throw another “what if” into the mix, also on the RadioShack kit is the car company Nissan. At some races the squad has had the Japanese company’s electric car, the Leaf, as a support vehicle. Fortunately the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Japan didn’t affect the company in the long term. In fact Nissan is planning to invest 50 billion yen in China as it tries to increase their share in that growing economy. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Nissan takes over the title sponsor role and you’ll see Leafs with roof racks in the caravan in 2012.
Taking this all into account, plus a few conversations with people in the know, I suspect that Bruyneel’s big announcement is the big red R of RadioShack will no longer be on the jersey next year. Instead Nissan will become the title sponsor with their Leaf car as the marketing vehicle (no pun intended) for the team. The electric car is the perfect demographic for cyclists and if they incorporate a hitch-mounted rack as an option, they will sell a boatload. And depending how long the current investigation into Lance Armstrong drags on, throw him into the mix for a random commercial. Hell, even if if things go into the toilet for him, I’m sure he could still get some folks down to a Nissan dealership grand opening.
So Jacob Fulgsang can rest easy and concentrate on the Vuelta. His job is secure and the Danish rider can go back to worrying about which scarf is the perfect accent for the teal of their jersey and why they still haven’t won a Grand Tour.