The fate of Team RadioShack

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.


  1. Daniela says:

    Looks like a really interesting analysis regarding Radioshack.
    However, I don’t understand where this impression on ‘why they still haven’t won a Grand Tour’ about Leopard Trek. They are attending their 3rd Grand Tour. Ever. Which is not finished yet. Of course, there are small chances that Jacob will win, but it wasn’t also a declared target to win Vuelta.
    What might have been disappointing is that Schlecks didn’t won the Tour de France. But from there to say that Becca is not happy I think it is a really long way. And, anyway, they have been a lot in the media. Probably more than any other Pro team. So image is built.
    Maybe they will merge some day. I would love to see that. I love Leopard Trek and there are some great riders at Radioshack. And I think they are also good friends (they shared the bus to Paris, right?) But I’m afraid the media is looking for wrong reasons…

    • Neil says:

      Thanks for reading Daniela, but I don’t think that I’m going out on a limb to say Leopard-Trek isn’t going to win the Vuelta. Also, I never said Becca wasn’t happy with the team. I said he isn’t happy supporting the team financially for as long as he has. I’m sure he had thought the squad would have picked up a title sponsor by now.

    • Nick says:

      That’s all pretty interesting–kind of new to watching pro cycling. I’m finding it difficult to get attached to a team with all the annual changes, but at the same time love all the drama. It’s a fun problem to have:) You’ve hit on two pretty entertaining teams here–I personally think your Nissan chain to though makes a lot practical sense. Guess we’ll see–one thing I can confirm for you: 27+13 is in fact > 30.

  2. Rob says:

    1. With a range of only +/- 100 miles, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Nissan LEAFs in the peloton anytime soon.
    2. I sure hope Becca paid attention to Stapleton’s problems, and has someone 100% committed to soliciting sponsorships. Sponsors just don’t fall into your lap.
    3. I agree with you, wondering why Radio Shack is investing in a Eurocentric sports property. It’s almost as strange as the US Postal Service’s marketing strategy!
    Regardless, I’m looking forward to JB’s announcement!

  3. Howard says:

    I guess the Tour of Switzerland (Levi 2011) and the Dauphine (Janez Brajkovic 2010) are unimportant European races.

    • Neil says:

      I never said those races weren’t important – they’re just not “ones that matter.” I bet you your neighbor, co-worker, etc. has heard of the Tour de France. But the Dauphine? Tour of Switzerland? I doubt it. And for a sponsor – an American sponsor – the races that get TV time like the Tour and Paris-Roubaix (not sure how much TV time that Classic will get in 2012 from NBC) matter.

  4. Jason says:

    Great read, insightful, looking forward to seeing the big announcement. I guess radioshack’s theory was that Lance doing well in a tour would generate marketing opportunities back in the states, nut we all saw the 2010 Tour and we know how that turned out. I imagine radioshack was fast to jump on the lance train after his 3rd place finish in 2009. I’d also venture to guess that a sponsorship deal required a minimum 2 year commitment on the shacks part. The team, the shack, and lance all knew thy the 2010 tour would be his last before the sponsorship deal was done, but by the team requiring the two year commitment they would essentially have an extra year to land a new title sponsor. The shack was probably willing to agree to this assuming a giant increase in sales that the team was theoretically supposed to generate after a lance win. It was a risky move on the shacks part and honestly it doesn’t look like things went as expected.

    And as a quasi off topic thought, why isn’t red bull more involved in pro cycling? Too busy wind surfing and formula one-ing?

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