Are sponsors singing in the rain?

Francisco Mancebo winning Stage 1 of the Tour of California. But what team does he ride for?

Cycling is a strange sport in that there are no entrance fees to view the professionals do battle. Spectators need not part with their money to view the mountain goats soaring through the Alps and need not reach for their wallets to see the fast men battling it out in a mad dash for the finish line. There are no season ticket sales, corporate suites or director’s box and there are certainly no prawn sandwiches.

No, cycling teams are funded by commercial companies willing to fork out the money required to run a professional outfit. In return, these companies get the privilege of having their corporate logos branded on every one of the riders’ team kit. The idea being that revenue will be generated from the advertising that this provides for the company. Sponsors want exposure, and they want success, because ultimately success leads to more exposure.

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A New Irish Trio

Philip Deignan celebrating the biggest victory of his career to date and Ireland's first Grand Tour stage win for 17 years.

The Vuelta a España will be coming to a close in Madrid this Sunday. All going well, there will be two Irish riders completing the race with Dan Martin  finishing his first ever Grand Tour. There is also Philip Deignan, who fantastically for him, and for Ireland, won today’s 18th stage of the Vuelta.

That’s the first Grand Tour stage win by an Irishman since 1992 when Stephen Roche won a stage in the Tour de France, and the first stage win in the Vuelta since 1988 when Seán Kelly took two stage victories. Deignan will now be completing his fourth Grand Tour having previously ridden two editions of the Giro d’Italia and one other edition of the Vuelta. Deignan, after today’s brilliant ride, currently lies in an excellent 9th place.

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To abandon or not to abandon?

Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year's World Championship road race in Varese.

The main contenders for the World Championships are all starting to call it a day in the Vuelta a España. This morning before Stage 17, the notable absentees from the start line included double stage winner Damiano Cunego and current World Champion Alessandro Ballan, the latter having now ridden his last race in the rainbow jersey, unless of course, he wins it again. The two Italians add their names to a long list of riders who’ve abandoned the Vuelta so far.

Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year’s World Championship road race in Varese.

Riders expected to do well in the World Championships that are on that list include Fabien Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Simon Gerrans and Pierrick Fédrigo. But the question I’ve been asking myself this morning is, does it actually benefit the rider to abandon with 5 or 6 stages left to ride. Perhaps, the rider would be better served finishing out the Spanish Grand Tour, keeping the body and the form ticking over? Ignoring the possibility of crashing and picking up an injury at top level racing, is it more beneficial for riders to complete the 21 stages of  the Vuelta or to prepare alone over the final few days before the Worlds?  Or perhaps avoiding the Vuelta altogether is a better option?

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World Championships vs. Vuelta

David Moncoutié of Cofidis being closely marked by David de la Fuente in the claret jersey of King of the Mountains on Stage 11 of the 2009 Vuelta.

Ever since 1995 when the Vuelta a España was moved from it’s original slot in April to it’s current position in September there have been cries to have it moved back to late Spring where it started. Another suggestion which seems to be voiced more and more frequently (and has been rumoured as already confirmed) is to have it reduced from a 3 week stage race down to just 2 weeks. Both of these schools of thought aim to make the Vuelta a more attractive proposition for the big names of world cycling.

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Contador’s Difficult Second Tour

Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond and Alberto Contador

As the large volume of cyclists transferring between teams continues, there still lies a question mark over the future of Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. His current team Astana seem intent on forcing him to see out the remaining year of his current contract, while the rider himself has been flirting with the idea of joining either Garmin-Slipstream or Caisse d’Epargne. Contador’s aim for 2010 will most certainly be to win his third Tour de France, having taken his second victory under difficult circumstances this year. In an interview in this month’s Cycle Sport magazine, he says that the 2009 tour, despite his victory, wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, adding “I don’t want to go through all that again…I want to be in a team where everybody is fighting 100 per cent to win the Tour”.

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