They’re the peo­ple who pay for the sport we love to watch. So let’s hear it for lam­i­nate floor­ing, face cream and satel­lite tele­vi­sion

Cyclist - - Contents - Words TREVOR WARD Pho­tog­ra­phy TAPESTRY

tal­ian rider Fiorenzo Magni was a se­ri­ously hard man, who shook off ac­cu­sa­tions of be­ing a Nazi sym­pa­thiser to win both the Giro and Tour of Flan­ders three times. He was also known for rub­bing a well-known brand of women’s face cream into the chamois pad of his shorts, and in 1954 this would lead to an event that changed the face of pro­fes­sional cy­cling for­ever.

Un­til that point, the spon­sor­ship of pro­fes­sional teams had been re­stricted to cy­cling brands only (with the notable ex­cep­tion of a Bri­tish team that in 1947 op­er­ated un­der the rules of the break­away Bri­tish League of Rac­ing Cy­clists rather than the UCI and was spon­sored by pools com­pany ITP). But bike sales had suf­fered dur­ing the pe­riod of post-war pros­per­ity that saw more peo­ple buy­ing cars and mopeds. Brands such as Ganna, which sup­plied the bikes for Magni’s team, had less money to spend on spon­sor­ship.

So Magni con­tacted the Ger­man pro­duc­ers of the face cream he had ap­plied so dili­gently to the op­po­site end of his anatomy and con­vinced them to give him 20 mil­lion Ital­ian lire (£200,000 to­day). The next year, Magni won his third Giro with the name Nivea em­bla­zoned across his jer­sey.

‘Nivea al­ways thanked me for my idea, even years later. This was the be­gin­ning of the sal­va­tion of cy­cling,’ Magni told Bill Mc­gann, au­thor of the two-vol­ume The Story Of The Giro d’italia in 2006.

A prece­dent had been set that would lead to some un­likely part­ner­ships

dur­ing the fol­low­ing years. These days, the pro­fes­sional pelo­ton is a colour­ful blur of bill­boards for in­dus­tries rang­ing from pen­sion funds (AG2R-LA Mon­di­ale) to cy­ber se­cu­rity (Di­men­sion Data). One of the most cru­cial things ev­ery pro rider has to re­mem­ber is to zip up their jer­sey when cross­ing the fin­ish­ing line in first place.

‘Fun­da­men­tally, my job is to dis­play the spon­sor’s logo as pre­dom­i­nantly as pos­si­ble, prefer­ably cross­ing the line with my hands in the air,’ said Mark Cavendish on the eve of ad­ver­tis­ing a well-known satel­lite TV com­pany dur­ing the 2012 Tour.

While few of us may have felt com­pelled to rush out and buy some lam­i­nated kitchen floor­ing (Quick­Step) or book a trip to the for­mer Soviet repub­lic of Kaza­khstan (As­tana) af­ter watch­ing a stage of the Tour on TV, the ad­ver­tis­ers are still get­ting the kind of ex­po­sure – an es­ti­mated global TV au­di­ence of 3.9 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to or­gan­iser ASO – that Don Draper and his fel­low Mad Men could only have dreamed of.

By its very na­ture, pro­fes­sional road cy­cling wouldn’t ex­ist with­out spon­sors. Un­like in most other pro­fes­sional sports, World­tour teams don’t have home sta­di­ums to gen­er­ate gate rev­enue or TV money to cover their run­ning costs (which vary from £11 mil­lion a year for a ‘mid-table’ team to at least dou­ble that for the likes of Team Sky and Mo­vis­tar).

Though the land­scape is slowly chang­ing – the 10 teams that form un­of­fi­cial ‘trade union’ Velon, for ex­am­ple, are able to sell the rights to their on-bike footage and other real-time met­rics – for now it is very much the shower heads and kitchen ap­pli­ances of Bora-hans­grohe and the high-pow­ered ex­plo­sives of min­ing sup­plier Orica that are keep­ing our sport alive.

Eight years af­ter Magni’s deal with Nivea, the flood­gates to ex­tra-sportif spon­sor­ship were well and truly opened when Raphaël Gémini­ani – the for­mi­da­ble and charis­matic French rider who was then manag­ing a team in­clud­ing Jac­ques An­quetil – struck a deal with drinks com­pany Saint Raphaël.

It is the kitchen ap­pli­ances of Bora-hans­grohe and the high-pow­ered ex­plo­sives of min­ing sup­plier Orica that are keep­ing our sport alive

Some ver­sions of the story say he ab­bre­vi­ated the team’s name to Rapha-gémini­ani to clev­erly side­step UCI reg­u­la­tions, claim­ing it was sim­ply a short­ened form of his own name rather than a link to the drinks com­pany. Ei­ther way, it’s where to­day’s Rapha cloth­ing brand took its in­spi­ra­tion from.

Twenty years later, the colour­ful Gémini­ani bro­kered an even more au­da­cious deal when a Parisian night­club man­ager in­tro­duced him to the 70-year-old widow of a Greek mil­lion­aire who wanted to re­vive her flag­ging ca­reer as a cabaret singer and dancer.

As re­counted by Les Wood­land, au­thor of The Yel­low Jer­sey Com­pan­ion To The Tour de France, Gémini­ani per­suaded Miriam De Kova to pro­mote her tal­ents by co-spon­sor­ing his team, along with bike man­u­fac­turer Lejeune. The re­sult was a team led by 1966 Tour win­ner Lu­cien Ai­mar wear­ing bright pink jer­seys lin­ing up for the start of the 1973 Tour. Three weeks later, five of the team’s rid­ers oc­cu­pied the last five places in the GC. Noth­ing was ever heard of Team De Kova-lejeune again.

A busi­ness called Sauna Diana got a bet­ter re­turn for its money when it spon­sored a Dutch am­a­teur team in the 1980s. The hus­band and wife own­ers of the com­pany were big cy­cling fans.

In 1990, their sons raced along­side Aussie star Phil An­der­son at TVM, and Sauna Diana were only too happy to sup­ply the team bus, a dou­ble decker ve­hi­cle adorned with a naked woman on the side. Dur­ing that year’s Giro – decades be­fore Team Sky’s ‘Death Star’ bus was turn­ing heads – jour­nal­ist Ru­pert Guin­ness wit­nessed An­der­son be­ing ap­proached by an Ital­ian re­porter and asked in bro­ken English: ‘Phil… Phil… is it true that Sauna Diana is a “House of Love”?’

Though the lot­ter­ies, sealant man­u­fac­tur­ers and con­struc­tion com­pa­nies of to­day’s pro pelo­ton may lack the nov­elty or glam­our of broth­els and cabaret singers, with­out them and their like the state of pro­fes­sional cy­cling would be a lot more pre­car­i­ous.

And while Fiorenzo Magni and Raphaël Gémini­ani are rightly lauded for their achieve­ments on the bike, the im­pact they made on the sport con­tin­ues to be felt well be­yond the races they won.

The mod­ern pro team cy­cling jer­sey may be com­pletely em­bla­zoned in lo­gos, but it took a wave of post-war pos­ter­ity and a chaffed pos­te­rior to in­tro­duce spon­sor­ship into the pelo­ton in 1954

It’s no won­der World­tour teams need spon­sors to sur­vive. The Tour de France is watched by an es­ti­mated 3.9 bil­lion peo­ple, yet un­like in most global sports the teams have no sta­di­ums to gen­er­ate rev­enue or TV money to cover their costs

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