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The Industrial Tycoon’s To Do List

– Paying cash for a yacht large enough to land a helicopter on the deck. Subsidizing a new wing of the local modern art museum. A distant third on the industrial tycoon’s to-do list is bankrolling a pro bike race team. Or at least that’s what I figured motivated titans like Igor Makarov and Andy Rihs, not to mention earlier legends of cycling sponsorship like La Vie Claire’s Bernard Tapie and Mapei’s Giorgio Squinzi. If you’re awash in cash and in love with the sport, why not buy a team?

There’s a good reason why team ownership has become the provenance of the super-rich while companies from the cycling industry are fading away as title sponsors. Gauging the ROI of sponsorship spending is an uncertain act. PR firms can tabulate brand impressions and use this to calculate an advertising equivalency value, but few people outside the Marketing Department pay much heed to those numbers.

42-15813085Even more concerning is the amount of work required if sponsors want to maximize their brand exposure. Sponsorship is anything but plug-and-play. Rather, it’s like owning a new puppy: You get what you give, and the giving is never-ending. Perhaps that’s why Bianchi ponied up for a title sponsorship for only one year in modern times and why Trek settled for just a year or two of co-title sponsorship. The bike industry’s least-best-kept secret is how the burden of managing the Test Team almost sunk the Cervelo enterprise as a whole. And, conversely, that’s where BMC benefits from the boundless wealth of its hearing aid magnate owner.

One of the more interesting things I encountered when acquired Competitive Cyclist was that one of its sites,, was the title sponsor of a domestic pro road team. The sponsorship investment made solid sense back in 2011 when was still a nascent business looking to create brand awareness. Later that year, however, Competitive Cyclist was acquired. It made better sense to move that marketing investment to the more prominent brand. The problem, though, was that Competitive Cyclist was already reasonably well known. This led to the question we’ve mulled over all year: Why sponsor a team if the goal of brand awareness was already a fait accompli?

While I wish sponsoring a domestic team had the same impact as a WorldTour team, it doesn’t. And while I wish sponsoring a team wasn’t a Force Five brain drain on the sponsor’s business organization, it is. And while I wish we operated in an environment where our dizzying passion for the sport gave us license to go hors budget, that’s never been the case at Competitive Cyclist. For these reasons, among others, we’ve decided to step away from team sponsorship. It’s not easy. And the pain is most acute in thinking about its impact on a team of riders whose class as people even outstripped their class as riders. But, sadly, this shit is all very much business and my job is to make difficult, unpopular decisions when the popular decision would be so easy.

A real beauty– Instagram has appropriated square format photography. But for most of the medium’s history, square pix were the mark of the Rolleiflex. The fundamentals of a Rollei remained little changed from their initial development by Reinholf Heidecke and Paul Franke in the 1920s: two fixed lenses sitting atop each other, one for viewing the other for image capture; 6 by 6 centimeter exposures and a leaf shutter.

After World War II, Hasselblad soon took over the commercial photography market. In photojournalism, of course, 35 millimeter became king. But cycling photography remained one of Rollei’s strengths. The simplicity of the Rolleiflex meant that it could hang around the neck of photographer for several grand tours without failing while one stage might be enough to send a Hasselblad in for repair. Until the 1980s, magazines often demanded the Rollei’s larger negative for color shots. And thanks to its leaf shutter, the Rollei synched with electronic flashes at even its highest shutter speed allowing photographers to fill in the shadows on the faces of the giants of the road even in the searing sun of July. By contrast, 35 millimeter cameras topped out at 1/50th or 1/60th of a second, far too slow to freeze the action of even the lanterne rouge.

World Tour Canada-1Rollei lost its way business wise long before digital photography laid waste to the traditional photo industry. After a several missteps, including a brief production shift to Singapore, as well as the bankruptcy of the latest in a string of owners, the twin lens Rollei is now made by DHW Fototechnik in Germany. It has revived the wide angle and telephoto variations. And in an act which may be inspired, but which is more likely insane, it introduced a new model at Photokina this month. A new model which only uses film. In the unlikely event that’s a success, a cycling division of DHW dedicated to five speed drive trains, steel handlebars and stems will likely follow.

While we didn’t have a moto and a driver, our 54 year old Rollei 3.5F made the trip to the two WorldTour races in Canada, the Grand Prix Cyclistes de Québec et Montréal, just after Labor Day. Black and white film seemed like a given. But we cheated a bit and used Ilford XP2 Super. While monochrome, it uses color negative film technology. The short version is that XP2 produces a negative with an image formed from dye rather than tiny particles of silver. Such negatives get along better with our medium priced Epson Perfection V500 Photo scanner.

Instagram it ain’t. While XP2 uses the same process as any color negative film, labs equipped for medium format film are quickly vanishing. Ours went through an aging processor which seems to rely on business from diehard wedding photographers. And while it was not the same thrill as standing under a safe light waiting for an image to grow on a white sheet of paper, the negatives’ contents did not become fully apparent until the scanner had finished its work.

Like a digital SLR did 10 years ago, the Rolleiflex attracts a lot of attention. Unsurprisingly, it was a particular hit with Russian riders who have a well deserved reputation for being gadget crazy. Perhaps Katusha should look into a sponsorship deal with DHW.

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