Like everyone, I’ve had a lot going through my mind as the dust settles on the dissolution of HTC-HighRoad. Here’s my best attempt at putting them to words:
1. Bob Stapleton was brought in to rescue T-Mobile, who was being suffocated by drug allegations, lack of identity, and a withdrawing sponsor. The 2007 positive of Patrick Sinkewitz was especially painful, coming just as new management took over. With the money that T-Mobile paid up-front, the following year they were self-sponsored so to speak, as T-Mobile didn’t want their image on the team anymore. Further development saw the team shed their German identity and become a US-based team. The team decided to take the High Road, perhaps in reference to the dirty practices in cycling. The team’s dissolution seems to be a smack in the face to all who have tried to do things the “right” way. It boggles the mind why men with much darker pasts continue to find sponsorship for their squads while men like Stapleton are left on the outside looking in.
2. Since the beginning, the pillar of the men’s team success was Mark Cavendish. They invested early and consistently in him as the team had (at the time) no (top-tier) GC contenders or classics contenders–grand tour stage wins were an easy way for the team to gain exposure and credibility. And despite growing success in “other” races, the Tour is still where most non-Continental sponsors crave victories. If the rumors were indeed true, HTC was understandably insistent on the team keeping Cav as a condition for sponsorship. Peter Velits might have finished third in last year’s Vuelta, Matthew Goss might have won Milan-San Remo, and John Degenkolb may be the fastest young sprinter in the sport, but they’re hardly enough to build a team’s finances around.
Which begs the question…
3. Has HTC been winning the “wrong” races? HTC is the world’s top-ranked team, with a staggering 484 wins–what have they been doing wrong? How is that kind of success not marketable? And what does it say of a point system that is that’s meant to recognize such dominance? So many questions to which we’re likely never to get answers.
4. But there’s a bigger question here: if HTC doesn’t feel that supporting the sport’s most successful team valuable, are we to assume that cycling’s sponsorship value is less than in other sports? If so, should cycling’s sponsorship model change? Perhaps to one that supports revenue-sharing?
5. As for Cav, we have to wonder if his next step will be a smart move. He seems to be in it for the for money, since just about everything he could want (leadership, teammates, coaches, staff, control of his image) was available at HTC. Maybe he’s enamored with the idea of being the best British rider on the world’s best British team? Where is he going?
6. As for the rest of the team and staff, it will be interesting to see where the chips fall. With only one truly “new” program on the horizon, it’s likely that many people will find themselves without jobs in 2012–or at least not the jobs they were used to having at HTC. The first week of the transfer period has been surprisingly quiet, now that the chips have fallen at HTC, expect things to heat-up quickly. Tom Boonen’s pre-Tour signing in beginning to look like a wise move.
7. And last but not least, what does the future hold for Bob Stapleton? It’s hard to keep a good man down–he’s hoping to keep the women’s team alive; might a year off give him the time he needs to come back for more in 2013?
What are your thoughts on the demise of HTC? Share your comments below.