Along with the rest of his HTC-High Road teammates, star sprinter Mark Cavendish will be battling for wins in 2011 aboard a Specialized bicycle.
At a press event held Monday morning at Specialized headquarters in Morgan Hill, California, the bicycle manufacturer opened its doors to select cycling media to publicize its sponsorship of HTC-High Road’s UCI world number-one men’s and women’s HTC squads.
Specialized president Mike Sinyard and High Road Sports owner Bob Stapleton, who lives two hours south in San Luis Obispo, were each in attendance.
The three-year deal will see Specialized provide frames, forks and helmets to both the men’s and women’s teams. The men will ride the S-Works Tarmac for most road races, the S-Works Roubaix for cobbled classics and the Shiv TT in time trials. The women’s squad will race on women’s-specific Amira bikes while also riding Shiv TTs against the clock.
In Sinyard and Stapleton, the marriage of the two brands brings together two of the cycling industry’s most successful and powerful entrepreneurs. Both men are self-made millionaires, known for pushing technological innovation as well as leading their respective organizations with an aggressive and uncompromising style.
Sinyard, 61, is the founder and chairman of Specialized, which he started 38 years ago selling components out of a Volkswagen bus; the company is estimated to be worth $500 million. Stapleton, 52, made a fortune in the telecommunications industry when Deutsche Telekom bought VoiceStream Wireless, where he served as president and chief operating officer, for $35 billion in 1999.
Both Specialized and High Road have been involved in professional cycling at the ProTour level for several years. Specialized-equipped riders won both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France in 2010, and the team returns in 2011 as bike sponsor for Astana and Saxo Bank. And since his entry into the ProTour in 2007, Stapleton has poured millions from his personal wealth into the team known over the years as T-Mobile, Highroad Sports, Columbia-Highroad, Columbia-HTC, HTC-Columbia and, for 2011, HTC-Highroad.
In that time Stapleton’s teams have ridden on Giant (2007-08) and Scott (2009-10) bikes. However, he revealed, he’d been in discussions with Sinyard about a partnership for “four or five years.”
Stapleton and Sinyard were insistent that the arrangement between the two American organizations is both unique and open-ended, and that their reputations as strong-willed leaders would complement one another, leading to further innovation and success.
“I love to work with smart, aggressive people that share the same vision, that’s what is most exciting for me,” Sinyard said. “The people we have here (at Specialized) are smart and aggressive, they have pushed me, they also want to do great things, and that’s what I live for.”
Sinyard added that High Road’s in-house technical development squad — which led to High Road-branded HED wheels and held considerable influence on product development with both Giant and Scott — is welcomed.
“I see Bob as at the top of his game. He’s extremely successful. He doesn’t have to be doing this. He’s not taking money out of his team, he’s putting it in, because he’s passionate about it. Is he going to push us to be better? Absolutely, and I welcome it. That’s the way I work. I have ideas, but I like to work in a collaborative way. It’s the collaborative process at Specialized, part of our DNA, that makes us what we are.”
For his part, Stapleton said Specialized was a brand he’d “grown up with” in cycling, and used as a model when he founded VoiceStream Wireless.
“You don’t see too many success stories like Specialized,” Stapleton said. “I’ve been collecting brands and stories and motivational marketing elements for 25 years, and this is company is quite unique. At the wireless business I ran, we were one of the young companies fighting against the big companies, and Specialized was an example I used. To me its ‘innovate or die’ mentality perfectly expresses what an entrepreneurial company is all about.”
Both men are avid cyclists as well, though Stapleton conceded that in that department, Sinyard, who is known for embarking on weekly six- and seven-hour outings, is the superior rider.
“We both enjoy riding a lot,” Sinyard said. “It’s what I love to do. I put a lot of miles on every year. It’s a way to relax and think. I love the long rides. It’s after about four hours I feel like I can really go.”
Stapleton added that he sees himself and Sinyard as “like-minded.”
“We want to do something big,” Stapleton said. “I am not viewing this as simply a frame, fork and helmet deal. I view this as a foundational union of our aspirations. I would like this to be the flagship franchise in pro cycling — a team, and partnership, that all others are measured by.”
The end goal, Stapleton said, is to deliver reliable and consistent performances to the public. That Specialized will provide the team the top-end products needed to do the job, he said, “is a given.”
And for Stapleton’s High Road sports marketing company, signing with Specialized rounds out a consortium of Silicon Valley sponsors that includes Google and Skype, but is missing a co-title sponsor following Columbia’s completion of a three-year deal that began in 2008.
“Specialized is an iconic brand, both inside and outside the cycling industry,” Stapleton said. “Partnering with Specialized will help us entice other partners, and a big part of our mission is to bring on another co-title partner. This is the bike brand of Silicon Valley, and there are people connected to both technology and the cycling lifestyle — people that make important purchase decisions. I’d love to put together a West Coast-based group of leadership companies. We have the basics in place, we just need a few others.”
Though none of the team’s riders attended the press gathering, Stapleton said “four or five” athletes have begun testing out Specialized bikes, though he declined to specify which riders by name.
“It’s early on in that process,” he said. “I shouldn’t reveal who is testing out the new bikes, because those not involved might not be happy about it.”
The process of dialing in the new bikes, Stapleton said, was less about geometry and more about tuning the strength and weight of the carbon frames “for our types of riders.”
“We’ve got a lot of fast guys — Mark Cavendish of course, but also Matt Goss and Leigh Howard and (world U23 road race silver medalist) John Degenkolb — so we’re not pushing the envelope on lightness,” he said. “Where the bike is stiff is more important than overall stiffness. We want the front and back end stiff. If the core of the bike is more complaint, that’s probably fine. The fork is also important, as it affects pedaling out of corners, which is relevant to our sprinting.”
On display at Monday’s press gathering was a High Road-branded S-Works Tarmac equipped with a Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 gruppo, Shimano SRM wireless crankset, Dura-Ace carbon tubulars and PRO carbon handlebar, stem and seatpost. Stapleton said all the team’s bikes would come equipped with Di2, which he called his “favorite product in the sport right now.”
Sinyard said that Specialized has no immediate specific requests or demands on the team’s 2011 race schedule — particularly at North American events like Amgen Tour of California or Quiznos Pro Challenge — because HTC already does “a tremendous amount of racing in the U.S., which is perfect for us.”
American riders on the 2011 roster include Tejay Van Garderen, Danny Pate, Amber Neben and Amanda Miller. (Two Americans from the team’s 2010 roster, Craig Lewis and Evelyn Stevens, have not yet announced their 2011 plans.)
“The priorities of this team and Specialized are so linked that we don’t have to push or request anything any different than what the team is already doing,” Sinyard said.
“Look at what Bob wants to do, he wants to create a legacy, not just create the best racing team in world,” Sinyard said. “This goes on and on, and this is our vision for our company, to be the best cycling brand in the world. That’s a journey. You never cross the finish line and put your hands in the air. Connecting up with this team is a great step in continuing that journey. There are a lot of ways we will work together that can improve and change the face of racing. That’s what I want to do. I don’t want to just bump along, doing the same thing. That’s boring. If that was all we were doing, I’d rather just go and ride my bike.”
The 2011 HTC-Highroad men’s and women’s teams will convene in Morgan Hill in early December for a pre-season camp that will focus on Body Geometry fitting and physiological testing with Andy Pruitt of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
Following its stay in Morgan Hill the team will head to Los Angeles for a riding camp. And it’s a safe bet that both Sinyard and Stapleton will be along for the rides — aboard sponsor-correct Specialized race bikes.