Can road’s loss be mountain’s gain?
It is conceivable that the current scandal in road cycling could lead sponsors to embrace mountain biking for its relatively cleaner history.
“Hopefully the lost opportunities for the road crew can be more opportunities for the mountain bike crew,” said Craig.
However, to a sponsor, mountain biking’s cleaner reputation may not outweigh its lack of visibility relative to road cycling. The dirt is no stranger to doping controversy either, with riders including Filip Meirhaeghe and Chris Sheppard testing positive for EPO around the time Armstrong was notching record-breaking Tour wins in the mid-2000s.
“No one in the general public really knows the difference between mountain biking and road biking, besides the fact that one’s on TV and one isn’t,” said Craig. “Maybe if there’s some non-endemic sponsor that is interested in getting into the cycling world they would choose a mountain bike or cyclocross program, and maybe they would come our way. But the reality of it is that road cycling is one hundred times more visible than mountain biking.”
So can mountain biking use the Armstrong Affair to raise its own profile? Perhaps, but Morgenstein doesn’t think sponsors’ willingness to embrace the sport will change substantially.
“I don’t think it will have any significant impact, because it’s already baked into the cake,” he said. “In the end, cycling has had such a prolific reputation when it comes to doping that companies are staying away anyway.”
Sponsors that have stayed with the sport after Operación Puerto and Alberto Contador’s drawn-out clenbuterol case still receive the same exposure they did before the largest and most recent scandal in sport’s history. But Rabobank’s announcement may yet be a sign of things to come for both road and mountain teams as the sport searches for its post-Armstrong footing.