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As Liquigas exits cycling, company claims brand recognition worth ‘at least’ five times its investment

  • By Gregor Brown
  • Published Dec. 7, 2012
  • Updated Dec. 7, 2012 at 1:49 PM EDT
Liquigas invested $65 million into its WorldTour team over eight years, but saw at least a $325m return in exposure value. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

MILAN (VN) — Cannondale officially takes over the former Liquigas-Cannondale WorldTour team with a presentation in Los Angeles, California, next month, but sponsor Liquigas leaves the team happy — and rich. In eight seasons, president Paolo Del Lago said the company invested $65 million, “but the return was at least five times greater.”

Del Lago spoke to Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport at a party to celebrate the changing of the guard. In September, the American bike manufacturer announced it would take over the team “in a significant way.”

After two years as co-sponsor and enjoying its share of the return, Cannondale took a 40-percent stake in the team’s new management company. Former Liquigas president Paolo Zani started the management company, Brixia Sport, and takes the other 60 percent.

The team will become essentially half Italian and half Canadian-American. Canadian company Dorel bought Connecticut-based Cannondale in 2008.

“Their demand was that the team become as international as possible,” explained team manager Roberto Amadio last month.

The team signed eight new riders, including Canadian Guillaume Boivin, Australian Cameron Wurf, Austrian Matthias Krizek, Argentinian Lucas Sebastian Haedo, German Michel Koch, Japanese Nariyuki Masuda and Dane Brian Vandborg for the new season. They join forces with Italy’s old and new, Ivan Basso and Moreno Moser, Slovakian sprinter and rouleur Peter Sagan, and American Ted King.

“Now, there are 14 Italians out of 27,” said Amadio. “Also, the race program will be different. The priority is the WorldTour, but the American calendar becomes more important.”

Amadio explained that Sagan would race the Tour de France again, where he won three stages and the green jersey this year, and likely the Amgen Tour of California as well, where he won each of the five sprint stages in 2012. Basso will push Cannondale’s brand in Italy at the Giro d’Italia.

“We [have] got to be smart concentrating on more goals,” said Amadio.

In fact, the Italian team’s January 12 presentation in Los Angeles will be its first presentation abroad.

Del Lago waves his baby “ciao” but, it has been a good ride. Liquigas won in classics, sprints, the overall at the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, and placed third this year with Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour de France. Its best year was in 2010, when Basso won the Giro and Nibali won the Vuelta. Sagan went on a rampage in his debut in 2011 to collect nearly half of the team’s 32 wins.

The bad? Liquigas has had its share: Danilo Di Luca’s suspicious urine levels on the way to his 2007 Giro win, Manuel Beltrán’s positive EPO test at the 2008 Tour, negative press from breaking with the teams’ association (AIGCP) to sign Basso after his doping ban, and Franco Pellizotti’s biological passport ban in 2010.

Despite the bad news, De Lago explained that it was worth it.

“Now, clients identify Liquigas with green. Cycling enormously helped us gain brand recognition,” he said. “We left after eight seasons because no investment can last a lifetime. We go out on top. The economic return was excellent.”

Correction: This article initially listed Peter Sagan is Czech. He is Slovakian. We regret the error.

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Gregor Brown

Gregor Brown

Bikes kept Gregor Brown out of trouble growing up in Oklahoma — BMX, freestyle and then watching Greg LeMond's Tour de France wins on CBS television's weekend highlights shows. The drama of the 1998 Tour, however, truly drew him into the fold. With a growing curiosity in European races and lifestyle, he followed his heart and established camp on Lake Como's shores in 2004. Brown has been following the Giro, the Tour and every major race in Europe since 2006. He will tell you it is about the "race within the race" – punching out the news and running to finish – but he loves a proper dinner, un piatto tipico ed un vino della zona.

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