Shunning The Sponsor

Apart from the racing itself, one of the most interesting stories to come out of the World Championships was Linda Villumsen’s time-trial wining ride on a non-trade team bike. The New Zealander’s choice to eschew her United Healthcare Wilier for an all black unbranded (but obviously) Trek enraged her team and apparently almost cost her her job.

Villumsen on her way to gold - Richmond 2015Villumsen on her way to gold.

Villumsen was no doubt looking for every possible advantage having won three bronze and two silver medals in the previous five world championship time trials.

Of course, she is not the first to show a preference for equipment that doesn’t come from a sponsor. In 2011, Mark Cavendish’s move to Team Sky went from certain to doubtful because he wanted to continue riding on Specialized bikes, while Sky riders rolled (and still roll) on Pinarellos.

In years gone by, Cavendish and Villumsen would just have labelled their bikes with their sponsors’ names and continued on their way. Back in the day, many cyclists simply got their favourite bike painted in the colours of their team’s bike sponsor. Few knew the difference and as such, everyone was happy (more or less).

One of the most prolific suppliers of what I’ll call chameleons is the legendary frame builder Dario Pegoretti. The Italian makes bikes that are works of art and has a two-year waiting list on his frames. And it would seem that it’s not just because these frames are pretty, as plenty of pros have chosen his bikes without the amazing paint jobs.

Bike Frame by Dario

Riders who have insisted on Pegoretti include five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain, Mario Cippolini, Marco Pantani, Francesco Moser, Stephen Roche, Andrea Tafi and Tony Romminger. Most recently, Belgian Tom Boonen is rumoured to have ridden at least two stages during the 2007 Tour on a Pegoretti decorated as a Specialized.

Another example involves Lance Armstrong at the 1999 Tour de France. While he raced 18 stages on a Trek 5500 OCLV, he rode and won the prologue and the two individual time trials on a Litespeed Blade time trial bike labelled as a Trek.

Tyler Hamilton also rode a Parlee to 2nd overall in the 2002 Giro d’Italia while riding for CSC when it was sponsored by Look.

And, surprise, surprise, the American 7-Eleven team didn’t actually ride on Huffy. The team in fact rode on Serottas badged as Huffys (Huffies?). That is, except Andy Hampsten, who rode on a custom frame produced by American builder John Slawta. So Hampsten was riding a Slawta that everyone thought was a Serotta that was badged as a Huffy!

Unfortunately for riders like Villumsen, frames are becoming far more distinctive from brand to brand. This of course is a result of the fact that you can make carbon into any shape you like while in the days of steel, or even aluminium, tubing didn’t vary all that much.

And of course, it’s not just the frame that riders get picky about. Almost every part under the sun has been rebadged as something it’s not. And just like with frames, this process is becoming harder and harder to pull off unnoticed.

By Laurence Guttmann

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