Wednesday, August 13, 2008

TRIPLE Exclusive: An Interview With Michael Ball


Whether you would like to admit it or not, Rock Racing has turned the very traditional sport of cycling on its proverbial ear. From their overwhelming presence at races replete with Cadillac Escalades, buses, trailers and a 35 foot rig, to their multiple designed, multi-colored kits, Rock Racing has brought style and sex appeal to the generally reserved sport of cycling.

At the epicenter of it all is Michael Ball, CEO and Creative Director of Rock & Republic. The outspoken leader of Rock Racing has brought panache and a no holds bar mentality that has often ruffled the feathers of the cycling community as he tries to shape the sport in his image.

To hear some people tell the story, Michael Ball is the worst thing for cycling. He frankly doesn’t belong. For others, like 13 year veteran of the peloton, Freddy Rodriguez, Ball is the visionary that cycling sorely needs to take the sport into a brighter future.

With the election of the members of the USPRO Board of Trustees ending this Friday, August 15th, I spoke to the Rock Racing Owner to discuss his bid for the USPRO Board of Trustees, his vision for the sport of cycling, and the business of cycling.

Granny's 30 (G): Reading over your candidate statement for the USPRO Board of Trustees At-Large position, a parallel to our presidential race cannot be understated as you seem to be running as a “change” candidate. But rather than being seen as a person of rhetoric, I see you more as a “doer,” how do you think you’ll fair in a political board type of environment?

Michael Ball (MB): Absolutely, my only reason to do this is to create change and move this Board forward, not only for the guy who is out there racing and making sure the pros are being looked after and their best interests are in hand, but taking it all the way up so that the governing bodies really start to move forward and do things that are more progressive and fair to these racers. And to give back to them is at the end of the day really what it’s all about. Without these athletes this sport is nonexistent obviously. It seems as if sometimes these athletes aren’t really taken care of and really seen at the level that other professional sports are so for me it’s about giving them the respect and the things that are due to them.

G: Along those lines, since cycling is still considered a niche sport with many riders not really following other mainstream sports, how would you go about protecting cyclists’ rights like those in the mainstream sports of say football or baseball?

MB: Obviously I’ve spoken about a union in the future. I think organizing the guys so that they have a collective voice is important so that this thing can grow from their level. But also as a team owner and a brand owner and someone who wants to see cycling experience an explosion here in the United States so that these athletes can make more money. They should at least have insurance across the board and a future, frankly.

This sport is so great and from my perspective hasn’t been handled in a way that really pushes it forward; it kind of just follows in tradition based on what they’ve done in Europe the last 50 to 60 years as American cycling has grown. At the turn of the century or prior to that, we had the greatest athletes, the greatest races and the highest paid athletes in the world, with Major Taylor and the like. And Madison Square Garden as you know was built for cycling, as was Central Park.

I think we can capture the glory and become such a great cycling culture, but do it in our way; in an American style. Whether its criterium, or circuits, or what they do at Superweek, it is fantastic. They’ve got this 17-day program that’s based on race after race, not necessarily a stage race, but an American style of multiple day races, and it’s awesome. We can build upon that and for me there’s nothing greater than watching a criterium race. It’s fast and it’s quick. That’s what the majority of the pros do here in the States and I think we can elevate this sport and get it on television and make it exciting and give these pro athletes a voice and a good paycheck.

G: In cycling there already exist the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), but it seems to have little backing or buy-in from its riders. When you speak of a union what exactly do you mean?

MB: It’s a players union, this isn’t an organization that somebody saw an opportunity to take advantage of…the UCI from my perspective isn’t necessarily the greatest thing for the athletes, they are not necessarily an advocate, they’re there for some and not for others. I think when you organize as a collective group the ultimate goal is to protect and to advance the individual in that particular union and give them greater access, better protection, and increase their rights and that’s for me what it’s about. The UCI does what they do. They’ve got some governing bodies and other organizations and they’re trying to expand the sport in their way but it’s not necessarily for the riders, it’s for the UCI.

When you look at a true union it’s about the players’ rights, it’s about collective agreements, making sure that they’re increasing their potential interests and their market value. It’s protecting them from any sort of catastrophic injury, that’s one of the reasons why I started the PCCIF (Professional Cycling Catastrophic Injury Fund), because cycling did not have that.

G: The PCCIF is a great start, what other types of initiatives do you envision attempting to implement?


MB: What I want to do is to make sure that the athletes are meeting, at least twice a year. Discuss what their future is in the sport instead of others dictating what their future is. You know, where do they want to go, Take that to the governing bodies in a collective vote and say listen, this is what the riders are thinking, this is what they want, and ultimately, this is what they demand. And if they don’t get what they need and what they want then we’re going to have to step aside for a little bit in order to get it. And that’s just the way it is.

If these athletes can get together collectively, this sport can grow and can be productive and profitable. I’m not sure that you’ve seen some of the things I’ve said in the past, but I think the problem in this sport is that it’s in a very precarious situation where you’re either a passionate cyclist who is really into this sport or you see it as a marketing opportunity. It’s not really a business opportunity.

For me I want like-minded individuals to see this as a business opportunity as well as a marketing opportunity, and not be fearful to get into this sport. For the past few years, sponsors have come and gone and there are far fewer in between. But my goal is to bring huge sponsors into it, like Fedex, UPS, Red Bull, GM and on and on. The Anheuser-Busches, the Miller products and make this sport huge here in the United States. It’s such a great spectacle that these giant corporations should be a part of it. It includes so many individuals and the demographic is such a high level of education and income earners, so it’s so great.

I’m really positive about it and I want to make sure the athletes are being protected and grow this sport.

G: A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the sport of cycling is still a relative bargain for those looking to sponsor a team, why are sponsors pulling the plug or not even entertaining the idea?

MB: Thing is if you’ve got a Fortune 500 company and they’re backing a cycling team and something happens in terms of a doping scandal it doesn’t look good to their shareholders in their mind. It may or may not, and their share holders may or may not even care, but the board of directors, the chairman, the CEO, or those making the decision, they need to look at this in the long term and the short term. As you saw in the Tour de France in the short term, they just yanked it…we’re out…Saunier Duval, that’s it…Barloworld, out! So we can do things here in the United States that they can’t do in Europe and do it wholly American and you’re right it is an absolute bargain…that’s one of the reasons I got in.

G: At what point do you continue to fund a sport that is not profitable, especially in the US?

MB: Thing is I built Rock Racing and we’re selling the soft goods right now, our kits we can’t keep them in, we’ve got eyewear launching next year. We’re looking at 2010 launching bikes and other hard gear, helmets, and the like. We’re in negotiation for some wheels. And on the manufacturing side, we’ve got a great lab that we’ve created which is called Rock Racing Research and we’ll be doing things over the next few years to advance this sport. I’ve got ideas of different formats that the world of cycling will hear later this year and really kind of bring it to the public and make it television friendly, finally. Television-friendly cycling.

G: As there are athlete positions on the USPRO Board of Trustees, do you envision the At-Large position as an intermediary role?

MB: I could and that would be more of a static role, like what they’re doing now. But what I’d like to see are those that are on the board, myself and the athletes, come together and really start to look toward the future, what are the advantages that cycling has that other sports don’t have, what are the advantages that the athletes need to acquire in order for this sport to advance. And here domestically, this isn’t a worldwide thing; I’m not running for anything like at the UCI or any other organizing bodies in Europe. This is about the United States and about pushing the idea of professional cycling here and giving those athletes a voice.

This isn’t a grandiose idea of cycling in the world; this is about doing something domestically and really pushing it, wholly American. It’s such a great, great sport and we can do something that the Europeans can’t do. There’s a short attention span here in the United States and if we can capture that intensity, that visceral, emotional experience that we have and that we get at a bicycle race, like a crit specifically, boy can this thing grow.

G: Some have spoken about creating a grand tour formatted race here in the United States, do you think that is a viable format?

MB: I don’t think so, I gotta be honest. I’m mean it’ll be beautiful, but the problem is there is a formula in television and that is how many sticks of deodorants can one sell in a particular market, and with all due respect but Modesto – which is a nice place to begin or end a race, -- they’re not selling a whole lot of deodorant in that market. Now if it were here in Los Angeles or San Diego or in a bigger market, absolutely. A perfect example is if they do that type of stuff within a 100-mile radius of a major market, then you can do some real damage. But these grand tours, I just don’t see it being viable. To take a European concept or tradition or format, it’s never worked. You’ll have to tweak it to become American and I just don’t see television picking it up. Versus is barely getting a blip during the Tour de France, its kind of scary.

It needs to be condensed, it needs to be dramatized and romanticized where people can follow who these athletes are. I mean no one knows who these people are unless you’re really into cycling. A weekend warrior can’t sit down and watch it and go…oh yeah…I’m mean there were some Americans who probably said who is Christian Vande Velde, with that name you’d think he’s Dutch.

My whole idea behind that is that I don’t think one can do it, but I think we can if we do it American. We have short attention spans here so why not play into it and we can have something really successful.

We had some fantastic tours, like the Coors Classic which had a major sponsor and it was beautiful and it was great and that’s when you had the kings of the road, when you had those gods. You don’t have those racers anymore, those characters, those bigger than life athletes and that’s when we were kids going, oh my god…and if that couldn’t survive?

Trust me, I went to San Francisco, I went to Denver, I went to Estes Park I saw those races. There were tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people out there watching it and even those couldn’t succeed.

All I tried to do is bring some entertainment to this sport and all that did was freak everyone out. And if you don’t have the entertainment value you have nothing because you can’t keep that focus, you can’t keep that dollar. Look at basketball and football; it’s an entertainment product.

You know as I said I’m “Here To Stay” and its not just cliché. I’m here to stay because I see the opportunity financially and the opportunity from the passion I have for this sport. So it’s gonna grow whether they want me to be a part of it or not, I’m gonna be a part of it and see this thing through.

To be honest, I think we’ve turned a corner in the sense that there was so much negative press and as I said we freaked people out and now its better than 50-50 and its probably more like 60-40 in terms of the pros to cons. I think what is happening now is that the true voice of the cycling community, and that being those guys who work 9-5 and ride…they love it. They are the ones that are out there and who spent the 6 billion dollars that was spent last year in cycling. They’re saying these guys are cool, this is great. And now I can attach myself to something cool and not just have some leotards or coffee cups on my head.

G: With the negative press early on surrounding some of your controversial [rider] signings, not to have you defend your position, but how do you think those hires will affect your candidacy?

MB: To be honest if anybody really takes a look at how it happened and why it happened. They’re going to see, it was never…some will say its marketing and was it a bit of that, yeah, but it was never intentional. It was me giving those athletes a voice and a job, frankly. My riders had every right to race. They are names in some books; there are names of many athletes including players from Real Madrid, racecar drivers, basketball players, and on and on. For whatever reason, individuals within the governing bodies focused on the riders, I just don’t get it.

Everybody at that time was looking for advantage over others and Fuentes was offering it. So why should these guys, a World Champion and the Best Young Rider in the Tour de France not have the opportunity just because of timing? That’s what it really came down to: timing. They were too close to it when it went down. It’s just hypocrisy and at that point, for me, I said we have to stop doing this and I’m going to take a stand and that’s what it really came down to. I hope the athlete sees that as a positive that I did take a stand and I would take a stand for them no matter what. Wrong is wrong. You can’t hide from that, it was wrong and all I did was say, enough! You can’t continue to do it to any athlete, any bicycle racer.

At the end of the day, I’ve never seen any of these documents. I have an idea from the stuff I’ve read and from what people have told me and unfortunately there are people in very high positions who shouldn’t be reading these things and making decisions because from what I understand the courts sealed those documents. All that evidence for some reason all those people were able to acquire it and make decisions and not let my racers be allowed into certain races.

G: In your candidate statement, you mention fair anti-doping practices. What do you feel has been unfair about the anti-doping practices?

MB: They still absolutely target racers, plain and simple. And the thing is, you can talk to any doctor in regard to trying to be consistent with these tests, but they’re at odds. If that were the case, Ricco is the perfect example, he said your tests suck you should have caught me weeks before. So that being said, if they can’t catch the cheaters…maybe they think they’re catching people who aren’t cheating if the tests aren’t that good, aren’t that consistent. You have to be really careful, because at the end of the day if something does come up positive, one needs to look at it from a reasonable perspective. You can’t ruin rider’s lives. You can’t give them a death penalty and do something reasonable in the realm of the effect. The crime does not fit the effects most of the time. I mean my guys were just accused and they couldn’t get a ride. You know it’s just wrong and for me that’s my goal is to give these athletes a voice. The testers and the labs need to be held accountable as well if they make a mistake.

These athletes are being punished for their wrong doing. If you look at it, has any athlete ever won? And that’s a little odd. The probability of that is impossible. It’s those types of things that make you go hhmmm? You can’t just believe everything you read, you have to question this stuff you really have to.

From my perspective as a [science] layman, to believe that a large corporation like Roche would be in bed with WADA, the UCI to actually put a marker with its product that is just absurd. Come on! A multimillion dollar company would do that just to bust a couple of cyclists?

G: Looking forward, what are your plans for Europe and 2009?

MB: Obviously we’d love to get a wild card, we would be prepared for the Tour de France. Our goals are the Vuelta, the Giro, the Dauphine, Milan San Remo, Liege and there’s a lot of things we can do as a third year team that we’d be very successful at.


You know I’m taking Rahsaan [Bahati] to the Tour of Britain. You know they talked about [Mark] Cavendish being the fastest man in 100 meters, maybe after 120 miles, but put him up against Bahati in 60 miles or [Ivan] Dominguez. Good Luck! You know he didn’t do so well against Dominguez over the past few years at the Tour of California. It’ll be so great for Bahati to be over there and doing his thing. He’ll be the first black athlete to compete in a European tour. It’s exciting.

G: As a big proponent of women’s cycling and juniors, what is your vision for growing the sport for both?

MB: Our women’s team turned out to be a little bit of distraction and kind of a disaster to be honest. We’re going to have to take a step back and take a look at it from a different perspective. We’re going to have to rethink how we’re going to structure this next year.

There were things that shouldn’t have been happening that were happening. So be it. It’s human nature, but when it starts affecting the team…uh-uh. We’re going to have to start looking for another way to do it. It just didn’t work out the way I thought. Thanks for the support of women’s cycling. We’ll continue to support women’s cycling but we’ll have to think of ways to restructure it. Do it completely different with two completely separate organizations. I think that was the mistake thinking we could all be one big happy family. I was maybe naïve.

Juniors I’m all about. We’ve got some of the best juniors in the country. We’ve got Iggy [Silva III] and we just brought Justin Williams up from juniors and he’s doing a fantastic job and I just have so much hope and I just want to get this kid over to Europe. It’s going to be something to see a local product from LA racing in Europe.

G: In a 2005 LA Times article, Bahati mentioned the barriers to getting inner-city youth to participate in a sport that is basically cost-prohibitive. How do you reach those kids and what measures will it take to help them out?

MB: The great thing about these inner city kids…when you think about the top racers in terms of speed they’re all inner city kids or kids from the other side of the tracks or third world, Bahati, Rodriguez, Dominguez. It’s awesome because these kids will be able to identify with these racers and be able to look at them and say I can be an athlete too, I race my bike, I ride, I race from one corner to the other every day. So its going to be a great thing for these kids to see these ultimately superstars of the sport. These guys are going to be superstars if I have anything to say about it. So they’ll be able to identify with them. The likes of Bahati or Justin Williams, all it takes is Bahati going over and winning a couple of races in Europe, becoming a superstar at home and the same for Justin to really jump start [the sport]. Because how many great athletes aren’t on bikes from the inner cities? They’re with a baseball bat, or basketball, a football or even a soccer ball. And they all know how to ride a bike. And the chances of those guys getting into any of those sports…pretty slim. But, a bicycle a few years of training, they could be a top pro.

G: You mentioned earlier about viewing cycling as a business as well as from a marketing standpoint. What is your view of the industry?


MB:
For the industry as a whole, here’s my take on what’s happening as I’ve been in it from a manufacturer, brand perspective. It’s an interesting industry because it’s really predicated on these boutiques, if you will, these mom and pop’s. It’s not these huge department stores that can make or break you, it’s all these little mom and pops if you will, and they’re unfortunately beholden to the brand manufacturers and ultimately those reps out there. So what I’m looking to do is…I want to go direct. I want to create within my pay site a wholesale site so that these buyers can go direct. Instead of me paying and taking that percentage out of their bottom line and giving it to a rep, why not give it to those bicycle shop owners. The way I look at it there’s that 21-year old kid who wants to own his own bike store, by the time he’s 25 he's probably saved enough money to open it up. By the time he’s open, his margins are so small he can’t get the opportunity, he can’t turn that corner and turn it into a bigger store or open up a second store or third, it takes so long. For me I want to see this sport continue to grow so the more money those guys make at the end of the day, their margins increase, they can do more things and that in turn will expand this sport. My next thing is instead of paying these reps these percentages, give them to the bike stores. Let them make that extra 5, 7, 10, or 15% so that they can do some things now instead of working pay check to pay check or year to year and giving them the opportunity to do something in their world. So I’m looking to help and change and expand this sport in any way I can.

To vote for the USPRO Board of Trustees, follow these instructions (Voting ends August 15th):
  • Go to www.usacycling.org
  • Click on the "login" button near the upper left.
  • Create an account or use your license number and password to login.
  • Cast your vote after receiving the prompt.
Photos: Vero Images

5 comments:

k2 said...

great interview Triple! love to here more about this Rock Racin' Womens Team... ;-)

Granny's 30 said...

there should be an Interbike announcement...keep your ear to the ground...

Kk said...

Here here! As always G, quality stuff.

When MB speaks I keep hearing an old song..."Just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down, the medicine go dow wown..."

Nothing would rock more than an RR women's team!

Granny's 30 said...

KK,
They already do have a women's team, but I'm not too surprise that no one has really heard about them...check out Ashley Dymond

http://www.triplecrankset.com/2008/07/rock-racings-dawson-wins-shortened-race.html

PROMANgirl said...

I heard there will be no women's Rock team for 2009, too much of a distraction! MB find some serious management and a good director and you could have a kick ass women's team completely separate from the men's team!!....PLEASE!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

TRIPLE Exclusive: An Interview With Michael Ball


Whether you would like to admit it or not, Rock Racing has turned the very traditional sport of cycling on its proverbial ear. From their overwhelming presence at races replete with Cadillac Escalades, buses, trailers and a 35 foot rig, to their multiple designed, multi-colored kits, Rock Racing has brought style and sex appeal to the generally reserved sport of cycling.

At the epicenter of it all is Michael Ball, CEO and Creative Director of Rock & Republic. The outspoken leader of Rock Racing has brought panache and a no holds bar mentality that has often ruffled the feathers of the cycling community as he tries to shape the sport in his image.

To hear some people tell the story, Michael Ball is the worst thing for cycling. He frankly doesn’t belong. For others, like 13 year veteran of the peloton, Freddy Rodriguez, Ball is the visionary that cycling sorely needs to take the sport into a brighter future.

With the election of the members of the USPRO Board of Trustees ending this Friday, August 15th, I spoke to the Rock Racing Owner to discuss his bid for the USPRO Board of Trustees, his vision for the sport of cycling, and the business of cycling.

Granny's 30 (G): Reading over your candidate statement for the USPRO Board of Trustees At-Large position, a parallel to our presidential race cannot be understated as you seem to be running as a “change” candidate. But rather than being seen as a person of rhetoric, I see you more as a “doer,” how do you think you’ll fair in a political board type of environment?

Michael Ball (MB): Absolutely, my only reason to do this is to create change and move this Board forward, not only for the guy who is out there racing and making sure the pros are being looked after and their best interests are in hand, but taking it all the way up so that the governing bodies really start to move forward and do things that are more progressive and fair to these racers. And to give back to them is at the end of the day really what it’s all about. Without these athletes this sport is nonexistent obviously. It seems as if sometimes these athletes aren’t really taken care of and really seen at the level that other professional sports are so for me it’s about giving them the respect and the things that are due to them.

G: Along those lines, since cycling is still considered a niche sport with many riders not really following other mainstream sports, how would you go about protecting cyclists’ rights like those in the mainstream sports of say football or baseball?

MB: Obviously I’ve spoken about a union in the future. I think organizing the guys so that they have a collective voice is important so that this thing can grow from their level. But also as a team owner and a brand owner and someone who wants to see cycling experience an explosion here in the United States so that these athletes can make more money. They should at least have insurance across the board and a future, frankly.

This sport is so great and from my perspective hasn’t been handled in a way that really pushes it forward; it kind of just follows in tradition based on what they’ve done in Europe the last 50 to 60 years as American cycling has grown. At the turn of the century or prior to that, we had the greatest athletes, the greatest races and the highest paid athletes in the world, with Major Taylor and the like. And Madison Square Garden as you know was built for cycling, as was Central Park.

I think we can capture the glory and become such a great cycling culture, but do it in our way; in an American style. Whether its criterium, or circuits, or what they do at Superweek, it is fantastic. They’ve got this 17-day program that’s based on race after race, not necessarily a stage race, but an American style of multiple day races, and it’s awesome. We can build upon that and for me there’s nothing greater than watching a criterium race. It’s fast and it’s quick. That’s what the majority of the pros do here in the States and I think we can elevate this sport and get it on television and make it exciting and give these pro athletes a voice and a good paycheck.

G: In cycling there already exist the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), but it seems to have little backing or buy-in from its riders. When you speak of a union what exactly do you mean?

MB: It’s a players union, this isn’t an organization that somebody saw an opportunity to take advantage of…the UCI from my perspective isn’t necessarily the greatest thing for the athletes, they are not necessarily an advocate, they’re there for some and not for others. I think when you organize as a collective group the ultimate goal is to protect and to advance the individual in that particular union and give them greater access, better protection, and increase their rights and that’s for me what it’s about. The UCI does what they do. They’ve got some governing bodies and other organizations and they’re trying to expand the sport in their way but it’s not necessarily for the riders, it’s for the UCI.

When you look at a true union it’s about the players’ rights, it’s about collective agreements, making sure that they’re increasing their potential interests and their market value. It’s protecting them from any sort of catastrophic injury, that’s one of the reasons why I started the PCCIF (Professional Cycling Catastrophic Injury Fund), because cycling did not have that.

G: The PCCIF is a great start, what other types of initiatives do you envision attempting to implement?


MB: What I want to do is to make sure that the athletes are meeting, at least twice a year. Discuss what their future is in the sport instead of others dictating what their future is. You know, where do they want to go, Take that to the governing bodies in a collective vote and say listen, this is what the riders are thinking, this is what they want, and ultimately, this is what they demand. And if they don’t get what they need and what they want then we’re going to have to step aside for a little bit in order to get it. And that’s just the way it is.

If these athletes can get together collectively, this sport can grow and can be productive and profitable. I’m not sure that you’ve seen some of the things I’ve said in the past, but I think the problem in this sport is that it’s in a very precarious situation where you’re either a passionate cyclist who is really into this sport or you see it as a marketing opportunity. It’s not really a business opportunity.

For me I want like-minded individuals to see this as a business opportunity as well as a marketing opportunity, and not be fearful to get into this sport. For the past few years, sponsors have come and gone and there are far fewer in between. But my goal is to bring huge sponsors into it, like Fedex, UPS, Red Bull, GM and on and on. The Anheuser-Busches, the Miller products and make this sport huge here in the United States. It’s such a great spectacle that these giant corporations should be a part of it. It includes so many individuals and the demographic is such a high level of education and income earners, so it’s so great.

I’m really positive about it and I want to make sure the athletes are being protected and grow this sport.

G: A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the sport of cycling is still a relative bargain for those looking to sponsor a team, why are sponsors pulling the plug or not even entertaining the idea?

MB: Thing is if you’ve got a Fortune 500 company and they’re backing a cycling team and something happens in terms of a doping scandal it doesn’t look good to their shareholders in their mind. It may or may not, and their share holders may or may not even care, but the board of directors, the chairman, the CEO, or those making the decision, they need to look at this in the long term and the short term. As you saw in the Tour de France in the short term, they just yanked it…we’re out…Saunier Duval, that’s it…Barloworld, out! So we can do things here in the United States that they can’t do in Europe and do it wholly American and you’re right it is an absolute bargain…that’s one of the reasons I got in.

G: At what point do you continue to fund a sport that is not profitable, especially in the US?

MB: Thing is I built Rock Racing and we’re selling the soft goods right now, our kits we can’t keep them in, we’ve got eyewear launching next year. We’re looking at 2010 launching bikes and other hard gear, helmets, and the like. We’re in negotiation for some wheels. And on the manufacturing side, we’ve got a great lab that we’ve created which is called Rock Racing Research and we’ll be doing things over the next few years to advance this sport. I’ve got ideas of different formats that the world of cycling will hear later this year and really kind of bring it to the public and make it television friendly, finally. Television-friendly cycling.

G: As there are athlete positions on the USPRO Board of Trustees, do you envision the At-Large position as an intermediary role?

MB: I could and that would be more of a static role, like what they’re doing now. But what I’d like to see are those that are on the board, myself and the athletes, come together and really start to look toward the future, what are the advantages that cycling has that other sports don’t have, what are the advantages that the athletes need to acquire in order for this sport to advance. And here domestically, this isn’t a worldwide thing; I’m not running for anything like at the UCI or any other organizing bodies in Europe. This is about the United States and about pushing the idea of professional cycling here and giving those athletes a voice.

This isn’t a grandiose idea of cycling in the world; this is about doing something domestically and really pushing it, wholly American. It’s such a great, great sport and we can do something that the Europeans can’t do. There’s a short attention span here in the United States and if we can capture that intensity, that visceral, emotional experience that we have and that we get at a bicycle race, like a crit specifically, boy can this thing grow.

G: Some have spoken about creating a grand tour formatted race here in the United States, do you think that is a viable format?

MB: I don’t think so, I gotta be honest. I’m mean it’ll be beautiful, but the problem is there is a formula in television and that is how many sticks of deodorants can one sell in a particular market, and with all due respect but Modesto – which is a nice place to begin or end a race, -- they’re not selling a whole lot of deodorant in that market. Now if it were here in Los Angeles or San Diego or in a bigger market, absolutely. A perfect example is if they do that type of stuff within a 100-mile radius of a major market, then you can do some real damage. But these grand tours, I just don’t see it being viable. To take a European concept or tradition or format, it’s never worked. You’ll have to tweak it to become American and I just don’t see television picking it up. Versus is barely getting a blip during the Tour de France, its kind of scary.

It needs to be condensed, it needs to be dramatized and romanticized where people can follow who these athletes are. I mean no one knows who these people are unless you’re really into cycling. A weekend warrior can’t sit down and watch it and go…oh yeah…I’m mean there were some Americans who probably said who is Christian Vande Velde, with that name you’d think he’s Dutch.

My whole idea behind that is that I don’t think one can do it, but I think we can if we do it American. We have short attention spans here so why not play into it and we can have something really successful.

We had some fantastic tours, like the Coors Classic which had a major sponsor and it was beautiful and it was great and that’s when you had the kings of the road, when you had those gods. You don’t have those racers anymore, those characters, those bigger than life athletes and that’s when we were kids going, oh my god…and if that couldn’t survive?

Trust me, I went to San Francisco, I went to Denver, I went to Estes Park I saw those races. There were tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people out there watching it and even those couldn’t succeed.

All I tried to do is bring some entertainment to this sport and all that did was freak everyone out. And if you don’t have the entertainment value you have nothing because you can’t keep that focus, you can’t keep that dollar. Look at basketball and football; it’s an entertainment product.

You know as I said I’m “Here To Stay” and its not just cliché. I’m here to stay because I see the opportunity financially and the opportunity from the passion I have for this sport. So it’s gonna grow whether they want me to be a part of it or not, I’m gonna be a part of it and see this thing through.

To be honest, I think we’ve turned a corner in the sense that there was so much negative press and as I said we freaked people out and now its better than 50-50 and its probably more like 60-40 in terms of the pros to cons. I think what is happening now is that the true voice of the cycling community, and that being those guys who work 9-5 and ride…they love it. They are the ones that are out there and who spent the 6 billion dollars that was spent last year in cycling. They’re saying these guys are cool, this is great. And now I can attach myself to something cool and not just have some leotards or coffee cups on my head.

G: With the negative press early on surrounding some of your controversial [rider] signings, not to have you defend your position, but how do you think those hires will affect your candidacy?

MB: To be honest if anybody really takes a look at how it happened and why it happened. They’re going to see, it was never…some will say its marketing and was it a bit of that, yeah, but it was never intentional. It was me giving those athletes a voice and a job, frankly. My riders had every right to race. They are names in some books; there are names of many athletes including players from Real Madrid, racecar drivers, basketball players, and on and on. For whatever reason, individuals within the governing bodies focused on the riders, I just don’t get it.

Everybody at that time was looking for advantage over others and Fuentes was offering it. So why should these guys, a World Champion and the Best Young Rider in the Tour de France not have the opportunity just because of timing? That’s what it really came down to: timing. They were too close to it when it went down. It’s just hypocrisy and at that point, for me, I said we have to stop doing this and I’m going to take a stand and that’s what it really came down to. I hope the athlete sees that as a positive that I did take a stand and I would take a stand for them no matter what. Wrong is wrong. You can’t hide from that, it was wrong and all I did was say, enough! You can’t continue to do it to any athlete, any bicycle racer.

At the end of the day, I’ve never seen any of these documents. I have an idea from the stuff I’ve read and from what people have told me and unfortunately there are people in very high positions who shouldn’t be reading these things and making decisions because from what I understand the courts sealed those documents. All that evidence for some reason all those people were able to acquire it and make decisions and not let my racers be allowed into certain races.

G: In your candidate statement, you mention fair anti-doping practices. What do you feel has been unfair about the anti-doping practices?

MB: They still absolutely target racers, plain and simple. And the thing is, you can talk to any doctor in regard to trying to be consistent with these tests, but they’re at odds. If that were the case, Ricco is the perfect example, he said your tests suck you should have caught me weeks before. So that being said, if they can’t catch the cheaters…maybe they think they’re catching people who aren’t cheating if the tests aren’t that good, aren’t that consistent. You have to be really careful, because at the end of the day if something does come up positive, one needs to look at it from a reasonable perspective. You can’t ruin rider’s lives. You can’t give them a death penalty and do something reasonable in the realm of the effect. The crime does not fit the effects most of the time. I mean my guys were just accused and they couldn’t get a ride. You know it’s just wrong and for me that’s my goal is to give these athletes a voice. The testers and the labs need to be held accountable as well if they make a mistake.

These athletes are being punished for their wrong doing. If you look at it, has any athlete ever won? And that’s a little odd. The probability of that is impossible. It’s those types of things that make you go hhmmm? You can’t just believe everything you read, you have to question this stuff you really have to.

From my perspective as a [science] layman, to believe that a large corporation like Roche would be in bed with WADA, the UCI to actually put a marker with its product that is just absurd. Come on! A multimillion dollar company would do that just to bust a couple of cyclists?

G: Looking forward, what are your plans for Europe and 2009?

MB: Obviously we’d love to get a wild card, we would be prepared for the Tour de France. Our goals are the Vuelta, the Giro, the Dauphine, Milan San Remo, Liege and there’s a lot of things we can do as a third year team that we’d be very successful at.


You know I’m taking Rahsaan [Bahati] to the Tour of Britain. You know they talked about [Mark] Cavendish being the fastest man in 100 meters, maybe after 120 miles, but put him up against Bahati in 60 miles or [Ivan] Dominguez. Good Luck! You know he didn’t do so well against Dominguez over the past few years at the Tour of California. It’ll be so great for Bahati to be over there and doing his thing. He’ll be the first black athlete to compete in a European tour. It’s exciting.

G: As a big proponent of women’s cycling and juniors, what is your vision for growing the sport for both?

MB: Our women’s team turned out to be a little bit of distraction and kind of a disaster to be honest. We’re going to have to take a step back and take a look at it from a different perspective. We’re going to have to rethink how we’re going to structure this next year.

There were things that shouldn’t have been happening that were happening. So be it. It’s human nature, but when it starts affecting the team…uh-uh. We’re going to have to start looking for another way to do it. It just didn’t work out the way I thought. Thanks for the support of women’s cycling. We’ll continue to support women’s cycling but we’ll have to think of ways to restructure it. Do it completely different with two completely separate organizations. I think that was the mistake thinking we could all be one big happy family. I was maybe naïve.

Juniors I’m all about. We’ve got some of the best juniors in the country. We’ve got Iggy [Silva III] and we just brought Justin Williams up from juniors and he’s doing a fantastic job and I just have so much hope and I just want to get this kid over to Europe. It’s going to be something to see a local product from LA racing in Europe.

G: In a 2005 LA Times article, Bahati mentioned the barriers to getting inner-city youth to participate in a sport that is basically cost-prohibitive. How do you reach those kids and what measures will it take to help them out?

MB: The great thing about these inner city kids…when you think about the top racers in terms of speed they’re all inner city kids or kids from the other side of the tracks or third world, Bahati, Rodriguez, Dominguez. It’s awesome because these kids will be able to identify with these racers and be able to look at them and say I can be an athlete too, I race my bike, I ride, I race from one corner to the other every day. So its going to be a great thing for these kids to see these ultimately superstars of the sport. These guys are going to be superstars if I have anything to say about it. So they’ll be able to identify with them. The likes of Bahati or Justin Williams, all it takes is Bahati going over and winning a couple of races in Europe, becoming a superstar at home and the same for Justin to really jump start [the sport]. Because how many great athletes aren’t on bikes from the inner cities? They’re with a baseball bat, or basketball, a football or even a soccer ball. And they all know how to ride a bike. And the chances of those guys getting into any of those sports…pretty slim. But, a bicycle a few years of training, they could be a top pro.

G: You mentioned earlier about viewing cycling as a business as well as from a marketing standpoint. What is your view of the industry?


MB:
For the industry as a whole, here’s my take on what’s happening as I’ve been in it from a manufacturer, brand perspective. It’s an interesting industry because it’s really predicated on these boutiques, if you will, these mom and pop’s. It’s not these huge department stores that can make or break you, it’s all these little mom and pops if you will, and they’re unfortunately beholden to the brand manufacturers and ultimately those reps out there. So what I’m looking to do is…I want to go direct. I want to create within my pay site a wholesale site so that these buyers can go direct. Instead of me paying and taking that percentage out of their bottom line and giving it to a rep, why not give it to those bicycle shop owners. The way I look at it there’s that 21-year old kid who wants to own his own bike store, by the time he’s 25 he's probably saved enough money to open it up. By the time he’s open, his margins are so small he can’t get the opportunity, he can’t turn that corner and turn it into a bigger store or open up a second store or third, it takes so long. For me I want to see this sport continue to grow so the more money those guys make at the end of the day, their margins increase, they can do more things and that in turn will expand this sport. My next thing is instead of paying these reps these percentages, give them to the bike stores. Let them make that extra 5, 7, 10, or 15% so that they can do some things now instead of working pay check to pay check or year to year and giving them the opportunity to do something in their world. So I’m looking to help and change and expand this sport in any way I can.

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Photos: Vero Images

5 comments:

k2 said...

great interview Triple! love to here more about this Rock Racin' Womens Team... ;-)

Granny's 30 said...

there should be an Interbike announcement...keep your ear to the ground...

Kk said...

Here here! As always G, quality stuff.

When MB speaks I keep hearing an old song..."Just a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down, the medicine go dow wown..."

Nothing would rock more than an RR women's team!

Granny's 30 said...

KK,
They already do have a women's team, but I'm not too surprise that no one has really heard about them...check out Ashley Dymond

http://www.triplecrankset.com/2008/07/rock-racings-dawson-wins-shortened-race.html

PROMANgirl said...

I heard there will be no women's Rock team for 2009, too much of a distraction! MB find some serious management and a good director and you could have a kick ass women's team completely separate from the men's team!!....PLEASE!