Cycling is well known for its slightly bizarre sponsorship deals, none more so than the famous Molteni – who manufactured cold meats – and Faema – an espresso machine maker.
In another odd move, Europcar rider and perenial gurner Thomas Voeckler became the face of Akena conservatories earlier this week.
Here we look at six of the weirder sponsorship deals of past and present, starting with a Russian team blatantly cashing in on an expensive product.
Katusha’s caviar deal
“For us the collaboration with the Caviar de Riofrio Company first of all is an opportunity to significantly improve our rider’s diets during the racing periods, especially during their participation in the Grand Tours,” said Katusha manager Viacheslav Ekimov after his team signed a deal with the black caviar supplier for the 2015 season.
You can’t fool us, Mr Ekimov. A 500g tin of Caviar de Riofrio would normally set you back just shy of £800, and Joaquim Rodriguez could probably polish that off in one sitting.
Katusha got around their riders’ expensive tastes by signing a deal with one of Russia’s premium caviars. So Alexander Kristoff’s strong start to the season can now be put down to the excess of fish eggs he can eat on a regular basis.
Amore & Vita
Cycling and politics is an odd mix, especially when it comes in the form of a pro-life, anti-abortion group backed by the Vatican.
It’s always good to get the approval from the man up high, and perhaps it was that divine intervention which helped the Amore & Vita team to a series of Giro d’Italia stage wins in the 1990s.
Five times between 1990 and 1999 they crossed the line first in a stage of the Italian tour, with a pair of Vuelta a Espana stages coming in 1994.
The hand of God seems to have loosened somewhat in recent years, with the team languishing in the UCI Continental ranks. And ever since star sprinter Mattia Gavazzi was banned in 2010 for taking cocaine, the squad has missing that angelic quality.
When this Belgian team was racing in the 1980s, tobacco advertising in France was banned, but not in Belgium.
That would normally prove a problem for many teams wanting to race in France, but not Boule d’Or, who simply found a chocolate manufacturer of the same name and transferred the team over to them.
And it proved a good move, as the prolific team racked up eight Tour de France stages between 1981 and 1983 and even won the green points jersey with Freddy Maertens in 1981.
Various flooring manufacturers
It was strange to learn, after several years of watching the Quick Step team race in my youth, that the sponsor was actually a Belgian flooring company. There was me thinking they must make sportswear, or footwear, or something even vaguely connected to cycling or athletics.
But no, the people on the European continent seem to love their flooring and tile manufacturers, with several such companies ploughing money into the sport over the past decades.
It started with Ariostea, who featured Rolf Sorensen in their squad between 1988 and 1992, as well as Bjarne Riis in ’92 and ’93. The Italian flooring company had a lot of success in their 10-year stint in the sport.
Then came Mapei, famous for their outrageous kits, home to former Hour Record holder Tony Rominger, classics specialist Johan Museeuw, Oscar Friere and Fabian Cancellara – among others – in their 10 years between 1993 and 2002.
Quick Step are the latest floorers on the block, entering in 1999. In 2005 the team won both the World Championships road race and time trial with Tom Boonen and Michael Rogers respectively.
The team have been racking up wins left, right and centre for well over a decade and show no sign of slowing down, with current world champion Michal Kwiatkowski in their midst, as well as Mark Cavendish.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s concrete deal
While riders may find caviar and cigarettes useful, and they may have their homes re-tiled by their sponsor, it’s hard to understand the benefit of Tinkoff-Saxo’s deal with concrete post maker Spinazzè Group.
But these aren’t any concrete posts, they’re prestressed concrete posts that are supplied to the vineyards of the Veneto region – where Prosecco is made.
So if Alberto Contador pulls off his Giro-Tour double this year, expect him to pop open the bubbly produced by customers of the Spinazzè Group. It’s a small world, after all.
The Alpecin/Ullrich hair affair
Now, the concept of a shampoo manufacturer sponsoring a cycling team isn’t beyond the realms of imagination, but Alpecin went a step further with one of their more controversial slogans.
“Doping for your hair” was the marketing slogan for this German company, who brought in the whiter-thanwhite Jan Ullrich as their brand ambassador. Ironically, the day after Ullrich pledged his allegiance to the brand he was slapped with a ban for doping. And it had nothing to do with his hair.
With German sprinter Marcel Kittel leading the Giant-Alpecin charge this year, members of the team have already spoken out about their desire to clean up the sport. So as long as it’s only their follicles they are doping, the team should find success with their new sponsor.