At the back end of last year, there was much to think about over the potential mega-merger between two of the biggest teams in professional cycling.
Were major national and international brands now looking at the sport and turning their noses up at investing? That was one of several things to consider when it looked like Soudal-Visma could become a reality.
However, with Red Bull, the most popular energy drink brand in the world, seemingly set to take a 51% controlling stake in Bora-Hansgrohe, that question might largely be answered. The company’s big move to become further involved with the German WorldTour team is the logical next step for its journey further into the sport and has seemingly been on the cards for some time. More pertinently, though, cycling isn’t dead as an investment project just yet.
Ralph Denk’s squad has long had links with Red Bull with the brand sponsoring the team’s junior scouting programme - Red Bull Junior Brothers - as of last year. Bora rider Anton Palzer is also individually sponsored by the company and wears a Red Bull branded helmet as a result.
Speculation mounted that the firm was becoming even further involved in Denk’s team when Bora completed the signing of Primož Roglič last October, as the Slovenian had been spotted at the Red Bull Performance Centre in Salzburg during contract negotiations. Reports that Red Bull had largely funded the team’s acquisition of the star were vehemently rejected by Denk.
“We have no budget increase. It’s not that a new sponsor arrives. We paid this with our money,” Denk said at the time, but the news this week suggests that budget increase might be coming,
"Red Bull is planning to expand its involvement in road cycling and is aiming for a partnership with Bora-Hansgrohe," the team said this week. “Red Bull strives to complement the team's portfolio of existing long-term main sponsors, who will remain on a long-term basis.”
Levelling up competition
Of course, we don’t yet know exactly how much extra funding Bora will get from this deal, but it seems like Bora could join the elite group of super-teams.
Once Red Bull’s move is formalised we could then find ourselves with a squad, which within a few years, is capable of rivalling Visma-Lease A Bike and UAE Team Emirates.
The German team will line up at the Tour de France next July as genuine contenders, thanks to Roglič, as opposed to a sideshow in the Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel battle.
According to Rolf Aldag - head sports director at Bora - bringing in last year’s Giro d’Italia winner has forced the team to recalibrate its goals for next season. Speaking on The Cycling Podcast, Aldag reiterated that Roglič’s presence now means that it’s simply all in for the Tour in 2024 with Roglič leading the charge.
However, the potential investment from Red Bull could mean that the team suddenly finds itself with the resources and genuine capability to challenge on all fronts, all year round, in a similar fashion to Jumbo-Visma last year. Increased finances means the ability to then attract riders capable of making that a reality in the future.
Red Bull like a long term project, they aren’t just after instant success, as their investment in other sports has shown. The company is behind the current most successful Formula 1 team, but that success took time.
The Red Bull team made its F1 debut in 2005, but did not win its first world championship until 2010 when Sebastian Vettel came on board. Major success took five years but Vettel went on to win four titles in a row for Red Bull proving that success is largely not achieved overnight. Their projects in football were similar long-term projects.
Red Bull’s takeover at Bora could also mean that cycling becomes another weapon in its world class marketability set up, which would inevitably increase the sports appeal to new fans. This was touched upon by former pro Tom Danielson on X.
Danielson said: “Red Bull will not just level performance, but they will grow the interest in the sport globally.
“As marketing powerhouses they will advance the sport’s appeal to new viewers by making it relatable and accessible. For current fans they will creatively bring them closer to their heroes.”
Giving road cycling wings
Red Bull could help provide increased eyes on professional road cycling, thanks to the clever marketing it does with its sports and athletes.
The Austrian brand has a long history of involvement in mountain biking through sponsorship of the likes of Tom Pidcock and Evie Richards. The company is also the headline sponsor of the Red Bull Rampage event. The only platform it has in road cycling is through its sponsorship of Wout van Aert and Anton Palzer, with the collaboration with the former proving very successful.
Nearly all of the brand’s international marketing is done through sports projects, especially extreme ones, and road cycling could join that portfolio on a much larger scale.
Ultimately the arrival of Red Bull in road cycling is a good thing. Not only will it increase elite competition and balance it out at the top end of proceedings, but it could also draw in and inspire new people to cycling. I hope, anyway.
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