Contador Feud Speeds Armstrong Push for $20 Million Cycle Team

July 17. Bloomberg

By Alex Duff

Contador Feud Speeds Armstrong Push for $20 Million Cycle TeamLance Armstrong’s Tour de France rivalry with teammate Alberto Contador may accelerate the seven- time champion’s efforts to raise as much as $20 million for his own team.

Armstrong, 37, is dueling Contador, 26, for leadership of the Astana team and the support that comes with that toward winning the race. He said he was exploring starting his own squad in May, when the Kazakhstan-backed outfit had fallen behind with salary payments.

The Texan, who returned to cycling after a three-year retirement, is in third place, eight seconds behind leader Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy and two behind Contador. The Spaniard overtook Armstrong with a breakaway during the 7th stage of the three-week event. Manager Johan Bruyneel said Contador acted on his own that day and Armstrong himself said July 15 there was “a little bit of friction” between him and his teammate.

“We shared the same hotel as Astana on the rest day and you could feel there was a lot of tension,” Bob Stapleton, manager of Team Columbia, said in an interview. “People are taking sides.”

Armstrong “possibly” will leave Astana and Bruyneel may go with him, Alexander Antyshev, executive director of the Kazakhstan Cycling Federation, which supervises the team, said in a telephone interview. Bruyneel oversaw each of Armstrong’s Tour victories with the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.

“There will be discussions with Bruyneel in the next few days about whether he will stay with the team,” Antyshev said.

Team Sponsors

Bruyneel declined to be interviewed for this story and Armstrong’s agent, Bill Stapleton, didn’t return an e-mailed request for comment.

An Armstrong team might take sponsors including Nike Inc. and closely held bikemaker Trek Bicycle Corp. with him and secure investors, Team Columbia’s Stapleton said.

Armstrong’s comeback this year will help him get more backing for a team than if he hadn’t taken a break, said Scott Harris, president and founder of Mustang Marketing in Thousand Oaks, California.

“Even people who aren’t fans of the Tour de France or fans of bicycling, they love this story about this guy coming back,” Harris said in a telephone interview. “There will be a lot of people who will want to jump on that bandwagon. Assuming he finishes in the top three, and if he’s very fortunate – wins – he’ll be writing his own ticket. And the timing is great because the economy is going to start to come back a little bit.”

Cancer

Armstrong won his first Tour de France in 1999 after surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. He won another six in a row, the most of anyone since the race was first held in 1903. The Lance Armstrong Foundation, known as Livestrong, has raised more than $250 million to support cancer patients and their families, according to its Web site.

He has become a celebrity, appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” five times, as well as “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” He played himself in the picture “You, Me and Dupree,” and had been engaged to Grammy award-winning singer Sheryl Crow.

Contador has a contract with Astana through 2010 and intends to honor it, his spokesman, Jacinto Vidarte, said by telephone. Astana has more than 15 million euros ($21.1 million) of backing this year from Kazakhstan companies including state- owned railway operator AO Kazakhstan Temir Zholy National Co., according to Bruyneel.

Major Tour de France team sponsors pay between $6 million and $15 million, Team Columbia’s Stapleton said.

New Team

According to French newspaper L’Equipe, Armstrong was on the verge of presenting a new team for this year’s Tour before one of the partners pulled out.

Contador, who endorses cycling equipment including Sidi shoes, can’t yet compete with Armstrong’s marketing power. According to his spokesman Vidarte, Contador doesn’t have any major personal endorsement deals like the seven-time champion, who endorses Nike, and fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 tennis player who advertises Banco Santander SA’s retail unit Banesto.

“Cycling isn’t like tennis, the sponsors Alberto has are the team sponsors,” Vidarte said.

Contador is struggling to lure endorsement contracts because cycling is a sport with an entrenched team mentality that doesn’t promote individuals, said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business strategy and marketing at the U.K.’s Coventry University Business School. Contador would have shared the 450,000 euros he got in prize money for winning the 2007 Tour with teammates, he said.

Seeks Limelight

Carlos Sastre, Spain’s 2008 Tour winner, says Armstrong courts the limelight more than other riders.

“He lives for the media,” Sastre said in an April interview. “The attention he gets is out of proportion” to other cyclists.

Armstrong avoided showing emotion in winning his Tour titles, something he has said made the French public slow to warm to him. After winning the 2005 Tour, he stood atop the podium in France and launched a tirade against “cynics and skeptics” who suspected him of doping.

In a change that will lure sponsors, he’s presenting a “softer, warmer, more gentle approach” this year, according to Chadwick. He makes light of the quantity of doping tests he undergoes in posts to 1.4 million followers of his feed on the social networking site Twitter.

“He is probably the only personality in cycling,” Chadwick said. “He’s giving people a reason to watch the Tour de France again.”

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