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Trek-Volkswagen calls it quits

By Fred Dreier

Travis Brown is one of many top off-roaders whose careers have flourished at Trek-Volkswagen.

Travis Brown is one of many top off-roaders whose careers have flourished at Trek-Volkswagen.

Photo: Matt Pacocha

The list of riders who have suited up for the Trek-Volkswagen professional mountain bike team over the years reads like a who’s who of North American off-road racing: Travis Brown, Alison Sydor, Roland Green, Susan Haywood and Jeremiah Bishop, just to name a few. But after 13 years, the Trek-Volkswagen program is calling it quits.

The news comes after Volkswagen declined to renew its contract with the Wisconsin-based bicycle manufacturer.

“The program was heavily contingent on Volkswagen’s buy in,” said Michael Browne, Trek’s brand manager for mountain biking. “The relationship will officially end at the end of the 2008 calendar year.”

The news comes as a blow to a large number of professional and amateur Trek-Volkswagen sponsored racers across the country. In 2008 the Trek-Volkswagen Factory Racing program sponsored cross-country racers Lea Davison, Ross Schnell, Chris Eatough, Susan Haywood and Jeremiah Bishop.

And Trek’s relationship with the automaker spawned a large-scale regional racing program in addition to the professional factory team. In 2008 there were six Trek-Volkswagen regional teams across the country, with each team sponsoring between four to 10 riders.

The team scored big results in 2008. Bishop captured national championship titles in marathon cross-country and short track. Schnell won California’s Downieville Classic. Davison was the second-highest American finisher at the UCI world mountain bike championships. Haywood and regional rider Jenny Smith finished second at South Africa’s Absa Cape Epic stage race. Regional rider Jeff Schalk won the overall title at the National Ultra Endurance Series. And Coloradan Brian Smith enjoyed success on the Xterra off-road triathlon circuit.

“We had really taken significant steps to make ourselves valuable this year – we branched out to different races,” said Zach Vestal, the manager of the factory racing team. “It’s frustrating to see the program go away, because I ask myself what did we do that was wrong?”

Browne said the team’s end was not based on its performance, and that Trek played the waiting game to see if Volkswagen would continue its sponsorship of the team. The uncertain future and lack of news from the automaker did not sit well with the riders or staff on the team, as rumor spread that Volkswagen was going to pull its dollars from the program. News of the Trek-Volkswagen’s end officially came through in December; long after most pro teams had already filled their rosters.

“Personally, Trek told me the news so late in the game and it did not put me in an ideal situation in the least,” Davison told VeloNews. “All the other teams have full rosters. It makes it extremely challenging to find a job or support to keep pursuing my goals.”

Browne said Trek would not completely abandon the domestic racing scene, and would consider smaller, individual sponsorships with Bishop and Schnell for 2009. Eatough, the seven-time 24-hour world champ, still has one year remaining in his contract with the bicycle manufacturer.

Davison, Browne said, will not continue with the program.

The demise of Trek-Volkswagen comes months after Trek announced plans for its Europe-based Trek Global Racing team, a large-scale cross-country and gravity-racing program aimed at the UCI World Cup. Headed up by longtime racing manager Martin Whiteley, the Trek Global Racing team is comprised of gravity racers Tracy Moseley, Andrew Neethling and Justin Leov, and cross-country riders Liam Killeen, Lukas Fluckiger and Matthias Fluckiger.

“People are looking at the demise of Trek-Volkswagen and viewing it as a huge setback, and that Trek is no longer dedicated to racing,” Browne said. “That’s a misconception. In reality, we’re going bigger with [the Trek Global Racing team] than we’ve ever gone before.”

But Trek’s upped investment into European racing has some wondering why the bicycle manufacturer didn’t simply reallocate its dollars to save the U.S.-based program.

“Who would have ever guessed that Trek would pull out of domestic racing?” Haywood said. “I was with the team for 10 years, and it was such a good program built around some really good racers. To see Trek pull the plug with such little fanfare is frustrating. I think it deserves a better goodbye.”

But continuing with a domestic program, Browne said, simply does not fit into Trek’s budget for next year.

“Trek was hopeful Volkswagen would continue the program,” Browne said. “Between the challenging economy and the lack of a title sponsor, launching a new national racing team does not make financial sense in 2009.”

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