VeloNews is now part of Competitor Group
By John Wilcockson
Inside Communications, Inc (ICI), the parent company of VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, VeloPress, VeloGear, VeloSwap and their eponymous Web sites, celebrated its 21st anniversary last Monday. There won’t be a 22nd.
That’s because, as of today, the ICI name is no more. It is now part of Competitor Group, Inc. (CGI) that, among other things, publishes Competitor and Triathlete magazines. All of ICI’s brands will continue operations at our Boulder, Colorado headquarters, but they are now owned by Falconhead Capital, a New York private equity firm that formed CGI with three endurance-sport acquisitions two months ago.
So, instead of celebrating our company’s “coming of age,” here is Inside Communications’ obituary.
The idea for the company was conceived at a restaurant in Long Beach, California, during the 1986 Interbike trade show. Over dinner, Susan Eastman, Felix Magowan and I decided to start a new magazine, called Inside Cycling. We each contributed different things to the project.
Susan was a freelance writer and the former press officer of the Coors International Bicycle Classic. Felix, who had just graduated from UC Santa Cruz, was a former Colorado state junior champion and had raced in France for a season prior to college. I’d also raced in France before getting into journalism and covering all the major European, British and American bike races from the late-1960s as the editor of the monthly magazines, International Cycle Sport, Cyclist Monthly and Winning: Bicycle Racing Illustrated.
My association with Felix began after I met Felix’s father, Robin Magowan, on the Col du Tourmalet during the 1978 Tour de France, which I was covering for The Sunday Times of London. Robin, a poet and travel writer, was living in a Burgundy village at the time and became fascinated with cycling when he encountered a local amateur race in the Beaujolais hills; he subsequently got an assignment to cover the Tour de France from a U.S. friend who was publishing the UK edition of Penthouse.
In my four years at Winning, which was based in Brussels, Belgium, with business offices in London England, and Allentown, Pennsylvania, Susan was a regular contributor on the U.S. racing scene, while Felix spent a summer with me in Brussels as an editorial intern. They were both at turning points in their lives and eager to help start a U.S.-based glossy racing magazine.
Boulder days begin …
A few month after that Long Beach meeting, we were working out of Susan and her husband Hugh Walton’s house in north Boulder, planning the first issue. The day we incorporated Inside Communications on March 10, 1987, we dressed in our best outfits. On the way to the attorneys in Denver, we stopped to look at a house that Felix and I were considering renting — Susan and Hugh had had enough of us sleeping in their spare bedroom.
As Felix and I walked to the front door, the owner of the rental peeked from behind the curtains, saw us coming in our suits and ties (much too overdressed for Boulder!), and later told us she thought we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. We didn’t rent that house, but we did incorporate the company, and soon we were subletting office space from Coors Classic promoter Michael Aisner, not far from our current headquarters in east Boulder.
Our plan was to publish two “demonstration” issue of Inside Cycling, the first previewing the Tour de France, the second one reporting it, to show that we were worthy of obtaining enough financing to start publishing on a monthly basis in 1988.
The project began well. Issue No. 1 was an elegantly designed magazine, packed with feature stories, including an exclusive interview with defending Tour champion Greg LeMond, conducted at his Rancho Murietta, California, home shortly after the hunting accident that almost cost him his life. Issue No. 2 reported Stephen Roche’s Tour victory and featured another LeMond exclusive, this one tracking down America’s first Tour winner as he recovered from his gunshot injuries on a fishing trip with his family in Wyoming and Montana. Joe Daniels, our freelance art director, took the photos.
One of Felix’s California friends, Tom Petrie, sold ads on a commission basis. Our first mainstream advertiser was Audi, which loaned us a car to follow the 1987 Tour as an ad trade. With Boulder colleague Louis Viggio driving, we picked up the brand new Quattro from the Audi factory in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, and drove it to the Tour start in Berlin through the then East Germany. We had no idea if there were speed limits on the decrepit roads of the German Democratic Republic, but figured that the homegrown Trabants driven by DDR police would be no match for our 240-kph Audi.
The two demo issue of Inside Cycling each sold an estimated 30,000 copies in North America and Britain (where my photographer friend Graham Watson set up a business office), so we were confident of getting the extra financing needed to go monthly. Then, on October 19, 1987, so-called Black Monday, the stock market plunged more than 20 percent, registering its biggest one-day decline in history. The market didn’t recover and the result for us was that no one was willing to put cash into a start-up publishing business, and Inside Communications went semi-dormant for about a year — other than producing glossy race programs for Ireland’s Nissan Classic and Philadelphia’s CoreStates USPRO Championship.
Susan returned to freelancing and worked on the race programs; Felix also remained in Boulder to establish our fledgling VeloPress book-publishing operation; and I moved to New York, reporting the sport as a freelancer for various publications, including the Vermont-based Velo-news, Paris-based L’Équipe, and The New York Times.
Midway through 1988, there were rumors that Velo-news — which started life as Northeast Cycling News in March 1972 — was up for sale. Publishers Barbara and Robert George felt they had brought the publication as far as they could take it. At the same time a New York-based Canadian investment banker, David Walls, was ready for a career move. He was in training for the Race Across America and heard about the Velo-news opportunity from race promoter Dave Chauner — who also told Walls that the Inside Communications team was looking for funding for its magazine.
To cut a long story short, Felix and I met with Walls, who just happened to live around the corner from me in Manhattan. A plan was hatched. Walls called an old college friend, Willard Hanzlik, a Texas investor, and in no time a deal was put together. They invested in Inside Communications to buy Velo-news, and we started on a new project to redesign the then quarter-fold newspaper, with a plan to re-launch it as an 18 times a year tabloid magazine.
We all met to decide where to base the new business; Boulder won out over New York and Northern California. While Felix looked for suitable office space in Boulder, and David looked for houses to relocate his family from Manhattan, I remained in New York through the winter of 1988-89 to continue publishing Velo-news in its old format. Every month I’d rent a car and drive to Vermont to edit the paper at the Georges’ Brattleboro office, where they continued their Vitesse Press book-publishing business.
During this interim period, we introduced the first annual Velo-news Awards (Steve Bauer was our first International Cyclist of the Year), and we began making the publication more timely. There were several anxious faces one press day while we awaited a DHL delivery of photos from the cyclocross worlds sent by Dutch photographer Cor Vos. They arrived just in time to choose one, resize it and paste it down on the boards that we were about to drive across town to the printers. (Remember, this was a decade before electronic imaging and transmitting page files to printers by broadband.)
The New VeloNews
We transferred the publication of the redesigned and restyled VeloNews to Boulder by March 1989. The “new” Inside Communications was the antithesis of a corporation. Company decisions were made by “the Trio,” consisting of financial controller David Walls, publisher Felix Magowan and myself as editor. We had administrative meetings once a week over breakfast at The Golden Buff restaurant, and quarterly board meetings with the other two directors, Susan Eastman and Willard Hanzlik. We three, and all the other members of staff, were colleagues, not employees.
Our first hires included managing editor Tim Johnson, from Rodale’s Cross-Country Skier, who we interviewed in Manhattan; art director Dan Wildhirt, from Southern California, where he put together a newsletter for Domino’s Pizza; Lennard Zinn, our first tech writer (whose series of “Zinn and the Art of …” books became best sellers for the company). Patrick O’Grady, a veteran newspaperman, started supplying cartoons in 1989, FedEx’ing the original black-and-white art from his home in Santa Fe. By 1991 Patrick had moved to Colorado Springs and he began traveling up to Boulder each production cycle as part-time copy editor and proofreader. Patrick’s cartoons — in color — now arrive electronically from Colorado Springs each issue. Patrick also is our Online Editor at Large, and technology has made his physical presence in Boulder increasingly less necessary.
I wrote the cover story for our first redesigned issue on Florida’s Tour of the Americas, which was an early attempt to bring top European teams to race in this country. The report included the magazine’s first-ever color photo, a field sprint, taken by Denver photographer Beth Schneider. As we expanded, the 1984 Tour de France Féminin winner Marianne Martin was our first ad sales rep, and the former Coors Classic expo director Nancy Grimes was our first ad director (and later the VeloNews publisher).
With fatter issues and having to get out an issue every two weeks, we often did all-nighters. It was usually Tim, Dan and me sitting around a single desk, writing, copyediting, designing pages and proofreading until dawn. It helped that our first printer was just across the street. We would soon have to transfer printing to the same company’s Denver plant, then to a bigger operation in Las Vegas, and eventually to companies in the Midwest.
As advertising pages jumped, we continued hiring. David’s wife Valerie Walls took over bookkeeping; Felix’s girlfriend (and future wife) Laura Saitta sold subscriptions to bike stores; and my girlfriend (and future wife), Rivvy Berkman (now Neshama), became the copy editor. Susan Eastman wore various editorial hats; Fran Meneally did various admin jobs; and national mountain bike team member Julia Ingersoll was our first off-road correspondent.
An early adopter of high technology
Becoming more timely and expanding European race coverage was a challenge, both logistically and technologically. Word processors and modems were still in their infancy — as were European phone connections. To send my first-weekend stories from the 1989 Tour de France in Luxembourg, reporting Pedro Delgado’s disastrous start and LeMond’s miraculous comeback, I had to buy a printer for my word processor (with a typewriter for backup) and fax each page. I even had to dictate some stage reports from that Tour — which didn’t make me too popular with the editors back in Boulder.
That fall, Dan organized an outdoor bicycle swap meet in Boulder in conjunction with a local cyclocross race. It became an annual fixture that the company supported with funding and volunteers, naming it the VeloSwap. It expanded every year until it took over the massive Western Stock Show facility in Denver.
As a company, we soon outgrew our initial three-room office space and had to move across the parking lot to a building with more space (we now occupy the whole building). We were on the second floor next to the Boulder Business Journal, above a bakery and the early RockShox headquarters. Across the lot was the Celestial Seasonings tea company factory and its natural foods café.
The magazine was also getting bigger and bigger, particularly with the boom in mountain bike racing, and the sharp rise in mountain bike advertising. We produced the official program for the first UCI world mountain bike championships, held at Durango, Colorado. Soon, to complement the newsprint tabloid, we were publishing several glossy specials, including the Tour de France Guide, the NORBA Season Guide, and various trade-related publications.
We did a second big round of hiring. Hilarie Porter came from Florida as The Trio’s executive assistant (now our HR director); Chas Chamberlin came from Philadelphia as art director; Beata Zawadzka-Gerritsen arrived from Poland as production manager; Charles Pelkey came from a Washington, DC, gig to become our first tech editor (he’s now our Senior Online Editor, working from his home in Laramie, Wyoming); Alec Dinner became an ace ad sales rep; Marti Stephen came from California as our first mountain bike editor; Beth Edwards took over as calendar editor; and Aussie sportswriter Rupert Guinness left Winning to become our first European correspondent.
Riding the mountain bike wave
I know I am missing out some names here, but our expansion was almost bewildering. We did take time out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of VeloNews in March 1992 with a big party at the Boulder Arts Museum. Founding publishers Barbara and Bob George flew in from New England to help us celebrate, along with most of the prominent Boulder bike racing community, folks from the U.S. Cycling Federation, and many of our freelance writers and photographers.
By this time, Felix was eager to add other magazines, which would help with cash flow through the winter and bring economies of scale. We looked for sports titles that were similar to the original Velo-news, and discovered Lew Kidder’s Triathlon Today, which we bought in 1993, and re-launched as Inside Triathlon. To edit the new addition, we hired the founder of Triathlete magazine, Bill Katowsky, with whom we had worked in Brussels where that magazine was a sister publication for Winning.
We continued publishing Inside Triathlon, with fairly frequent changes of editorial staff, but didn’t have as much success with two other titles: VeloBusiness, for which we hired former Bicycle Guide editor Ted Costantino (now the publisher of VeloPress books) and Ski Racing (which we bought from, and later sold back to Gary Black, who became a company director with his colleague Rob Garrett after David Walls and Willard Hanzlik cashed in their shares and moved on).
Over the years, there have been many landmarks for Inside Communications, including winning a national editorial excellence award in 1991, becoming the first sports magazine to have a consumer Web site in 1994, and contracting with the Tour de France to become its official guide for North America in 2001. There have been regular changes in management. The Trio eventually became unwieldy as a day-to-day tool.
VeloPress/VeloGear director Rick Rundall replaced Walls on the triumvirate before becoming chief operating officer (a position that later moved to Greg Thomas), while Felix was chief executive officer, and I became editorial director. I first handed over the day-to-day editorial duties of VeloNews to John Rezell, followed by Kip Mikler, and now Ben Delaney.
The present and future
With the sale of ICI to Competitor Group, Felix becomes director of business development for CGI, Greg is now senior VP of Interactive Media, and CEO of the new group is Falconhead’s Peter Englehart, previously VP of programming and production at the OLN (now Versus) sports cable network. The plan is to make VeloNews, the other titles and all the Web sites stronger than ever.
Editorially, you won’t notice any immediate changes at VeloNews or at this Web site; and with the new owner’s increased capital resources, we should continue to improve and expand. Inside Communications is dead. Long live the company.