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Frenchman Alexis Gougeard's Factor race bike front...

Factor to ICA latest in bike manufacturer merry-go-round

WorldTour teams juggle their bike providers in 2020 as trend away from manufacturers acting as co-title sponsor continues.

Cycling’s silly season extends beyond rider contracts to bike sponsorships as well.

The upcoming 2020 season sees a few key changes in what the top elite men’s pro riders will be racing on in the WorldTour.

Two teams confirmed changes this week. Astana announced the end of its three-year relationship with bike sponsor Argon, while Israel Cycling Academy is set to race on Factor bikes as it steps up to the WorldTour next season.

Factor slots back into the WorldTour after a one-year hiatus following its departure from Ag2r-La Mondiale at the end of 2018 in what was a two-year deal with the French team. Factor will replace ICA’s De Rosa sponsor as the team takes over the WorldTour license of Katusha-Alpecin.

Astana has yet to name its new supplier, though a few brands have already been linked to the Kazakh outfit, while ICA officials said Factor will help it take the next step up to the WorldTour.

“Factor has convinced in the past to be a great bike,” said ICA manager Kjell Carlström. “We believe that the performance will be up there with the best. We also share the same ideas regarding developing the bikes further.”

The team — still waiting for UCI approval on its WorldTour move — will use the Factor ONE bike on the flats, and the brand’s 02 VAM frames in climbing stages.

The Katusha-ICA merger also has implications for Canyon, which sponsored both Katusha and Movistar in 2019 at the WorldTour level. Canyon stays with Movistar, but follows Nairo Quintana to Arkéa-Samsic in 2020 to the second-tier Professional Continental level. Canyon also remains a key sponsor of superstar Mathieu van der Poel and his Corenden-Circus team, also at the Pro-Conti level.

Mathieu Van der Poel has a partnership with Canyon bikes, who also sponsor his Corendon-Circus team. Photo: Ben Delaney / Roll Massif

There was a lot of movement in 2019, including a three-way swap between sponsors and teams. As BMC Racing closed shop and transitioned into the CCC Team, the Swiss bike manufacturer went to Dimension Data. The new-look CCC team raced on Giant bikes, which had sponsored Sunweb. To complete the triangle, Cervélo moved from Dimension Data to Sunweb, replacing Giant.

Bike partnerships remain a vital component to the WorldTour sponsorship puzzle, but it’s interesting to see manufacturers step back from title sponsorship roles over the past few seasons.

For example, Merida will remain with the Bahrain-backed team for 2020, but will step down as co-title sponsor, with backer McLaren expected to join Bahrain on the team jersey.

Only Trek, with Trek-Segafredo, and Scott, with Mitchelton-Scott, remain as a co-title sponsor for 2020. BMC, Giant, Cannondale, Cervélo, and Merida have all been WorldTour co-title sponsors at some point over the past several seasons.

That indicates two things; first, teams are finding non-cycling endemic sponsors to step up. And it also reveals that bike manufacturers are content to step back in terms of the financial commitment that it takes to be on a team’s jersey. Bike sponsorships involve millions of dollars in equipment and financial commitment, with a co-title sponsorship coming at an even higher premium.

Bike manufacturers have often stepped up as co-sponsor to help team owners keep a team afloat against a wider search for new backers. Several teams have permanent staffers dedicated to hunting down title sponsorship partners, with at least one WorldTour team having a full-time staffer fully dedicated to trying to crack into the Chinese market.

In all, there will be at least 15 different bike brands represented across 19 teams — up from 18 in 2019 — in the WorldTour next year. Right now, Specialized is the only manufacturer with more than one team in its quiver for 2020, backing Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quick-Step.

WorldTour sponsorship remains invaluable for bike manufacturers in terms of marketing, visibility, sales, and product development. Many teams have long-running deals with bike manufacturers, such as Pinarello with Sky/Ineos, which has been with the UK team since its founding in 2010.

So far, Factor is the only new sponsor stepping into the WorldTour that wasn’t already represented in the peloton in 2019. Astana’s blank spot and Cofidis’s final bike sponsorship deal (its two-year deal with Kuota ends this year) could see an additional new bike company enter the WorldTour for 2020.