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Cavendish, Rogers, Kirchen and Hincapie headline the rebranded Columbia-HTC squad
By Ben Delaney
With the addition of a mobile phone company co-sponsor, Team Columbia is now Columbia-HTC. Team owner Bob Stapleton announced the new sponsor and his squad’s Tour de France lineup Monday.
Mark Cavendish, who won four stages in the 2008 Tour, will be joined by Michael Rogers, Kim Kirchen, George Hincapie, Tony Martin, Maxime Monfort, Mark Renshaw, Bernie Eisel and Bert Grabsch at the start of the 2009 Tour in Monaco on Saturday.
Rogers, Kirchen and Monfort are the team’s GC hopes, with world time trial champion Grabsch a clear favorite for the individual events.
“We come in to the Tour very flexible, very open minded,” Stapleton said. “You’ve got GC guys on one end, Mark on the other. Then the other guys are there to support both.”
Stapleton said culling the team’s deep talent down to a nine-man roster was “the toughest decision around athletes we had to make this year. We had 15 guys who deserved to ride the Tour.”
Although Cavendish has a good chance at the green points jersey, Stapleton said the goal is stage wins, not the overall sprinters’ competition. “It changes the race significantly if you start going for jerseys,” he said. “So with Mark we’ll do what we do best, which is get to the line first.”
Columbia-HTC will roll out its new kit and vehicle branding in Monaco on July 3, the day before the Tour’s grand depart. Stapleton said the team will have a special look for the Tour, and then will add another color to the current kit for its regular uniforms for the rest of the year.
With some 13 million devices sold last year, HTC is a major player in the mobile phone industry, and is looking to increase global market share. It makes phones on the Android platform that Google uses as well as devices for the standard GSM network. In addition to its own branded products, HTC makes
phones for other brands, including former team sponsor T-Mobile.
“HTC’s sponsorship of Team Columbia-HTC is one step in HTC’s commitment to increasing its global brand value and recognition,” Peter Chou, HTC’s chief executive officer, said in a press release.
HTC signed on for three years for an undisclosed amount. Stapleton said securing such a sponsor in the current economic climate was a major coup.
“I’ve got a lot of gray hair; I’ve been a GM for 25 years, and this environment is the most challenging I’ve seen, particularly for sports marketing companies,” Stapleton said. “This is the business I come from, I’m
pretty excited about what they have in store.”
Stapleton is also pretty excited about what his team could pull off in July.
“Last year we had 20 total podium appearances,” he said. “We would like to
recreate that, perhaps even build on it this year.”