What do big wave surfer Kai Lenny, Olympian and world champion time trialist Mari Holden, BMX legend Jamie Bestwick, and 2019 Unbound Gravel winner Amity Rockwell have in common?
In 2021, they’re all riding for the same team.
Those athletes plus four others will ride, engage, and create under the banner of the Scuderia Pinarello team. The gravel team is an innovative new concept from the storied Italian bicycle manufacturer, one that Pinarello’s senior marketing manager Kim Rogers says was born from a desire to connect the brand with a wider demographic.
“It’s not just that a brand can say we believe things, it has to come from action,” Rogers told VeloNews.
Rogers, who joined the Pinarello team in September, knew she wanted the action to come in the form of ambassadors, athletes who would ride Pinarello’s racy Grevil gravel bike and tell stories about it on social media. However, she also saw an opportunity to buck the current trend of the sponsored privateer.
Most elite gravel racers piece together privateer racing programs funded by brands who pay for access to their social media, jersey space, word-of-mouth endorsement, and world-class talent. The athletes are equal parts content creator, hustler, and bike racer. The most recognizable among them also happen to be retired veterans from the road world; VeloNews contributor Pete Stetina is one. Ted King and Alison Tetrick are others.
As Rogers sought to create the roster for the Scuderia, however, she was thinking beyond palmares and accolades.
“Every single one of them [the riders] wants to inspire people and wants to give back to their communities,” she said. “Those were two core elements to the Scuderia.”
Two riders who embody this concept whole-heartedly are Jess Cerra and Anthony Carter.
While Cerra does have some pro years under her belt, the Montana-based rider is just as at home doing things off the bike. In addition to running her energy bar company JoJé Bars, Cerra hopes to launch The Last Best Ride gravel race this summer (the 2020 debut was derailed due to COVID-19). Furthermore, Cerra constantly gives back, whether through the early-pandemic food drive she and her partner organized last April in San Diego, or her plans to offer free clinics to female cyclists twice monthly in Whitefish this summer.
Across the country, Anthony Carter will continue his work as a leader in cycling in his Waldorf, Maryland community. Over the past five years, Carter quickly grew from never-ever cyclist to the guy on every group ride to the guy racing crits every weekend. He believes his most potent characteristic is the ability to inspire and motivate more people to get on bikes. “The people’s champ,” he described himself to VeloNews. With the support of the Scuderia, Carter will be professionalizing his coaching skills under the of tutelage of none other than his new teammate, Mari Holden. In “Coaching Coach Carter,” the former Olympian will mentor the aspiring Carter.
While Cerra, Carter, and Holden all have a road cycling background, other members of the Scuderia have passions and professions elsewhere in sport. Kai Lenny surfs some of the biggest waves in the world. Meredith Edwards runs ultra-distances and competes in the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Jamie Bestwick has 13 gold medals from the X Games in the BMX Vert event.
So why unify them under one banner, and why is that banner flying over gravel?
Rogers says that positioning “non-endemic” athletes in Pinarello’s marketing strategy speaks to the important and timely notion that it’s not just one type of person who rides bikes.
“Bikes are a core part of the athletic experience, and they also represent a cure for sport fatigue,” she said. “All of these athletes are hugely accomplished in their own field of sport but also pushing boundaries in cycling. It will be interesting to see how they perform, how they perceive the industry, and how they use the bike in content creation and their story.”
Each of the Scuderia athletes has a contract that pegs them to one or more type of obligation. Some will have incentives for competition, some for content creation, and some for community engagement. Given the accomplished and motivated nature of the group, most will probably strive for all three.
“I plan on being under all the umbrellas,” Carter told VeloNews. “I can’t let these pro cyclists just show me up. Of course getting to a podium on something I’ve never done before, well, anything is impossible until it’s done.”
Unbound Gravel in June will be Carter’s first gravel race.
Rogers says that part of the decision to embrace more than just results in its ambassador program was the result of observing the many pivots that the cycling industry had to make in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The nature of athlete sponsorship has changed, we’ve learned that in the last year,” she said. “Companies that are exclusively seeking podiums and media through that, we’ve learned it’s not a guarantee. We’ve learned that there’s an appetite for content creation. It’s not just a ‘Plan B,’ it can be both.”
As for gravel, Rogers says that the discipline was a natural fit for the Scuderia due to its inclusive and free-wheeling nature. Furthermore, Pinarello is pushing into the gravel space in both product and event sponsorship, as well.
While Pinarello is stepping well outside the conventional boundaries of both team sponsorship and the gravel privateer model with the Scuderia, Rogers believes that the move will benefit both cycling and non-cycling fans alike.
“I hope it will cross-pollinate,” she said. “That cyclists will find joy and interest in their [the Scuderia] sports as well, that they’ll gain a new fanbase. I don’t feel there’s a risk, I feel there’s an opportunity.”