MILAN (VN) — The biggest transfer this season came thanks to a much larger company, Deloitte. It was not sprinter deluxe Mark Cavendish who pulled in the professional services giant, but instead it was the charm of Africa’s first professional team MTN-Qhubeka — or Dimension Data, as it will be known in the 2016 season.
Cavendish, the 2011 road world champion and winner of 26 Tour de France stages, inked the deal last month and made his transfer official Tuesday, moments after MTN announced it agreed to a multi-year deal with one of Fortune magazine’s favorites.
Deloitte, whose headquarters are in the United States, earned a record $35.2 billion in the 2015 fiscal year. Fortune magazine ranked it as one of the 100 most exceptional companies this year.
“Cycling has never had an organization like that, at that level, sponsor a team before,” team founder and manager Doug Ryder told VeloNews. “My competitors are probably looking at me now and thinking, ‘How the hell did he pull that off?'”
Ryder paused from the telephone conversation to OK the bank guarantee needed for his team’s UCI license. Over the last two months since the Tour de France ended in Paris, his life has been going faster than any of Cavendish’s sprints.
He added, “It was the most stressful two months of my life.”
After the Tour caravan pulled into Paris, telecommunications company MTN announced it would end its eight-year run as title sponsor of the team. Ryder saw it coming, but not so soon, or at least while the team still celebrated its success.
In 2015, his team became the first professional African team to ride in the Tour de France. It raced with five Africans on its nine-man roster. Brit Steve Cummings sweetened the historic ride by winning a stage in Mende ahead of two top Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, on Nelson Mandela Day.
Ryder, however, needed a sponsor to continue in 2016. Dimension Data, after adding additional backing during the Tour, agreed and announced its deal last week. The information technology company founded in South Africa, the base of Ryder’s team, reported $6 billion in revenues in 2014.
The money it gave Ryder failed to cover all the team’s expenses, which included 24 cyclists in the 2015 season, plus Cavendish.
Ryder’s budget was about $8.37 million in 2015, compared to Sky’s, which is estimated at nearly $34 million.
Cavendish reportedly earned a little more than $3 million at Sky in 2012 and an estimated $3.39 million annually with Belgium’s Etixx-Quick-Step team. Cavendish is not at the same winning level he once was, so he would have been asking for less for 2016.
Cavendish and his agent Simon Bailiff negotiated with Etixx, his team for the last three years, and reportedly Trek Factory Racing and Tinkoff-Saxo. Etixx manager Patrick Lefevere told VeloNews Cavendish was offering a new sponsor to help pay for his contact.
Brian Smith, team manager at MTN-Qhubeka, told VeloNews the team would need that extra money if it were to sign Cavendish.
“If Mark Cavendish comes with a large sponsor to pay his salary, we’re open to talking. Who wouldn’t be?” Smith said a month ago.
Cycling’s top sprinter over the last eight years, however, did not win the sponsorship deal.
“It was independent,” Ryder said. “Cavendish had a few options with his manager, but it’s not easy in the timelines that we had. The guys from Deloitte were guests of the Dimension Data guys at the Tour de France, they came to our team.
“The possibility of Cavendish coming to us was a proper cherry on the cake. They said, ‘He actually wants to ride for your team? That’s 50 percent of the battle won.’ It helped move the deal along a lot quicker, of course.”
Ryder spoke with Cavendish the day after the Tour ended in France’s capital. Tom Galizia, principal with Deloitte who had been a guest at the Tour, was calling home from Paris at the same time.
“He told the CEO how inspiring the team was. They are underdogs with passion, with a massive social cause, moving the African continent forward… They got on top of that and wanted to be a part of it,” Ryder continued.
“They love the philanthropy, the social responsibly. They have a big business in Africa. They love the global aspect of the team with riders from America to Australia. They love the story.”
The African story now continues with Cavendish, who reportedly joined for three years. Dimension Data signed Cavendish along with helpers Mark Renshaw and Bernard Eisel. They will join around 13 Africans and others who already came onboard, like American Tyler Farrar, Steve Cummings, and Edvald Boasson Hagen.