It was announced yesterday that Rabobank, a Dutch-based bank, will become a major sponsor of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC). If you follow professional cycling you know that Rabobank also sponsors a highly successful European cycling team. Levi Leipheimer rode for the Rabobank squad for three season from 2002-2004. Luckily, for us Californians and Americans in general, the Dutch bank is looking to expand across the pond into the USA.
What makes Rabobank's sponsorship even more noteworthy is the fact that, even before the current economic crisis, money was flowing out of the sport. Sponsors like Credit Agricole and Gerlosteiner in Europe and Health Net, Toyota and Jittery Joes in the US all said 'adios' to cycling in 2008. That left a lot of riders looking for work. And without races for them to ride, the riders and their teams would be in even more serious trouble.
The AToC has a reported budget of roughly $8,000,000 which works out to about $1,000,000 per stage. In it's three-year history the race has yet to turn a profit, but if any major bicycle race in the US has a chance of running in black ink, it is the Amgen Tour of California. Last year, with the inclusion of Rock Racing both the number of spectators and the desired demographic were up sharply. Add to that the number one-ranked team, Team CSC, America's favorite team, Slipstream-Chipotle(now Garmin-Chipotle) and California son Levi Leipheimer and his Astana squad and you had all the right ingredients for a successful event.
In 2009, the race will keep its mid-February dates, but expand from eight to nine days with the final stage in the San Diego Area. Clearly, the race organizers are trying to find the correct formula to make the AToC profitable. Hopefully it is just a matter of time. With Rabobank on board, the organizers have done just that, given themselves more time to prove to all of us that the AToC is one of the best events going on the entire planet.
ps - As a bit of an education into the Dutch culture, Rabobank's up and coming star and the winner of last year's AToC stage three into San Jose is Robert Gesink. In Dutch, the "G" is pronounced like an "H", the phonetic pronunciation of Robert's last name is "Hesink". Also, for those of you who like Gouda cheese, named after a small town in western Holland, the correct pronunciation is "Houda".