Netapp-Endura targeted a Grand Tour ride this year and finally got a wildcard entry to the Vuelta. The Pro Continental team, part headline-sponsored by Scottish clothing manufacturer Endura have certainly grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
I’ll recap some of their exploits at the race briefly below but rather than simply regurgitate the press information, I thought I offer an alternative take on what success means.
Endura’s stated goal when they expanded their pro team was to build the brand in Europe and with a road audience, as they were already well known in the UK and for mountain bike apparel.
Without interviewing the director Jim McFarlane, it’s pretty hard to quantify how succesful sponsorship of a pro race team is. Even still, I’d guess they might be reluctant to publicly state what they felt they were getting for their money, as with any marketing. However there are a few you can look at.
Outside of a GC win or a jersey, which would be pretty tall order, a stage win would provide the best exposurefor the team to date, and they got that with 25-year-old team leader Leopold Koenig’s victory on stage 8. You get a prime spot on live TV and plenty of visibility in post-race coverage, not to mention a nice shot with hands in the air.
The 25-year-old Czech rider prevailed as the day’s best rider after a 14.5-kilometer final climb to the top of Alto Pena Blancas in the south of Spain, relegating Daniel Moreno (Katusha) and Nicholas Roche (Saxo Tinkoff) to second and third place. With his stage win, Koenig went up to 5th place in the general classification.
It was an odd stage tactically with Bartosz Huzarski forced to quit the breakaway group due to his high placing on GC. The team’s determination was evident as they chased hard to set up their man, in the lead group on the final climb. After several attacks, Koenig was able to pull away from the favorites two kilometers before the finish line and hold onto a one-second lead up until the very end.
Another measure of success for the sponsor is TV airtime, which is generally achieved by smaller teams through time in breakaways – and there has been plenty of that.
Still in top 10 on GC after the second week, Ralph Denk, Team NetApp – Endura’s Team Manager said: “‘m certain that the team’s incredible performance more than justifies the invitation to take part in the Vuelta. We’ve demonstrated that the team has made enormous progress. After a very good Giro last year, we have been able to improve even further, and now we’re achieving consistently good results at one of the most difficult Grand Tours of the past couple of years.”
Then Bartosz Huzarski almost got another win on stage 16, coming third behind Argos-Shimano’s young French star Warren Barguil and Sky’s Rigoberto Uran. Although 3rd on a Grand Tour stage might not get many headlines, it was the performance that gained more media exposure and discussion for the team, as Huzarski fought his way into the right breakaway group and pushed on during the last three kilometres of the final ascent, alongside 21-year-old Barguil, who is considered the revelation of the Vuelta.
One thing that worries me from a brand exposure point of view is the tendency of some commentators to refer to the team as simply ‘Netapp’, omitting the name of the other title sponsor. This must always be a problem for a second title sponsor who comes in afterwards, as Endura have done.
I pondered how the brand might be further expanded in Europe, bearing in mind the financial limitations that meant Endura couldn’t step up from Continental to Pro Continental as a sole title sponsor. Getting the Equipe range of clothing on the backs of another squad of riders, in France or Spain, would be an obvious move, and surely Netapp-Endura’s performances have got the name sufficiently known for a deal like this to be a possibility. I only wish I had written this post a few days ago (honestly!), as lo and behold, Endura have been announced as clothing partnerto the Movistar team for 2014 – another step up.
I don’t have Jim McFarlane’s ear, but I’d hazard a guess that he’d say it has been a succesful year for Endura.
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