Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Being a Pro, Danny Pate style

I read on some forum or blog on one person's view on what being a pro is about. Although I've never been a pro, I imagine that since it's a job, your first duty is to fulfill your employer's wishes. And although it's nice to think that these guys race bikes for fun, I've heard one former top racer (a "friend of Lance" and a former Tour teammate) admit to another pro that "He had been in it only for the money".

To be sponsored is a privilege.

Someone else is giving you something for free. Whether it's a discount (they're giving you their profit margin, essentially giving you money out of their pocket), free product, or, the Holy Grail of sponsorship, money, your sponsor is giving you something of theirs for free. In return, they expect you to do certain things. Very few teams have actual contracts (all pro ones must, and some amateur ones too). But this shouldn't be necessary.

A decent racer respects his sponsors and does everything he reasonably can to promote their business.

I guess this is old school.

Winning Magazine, now gone, used to publish a series of stories under the section "The Bike Shop". In it they had some funny stories, some lesson-type stories, and some sad ones. One that struck me was the story about the shop that whole heartedly sponsored a local team only to have the team riders patronize either other shops or (at that time) mail order.

Granted, there are some differences now with the Internet, 24 hour stores, and instant gratification. Back then things were a bit different - you had to either read the paper for Tour results, and if you were lucky, they'd appear in the Sunday issue. The hardcore racing fan would travel into the city to buy L'Equipe or the pink Giro paper (I forget the name, Regazatta or something like that). TV - well, when CBS broadcasts Paris Roubaix the week before the Tour starts, you know that "timeliness" wasn't a priority. Now, with world wide connections, you hit "refresh" anxiously even though you just got an update a minute ago. Or watch on live feed.

A professional attitude gets you sponsors and keeps them coming back. The professionalism might be quite serious - listen to almost any foreign rider in an English interview - or in a light hearted way. Some of the pro's antics are not "professional" but they are a reflection of the times, in this case a parody, and sponsors decide whether or not to keep them after their stunts.

I posted the picture of the Jelly Belly Team shot because of some of the conversation that went on before and during the picture. Danny Pate, it must be said, is one of the most thoughtful racers a team could hire. If you look carefully, you'll notice that he's wearing full finger gloves. He intentionally found them and put them on, even though he had just been on a very wet training ride with the same gloves on. So there he is in the picture, soaking wet gloves on his hands, and why? Because, as he mumbled to himself when he dug them up, "Someone should be wearing long finger gloves in the picture."

He wants someone like me, who pores over cycling pictures and studies them to no end, to say, "Wow, those are cool gloves, I want to buy a set."

I remember laughing to myself while he was trying to pose himself for the team picture. You see how he has his arm up on the Lexus? He was trying pretty hard to keep from covering the small decals on the rear pillar of the Lexus. First he scooted over so you could see them. Then he had to figure out what to do with his arm. He kept moving it around, one spot, then another, all while trying to look "natural" or at least like a "pro".

Pate's a pro, what can I say.

While in the team presentation meeting (a different but just as rainy day), the racers were duly introduced to the companies putting up the money and resources that would pull the team through the year. Afterwards, the racers looked over what they were getting - after all, the products were new to some of them too (a few weren't even there yet).

Pate and some other "rouleurs" were flexing the soles of different shoes. Apparently, compared to some of the stiffer soled shoes, the shoes on display were on the flexible side. One rider asked Pate if he was going to change shoes. Pate replied with a negative mumble. The rider then piped in, "Oh, right, you're still using the pedals too." Pate replied that, yes, he was giving them an honest shot. Pate didn't want to use other equipment - he was determined to use the sponsor's gear as long as it didn't injure him. Because they sponsored him. They paid him. Because it was his job.

4 months later, at Philly, he was still on the pedals and using the shoes. And did pretty well for himself.

Another professional (hence his position) is Jelly Belly team director Danny Van Haute. He's been through the system, racing for 7-Eleven, Schwinn-IcyHot, and directing this team for a while. In the photo shoot above he had everyone move to uncover the vehicles' door panels. He wanted to make sure that the bikes in the shot had the sponsor's pedals on them (I think they had one which didn't). He wanted the helmets in the shot. Caps. Jerseys pulled snug. Logos lined up. Gatorade bins visible.


A few months earlier, at the annual Interbike trade show, he appeared at the booth where the JB vehicle sat, whipped out some decals, and started applying them to strategic points. He had just signed a new sponsor and wanted to make sure that they got the exposure they wanted even at this early stage of the season. He appeared happy (new sponsor!) and serious (job to do) at the same time. He looked over at me and whoever was around me. "You never know when a photographer will show up." Or something like that.

When you're a pro, you're being paid to market your sponsor's products and services. This means you use them and tell everyone they're the best thing since sliced bread. This doesn't mean you go and sell them on eBay and use the money to buy the shoes or pedals or whatever cool gizmo you've been eyeing for the last few months. You don't badmouth them if they don't extend your contract. The next year, when you have your new bike, you say "I love my new bike. It feels really fast. I'm really looking forward to racing at Ronde Van Ris Flanbaix Remo Liege Flanderarden race."

Remember the pro's job - to market and sell the sponsors goods and services.

And though it's pretty clear that a Cat 3 (like me) is not a pro, sponsorship, to me, is always pro.

What would Pate think in your position?

It's a privilege.

Treat it as such.


Anonymous said...

Nice commentary, Aki. So true even at my amateur cat 3 level. Everyone seems to be so entitled to stuff for free but with no strings attached in return for the support.

BTW, the Italian sports newspaper that founded the Giro (and is printed on pink paper) is call La Gazetta dello Sport.

Also, Nicole Friedman's painted face in your link was a jab at Dave Klinger who actually had his face tatooed - much to the dismay of his team and sponsors. Nicole is one of the funniest people in the bike racing world. Maybe you should change your link to point to a story on Klinger instead...

Aki said...

Ah thanks on the paper. I got lazy and didn't search for it.

Yes, I picked Nicole because her get-up was a parody (I don't mention Klinger but I tried to say "parody" in the blog). I was lucky enough to have met her briefly and I also agree she is really funny.

BikeProf said...

Great points, Aki. One of my collegiate teams many years ago lost a big money sponsor because the money guys saw some team cyclists acting like idiots on the road. Too many of us amateur cyclists forget that when we are wearing our kit with sponsor logos all over we are earning our discounted Clif bars, fast turnaround in the bike shop, and team moral support.kmbar

Anonymous said...

Bethel Riders riding on the left side (closer to the yellow line) has done well for Birdman and the Bethel Shop. Good Publicity and viewing for angry motorists stuck behind the pack!

Anonymous said...

Very well put Aki and a much-needed reminder to us all. I wonder if the articles you mentioned were put together in a book? I have a book called "Tales From the Bike Shop" that sounds a lot like what you described. There were a few chapters/essays/stories in there about sponsorship at the amateur level.

Aki said...

I think Bike Shop Tales is the book of the stories. I forgot about it till I read your comment. I have to dig up my old Winnings to see who wrote them (Maynard Hershon? He's credited with the Bike Shop Tales). I'm pretty sure that's them.

Some are so-so but some really hit home.

One that is really funny is about the shorts.

Unknown said...


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