Delaney: We're aiming to create the first sustainable cycling team
When you're standing on your balcony overlooking the super yachts in Monaco's harbour, it's easy to see blue skies ahead. Aqua blue skies.
For Rick Delaney, the Cork millionaire who now calls the principality his home, a sustainable future is his vision for Ireland's first Pro Continental cycling team Aqua Blue.
Delaney's model was conceived on the roads around Monaco after listening to the complaints of the professional cyclists he regularly rides with about the structure of modern cycling teams. He heard what works and what doesn't work.
Teams futures' being tied primarily to the whims of sponsors has led to an uncertain landscape. Two World Tour teams are folding this year after sponsors decided to pull out.
"It doesn't work," Delaney says of the current model. "Look, this year alone, Tinkoff are gone, I Am [Cycling] are gone and that's just the owners getting bored, the owners having a bad year in business or the owners deciding this toy isn't playful enough and going off to buy another yacht or do whatever they do.
"I've spoken at length with the I Am guys, because we've signed a few, and this year has been horrendous for them. So that's what we're trying to avoid. We're trying to make it completely sustainable and that's our uniqueness."
The key to that self-sustaining cycling team is an e-commerce project that Delaney describes as Amazon for bikes, which will be launched in November before going live in January in Ireland, Britain and Germany; America will follow next July. It will be a one-stop online shop for cycling products.
"The revenue from this website will go directly to this team. I, or any of the directors, won't receive a penny. We've done projections for the next four years and it should be more than enough to finance the team. And that's the sustainability factor.
"I'm reading what people are saying on social media, 'oh this is only as good as one man's cheque-book and the day he walks away that's the end of it', but that's not the case, the case here is to create the first sustainable cycling team, and that's what I'm trying to do."
Delaney will write the cheques for the first two years, but he expects the project will be self-sustaining by the third year, so the team won't require a sponsor to survive. It's an ambitious and innovative approach that Delaney hopes will lead to the Tour de France by 2020.
The 48-year-old from Turners Cross, who owns the Aqua Blue drinks distribution company, expects to be involved heavily on the business side for year one, but he'll be leaving the cycling to the extensive list of Irish and European professionals that have been recruited.
It will also be a family affair with his daughters Jamie and Ryann involved on the marketing side.
Last week Irish trio Martyn Irvine, Matt Brammeier and Conor Dunne, as well as Team Sky's Norwegian rider Lars Petter Nordhaug, were named as the first four riders of the Aqua Blue team for 2017. Seven more riders will be confirmed today. They tried to lure promising Cork rider Eddie Dunbar too. "Maybe next year," Delaney says.
The experienced 31-year-old Brammeier, who joins from World Tour outfit Dimension Data, is no stranger to the harsh realities facing most professional riders and is excited by the vision laid out by Delaney.
"No transfer season is easy, but especially this year," he says. "The current model is broken, that's why this team's identity appeals. I was lucky, they wanted me, I wanted them, it was a mutual thing."
The launch couldn't have come at a better time for Irvine, who, after announcing his retirement in January, had a change of heart before the summer and started putting feelers out about returning to racing. A brief period working as a mechanic in Dublin helped him realise what he had walked away from.
"I was really blessed with the timing," says the former track world champion. "Another six or seven months and I might have been too far out of shape. If he came to me in January, when I was cracked up, I would have said not a chance, good luck, so it was all meant to be for me."
Impressed by what he has seen so far, Irvine is clearly motivated for his second coming. He's fitter than he has ever been.
"It's unprecedented, they're making history. To put a team in at Pro Continental level is not an easy task, there's lots of loopholes and money... there's a lot of buzz around the scene. The whole days of the Kelly-Roche buzz kinda faded out. You might see people wanting to race bikes again," he says.
There's a long-term vision for Irish cycling too. Delaney, who backs an amateur team of the same name, plans to keep a presence in Cork that can act as an academy to develop young talent. They will have access to the professional team's facilities and coaching in their base in the south of France.
But now the class of 2017 are preparing to jump into the deep end.
"It is very exciting and very unique, because it hasn't been done before," says Delaney "I think the Irish cycling community, if we do it right, will really embrace it."
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