Monday 16 September 2019

I have invested €7m in cycling and they won't give us a start - Aqua Blue boss


Aqua Blue Sport owner Rick Delaney
Aqua Blue Sport owner Rick Delaney

Ciarán Lennon

Aqua Blue Sport will be forced to put their "hand out" for a third-party sponsor for 2019 as the business side of the Irish cycling operation has fallen well short of its ambitious targets.

It is a significant departure for Aqua Blue, who have based their structure on becoming the first self-sustaining team - with funds generated from their online cycling marketplace supporting the cost of running the professional team.

Rick Delaney, the Monaco-based Cork businessman who owns the ProContinental outfit, has also revealed that his own personal investment in the team to date amounts to €7m.

He admits the aim of having a team fully supported by the e-commerce operation by the end of year two will not come to fruition.

"Not a chance, nowhere near it." Delaney says. "I have to keep trying, I have to keep going. To be honest we're going to have to look at a third-party sponsor - which is something I never wanted to do - to carry us through next year and the year after. We're going to have to put our hand out.

"(The business) isn't generating enough revenue," he added. "That doesn't mean our position changes if we don't get one, we don't get one and I'll continue solo."

The growth of the business end has been strangled by the lack of invites to major races this year, drawing the ire of Delaney, who has accused race organisers of showing his team a lack of respect.

Last year Aqua Blue received a wild-card invite for the Vuelta a Espana, where their Austrian rider Stefan Denifl claimed a prestigious stage victory.

In their difficult second season, however, they've been snubbed by all three Grand Tours as well as the Tour of California, despite counting American national champion Larry Warbasse amongst their rank.

"They're just very slow to support what we're trying to do," he says.

"The riders have been fantastic, it's not getting the respect it deserves, that's my opinion.

"Other people will say, 'you have to earn respect' but given the model of cycling and given how it's always on shaky ground I think what we're doing is quite clever... and it will work, it is working... up to 25,000 unique views every week now... it's just that I'd like it to be working that little bit faster."

He uses the example of recent Liege-Bastogne-Liege to illustrate his point, saying that traffic and transactions trebled on their site while they had two Aqua Blue riders in the day's breakaway.

"I as an individual have invested €7m in the sport of cycling and these guys won't give us a start. And we're different to other teams

"Other teams are all corporate structures where you've got corporations writing cheques so that brands gets visibility.

"They don't necessarily care about the sport, it's about the brand getting visibility.

"We're completely different. The team is the brand, the brand is the team - on that basis alone we should be given more respect."

They are moving some of their development positions from Cork to London, where his daughter and team director Jamie lives, but will maintain a strong Irish connection, and Delaney hopes to be able to attract an Irish business to be co-sponsor next year.

On the road, Eddie Dunbar's performances in the Classics have boosted morale ahead of the Tour of Yorkshire, which starts tomorrow.

"I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we won it, Eddie is just in sensational form," says the team owner. They're still waiting for the first win of 2018.

"We haven't done exceptional yet to be fair, from a performance perspective we're lagging. We need to pull the finger out and get going."

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Also in Sport