With Jonathan Vaughters desperately seeking a new
sponsor, could Sir Alan Sugar of Amstrad and UK Apprentice fame become Garmin's
new big mate?
It's been a tricky start to the off-season for
Vaughter's Garmin-Cervelo outfit. A couple of weeks back, they had reached an
estimated $5 million agreement with French building material distributor BigMat
to clamber aboard as the team's co-sponsor for the 2012 season.
Then, with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders combined -
no doubt - with a pensive 'bof', BigMat reneged on their letter of intent just
hours before the team were required to submit the paperwork with the UCI's
Garmin-Cervelo were still included among cycling's
elite 15 teams and guaranteed a WorldTour licence for 2012, but it suddenly
meant Vaughters's men were considerably out of pocket.
To make matters worse, BigMat did the dirty on the US
team - going behind their backs to agree a sponsorship deal with Marc Madiot's
never-winning Francaise des Jeux ensemble.
Why they did this is anyone's guess. Perhaps their
people watched every stage up until the final 10km in last year's Tour and they
were under the impression that FDJ went away with 10+ stage wins.
Or perhaps it was merely a question of geography,
what with FDJ being virtually 100 per cent French and BigMat being a French
company whose shareholders would rather flee the scene than get in bed with the
It certainly angered Vaughters, who used his weapon
of choice - Twitter - to lay into the people who were meant to fund his
penchant for expensive designer spectacles next year.
"BTW, BigMat marketing folks, please note: no
FDJ," he tweeted the day the UCI approved the WorldTour licence of Garmin
and seven other teams. "I'd happily throw a chair at those BigMat fellahs
(sic)," he shared with another follower.
Vaughters, who in his spare time is an active
campaigner of the little-known Mephis-based 'Bring Pointy Sideburns Back Into
Fashion' action group, then did the sensible thing and went to the press to
express his frustration at the situation, while underlining his team's strong
credentials and excellent work ethic.
Sounding every bit like the much maligned Arsene
Wenger at Arsenal FC's recent shareholder summit, Vaughters stressed his team's
policy of buying "young and up and coming riders and guys who were
undervalued at other teams" and turning them into stars.
"Although I'd love to be in the position of
bigger budget teams where they can pick up who they want and pay them whatever
they went, it's gratifying to find an underappreciated asset and to outperform
the big budget teams," he said with reference to Sky and BMC, mimicking
Wenger's stance on the Manchester Citys, Real Madrids and Barcelonas of the
The financial sucker punch that followed BigMat's
knife-in-the-back meant that Vaughters had to put a call in to the team's
backer, the billionaire American entrepreneur Doug Ellis - something Wenger
would never do - asking for some extra capital. You know, just enough to pay
rider salaries, buy new Cervelo bikes and keep the directeur sportif's wardrobe
stocked with the latest pointy winklepickers.
"It's disappointing," Vaughters lamented in
between perusing the waistcoat section on mrporter.com and making sure all the
Garmin ladies had been rounded up and locked away after their morning training
"We're trying to run this as a business and to
just expect your investor to cover shortfalls is just an incorrect way of doing
business," he said before (just) concluding: "I don't want to run a
team on daddy's money."
So, instead of asking Mr Ellis to sell one of his
Aston Villa football stars (or, say, forcing Emile Heskey to pay for his own
medical supplies), Vaughters then seemed to have a brainwave: he'd seek out an
entirely different type of sugar daddy in, ahem, Lord Sugar.
You see, Lord Sugar (or Sir Alan, if you will) is a
big cycling fan and is often seen out on his red Pinerello sporting the old
Slipstream kit from back in the day when Tyler Farrar could check out women
(thanks to his Transitions lenses) and still win races.
Sinking to a whole new level of desperation,
Vaughters - presumably after a few whiskeys too many - put in a speculative
tweet towards the Amstrad billionaire Sugar, who back in early 2005 predicted
the iPod would be "dead, finished, gone, kaput" by the following
"I've noticed you seem to be a fan of our team,
Garmin-Cervelo. We're hunting for some sponsorship or investment cap. Any interest?"
Sugar, ever the zany businessman, has yet to reply
(apparently Nick and Margaret are on holiday).
But it's hard to see Sir Alan taking the bait. Unless
you're a top rider, cycling doesn't seem like a sport where you can make much
money. It's certainly not one to invest in, hence the fast turnaround in
Garmin are not the only team in financial trouble.
Euskaltel face their own sponsorship issues, and both RadioShack-Nissan-Trek
and Vacansoleil have yet to have their applications for the WorldTour approved.
Meanwhile, the Geox team that just won the Vuelta has all but folded.
Sugar may like to ride around Richmond Park in
between polishing his puns and abusing people on TV, but he's hardly one to
throw away cash - even for a team whose shirt he wears (look at how much money
he made in selling his shares in his beloved Tottenham).
That said, Sugar certainly does have a sense of
humour - and he may be tempted to throw a few of his reported £770 million
towards a man who had the audacity to simply ask for it on Twitter.
Besides, doesn't Vaughters look a bit like the goofy
chap Tom who won last year's Apprentice? And that guy Tom sure as heck won't
earn Sugar any dollars.
With Sir Alan at the helm, he'd certainly point the
finger and fire some of the team's underachieving stars, such as Heinrich
Haussler and Christophe Le Mevel.
But he'd surely have a word at Vaughters and ask him
to tone down the Arsenalisation of his thought processes - such a stance
wouldn't sit well with such a staunch Spurs fan.
Next week: Saddles belated interview with Joe Papp should hit the news
stands. Until then, you can follow Blazin' Saddles on Twitter @saddleblaze.