Sigma Sport boss, Ian Whittingham, has been “overwhelmed” by an outpouring of goodwill following the announcement on Wednesday that the shop’s UCI Continental team will not race in 2014.
And he has revealed that the Surrey-based squad had come close to securing backing from car giant, Ford, as joint title sponsor for next season after an earlier agreement had fallen through.
While the shop will continue to sponsor the Team Mule Bar-Sigma Sport women’s team, a statement issued on Wednesday, announcing that the men’s team had failed to secure a sponsor for 2014, had triggered a flood of emails, Tweets, and text messages, Whittingham told RCUK.
“My phone didn’t stop from five minutes after we put out the press release. I had to put it on silent when I went to bed at 11pm – I was still getting Twitter updates. It was just amazing. Sometimes you don’t realise what you’ve got until you’ve lost it and that came home to me. I tweeted to say, ‘overwhelmed’, and I genuinely was. I didn’t stop getting mails and texts and Tweets and messages on Facebook. It was just incredible.”
Whittingham said the shop team, which rose from racing in Surrey League events to competing against the biggest teams in the sport at the Tour of Britain, had delivered moments he would never forget.
My phone didn’t stop from five minutes after we put out the press release. I had to put it on silent when I went to bed at 11pm – I was still getting Twitter updates. I tweeted to say, ‘overwhelmed’, and I genuinely was.
After a difficult start to the season, typified by the loss of Pete Williams and Pete Hawkins at the AN Post RAS to broken collar bones, with Hawkins crashing out in the leader’s jersey, the team’s fortunes changed with victory for Joe Perrett at the Ryedale Grand Prix, and the squad raced in its signature aggressive style at the Tour of Britain to take Williams to within a point of successfully defending the sprint title he had won in 2012.
“To stand in Whitehall and watch our little cycle team on the front of that peloton with Team Sky and Omega Pharma-Quickstep behind, controlling the peloton and attempting to win a sprint jersey against a bunch of WorldTour teams, is something I’ll never forget. It was a special, special moment,” Whittingham said.
Whittingham told RCUK that the team had obtained a “handshake” agreement in September with the owner of a company that had fallen through a month later when the board of directors said the sponsorship deal would need to generate a sales increase 15 times greater than the investment.
With Ford already on board for 2014 as a vehicle sponsor, Whittingham offered the multinational the opportunity to take on the role of joint title sponsor. While executives in UK were keen on the deal, he said, it failed to gain a sign-off from the company’s European big wigs. “We kept on extending deadlines and extending deadlines, but we’ve had to, in the end, this week, say, ‘Enough’s enough. We can’t carry on,’” Whitingham said.
“To stand in Whitehall and watch our team on the front of that peloton with Team Sky and Omega Pharma-Quickstep behind, attempting to win a sprint jersey against a bunch of WorldTour teams, is something I’ll never forget. It was a special, special moment
He paid tribute to team manager, Becky Frewing, who joined the team from Team UK Youth, whom he described as “amazing” and “a God-send”. Matt Stephens, who raced in the shop’s colours following the collapse of the ill-fated Linda McCartney team, Whittingham described as “the catalyst” for Sigma Sport’s transformation to a team able to race against the world’s best. “Without Matt, there’s no way we could have made that transition to UCI,” he said.
And he praised the riders for contributing to a team with “no big egos”, that raced aggressively while enjoying the experience. Pete Hawkins will race for Madison-Genesis next season, while Joe Perett has joined Team Raleigh. Chronos des Nations espoir winner, Ryan Mullen, will make the jump to Pro Continental racing after signing for AN Post-Chain Reaction.
Whittingham said sponsors should not underestimate the financial demands of running a cycling team, and listed vehicles, insurance, rider salaries, equipment, and the cost of foreign training camps among expenses that run into hundreds of thousands of pounds each season.
Wednesday’s statement said the team would use 2014 to continue the search for a joint title sponsor with the aim of returning to UCI racing in 2015.