A quick look around at the US National Championships in Bend, or through the results, and you would have been bound to find Planet Bike racers with impressive performances. The team brought home four National titles as well as several podiums in Junior, Elite and Masters categories. Katie Compton and Jonathan Page have both led the way for the team and flown the Planet Bike banner high all season both domestically and in Europe.
Cyclocross sponsorship may be a strange marketing match for the company that predominantly sells cycling accessories, like headlights, fenders and pumps. Despite the incredible exposure its athlete and race sponsorship has given the company, Planet Bike’s involvement has been motivated predominantly by love of the sport. But with corporate changes pending, it looks like its team sponsorship days may be numbered. “I am currently in talks with a party that has a great deal of interest in acquiring or investing in Planet Bike, and it looks good that something may come of it,” Planet Bike owner Bob Downs told Cyclocross Magazine. “There is no definite timeline or defined deal at the moment, and talks are continuing. If the sale were to come to fruition, the interested party would be fully interested in continuing our Bicycle Advocacy mission of donating 25% of profits to non-profit bike advocacy groups – which has yielded over $1 million since 1997. But [it] would not support the level of race team that I have been fielding over the past two years. I fully understand their position, as the expense of the cyclocross race team cannot justify the marketing benefit Planet Bike gains from it.”
Downs first broke the news to their last-minute summer signing, Katie Compton, to give her plenty of time to work on finding sponsors for next season. But there’s no hard feelings, as Compton and her husband realize Planet Bike made their season and has done much for the sport.
“Bob saved us this season and none of Katie’s results, including [leading] the World Cup overall, would have been possible without him,” said Mark Legg-Compton, Katie’s husband. “We are extremely happy to have worked with Bob and we know Bob was very happy with the sponsorship. Katie’s image appeared all around the world, and the Planet Bike logo and message has been seen by millions of eyeballs.”
Downs had already verbally committed to sponsoring Jonathan Page before talks of the sale had commenced and plans to honor that commitment. “I will likely have to pay him out of my pocket for next season, if there is a sale,” said Downs.
The Planet Bike USGP races in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, will continue in the 2010 season, but beyond that will potentially be up to new owners. “The feedback we got from that event last year would seem to indicate that it is one of the best races on the calender, and I’ll do my best to keep that event going long term,” said Downs. “We were under a great deal of pressure and worked really hard to put on a top level event, and now we know why, since [UCI Cyclo-cross Commission members] Simon Burney and Peter van den Abeele attended the event to evaluate US Cyclocross for awarding a big-time race to the US. Little did we know what that would lead to [World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky], so we must continue this early season classic.”
Beyond not renewing Compton’s sponsorship, the biggest impact of the Planet Bike changes will be on the Elite team. “Our roots have been in local Wisconsin ‘cross, and we will continue to sponsor the Wisconsin Cycling Association Cyclocross series that has been going since the 1980′s,” said Downs. “We’ll also field a local grassroots team for the upcoming season. Our Elite level domestic effort will likely end, even though we had an awesome year with top results from Katie Antonneau, Linda Sone, Kristin Wentworth, the LaLonde brothers and our awesome juniors. If there had been a team competition at Nationals, we would likely have won it, with four National champs and numerous podium and high-level finishes.”
If the sale of Planet Bike goes through, Downs is open to whatever possibilities will present themselves, but he’s certain that cyclocross will continue to play a large part in his life. “I am a believer in the Joseph Campbell philosophy of ‘following your bliss,’ so I’ll likely continue to ride my bike and travel. I am very focused on achieving one of my life goals of winning a Stars and Stripes jersey…I also would like to see if I can make it up on the Worlds podium next season and perhaps have a sniff at a Rainbow jersey in Louisville, if the Euro hot shots don’t show up.”
Although Planet Bike’s days of cyclocross sponsorship may be ending, Downs still promises to be out there. “‘Cross is in my blood,” Downs says. “I will continue to race until I can’t throw a leg over that top tube any longer…anybody for wheelchair cross?”