The amazing race: Cervélo Cycles

Written by ProfitGuide

Bjarne Riis had never even heard of Cervélo Cycles Inc. So, when the 1996 Tour de France winner agreed to hear the Toronto bicycle maker’s pitch to sponsor the world-class road-racing team he was now managing, it seemed likely to lead nowhere.

Cervélo’s co-CEO Gérard Vroomen didn’t expect much from his 2002 meeting with Riis, either. Although Cervélo had built a stellar reputation in North America for innovative design of high-performance bikes used by professional cyclists and hard-core amateurs, it was largely unknown in European cycling circles. And Vroomen knew the firm didn’t have a prayer if a bidding war were to erupt for the right to supply bicycles to Denmark-based Team CSC, which was ranked 14th in the world and rising fast. “We really just thought we’d go through the process of applying to be team sponsor,” says Vroomen, “so that in two years’ time, when we were ready, we would know how it worked.”

The outcome of that meeting shocked both Vroomen and his co-CEO, Phil White: within a few days, Riis had decided to sign with Cervélo, in part because he found in Vroomen a kindred spirit who combined a passion for cycling with an engineer’s mind. “They had some very good ideas, and they were willing to work with me on development,” says Riis, who’s known as a stickler about equipment. Unlike the large bicycle manufacturers, “they didn’t have other teams to take care of. We would be their top priority.” Above all, Riis was blown away by the leading-edge design of the bike that Vroomen left behind for him to ride.

Team CSC’s crack riders started competing on Cervélo’s bicycles in 2003. Within two years, they had ridden all the way to a No. 1 global ranking. For Cervélo, the deal proved a tremendous coup, giving the firm valuable exposure at top events such as the Tour de France and an entree into the lucrative European market, where the popularity of cycling rivals that of hockey in Canada. For White and Vroomen-two engineers and avid cyclists who, caught up in the challenge of designing aerodynamic bicycles, launched their own company against long odds-it was a dream come true. The sponsorship helped power Cervélo’s revenue from $8

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