A major milestone in India’s evolution as a professional cycling region was achieved on Saturday, 31 March in Bangalore, with the launch of the country’s first fully-sponsored professional cycling team; Specialized KYNKYNY. As Cycling iQ discovered, it’s a culmination of passion, vision, ambition, money and old-fashioned gut feel.
The new team, previously known as KYNKYNY Wheelsports, assembled in front of a packed banquet hall at the ritzy Park Plaza hotel in Marathahalli. 12 oversized canvasses, each bearing the portrait of a team rider – and positioned as if to preside over the gathering – lined the inner perimeter of the hall. The glamorous setting, evening attire, premium aperitifs and sense of occasion captured in photographs made the event indistinguishable from any other UCI ProContinental or ProTeam launch. Remarkably, Specialized KYNKYNY has nothing to do with the UCI; a point it intends to change by next year.
All image credits: Veloscope Sports Photography
It was only a few months ago, in December 2011, that Vivek Radhakrishnan, the team’s co-founder and Director, met with Joseph Wheadon, Specialized’s Director of Business Development. Specialized had not yet entered India commercially, and this was Wheadon’s “first contact” with the China-rivalling consumer market. Though Specialized, through a consultant, had some information on the Indian marketplace, Wheadon was one of the first from the Specialized management team to take a field visit. Over two and a half weeks, curiosity led him cross-country to Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and beyond.
“I met so many people in the cycling world during my time in India, and Bangalore is where I first met Vivek” recalls Wheadon from his base in Singapore. “I met with those guys (Vivek Radhakrishnan and Team Manager Venkatesh Shivarama) for breakfast one morning and just had the most inspiring conversation about cycling. The real thing that inspired me was their professionalism; it was above and beyond and very refreshing for me to see the core cyclist there. I felt the passion they had for the sport. I also went to one of the Bangalore races; even though most of them didn’t have the best gear, they were people who were serious.”
Following this meeting, having identified a possible alternative entry-point for the US bicycle brand, Wheadon found signs of the mature market that would be needed to support a complementary market development program.
“I was very impressed with the quality of the bike shops in India. The work that BSA (owned by Tube Investments subsidiary, TI Sports) are making in their retail stores is phenomenal. In some ways, India requires more development and in other ways I was pleasantly surprised; I thought Trek and Schwinn were doing relatively well, as were Cannondale and Bianchi.”
Following this discovery period, and without a single point of sale in the Indian marketplace, Wheadon moved swiftly to secure phase one of an unorthodox brand development process. By late January 2012, Specialized had reached an accord with Radhakrishnan’s team to be its new headline sponsor.
“Our elasticity for new ventures is very good, even though our size is big. It’s about analysing the markets and doing what’s best for it. Gut still has a great deal to do with it. You can do all the analysis in the world, but in reality it’s about the feeling you get from the market and the connection with the people.
With this significant anchor in place, other sponsors, including Champion System, jumped onto the now-stable boat. As a result, Specialized KYNKYNY boasts 12 sponsors for the 2012 season. [Note: through other contacts, Cycling iQ learned that at least one other major European-based bicycle brand had offered KYNKYNY Wheelsports a major sponsorship deal; though, according to that contact, Specialized bought significantly more to the table].
Aside from Australian rider Darren Reid, who also doubles as Team Coach, all team riders are Indian. The secured corporate backing has enabled the team to augment its long-held ambition to become a UCI Continental team by 2013; added now is the “aim to have the first Indian cyclist participating in the Tour de France within the next 3 years.” According to Wheadon, Specialized is completely behind this vision. The equipment budget for the team is “somewhere in the range of USD120,000 at a retail price” (suggesting an actual cost to Specialized of USD40,000-50,000) and the Bangalore-based team – who will next be racing in Thailand’s Tour of Friendship – will be “treated at the same level as any other pro team, like SaxoBank or Omega Pharma-Quick Step”.
[More to come: a full feature on the new Specialized KYNKYNY team will be published in the next RIDE Cycling Review.]