Cycling Team Names: Good Luck Keeping Up

Every year it seems that just about all pro cycling teams out there change their names. There are a few exceptions (the ones with only one sponsor, usually), but to me at least, the changes are dizzying and confusing. It’s not just me, either; I can’t count the number of times the Eurosport guys mess up a team’s name at the beginning of the season. I’m exaggerating, you say? Here’s an example of a well-known team, with its various names, from 1985 to present:

Lotto, Lotto-Emerxil-Merckx, Lotto-Merckx, Lotto, Lotto-Vlaanderen-Jong-Mbk-Merckx, Lotto-Superclub, Lotto, Lotto-Mavic-MBK, Lotto, Lotto-Isoglass, Lotto, Lotto-Mobistar-Isoglass, Lotto-Mobistar, Lotto-Adecco, Lotto-Domo (LOT), Davitamon-Lotto (DVL), Predictor-Lotto (PRL), Silence-Lotto (SIL), Omega Pharma-Lotto (OLO)
Lotto-Belisol (LTB). 

Yes, really.

But at least that one had ‘Lotto’ as a sponsor the whole way through, making the team identifiable. Here is the story of another team we all know today, too, whose genealogy is a little less clear.

1980-1989 – Reynolds (tube maker?)

Pedro Delgado was this team’s biggest rider, at least in the later years. Here he is screaming ’80s’ with that headband! And hey, did cycling teams have cards, like hockey?


1990-2003 Banesto (bank)

The glory years of this team, so far. Below is 5-time Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain, with a very practical-looking aero helmet.


2004-2005 – Illes Balears (an island!)

This team was sponsored by the tourism board of the Balearic Islands, which probably didn’t see many extra tourists, since it only lasted a couple of years. Below is a young Alejandro Valverde winning something.


2006-2010: Caisse d’Epargne (Bank)

I don’t know who the Photoshopped head is between them, but the front guys are Floyd Landis (left) and Oscar Pereiro (right), during the 2006 TdF. Floyd won that one, but then lost it pretty quickly because he was bad. Pereiro was then awarded the win.

DV96426_6002011-Present: Movistar (mobile phone operator)

Which brings us to today, and the latest incarnation of this 33 yr old team. Pictured here is the amazing Colombian, Nairo Quintana.


I hope you enjoyed this little run through recent history. My next question – still unanswered – is what constitutes a ‘team’ anyway. If it isn’t the sponsor, and it isn’t the athletes, then is it the director or management team that stays constant throughout the years somehow? What’s the thread that ties all these confusing team-names together? Answer this and you may have another blog article!

7 thoughts on “Cycling Team Names: Good Luck Keeping Up

  1. Financial viability is a practical issue for every team, but the name changes prompted by different rosters of anchor sponsors have, I think, the unintended consequence of driving people to become fans of individual riders rather than teams because, as you say, it’s not clear who the ‘team’ is…

    • I haven’t thought much about that, but I certainly identify with riders instead of teams. I don’t really think that’s a bad thing either. Take, for example, fans of the Maple Leafs hockey team. This team is one of the oldest in N. America and has a rich and successful past. The problem is, they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since the year before I was born. If you’re a fan of this team, you need some serious patience.

  2. NASCAR comes to mind. There are teams in NASCAR (honest!), usually named after the owner. Since the owners rarely change, the names remain fairly constant. The team drives the same make of car (Ford, Chevy, etc…) and drivers use the same mechanics and team garage/HQ. Sponsors come and go, as do the drivers occasionally. Cars are painted with the sponsors about as garrishly as a cycling jersey. But fans tend to follow individual drivers and drivers are best known for their car number, which never changes.

    So if cycling wanted to follow a similar model, team owners would name the team after themselves, set up a very fancy hq which the team would base its operations out of, then hire sponsors that will stay longer than a couple of seasons. This would allow the team kit to become a little more consistent and recognizable. Or perhaps each team would have a unique emblem that would appear on its jersey ala soccer (I know, I know – you call it football) teams which would never change regardless of the sponsor. Some of the lesser riders would come and go but the superstars would be enticed to remain with the team for many years, helping them and the team to develop a fanbase.

  3. Bingo!
    In my opinion you have stumbled into one of the major factors behind Pro cycling’s problems with doping since its origins.. The owner of the biggest purse dictates who the name, location and future of a pro team. Perfect example is the current joke SaxoTinkoff soon to be TinkoffSaxo (make room for the Ego)I suppose a racehorse wont get you that kind of exposure
    Another joke outfit has been the Rabobank-Blanco-Belkin…Sold to the highest bidder!Just look at the shafting Thomas de Gent took with the collapse of Vacansoleil
    Somewhere between armature and pro ranks cycling falls flat on its face with regards long term thinking. its always been a case of the tail wagging the Dog
    Cycling is using a “trash economic model” where everyone is disposable
    Why shouldn’t it be a similar set up as pro football where a team is based in a city and the Team controls the sponsor
    A bit like what are doing
    …as they were just feeding the talent to the pro ranks anyway

  4. It’s always about the money. The problem with cycling is that the teams do not share in event revenues (TV royalties etc), so it is an unsustainable model:
    Every few years one needs to find a sponsor and obviously, that sponsor is making a business decision: what’s in it for the sponsor? Very little: the only thing a team can offer is the logo on jersey’s (TV eyeballs) and, for the best price, including the sponsor name in the team name. What else can they offer?

    Incidentally, this is the same problem for little amateur teams, mine included: I like to keep our team name Union persist, but will add a sponsors name if they like and the money is right 🙂

    So, key to long term for pro teams is sharing in the revenue. Off course, the current right holders have no incentive to do so and the riders are not sufficiently united to negotiate (or boycott)…

  5. The problem is being a sport that doesn’t take place in the same place on a weekly or bi weekly basis and therefore can’t build up a geographical (local) fan base and can’t charge spectators to get in. Somehow golf has cracked this problem so perhaps cycling should drop the teams and just be a sport for individuals.

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