Cycling’s most controversial sponsors

As cycling fans across Britain protested Shell’s partnership with British Cycling, we decided to take a deep dive into the annals to bring you a list of the most controversial sponsors to ever put their mark on a cyclist. race.

In no particular order, prepare for greenwashing, sportswashing, cryptography, pyramid schemes, sex toys and an obligatory touch of The Donald…


Remember before Britain’s best track cyclists took to the World Championship podium in their Shell shoulder tapes and you might remember British Cycling’s former main sponsor was HSBC.

The banking giant’s step into cycling has drawn far less heat than Shell’s partnership with British Cycling but, as some have pointed out, perhaps it should have?

> British Cycling and Shell: How HSBC pulls the plug and COVID-19 has affected the governing body’s finances

HSBC became British Cycling’s main sponsor in early 2017, signing an eight-year deal to replace broadcaster Sky. Five years earlier, in 2012, HSBC paid $1.9bn (£1.4bn) after a US Department of Justice investigation into the bank’s failure to prevent money laundering by Mexican drug cartels.

HSBC UK National Cycling Center (photo copyright British Cycling)

In December, HSBC was fined £63.9 million by the UK financial regulator for “unacceptable failures” in its anti-money laundering systems.

Ineos Grenadiers

Kit Bioracer Ineos Grenadiers 2022 Tom Pidcock (1).jpeg

While we’re close to home and we’re talking about sponsors taking over from Sky…

Ineos, the multinational petrochemicals company founded by Britain’s richest man, billionaire Brexiteer – Sir Jim Ratcliffe – ventured into cycling in 2019 by taking lead sponsorship from Team Sky at the Tour de Yorkshire.

The sponsor’s arrival was met with protests at the British race by an anti-fracking group, while in 2020 the team’s vehicles were targeted by environmental activists in Belgium.

Ineos will fall (via Annick De Ridder on Twitter)

According to an environmental charity CustomerEarthin 2020, Ineos produced 22.8 million tonnes of petrochemicals, with the company’s largest plant – at Grangemouth in Scotland – emitting more than 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide the previous year.

In 2020, the team had a new name… with Grenadier, a 4×4 developed by Ineos Automotive, joining ahead of the Tour de France. Subtle and tasteful product placement…

Filippo Ganna breaks the UCI hour record (credit - Ineos Grenadiers)

Peugeot (+ BP, Esso & Shell)

Peugeot, one of the oldest and most successful cycling teams – until an 80-year involvement ended in 1986 – had more than a few controversial co-sponsors. Resembling an oil industry directory, Peugeot’s history includes a 20-year association with BP, with whom they created this kit to mark Tom Simpson’s victory at the 1965 World Championships…

Simpson’s Milan-San Remo in 1964, Lombardy in 1965, two of Eddy Merckx’s San Remo victories and Roger Pingeon’s Tour de France success in 1967 all came with BP support.

In the late 70s there was a new oil giant – Esso – on the team’s kits before, in 1982, Shell jumped on board for the final five years of the team’s existence. The Esso era saw Bernard Thévenet beat former favorite Merckx in the ’75 Tour, adding another in ’77.

And while there wouldn’t have been another yellow jersey in recent years, riders such as Robert Millar, now Philippa York, Stephen Roche and Sean Yates have all donned the famous black and white.

The Group

Le Groupement Robert Millar 1995 (YouTube screenshot)

Later in Millar’s career, the prodigious climber joined the now infamous Le Groupement, a team founded in 1994 but which only lasted a year, folding two days after Millar’s victory at the British National Championships in road race.

The generally accepted consensus is now that the team’s financial problems, linked to the attraction of the negative advertising sponsor Le Groupement Européen des Professionnels du Marketing, were due to the fact that the French door-to-door sales organization was a pyramid scheme, based on 50,000 independent sellers selling goods. to friends and family.

The sponsor’s modus operandi was described in The New York Times in 2019 as based on “motivational sessions and one-on-one investment in the company’s retail products”. If that wasn’t enough, Le Groupement’s sales plummeted 35% in early 1995 as rumors spread that the company was linked to an American cult.

In short, sponsorship was withdrawn in March of that year and Le Groupement subsequently filed for bankruptcy as the team folded a week before the Tour de France, prompting Millar to retire from the sport. .

Next hash

A recent one now…

Tour de France 2021 Team Qhubeka NextHash Burberry - 1

The latest iteration of the African WorldTour outfit led by Doug Ryder, under various banners – including MTM, Dimension Data and Qhubeka – was Team Qhubeka NextHash.

Despite signing a five-year naming rights deal days before last year’s Tour de France, the team faced continued financial problems and eventually fell to UCI continental level to 2022 with its development team.

So who are NextHash? That’s a question I’m still not sure I know the answer to, to be completely honest…

Tour de France 2021 Team Qhubeka NextHash Burberry - 2

Investigative journalist Iain Treloar dove deep into the murky world of blockchain and cryptocurrency to Cycling tips, and discovered that NextHash offers a trading platform called NexInter Exchange that uses another company’s software. Then there is the “Token” which allows buyers “to buy security tokens on the same terms as professional investors and secure the current and future benefits of being among the first to join”. Right.

NextHash had little to no online presence when their sponsorship started (less than 100 followers on Facebook and around 500 on Twitter)…and in response to a question from a cycling fan, former CEO Daniele Mensi called the company “crooks”.


Mat Hayman after his victory in Paris-Roubaix (source Orica GreenEdge video still).JPG

Oric? Yes, it is the Australian-based multinational that is one of the world’s largest suppliers of commercial explosives and blasting systems to the mining, quarrying, oil & gas and construction markets.

The sponsor joined GreenEDGE amid chemical leaks in Australia and criticism for storing ammonium nitrate in a ship anchored off New South Wales, which the Maritime Union of Australia called ” dangerously substandard”.

donald trump


It wouldn’t be a controversial sponsor countdown without a mention of “The Donald”…

In 1988, Trump created a bike race called… the Trump Ride, of course. It was a multi-stage race through the Northeastern United States to “compete” the Tour de France.

The inaugural edition in 1989 attracted a group including Greg LeMond, but a year later, and after just two renewals, Trump ended mounting debt in his real estate empire.


Another race sponsor now… the Netherlands and the Belgian market leader in sex toys have taken the naming rights for the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour and sent the internet into meltdown by rewarding the counter-winner. the Ellen van Dijk watch with an X-rated gift box.

EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Award (via Ellen van Dijk, Twitter)

“Women’s cycling prices are getting better,” Van Dijk joked afterwards. It’s a way of lubricating a chain…

The Nations

Just take a look around today’s field and you’ll spot teams such as UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain Victorious and Astana, all there for the love of the sport and supporting talent… apparently.

Tadej Pogacar, Stage 19 of 2021 (photo credit Tour de France ASO/Pauline Ballet)

How long before a team backed by a Saudi sovereign wealth fund visits St James’ Park in the off-season?

As always, I’m sure we’ve let one or two slip through the net… hit the comments to let us know who needs to be added to the list…

#Cyclings #controversial #sponsors

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