How Red Bull Can Win the Tour de France
and change professional cycling as we know it.
They’ve jumped from the edge of space, won thirteen Formula One World Titles, own five professional football clubs and sponsor hundreds of individual athletes.
Red Bull have revolutionised sports, and it looks like the Tour de France is next on their to do list.
The Austrian energy drink company recently acquired a 51% controlling stake in the Bora-Hansgrohe pro-team. It makes sense, the Tour de France is the biggest annual sporting event in the world, and pro-cycling team budgets are child’s play in comparison to their other sporting endeavours.
Speculation is rife about what Red Bull’s entry to cycling means for the future of the sport and they have the financial capability to blow everyone else out of the water.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at what “Red Bull Pro Cycling” could look like. From the potential sponsors, to the riders and their sporting goals.
Time, resources and belief: these are the three elements that Robby Ketchell, a former performance scientist with the Ineos Grenadiers says have to come together to make any project work.
When people say resources, more often than not they mean cash.
The 2022 figures show that Red Bull’s revenue was in the region of $10.53 billion, with a profit of $1.6b. They paid their majority shareholder, son of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, some $615m alone.
[Correction: Mateschitz is NOT the majority shareholder. He ‘only’ owns 49% of the company. The Thai Yoovidhya family own 51% of Red Bull but are, at least on the surface, silent partners.]
It is reported that their sponsorship payments exceeded $1.05b in 2022. Considering the top cycling teams are said to have a budget of around $50m, Red Bull can certainly afford to play.
While Bora and Hansgrohe both have contracts to be the title sponsor of the team until at least 2027, Red Bull are one of the few names in the sporting world which would have other partners begging to be involved.
Their reputation is golden, and they’re a marketing dream, so it’s hard to see Red Bull not wanting full naming rights at some point.
The American mega-brand Specialized are the current bike sponsor of the team, but with Red Bull already having a connection with BMC, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them come onboard. BMC are currently out of the World Tour, only sponsoring second-division team, Tudor Pro Cycling, you can be sure that they’re eyeing a return.
However, it isn’t the endemic sponsors that are most interesting, it’s who can be attracted from outside of the sport. Red Bull F1 team reportedly brought in $226m in sponsorship revenue for the 2023 season, that would fund half of the World Tour teams.
Tag Heuer is the most obvious potential partner [ed. and also the dream partner for my racing project]
The Swiss watch brand has a history in cycling, most recently sponsoring BMC Racing until its demise, where riders sported the luxury timepieces and the logo displayed on the jersey shoulders.
With Tudor having an eponymous team, Breitling sponsoring Q36.5 and Richard Mille partnering with UAE Team Emirates, the chronograph market is betting big on cycling. Tag Heuer also happens to be a sponsor of Red Bull Racing…
Now, not all of Red Bull Racing’s sponsor would come across to a pro cycling team, but let’s just say they know where to find cash - their partnership with software company Oracle is worth some $65m per year alone.
Perhaps the two most interesting markets are for Red Bull endeavours themselves.
We could play a game of Guess Who on a potential kit partner, but why wouldn’t they simply make it themselves? A large portion of Red Bull’s sport income comes through merchandising, to the degree that they have their own fashion brand, Alpha Tauri.
In the past, we’ve seen global brands like Adidas take a stab at sporting apparel when sponsoring pro teams. Using an in-house brand and gradually developing their own cycling lines could be a huge money maker for Red Bull.
Red Bull’s product is an energy drink. I was trying to think of who they’d use for a nutrition sponsor, and again I had the bright idea, would they just build their own? An own-branded Red Bull sports nutrition company which covers off the main products - energy gels, powder and bars - would be a winner. Which would you choose on the shelf, a Red Bull branded energy gel or one from Science in Sport? The marketing power the Austrian brand holds is behemoth.
Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar.
If you ask me off the top of my head, I’d say those are the two riders which exhibit the most Red Bull attributes. Yet, they’re also the two pros which would be hardest to tempt away. In Tadej Pogačar you have a rider that has a team built around him, and a team which is backed by a country. Red Bull have deep pockets, but the Investment Corporation of Dubai’s are deeper.
With Van der Poel, there are (unconfirmed?) rumours that he has some sort of stake in his Alpecin-Deceuninck team, and I’d make an educated guess that he has an advantageous deal with Canyon. For both of those reasons, he’d be difficult to pry away.
Remco Evenepoel. Wout van Aert. Tom Pidcock.
Those are the three that I’d have headlining my team, they also happen to be Red Bull athletes already.
There are already rumours in the press that WVA and Remco are being courted by Bora-Hansgrohe management for 2025. With those two, you are buying guaranteed winners, and they can easily afford the pay cheque.
Pidcock is an interesting case. He’s a unique athlete, capable of winning on all terrains. Already an Olympic and World Champion, he does cool shit on a bike. He’s the perfect frontman.
We found out that cycling contracts can be easily bought out over the winter of 2023, but with WVA and Remco out of contract at the end of 2026 they may just wait. Pidcock’s contract runs to the end of 2027 but…
Would it really surprise you to see some serious shakes in the World Tour in the next two years? There were already heavy rumours about an Ineos-Quickstep merger this off-season. With Ineos owner, Jim Ratcliffe, heavily investing in Manchester United and having little success compared to previous years with his pro-team, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see it shut down.
With Quickstep, Patrick Lefevere isn’t going to be around forever. An educated guess would be that most of their sponsor commitments are heavily linked to Remco. With Alaphillippe out of contract at the end of this season, and them lacking the classics stars of yesteryear, they are another team which looks a touch precarious.
Away from pure speculation, we’ve got to remember that Red Bull bought a stake in Bora-Hansgrohe, which means it’s likely a core group of riders would stay on. The 2023 season sees a third of the current roster out of contract, while it’s likely that a rider like Jai Hindley will renew, some of the others have question marks.
The current Bora squad has one of the best sprint trains in the peloton. While their former leader, Sam Bennett was having little luck, the signing of ‘new Sam’, Aussie Sam Welsford is promising.
Already off on a winning foot Down Under, Welsford is a sprinter with Kittel-esque characteristics. With a lead-out train as strong as it is, it would be hard to bet against him becoming one of the world’s best in the next three years. For the record, I’d hire Luke Lamperti to a Red Bull team too.
To win the Tour de France you need to have the best riders, it really is that simple. Recent history says that the team that goes shopping for the most talent often comes out on top. Team Sky in the early 2010s, Jumbo-Visma in the modern era and Tadej Pogačar is well, just Tadej Pogačar.
This can easily be translated as the richest team often wins the Tour de France. With there currently being no budget caps or regulations in salary, there would be nothing stopping a team coming in and paying way over the odds for the world’s best riders.
Red Bull frontman Max Verstappen is said to make a basic salary of $70m per year. With the highest earner in the pro-peloton rumoured to be in the $6-7m range, and most of the big names in the $2-4m range, it wouldn’t take that big of a budget to tempt big names away.
Time and Belief.
It’s easy to think that Ketchell’s “Time, resource and belief” quote is simply a nice quote, money makes the world go round.
Red Bull have buckets of both.
Continuing with the Formula One comparison, Red Bull entered the sport in 2005, and won its first world title in the 2010 season. While they then won four on the bounce with Sebastian Vettel, it took almost 10 years, until 2022, for them to win again.
While there were individual race wins along the way, just like a pro-cycling team wanting to win the Tour de France, the World Championship is Formula One’s biggest prize. It would have been easy to walk away after winning four World Titles on the bounce. They came, and relatively fast they saw and they conquered. But, sticking around for a decade to once again become a dominant force is not to be snuffed. They have patience.
Belief is one thing that Red Bull have oozing through their veins. They do stupid shit all of the time. The slogan alone “Red Bull gives you wings” is enough to display the belief that they have. The brand they have built is cool, if you have a Red Bull helmet you are a cool athlete, it really is that simple.
That reputation would go far and wide when hiring riders too. Say you’re a pro like Isaac del Toro, who presumably had every World Tour team around filling up his inbox. If you have an offer from Red Bull, or an offer from an oil rich state, which would you rather ride for?
Winning the Tour de France, that’s the goal, it has to be.
It’s the biggest event in cycling, and the only race that the world’s media truly cares about. Winning Paris-Roubaix would be iconic, just like winning the Monaco Grand Prix, but they’re part of the process to the biggie.
A Red Bull athlete adorned in the Yellow Jersey of a Red Bull sponsored team, cracking open a can of their caffeinated drink while standing on top of the podium on the Champs-Élysées. That’s the money shot.
Red Bull will win the Tour de France if they want to, it may be that simple.
This article was written as half-fun, half-serious. Red Bull has the chance to change professional road cycling. They already have millions of adoring fans, the budget and the know-how. They are capable of turning niche sports into money making machines, they can make anything they want cool.
While they’ll want to win the Tour and have sporting success along the way, it’s the cool shit that excites me the most. Can you imagine a content piece where Daniel Ricciardo gets his UCI Driving License and we’re suddenly given a YouTube video of him driving in the race convoy? What about the fan activation around races? The merchandise? The knock on effect as other teams have to raise their game?
Red Bull moving into the professional cycling world could be the most important thing that has ever happened to the commercial side of pro-cycling since the inception of the Tour de France.
As always, a big thanks to my sister for proof reading this. She has a real job as a teacher and makes me sound a lot better than I am. This article was effectively written in my head during a four hour interval session, it’s amazing the brainstorming you can do while out solo.
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