Factor Bikes owner Rob Gitelis on the significance of WorldTour sponsorship

2020 Factor 02 VAM Disc frameset close-up

Factor Bikes has partnered with the freshest face on the WorldTour, Israel Cycling Academy. Sharing that news was Rob Gitelis, owner of the small, premium bike company who told CyclingTips about the new three-year deal, what’s involved for the bike company, and various other factors that often aren’t spoken about when it comes to sponsoring a top team. You can read our conversation with Gitelis below.


CyclingTips: So let’s dive in. What is it about Israel Cycling Academy that lured you back into the WorldTour?

Rob Gitelis: We had spoken to Israel Cycling ever since they’d stepped up to the Pro Conti ranks. For me, it’s a very interesting program. Israel is a place that’s near and dear to me personally [Gitelis is Jewish], and I think what they’re trying to achieve was very interesting for us.

We’ve always looked at it excitedly … the opportunity [to work] with them.

Another attractive element of Israel Cycling Academy is just how many international riders they have. It really is an international team with Americans, Canadians, Spanish, French, etc. That’s one of the things that attracted us to it. It seems that a lot of teams lately have become more nationalistic and that was certainly the case with AG2R. Even though [there are] other nationalities in the team, they were still French in their language. So it’s really attractive for us to be with an English-speaking team.

What markets are you hoping the sponsorship gets you into?

I think it’s fantastic that we have two of the top five Germans in the world on Factor when we haven’t sold any bikes in Germany until now. So I think that’ll be great for us in entering the German market.

I also believe Israel Cycling Academy is very well received in North America, and we’re looking forward to promoting it further because we’ve asked the team to ride an alternative calendar and they’re totally open to Dirty Kanza and Belgian Waffle Ride and events like that. I think being able to introduce the team to those events is very important to us.

You were previously sponsoring AG2R in 2017 and 2018, and then dropped back to Pro Conti for 2019 with Roompot-Charles. Was the plan always to return to the WorldTour?

AG2R was a great experience and really put our brand on the map. In hindsight it was too early for us — even though it built this great image for a bike brand, we weren’t ready to really capitalise on it. And that’s really the key to sponsorship. So when we started with AG2R, we hadn’t even sold a bike yet, we didn’t have a sales channel, and so to spend that much money before you had a sales channel: it was a bit of a challenge.

We sponsored Roompot [in 2019] because it was an interesting opportunity to compete in the Spring Classics, but the one that was more interesting for us [this] year was the ladies team, Parkhotel-Valkenburg. They finished number three in the world on teams classification, and with the number one rider in the world [Lorena Wiebes]. So that was super exciting for us to be in the Women’s WorldTour [this] year.

The Factor 02 VAM is the company’s lightweight climbing machine.

You’ve sponsored teams in both the men’s and women’s WorldTours. As a sponsor, what are the big differences?

It’s unfortunate that women’s racing is still not receiving the level of accolades it should. So even though we’re sponsoring a women’s team, in certain countries it does very well. In Asia, it’s very well received. But elsewhere — for example, our partners in Switzerland they say women’s racing just isn’t that valuable [as a promotional tool for selling bikes] as there are no races. So it just isn’t as valuable as the men’s WorldTour.

From an equipment point of view, is the men’s WorldTour a far larger investment?

Yes. It’s quite a bit larger. The teams are bigger, and the amount of product the team goes through is quite a bit more. It seems the women, while they still race very aggressively — they’re less abusive on the equipment.

How does men’s Pro Conti differ from WorldTour from a sponsorship point of view? What does that step up look like?

It’s pretty enormous actually.

In the case of the financial commitment at Pro Conti, there basically isn’t any. So you’re not having to pay the team. Even in some cases, such as a Roompot, we were simply the supplier of the frameset — we didn’t even have to engage in the components.

So it’s a huge step up for a brand to go to WorldTour?

It is. I think it’s been unfortunate in recent years leading up. I think Pro Conti teams used to be able to demand a little more, but the problem now is the UCI rule changes [mean] that it’s going to get harder and harder for these teams to get into the most elite races and then attracting sponsorship is more difficult.

In addition to financial support, how many bikes are being supplied to Israel Cycling Academy?

This first year will be about 250 bikes between racing, time trial, and home bikes.

And what bikes are being supplied?

This is one of the things we really like about the sponsorship — they’re going to use the Factor One, our aero bike, basically on all flat races and stages. And then everyone is going to use the 02 VAM on any sort of climbing or long event where perhaps they want more comfort. Every rider will have two VAMs, and every rider will have two Ones. When we worked with AG2R, it was about the sprinters having the Ones, and the rest of the riders having the 02s.

Factor One Israel Cycling Academy team bike

The One is Factor’s aero bike. It’s a bike that stemmed from the original Vis Vires “superbike”.

In the case of Israel Cycling Academy, they’re willing to have the additional staff needed to have all the additional bikes, because that’s always the challenge. If you’re going to mix the bikes, then you need more staff available to look after all the bikes in the truck. Compared to if everyone was on the same bike for every event.

Rim brakes, disc brakes or both?

They’re going to ride disc.

And it’s probably worth mentioning the partners. For wheels they’re going to ride Black Inc. We have a full CeramicSpeed headset, bottom bracket, wheel bearings and OSPW derailleur system – I think we’re the only team that’s using all of CeramicSpeed’s products.

They’re using Selle Italia saddles — that was a relationship that carried over from both Katusha and the previous year’s sponsorship at Israel Cycling Academy.

And then they’re on Maxxis tyres. Maxxis is pretty cool because they’re just down the road from us, and it gives us the opportunity to do some development with them here in Taiwan. It’s also their first go in the [men’s] WorldTour. The same applies for Black Inc, which have had their handlebars and stems in the WorldTour — this is the first time to have the wheels.

And are the wheels tubular or tubeless?

Both.

As a brand, how much of the equipment are you responsible for arranging for the team?*

All of it.

Including the drivetrains?

They’re using Shimano Dura-Ace for all bikes. It’s not a Shimano sponsorship; we’re responsible for supplying it.

Switching back to AG2R. From a product development point of view, is there value in sponsoring a team of this level?

There absolutely is as long as the team is open and the riders are capable and good at giving feedback. When we went to AG2R, it was under the premise that we already had the 02 and the Slick [Factor’s TT bike] available at the time. In the following year, we worked with them and developed the new aero bike. Much of the feedback for that came from them.

2018 Ag2r La-Mondiale Factor 02 Pro Team of Bike Mikael Cherel

Factor sponsored AG2R in 2017 and 2018. Pictured is AG2R’s 2018 team bike.

Going in with Israel Cycling Academy, the intention is that we’ll develop more products together. We’re arriving with a nice line-up of products, but at the Tour de France we want to introduce yet another new product. And it’s something we’re discussing with them, and they’ll start riding within the next two months or so to be ready for a debut at the Tour de France.

Do you believe it’s important for a bike brand to be visible in racing?

I think if your plan is to be an engineering or racing heritage brand, as Factor is, then you need to be there. If you’re a brand based on styling or comfort, then perhaps you don’t. If your brand is racing, you just need to be in the WorldTour.

*A number of teams in the WorldTour without official drivetrain sponsorships often receive all of their equipment from one or two suppliers, and typically, the bike company takes on the role of supplying entire bikes to the team. This is why you’ll commonly see the teams riding bikes equipped with components that the bike brands themselves specify for sale – there are some larger dealings going on behind the scenes here.

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