After 15 years of sponsorship, Colavita to withdraw from pro cycling

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Colavita, a fixture in the American cycling scene since 2003, will be withdrawing its involvement in professional cycling at the end of the year, Colavita USA founder and team manager John Profaci confirmed with CyclingTips today.

The Italian olive oil company has been a visible sponsor of both men’s and women’s teams at several levels, but its departure will be most significantly felt in the American professional women’s scene.

The Colavita women’s program, with its UCI-registered Colavita-Bianchi team, has been providing big career-building opportunities for women in cycling for over a decade.

As one of the longest-running women’s programs in the country, Team Colavita served as a stepping stone for many Olympians and national champions over the years, including well-known names such as Alison Powers, Tina Pic, Rachel Heal and Kathryn Bertine.

“Having the opportunity to ride and then be the director for Colavita has been six very surreal years in my life,” Mary Zider told Ella CyclingTips. “Before joining the program I would often race against the Colavita teams and I always admired their talent and professionalism. It was always on my ‘wish list’ to race for Colavita –along with nearly every other up-and-coming pro rider. Who didn’t want to race for Colavita?! Over 14 years of sponsorship, the program has produced Olympians, World Champions and a six-time National Champion. That speaks volumes about Colavita and the talent of the riders who have worn the jersey. It’s been an honour to wear the Colavita jersey.”

Even as the men’s program folded in 2008, Profaci continued with his women’s program. Nearly a decade of ups and downs later, however, Profaci can no longer justify his budget spending on a niche market.

“It’s sad to say but I think that we’re going to step back from sponsoring the pro women’s program this year,” Profaci told Ella CyclingTips.  “I’ve only been the only cash on the team for the past 10 years, and it’s a heavy financial burden for a small company.”

“[Professional cycling] is a very niche market. There are a lot of fans of the sport, and I put a big value on that and I know that those fans recognize Colavita as a supporter of the women’s side of the sport. It’s just that with the expense at this point, I need the reach to be a little larger for Colavita.

“When I take money away from our core market, the consumer, I need to make sure it’s working for the company. And I think right now, the measures are just not there.”

Team Colavita at the NorthStar Grand Prix. Photo by Jonathan Devich.

Focus on recreational cycling and charity events

Profaci said he’ll be refocusing his sponsorships dollars on the recreational and charitable side of cycling.

“We’re going to do something different. I won’t abandon our mission of cycling –I think it’s great for our brand, it’s a healthy activity and everybody should be doing it, and Colavita is about healthy living –but I’m going to find a way to do it in a different way,” Profaci said. “You may see Colavita jerseys on recreational teams, we already do that and will continue to do that, and you may just see a Colavita crit team down the road, we just don’t know.”

“Colavita won’t leave the sport entirely, which speaks volumes about the company and what they ultimately stand for. It’s a legendary program that will forever be known in the sport and it’s a jersey we all will continue to wear with pride,” commented Zider.

Profaci said that the riders were informed in past few weeks to ensure they have time to look into new opportunities for next season.

Directeur-Sportif Mary Zider and team mechanic Andi Smith, however, will continue working under the Colavita banner with Profaci’s new marketing endeavour.

“[Zider and Smith] have been awesome for me, so I want to bring them along with me and help me develop this next plan,” Profaci said, revealing that one of his plans is to turn the team van into a mobile bike shop to offer mechanic services at charity rides and inner-city school programs.

Kendelle Hodges in the Colavita colours at the Australian road nationals.

Fifteen spectacular years

When asked what running professional teams for the past 15 years has meant to him, Profaci got a little emotional.

“It’s been so satisfying, really. On a personal level, it’s been the best thing I have done in my career at Colavita,” he said. “Supporting the athletes has been so spectacular for me.”

“From a company standpoint, I think we put some real life in the Colavita brand and giving it personality by becoming part of cycling.  Part of the problem for all sponsors of the sport is that it’s difficult to measure the success versus the spent. But even if we lost something along the way, I think the loyal fans we have created are everlasting and I think there is a real value in that. The brand recognition has been fantastic for the company, and I have no regrets.

“I am not closing the door on pro cycling, budgets allowing, you may see a Colavita team come back.”

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