Pogačar signing on at the men's elite road race. Photo: UCI

Next to Nice: A tale of two Slovenian cryptocurrency sponsorships

No, it’s not *that* crypto sponsor on the Slovenian jersey.

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A handful of times a year, the pro road cyclists of the world compete in their national kits rather than their trade team ones. In the case of Slovenia’s Tadej ‘Tufts’ Pogačar, that means that for the duration of his time in Wollongong he’s swapped the white, black and red of UAE Team Emirates for a lime green Slovenian kit. 

Although the riders aren’t repping their usual sponsors, that doesn’t mean their Worlds kits are a sponsor-free zone. National federations often have their own crop of backers, and in the case of Slovenia – in pride of place across their riders’ chests and backsides – is the name ‘NiceHash’, a cryptocurrency platform which is officially headquartered in the British Virgin Islands but in practical terms based in Slovenia. 

If a Slovenian crypto sponsor is ringing some bells for you, it’s probably because of an ill-fated WorldTour sponsorship from the second half of the 2022 season. Do not fear: that was NextHash, and this is NiceHash.

But the two are connected. 

Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia pops a wheelie at the men’s elite road race start. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

As CyclingTips reported earlier this year, NextHash founder Ana Benčič was at one point a 35% shareholder in the soundalike, NiceHash. The latter company was facing ruin after having US$80 million of bitcoin stolen by a team of North Korean military hackers – just the tip of the crazy iceberg that is that story – and they accepted Benčič’s offer of investment to help right the ship. 

When it became clear that Benčič did not actually have the investment lined up, NiceHash sued her and her affiliates leading to their removal from the company. Benčič had caught the crypto bug, however, and went on to establish the similarly-named NextHash soon after. “Even the choice of name for her company is a bit funny to say the least, and her published materials are very similar to NiceHash,” NiceHash CMO Joe Downie told CyclingTips. “We just hope people do not confuse us [for NextHash], as we are running a profoundly different kind of business.”

Slovenia is a small country with disproportionate clout in the cryptocurrency sector, so despite NextHash’s unfortunate legacy in the sport, NiceHash was not put off. The company signed up as a major sponsor of the Slovenian Cycling Federation earlier this year, placing their brand name prominently across all disciplines of the sport for an initial term of one year. “We have been a smaller sponsor of Slovenian cycling events for a few years, and this opportunity was the next logical step,” Downie told CyclingTips. 

The sponsorship involves the jersey placements, banners and flags on race routes, and “video time with Roglič and Pogačar for a few media campaigns.”

“The goals are mutually beneficial, since we are promoting both some of Slovenia’s best athletes (on their side) and one of the biggest Slovenian crypto companies (on our side), and to show that crypto is no longer in the shadows, but receives legitimate, mainstream attention and is beneficial to everyone,” Downie said. 

Pogačar takes a break during training. Photo: Slovenian Cycling Federation Facebook

While NiceHash’s partnership with the Slovenian Cycling Federation appears to be going off without a hitch, NextHash’s legacy in the sport is far more mixed. The Team Qhubeka-NextHash team it sponsored folded at the end of 2021, with team boss Doug Ryder currently working on a return to the upper divisions of the sport. Of NextHash’s missing sponsorship payments, Ryder told CyclingTips today that “we are trying to resolve things and have had contact.”

Recent reports in Slovenian media indicate that Benčič has been charged with misuse of company funds, and could face up to eight years’ jail time. 

So, as you watch the men’s World Championships road race and see Tadej Pogačar animating things with a crypto brand splashed across his kit – remember, that’s NiceHash, not NextHash. For the sake of all involved, hopefully this one works out.

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