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NetApp's Tour de France quest falls flat

Who wants to be cycling's 'secret sauce' anyway?

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When big vendors take on major sporting sponsorships, the first thing that usually happens is lots of shiny happy marketing material about just how the vendor's technology will propel athletes to success.

So when NetApp in 2012 threw its name, technology and cash behind German cycling team Endura the group at the centre of the venn diagram describing the overlapping populations of cyclists and technologists braced for the worst.

To NetApp's credit it hasn't rolled out promotions about its riders accelerating “in a flash”, “reaching new tiers of performance” or suggesting its sponsorship represents “bullet-proof backup” for the team's riders. Whether that's down to restraint or fear is hard to say: cycling is no longer keen on the notion that “secret sauce”, be it chemical or technological, offers a route to success.

NetApp's decision to back the Endura cycling team was nonetheless a bold given the controversy surrounding the sport. The team's since performed creditably, scoring a start in 2012's Giro D'Italia and picking up occasional wins in the second-tier races it mostly enters.

This year, however, the team's missed out on a ride in the Giro and last week learned it has not been offered an invitation to ride in the Tour De France. Organisers have four “wild card” offers and made them to French teams, rather than the Germany-derived NetAppers.

A cycling journalist of Vulture South's acquaintance felt Team NetApp is not good enough to ride Le Tour, but is also better than some of the French teams awarded wild cards.

The team's exclusion will therefore be a blow to the pride of all associated. It will also be a tricky thing to explain for whoever calculates return on investment from sponsorships inside NetApp, because even teams with no chance of winning Le Tour know that earning a start means countless hours of their logos on tellie and mentions galore around the world. That's more-than-decent branding even if much of it is on the backsides of cyclists ascending colossal alps while enduring considerable discomfort, an unlovely metaphor for any business.

Team NetApp has put the best positive spin on its exclusion, saying it's still a chance to ride the year's third Grand Tour, the Vuelta à Espana.

“Of course we are disappointed not to be riding in the world's most famous cycling race this year,” said team manager Ralph Denk. ”It was a great honor for us to be among the small group of candidates for both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.”

Vulture South is willing to bet that NetApp isn't so gracious if it finds itself as one of a small group of candidates competing for a big deal and doesn't make the field for the main event. ®

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