While on vacation recently in a small village just north of Avignon, France, I couldn't help but feel a sense of gratitude toward the folks at SunGard who, it was announced on Tuesday, had agreed to throw their not insubstantial weight behind professional cycling by opting to again co-sponsor a Pro Tour team for the 2011 season.
To be fair, given the media leaks during the course of this year's Tour de France, the SunGard announcement was never in much doubt (even though all parties involved vehemently denied that a deal was as good as done, even up to the proverbial 11th hour), but I was none-the-less pleased when I read the press release outlining the firm's involvement.
For those of you who don't know, SunGard is currently one of the co-sponsors of Team Saxo Bank, a Denmark-based pro cycling outfit, which currently occupies the number two spot on the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Rankings, and which got to within 39 seconds of winning cycling's greatest prize, the individual Tour de France GC (general classification) through Luxemburger, Andy Schleck.
SunGard has chosen to extend this relationship for the 2011 season and for good reason: Bjarne Riis, the franchise owner, has enticed Alberto Contador, currently leading the UCI World Rankings, away from the Kazakhstan-based Astana squad and onto his team roster for next year, which, when you consider the depth and experience of the current squad, means that in all likelihood the SunGard logo will ascend the top step of the Tour de France podium at the back end of July next year. After all, Contador has won every grand tour he has started for the past three years, and therefore, any grand tour he chooses to start next year is pretty much his to lose.
Contador's arrival will more than make up for the loss of the Schelck brothers who, by all accounts, are set to announce the formation of a new Luxembourg-based team with directeur sportif Kim Andersen at the helm.
It's shrewd move by SunGard, which it clearly sees as providing a media platform to extend its brand on a global basis through its association with such an international and high-profile sport. But from a personal perspective, I'm just happy to see new sponsors supporting a sport that has seen its fair share of scandal and disappointment over the years.
Thanks Cris (Conde) and the SunGard team.
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