Athertons Sign Three Year Deal With Trek
Gee, Rachel, Dan and Taylor Vernon make the switch in the biggest sponsorship deal of the year (so far!)
So one of the worst kept secrets (if you were in the know… or on the internet!) is that the Atherton race team of Gee, Rachel and Dan Atherton, and Taylor Vernon, will now be riding on Trek bikes and Bontrager (sister company of Trek) components.
The news broke earlier this week that after four years the Athertons had split (amicably it appears) with GT Bicycles. It had been a highly successful partnership with over 50 World Cup podiums, 3 World Championships, and 3 World Cup overall titles. We can only speculate as to how much the Athertons cost GT, but I think it is fair to say that they had a pretty good return. And lets not forget that the Athertons are about much more than just race results, they have a huge social media presence, feature in films/videos and of course are involved with many other events like Red Bull’s Hardline and Foxhunt... and that is worth a lot to sponsors.
"The focus for this program is to be the most successful DH team in the world." Trek
Brand association is a big thing and there is no doubt that the Athertons and GT had become a very strong force, it seemingly worked well for both parties… but obviously not well enough, it appears that the relationship had just run its course. The Athertons started out on Muddy Fox bikes, then moved to Giant, then Commencal and GT – this new deal with Trek can only be seen as a positive move for all of those involved. Of course there will be fall–out from this deal. What will happen to the current/previous Trek World Racing Team run by Martin Whitley and his 23 Degrees company? What about Brook MacDonald, Laurie Greenland and the other team mates, will they just slide on over to GT as it has been rumoured? I’m sure that there will be news soon.
Of course we wanted to know more about the Atherton and Trek deal so we contacted both parties. We spoke first to Dan Brown, Team Director at Atherton Racing:
Dirt: So four years with GT?
Dan: Yep, we’ve been with GT for four super successful years in which time we’ve racked–up a heap of success and been part of the development of two great bikes in the Fury (video here) and the Sanction. We’ve ridden with some great team-mates in Marc Beaumont, Taylor Vernon and Martin Maes, all of whom have had a really positive influence on the team and we’ve enjoyed being part of the worldwide GT family.
So what can you tell us about the new deal. Who is it with? What riders? How many years?
We’ll be riding for Trek, that’s Dan, Gee, Rachel and we’re delighted that Taylor Vernon will be staying with the team. There won’t be any change in back room staff here either. The initial agreement is for three years (as was the case with GT). We set a minimum term of three years because it’s vital for us to have enough time to work with a manufacturer on the bikes and to see the race results and the progression we can achieve. The Session is an awesome bike and Trek’s race shop are super-reactive and have already demonstrated the importance they place on rider feedback, so we’re stoked to get started.
"We set a minimum term of three years because it’s vital for us to have enough time to work with a manufacturer on the bikes and to see the race results and the progression we can achieve."
Is this an Atherton or a Trek team?
It’s both! As it’s been with GT, the Atherton family and Taylor will be riding for Trek Factory Racing. We’ll be having a change of look that’s for sure!
And Bontrager, will you be using any of their products?
Yes we’ll be using Bontrager products (wheels and tyres), that was integrated as part of the deal that we signed with Trek. We are still working with Shimano Pro, but we’ll be sad to say goodbye to Stan’s No tubes and to Continental, who’ve both been brilliant partners to work with as well as delivering rad products for us to race on, but all of us love change and what we’ve seen so far of the Bontrager product looks awesome.
"The Session is an awesome bike and Trek’s race shop are super-reactive and have already demonstrated the importance they place on rider feedback, so we’re stoked to get started."
Any other big sponsorships news for 2016?
As I said, we’ll say goodbye to Conti and Stan's, but no other big sponsorship news, our partners Red Bull, Silverline and Jeep, IXS, Bell, GoPro, Muc-off and Oakley will continue with us into the 2016 season as will Shimano, Fox, Pro and SRM on the component side.
Were you pushed or did you fall? Whose decision was it to move on from GT?
The decision was mutual. It’s obviously been a great partnership with World Championships for Martin, Gee and two for Rachel and 23 World Cups between us – that’s a pretty substantial haul in four years, but we are all driven to progress our riding, our bikes and the sport and making big changes like this energises us. We all believe that it’s vital to push beyond our comfort zone and strike out into new territories.
Are the reasons behind the move purely ‘business’, ‘financial’?
Well you can’t run a team without money so that’s a given, but for us it was vital that if we were to move it had to be about progression. It was about finding a team of people that we can work with to build better bikes, develop our team and the sport as a whole and above all to win races. We had a great relationship with GT, they listened to us and supported us all the way, so it was even more important for us.
Trek are one brand that has never won a male DH World Championship title. Does that put pressure on the team and especially on Gee?
Nobody could put more pressure on Gee than he puts on himself, whoever he’s riding for, in whatever circumstances the pressures are from within, the external factors aren’t an issue.
"It was about finding a team of people that we can work with to build better bikes, develop our team and the sport as a whole and above all to win races."
And what will happen to Martin (Maes)?
Martin is not only a phenomenon as a rider but the best team mate that we could ever have wished for. When he joined us as part of the Atherton Academy in 2012 he was just 15 and pretty shy; he’s grown-up with us and we’ve watched him lay waste to the Junior fields in Enduro and Downhill World Cups and develop into a very serious contender for an Enduro World Series win this season. We’ll be cheering him on all the way and we’re delighted with the move, it’s the perfect step for him and we’re confident that he’s in the best possible hands at this stage of his career. We’re expecting an announcement from his new team anytime so it’d be wrong to steal their thunder.
Where does this leave Dan, will/does he have a role in the new team?
Dan is the guiding light of Atherton Racing – his experience and expertise are invaluable to Gee, Rachel and Taylor at the races and look out for more from the Atherton Academy this year as we look to develop young riders. We’ll be supporting Kade Edwards through the BDS again this year and Rachel is actively looking for a female rider to work with. Dan plans to race two or three Enduro World Series as well as some other events. He’ll also focus on some major moving image projects, bike development for both the Session and the Slash and continue to work to progress the sport through projects such as Red Bull Hardline and others TBA.
So that was the word from the Atherton camp up in North Wales, but how about Trek over in their Wisconsin HQ? We spoke with Simon Thompson, Director of Sports Marketing & Racing at Trek:
Dirt: So what is the official title/name of the team?
Simon: It is Trek Factory Racing Downhill MTB.
So did this all come about? Have you been after the Athertons for a long time, had they always been on Trek's radar?
Beyond the results, we’ve always been fans of the professionalism the Atherton’s have brought the sport and the way they have pushed the boundaries of their athletic performances. It’s an approach that resonates well with the way Trek approaches racing and product development. When the team reached out to us late in the season we were open to see where it could go and the synergies were strong enough to commit to a partnership.
Is this purely a DH team?
This team is primarily focused on UCI World Cup DH and the biggest gravity races in the world. The focus for this program is to be the most successful DH team in the world. We will continue to operate the Trek Factory Racing Enduro MTB team and Dan Atherton has intentions to do a couple EWS events with that team in 2016 also. Gee, Dan and Rachel also continue to have their own events at the end of the season (Red Bull Foxhunt and Hardline, etc.) that we are fully supportive of.
"We’ve always been fans of the professionalism the Atherton’s have brought the sport and the way they have pushed the boundaries of their athletic performances."
You must be excited to have a woman back on the DH team. Is that an important element for you?
Absolutely! Rachel is passionate about getting more women riding and racing and she inspires both men and women with how she rides and what she has accomplished. We are thrilled to welcome her into the Trek family.
How many years have Trek and the Athertons signed up to?
An initial three year commitment, but we all expect this to be the start of a long-term partnership.
Will you just be supplying framesets?
This is a Trek and Bontrager sponsorship with frames, rims, tyres and components. The team will be using the current edition of the Session. The team retains (Shimano) Pro as a team sponsor, so Bontrager will be filling in a few minor hardware pieces and supporting the wheels and tyres with pumps, plus sealant and strips, etc.
Will there be a signature series of components from the Athertons?
There are no plans for this.
We've heard down the 'grapevine' that Trek is making an XXL frame for Gee. Can you confirm?
Trek will be working with Gee (and all the riders) on properly fitting them to the Trek Session and at this time Gee will be riding an XL Trek Session. We’ve looked at the numbers and we’re confident it will fit great and deliver to him an amazingly fast race bike. That said, we want to give our riders the best chance to win and in return learn as much about fit and biodynamics from our World Cup athletes.
"Rachel is passionate about getting more women riding and racing and she inspires both men and women with how she rides and what she has accomplished."
Where does this leave the Trek World Racing team and Martin Whitely? What will happen to the likes of Laurie Greenland, Brook MacDonald, etc.?
This new direction signifies the end of the great partnership with Martin and 23 Degrees who owned and operated Trek World Racing. It is a very amicable parting of ways after a hugely successful relationship. We are extremely proud of everything we accomplished together and all the athletes who rode for TWR over the years and we wish all of them and Martin the very best for the future.
I think I am right in saying that Trek still haven't won a male DH World Championship title. Is that one of your main aims with the team?
The UCI World Cup series and World Championships will be the main focus for TFR DH. We are very confident that bringing the talent and know-how of Atherton Racing together with the products, support and expertise from Trek and Bontrager we can have a lot of success together in the short and long term.
This shows the world that Trek are investing heavily in DH. How do you see it the future of downhill for Trek?
Obviously the Athertons will be ambassadors of the brand, and that will filter down. DH is a marquee MTB sport that pushes the limits of what humans and bicycle products are capable of. It’s essential that Trek is racing at the front in this category because what we learn helps us to make better technology and better products for everyone that loves to ride on the dirt. The fact that DH MTB continues to become more and more popular for Red Bull TV and they continue to invest in the sport also shows the value the sport can bring to the brand by exposing it to a wider audience as well.
"We are very confident that bringing the talent and know-how of Atherton Racing together with the products, support and expertise from Trek and Bontrager that we can have a lot of success together in the short and long term."
So there you have it, another chapter in both the Athertons’ and Trek’s history. From our point of view this can only be seen as a positive… a great team and a great bike. We know that the Athertons can do the job, they have super talented riders and super talented ‘back-room’ staff. And Trek? Well they have one of the best downhill bikes on the planet. This could quite well be a match made in heaven.