Top cyclists are hoping for a Norwegian pro team sponsored by salmon farmers

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Norway’s two top cyclists, Alexander Kristoff (30) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (30), will be the center of attention during The 2017 UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway this wekk. Now they are hoping for a Norwegian professional cycling team sponsored by salmon farmers.

All eyes are on Bergen this week, as 300 million TV viewers tune in to watch the 2017 UCI Road World Championships in cycling from 16-24. September. The main event is the Men’s Elite Road Race on the 24th of September. On the starting line are both Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Kristoff won the prestigious Tour of Flanders in 2015, and finally gets to compete on home soil. Last time Norway had the world championships, was way back in 1993 in Oslo.

Alexander Kristoff. PHOTO: Alexander Kristoff/Facebook

“I look forward to it. It’s going to be really cool, and I guess it’s the only time in my career the world championships will be at home. I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life, ” Kristoff told SalmonBusiness.

Dreaming of a Norwegian cycling team
Now Kristoff hopes for a Norwegian professional cycling team.

“A Norwegian team has been waiting in the wings for a long time. One must get a sponsor who is willing to pay. It costs €10m to have a good cycling team. It’s not cheap,” he says.

Kristoff also believes that companies within the aquaculture industry should look into the possibility of sponsoring a cycling team.

“We have some companies which have the muscle to go in, but there’s still a way to go until that happens. But nothing would be cooler than finishing my career on a Norwegian pro team.”

Kristoff has the support of another Norwegian cycling star, Edvald Boasson Hagen. Boasson Hagen has previously won stages in the Tour de France.

Edvald Boasson Hagen. PHOTO: Edvald Boasson Hagen/Facebook

“Yes, it could certainly work. It would be very nice if a Norwegian sponsor could come in.”

“Why do you think that no companies, for example in the aquaculture industry, have been tempted by the idea of a Norwegian pro team?”

“Nobody has done it before, and they might not dare to enter because of the big money involved. But you will get a lot of return on your investment, I can say that even though I’m not a marketing director. Look at the Tour de France – three weeks with coverage all over the world. There should definitely be a Norwegian pro team,” says Boasson Hagen.

Salmon Hill
The Norwegian Seafood Council is the general sponsor of the Norwegian Cycling Federation, as well as the championships in Bergen. During the championships, the company will be visible and represented by six employees.

One of these is Bjorn-Erik Stabell, industry manager for salmon and trout in the Norwegian Seafood Council.

He says they will have a large truck standing in the center of Bergen throughout the whole event.

Bjorn-Erik Stabell. PHOTO: Twitter

“The vision of it is to provide visibility to the aquaculture industry. The public will have a chance to feel how it is cycling up the Salmon Hill,” he says.

With its gradient of 6.4% over 1.5 km, the Salmon Hill is an obstacle you need to master if you want to win the UCI rainbow jersey.

Stabell himself thinks he will find it hard work to climb the hill.

“That hill is really tough. I hear rumors that I’ll find it challenging to climb it. I’m glad I just have to ride it once.”

But unlike Stabell, Kristoff and Boasson Hagen will ride the same hill 12 times during the Men Elite Road Race.

“I do not regard myself as a favorite. That hill is not easy. The question is if I’m strong enough to keep up with Sagan and those guys, who are usually stronger on the hills. But it’s a fair distance from the hill to the finish, and that might be of benefit to me. But there’s a lot that needs to go in my favor if I’m going to win,” says a realistic Kristoff.

Boasson, on his part, thinks he can win.

“I definitely have opportunities and I have done well lately. I hope my form will still be good and it will last during the week. The course fits me pretty well, also the hill. But cycling it 12 times will, of course, be hard,” he says.

PHOTO: Anne Forsland

But he adds that there are a thousand different scenarios that can happen during the race, and that he must see how the pace is being driven by the others in the field.

Praises cooperation agreement
Harald Tiedemann Hansen, president of the Norwegian Cycling Federation and president of the championships, announces that everything is ready for the event.

“It looks great.”

In 2016, the Norwegian Cycling Federation and the Norwegian Seafood Council signed a cooperation agreement that runs until 2018.

An agreement Tiedemann Hansen hopes will be extended.

“We would like to continue this cooperation. We have had a very good time together. The Seafood Council has been proactive and incredibly good with new ideas. They have been very visible. I sincerely hope for further cooperation after these championships. We get together very well,” says Hansen.

Tiedemann Hansen, who himself was an active cyclist from 1970 to 1980 and chairman of the Cycling Federation since 2008, says the Seafood Council’s approach has been a breath of fresh air to the organization.

Harald Tiedemann Hansen. PHOTO: The Norwegian Cycling Federation

“An actor like the Seafood Council is incredibly important to develop the sport. If we can find a common platform with them, then it’s worthwhile to continue. We can promote salmon and seafood in a good way.”

He describes the past ten years as “adventurous”.

“Looking at the last ten years, it has been a dream come true to be head of the Cycling Federation.”

Tiedemann Hansen also believes that a Norwegian pro-team with fish farmers as sponsors can be a good idea.

“I think it would have been very good for Norwegian cycling, and have a huge market value for the industry. There are many who follow cycling, and it is shown on television in many countries. It’s a very long season. There are many hours of coverage where the name of sponsors is repeated. That is absolutely something to think about, ” says Hansen.

Salmon Jersey
One of the ideas is a salmon jersey during this year’s championships, which would go to the most active riders in the joint starts. The most active rider is the one who has helped to set the pace throughout the race.

“We have a salmon jersey for the most active rider in all the joint starts. They thought it was completely impossible to get it done. But Harald Tidemann & Co have made it happen,” says Stabell.

He will not predict any favorites for the jersey.

“I’m not going to predict who has the opportunity, its just not my thing,” he says.

But he is very happy he has got to know the sport.

“I have to admit that during the year I’ve learned the environment, I’m very impressed. There are very nice people both on the women’s and men’s sides. They are incredibly easy to get along with.”

Noticed changed
Bjorn-Erik Stabell says it’s a little early to talk about extending the agreement with the Cycling Federation, but he is very pleased with the deal so far.

“We get good coverage on TV. It is amazing advertising for the aquaculture industry. The cooperation has been very good.”

– Why did you decide to sponsor cycling?

“That’s a very good question. Cycling shows Norway at its best, not just a small geographical area. We saw that during the Arctic race. It takes place where people live on the coast. It suits us very well. Furthermore, the Cycling Federation has made progress, and has brought forward Kristoff and Boasson among others. New talents emerge and match the aquaculture industry, which succeeds in what it does. The last link is that top athletes require a good diet. Many of them eat a lot of salmon, which is important for top athletes.”

PHOTO: Anne Forsland

Both Kristoff and Boasson are grateful for the deal.

“It is important to have strong players backing you. All teams must be backed by sponsors for things to move forward, and there will be better conditions then. It has been great for the Cycling Federation, and we notice an improvement in the quality.”

Do you have any concrete examples of how you have noticed better quality?”

– We receive more support from the staff. Also the hotel standard has improved. You notice a difference between 4-5 star hotels compared to 2-3 stars. Food and relaxation before a championship is important. If you are sleeping better at night, then you have more power during the day. And we have enough mechanics for the bikes, so they are in peak condition. Also, we have enough massagers for recuperation, so we get ready for the race. The better the economy, the more pro it is,” says Kristoff.

Kristoff appreciates a dish of salmon.

“We include a lot of salmon in the diet, during the fish dinner it is typically salmon we eat. It’s the fish I like best.”

Boasson Hagen also says it is important to have a major player such as the Norwegian Seafood Council, and believes it is essential for the existence of a national team.

“It’s really good. We could not have had a national team without good players behind. It is very positive, and a major player makes it possible to do things,” says Boasson Hagen.

Better reputation
The cycling has previously had problems with the reputation due to several doping cases, but in recent years the situation has improved dramatically. The aquaculture industry itself has been keen to strengthen its reputation.

But Bjorn-Erik Stabell says he has not thought about that link, although he acknowledges that there is a much better situation in cycling now.

“We are really impressed with the job they have done and that they have been so clear about it with zero tolerance of doping. There has been a rigorous focus on the problem. We have a clause that says if doping is becoming a problem, then we can pull out. It says a lot about how seriously we are approaching this.”