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Aqua Blue Sport – your team

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3 Apr 2018
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Aquabluesport.com is transforming the way you shop… and how professional cycling is run

If you follow pro cycling, chances are you’re familiar with Aqua Blue Sport, the Irish team who made headlines last year by taking thrilling stage wins at the Tour de Suisse and Vuelta a Espana in what was their debut season.

But what has arguably ridden under the radar is that Aqua Blue Sport isn’t just a pro cycling team, it’s also a successful and growing e-commerce platform, aquabluesport.com, whose goal is to change the way you shop, and change how professional cycling teams are run.

The Amazon of cycling

Aquabluesport.com is an online retail platform bringing bike brands and independent cycling retailers together under one digital roof.

From bikes, components, clothing and accessories to training plans and holidays, cyclists of all levels and disciplines will find a wealth of products on offer, plus all the latest team news and expert articles on training, nutrition, bike tech and more.

It’s very much like the Amazon model but dedicated purely to cycling products, giving consumers access to the widest choice of great-value gear available from hundreds of retailers worldwide.

'Aqua Blue Sport isn’t just a team sponsor,' explains owner Rick Delaney. 'Aqua Blue Sport is the entire project, encompassing both the pro team on the road and the online marketplace, the profits from which are funnelled back into funding the pro team.

'It’s a synergistic relationship: the pro team promotes awareness of the business, and the business helps keep the pro riders on the road. We’re all part of the same team.'

This tandem approach is key to Delaney’s vision for the future of pro cycling, a sport where all too often teams are at the whim of third-party sponsors and survival is a season-to-season business.

'As a lifelong fan of cycling I wanted to create something different,' Delaney says. 'A business model where the future of a team lies in its own hands, plus a digital destination that puts independent bike shops and brands on a level playing field, and gives consumers the opportunity to shop for great deals.'

On the road, the team has enjoyed considerable success since making its debut in January 2017, culminating in a Grand Tour stage win for Stefan Denifl at last year’s Vuelta.

The team was also a visible presence at the spring Classics and includes in its ranks British strongmen Adam Blythe and Andy Fenn, as well as US national champion Larry Warbasse.

On the flipside, the e-commerce project has also been growing healthily, with over 100 international cycle retailers and brands signed up to the platform as sellers, and a database of almost 6,000 products now live.

'When you’re shopping with us, you can buy a bike from a local shop in Dublin, a jersey from a boutique brand in Bristol and a box of energy bars direct from the manufacturer in Spain,' says Delaney.

'They all go into one basket, are paid for in the same transaction and are shipped right to your door, without the hassle of having to browse multiple sites trying to chase down the best deals.'

Canny shoppers can browse bike deals from across the UK and Ireland to make sure they’re getting the best possible price, while in turn retailers benefit from their products enjoying a much wider reach than just their own shop floor.

It’s a win-win situation – for the Aqua Blue Sport riders, for partner retailers and, ultimately, for cycling fans.

With aquabluesport.com now having a firm foothold in the UK and Irish markets, Delaney has his sights set further afield, with boots already on the ground in Australia, and plans well underway to expand into the US market, where the brand already enjoys name recognition thanks to Warbasse, riding in the Stars and Stripes jersey of the national champion.

WorldTour ambitions

On the sporting front, the long term ambition is to gain WorldTour status, and riders of the calibre of Tour du Suisse 2017 stage winner Warbasse and Irish duo Conor Dunne and the flaxen-haired Shane Archbold, are doing their bit to help make that dream a reality.

But WorldTour promotion doesn’t come cheap. The precarious nature of financing professional cycling came under the Cyclist microscope back in 2014, when acclaimed teams Euskaltel-Euskadi and Vacansoleil-DCM folded through lack of funds.

'Fixed costs each season amount to about €2million,’ explained Vacansoleil-DCM owner Daan Luijkx at the time.

'That’s for the UCI race licence (€50,000), anti-doping contribution (€120,000), renting cars… In fact, we spent €500,000 on hotels and plane tickets and €250,000 on petrol. In addition to that you have €2million for the staff, so that’s a baseline of €4million. The rest you can spend on riders.'

'Teams are built on quicksand,' added Jonathan Vaughters of Slipstream (now EF Education First–Drapac).

‘All of the employees, the riders, soigneurs, mechanics, they have a constant feeling of insecurity. Is this team going to be financially viable six months from now? Yes? No? Maybe?'

It’s partly down to a lack of TV money and partly because, unlike sports like football, there are no ticket sales to bring in revenues.

It means professional cycling is totally reliant on sponsorship, and teams simply can’t operate without it. In fact, just last year Vaughters’ team nearly joined Euskaltel and Vacansoleil on pro cycling’s scrap heap before a last-ditch deal with EF Education First saved them.

You fund the team

As for Aqua Blue Sport, Delaney’s initial commitment is for four years. The team are in their second year. So what does the future hold beyond 2020?

That’s where the e-commerce side of the business comes in. You see, aquabluesport.com is not purely trying to change the way you shop – it’s looking to change the whole fabric of professional cycling.

Whatever you purchase from the site – whether it’s DT Swiss mountain bike wheels, Altura jackets or Garmin bike computers – every penny of profit is invested directly in the professional team.

'There is no line where the team stops and aquabluesport.com begins,’ emphasises Delaney. ‘It’s two sides of the same coin – your purchases on the site directly fund the team and benefit our retail partners.

'At the same time it’s not a charity exercise,' Delaney adds. ‘We are working hard to challenge the established online giants in terms of competitiveness, benchmarking our prices, sourcing the best deals and offering chunky discounts directly to consumers.'

Professional cycling is arguably the most democratic sport in the world. Where else, for example, can you potentially ride shoulder-to-shoulder with a professional sportsman for free?

It’s a notion that the game-changing Aqua Blue Sport model embraces fully by providing a stronger bridge between recreational riders and the elite, one that is further strengthened by the team’s riders regularly turning up for ride-outs at retailers who link up with aquabluesport.com.

That openness extends to online communities, too, with Aqua Blue Sport riders regularly engaging on Twitter with both retailers and recreational riders.

'We’re in this business because we love cycling and we believe we have something to offer consumers,' Delaney said.

Delaney says his ambition is to see an Aqua Blue Sport rider sprinting to victory down the Champs Elysees in the Tour de France.

Could this dream come true? Because of aquabluesport.com’s funding model, in many ways that’s down to you the consumer.

But with so many brands and so many great deals showcasing the best gear at the best prices, we feel they have every chance.