Bora-Hansgrohe are officially getting wings with Red Bull - what does it mean for cycling?

Ralph Denk has confirmed that the huge energy drink company will be the title sponsor of his team from the 2024 Tour de France onwards, and big changes are on the horizon

The rumours have been swirling for long enough, but today, speaking from a quiet room in Turin, sipping a can of the stuff, just a few days before the start of the Giro d’Italia, Ralph Denk confirmed it: Red Bull is officially joining the WorldTour. From the 2024 Tour de France, Bora-Hansgrohe will be known as Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe, marking a significant milestone in the development of the team – and the sport as a whole. 

“The deal is done with Red Bull,” Denk said with satisfaction. “There has been a lot of paperwork in the last weeks which is behind us. From now on we can go forward. At the end of January, we got the green light from the antitrust organisation and in a few weeks we brought the deal to the end which I am super happy with.”

Denk’s happiness is understandable – the implications of Red Bull’s entry into cycling should not be underestimated. The energy drink giant has dipped its toe in the sport before, sponsoring the likes of Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock, but its choice to partner with an entire team marks a shift in approach from working with individuals to being a much more solid part in the structure of professional cycling. The brand’s collaboration with Bora’s development team, Grenke-Auto Eder, last year on the ‘Red Bull Junior Brothers’ programme was the first time the partnership came to fruition, but joining the WorldTour team is a big step forward for all involved. 

The bigger budget that Bora-Hansgrohe will have with Red Bull coming on board to work is going to bring plenty of changes to the structure of the organisation. Firstly, Denk was quick to stress that the partnership is long term, with a focus on developing young riders through a wider talent identification programme, rather than using the Red Bull cash to buy more of the current crop of super talents. With this, a new under-23 development squad is on the horizon for the German organisation.

“Team Grenke-Auto Eder is one of the strongest under-19 squads. We will fulfil the whole team structure with our own under-23 team in the future to prepare our talents that we already have in the pool to become professional bike riders,” Denk confirmed. “We missed this in the past as we didn't have the budget for a proper U23 team, but the main focus in the next few years is to create the next riders from scratch from our own talent pool. It’s nice to work with new athletes, it’s a big add on in our whole project.”

Denk’s long term vision for the project can be compared to the work that Red Bull has done on in Formula One. While the Red Bull F1 team debuted in 2005, it only won its first World Championship in 2010 with Sebastian Vettel. After that, the team steadily became a dominant force in motorsports, with Vettel then winning four championships a row, before another gap of eight years without a title until Max Verstappen’s dominant run over the past three seasons. Verstappen is under contract until 2028, a sign that Red Bull’s patience when it comes to achieving success has fruitful results.

“I think that it’s not just money, it's more the goals. If you have a long term project. I think you need financial stability, our project is very long term which is why we need the budget for that,” Denk responded when asked if money is crucial to achieving success in cycling. 

“Short term, you can move forward just with the passion of both the riders and staff. When we competed in the first Giro, our budget was less than two million but all riders finished the Giro and we had two second places on two stages which is a huge success for a small team. If you would like to move forward, you need a budget to keep all the riders and the staff who did a good job.

It’s not only on the sporting side where Denk expects Red Bull to have influence on his team. Alongside wanting to win the Tour de France, the German team boss also pointed to the team’s brand identity being a crucial pillar of the project.

“We want to be the most attractive brand in cycling. That’s a big goal for the whole project and it’s not something we can achieve from one week to the other, but this is the mid-term and long-term approach to the project,” Denk confirmed. “Red Bull saw potential in our project which makes me very proud and this is a huge announcement for us to bring the project forward.”

Denk confirmed that an entire rebrand of Bora-Hansgrohe will take place before the Tour de France, likely helped by Red Bull’s wealth of experience in exemplary marketing strategies. The energy drink company’s publicity stunts, their sponsorship of big-name celebrities and innovative use of social media will be crucial in helping Denk’s team and the entire sport attract a new generation of younger fans to cycling.

Whether Red Bull’s parent company, ‘Red Bull Advanced Technologies’, will become more involved in the technical side of Bora-Hansgrohe is yet to be seen. RBAT has collaborated with bike brand BMC on a number of projects in recent years, though Bora-Hansgrohe is currently sponsored by Specialized. This is something that has the potential to change given the new partnership between Red Bull and Bora-Hansgrohe, though Denk did not mention any likelihood of a shift in bike supplier for the team in his announcement.

Denk also declined to disclose any numbers when it came to what the exact budget of the Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe team would be, though it’s clear that the energy drink company’s sponsorship is having a big financial impact on the project. Should Denk stay true to his word that this money won’t be used to simply buy all of the sport’s biggest talents and monopolise the racing, the increased budget of Bora can only be seen as a positive for the sport. If the German team can raise its level, there will be a wider spread of talent at the top of racing, and we can avoid more podiums dominated by teams like Visma-Lease a Bike or UAE Team Emirates, which will lead to more engaging racing from a fan perspective.

Red Bull’s official involvement in cycling makes it one of a number of mainstream brands which have become part of the sport in recent seasons. It joins the likes of Lidl and Decathlon in the WorldTour, which are a move away from sponsorship from Arabian countries which is steadily having more influence on professional racing. 

“It was not always understandable why only national sponsors go in our sport before, because our sport is huge with the Giro and Tour. It’s necessary for our sport that we have international brands investing to make the sport bigger,” Denk commented. “A small part of the puzzle is also the Netflix documentary which has helped us to grow as well. It’s nice to see big brands arriving in cycling.”

Only time will tell whether Red Bull really gives Bora-Hansgrohe wings, but there are plenty of positive signs following Denk’s announcement. The investment in an under-23 development team and the focus on improving the sport’s visual identity will certainly help shape the future of cycling, but this will rely on the team staying true to their initial mission of growing in a sustainable way. If they buy up all the big talents for quick wins, then professional cycling will be in trouble. There’s still plenty of question marks over the implications of this partnership, but it’s an exciting time for bike racing.

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