Rock Racing - Michael Ball Interview: No apologies, no regrets
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Saturday, March 6, 2010

Michael Ball Interview: No apologies, no regrets

by Neil Browne at 1:19 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews

When fashion designer Michael Ball hit the professional cycling scene in 2007, he brought with him the rebel attitude that embodied his Rock Racing team. He developed a love-hate relationship with the cycling community, where in most cases people would either love him, or they would hate him.

Ball has maintained that, while many of the riders he hired had a tainted past, everyone deserved a second chance, and he didn't have any qualms about giving it to them. For a sport that has been dogged by doping controversies in the last few years, the mere mention of Rock Racing would fuel heated debates about the subject.

Last year Ball decided to up the ante with the team and apply for a UCI Professional Continental license in an effort to take his team to Europe to race. He decided to hire American Floyd Landis to ride alongside Spaniards Oscar Sevilla, Francisco Mancebo and José Enrique Gutiérrez across the pond. The International Cycling Union denied the team's application as well as the appeal on the denial, and recently decided not to approve the team's subsequent application for a Mexican Continental license.

Now the Rock Racing team has exhausted its options to race professionally in 2010, leaving its contracted riders without a place to ride in a season that's already begun. VeloNation spoke to Ball about the situation, and discussed what happened over last couple of months, what's going to happen to the riders that were under contract and what the future holds for the Rock Racing team.

VeloNation: Months ago you tried to register the team as a Pro Continental squad but were denied by the UCI. You tried to register the team as a Continental squad, but were denied again. There were reports that you were trying to register the team in Mexico after that.

Michael Ball: That was from the beginning. Here is how screwed up the UCI is. All of our registration papers came from Mexico and they continued to call it an American team. No idiots read your e-mails and the forms! You know, they still have my money. They [UCI] still have my half-million dollars for the bank guarantee when we were trying to be Pro Continental.

VN: So here's these riders that have signed for Rock Racing this year. Doesn't that money go to them?

Ball: It was there for them if we got our [Continental] license. Yeah absolutely, if we got our license. When we didn't get our license, what am I supposed to do? Give them free money? What do I get out of it – nothing. That's the other jacked up thing about the sport. I could tell you rider after rider who says, 'You know man. I just don't feel like racing right now.' There are very few athletes that are like Tyler Hamilton who will compete and race no matter what because it is their job and their responsibility.

[Francisco] Mancebo, [Oscar] Sevilla, [Victor Hugo] Peña are real stellar, blue collar riders. They are not trying to scam someone. That's another thing I learned about this sport. There are so many scam artists who are just looking out for themselves and stab someone in the back. You only hear one side which says, I am this or I am that. But you don't know the other side of the story. I don't have the time or interest to defend myself. I don't need to. I have done and accomplished things that any of these riders in hundred lifetimes would never come close to.

VN: So where does this leave the team now? Guys are retiring or they have been given the opportunity to look for another team.

Ball: No, no, no. We are now going to be the baddest, fastest amateur team on the planet [laughing]! We are going to go to every race that we can, as long as the promoters want us, and kick everyone's ass like we have every year that we have been able to race.

It is a bad ass team. The core guys will be there. Gutierrez unfortunately retired. We were trying to do something like have him come on as a director sportif, but that didn't work out. However the team will be Mancebo, Sevilla, Pena, [Glen] Chadwick, three Mexicans and a Columbian. It's an eight man team.

VN: What about Freddy Rodriguez and Floyd Landis?

Ball: Let me tell you something about Floyd. I like the guy, but his idea of business dealings were not a lot to be desired. It didn't work out in the end because I couldn't take his word, so it ended. I'm fine with that. It didn't end in a bad way, but didn't end in a good way.

VN: What about Fred Rodriguez? He has been with you since the beginning.

Ball: I have to be honest with you, no one wanted to race with Freddy. The other riders did not want to race with him. He is a great guy, great athlete, but very difficult. What am I supposed to do when they [riders] are saying they do not want to race with him? You have to have the team dynamics. It's unfortunate, he is a great athlete and great guy, but I can't pay him for nothing.

It's unfortunate that [Patrick] McCarthy and Tony Cruz got caught up in it. It sucks. But I have no apology. I have done everything I can for this sport. I give the sport a different face, another option for the fans and to give riders who really deserve to race the opportunity to continue and draw a paycheck. There is not another person that can say they gave as much as I have financially, except for maybe Doug Ellis.

I have given my own personal wealth into this sport, even to the point where I am supporting the sport of cycling in the US through sponsoring races and underwriting events. To that point when Medalist Sports came to me in the 11th hour and said they needed more money to put on the national championships [2008 U.S. Cycling Championships in Greenville], they asked if I would be interested. I said, 'Sure, what is the return on this? What kind of marketing and branding?' They told me and we did it. I helped facilitate that race. Then in 2009 they did not invite us to the Tour of Missouri. They are some of the most unethical, hypocritical people I have ever met in my dealings in business. I have never seen anything like it.

VN: So why do you think that after you gave them money to support the U.S. Cycling Championships in 2008 they turn around in 2009 and do not invite the team to the Tour of Missouri?

Ball: Because they do not like me, and they used me. That's the thing with the sport. People just use each other. It's pretty crazy. They just used me and my money. They were happy to take my check. I'm sure if I said I would sponsor of the Tour of Missouri they would have let me in. Look at the Tour de Georgia. I had to sue them and then turn around and give them an “X” amount of dollars. I had to pay to race. Absolutely ridiculous!

VN: There were reports that you owed Medalist Sports money.

Ball: I don't owe medalist anything. They know that. Show me where I owe them money. Sue me then if I do. I don't owe anyone money.

VN: With the team reverting to an amateur status and you retaining the core riders, how are they making a living?

Ball: They are still drawing a paycheck. They can't race for free and I understand that. They are going to be the highest paid amateurs. It will be the fastest amateur team on the planet.

VN: So at races where you have done well at like Tour of Utah...

Ball: Don't forget Cascade [Classic], Vuelta a Chihuahua, Tour of California, where we would have podiumed if Mancebo hadn't crashed. If he hadn't crashed we were going to crush them on the last stage. Can you imagine if Mancebo was still there and what we could have done? Mancebo was, by far, the strongest rider there without a doubt. He was getting stronger every day.

Part 2 of the VeloNation's interview with Michael Ball concludes on Monday with his plans for the future of the team, the branding of Rock Racing and what he would change in the sport of cycling if he could.

Continue to Part 2 of our Interview with Michael Ball


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