INSIDE STORY: TAG Heuer rekindle cycling love affair

Stuart Appleby 22/11/2016

TAG Heuer has gone back in time and rekindled its relationship with professional cycling after a 20-year hiatus but charismatic CEO Jean-Claude Biver can’t be accused of winding the clock back in his latest venture.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are arguably two of the very best exponents of man management football has seen.

While the Special One’s aura has taken a hit in the past two seasons, the legendary Scot embodied the ‘it’s my way or the high way approach’ – delivering success which cannot be questioned and probably won’t ever be matched either.

Current Red Devils boss Mourinho, for the most part, adopts the same ideology. But what do both famed managers have in common with Tag Heuer, the luxury Swiss watch manufacturing company?

Aside from sponsorship links down the years – with Tag being Manchester United’s current official timekeeper in addition to having had a long-standing connection with the Old Trafford club during Ferguson’s long tenure – and Mourinho too having a personal association with Tag – the answer is pretty simple.

Both Ferguson and Mourinho admire the management philosophy of Mr Biver and in two separate meetings with the 67-year old business tycoon – they have complimented his leadership style.

“Both Sir Alex and Jose have visited La Chaux-de-Fonds, our factory base in the Jura mountains, and although the visits were five years apart, they each liked the way I managed my people, spoke to them and the respect I show,” he told Sport360 in Doha.

“Sir Alex told me: ‘You can come and manage my team because you are a real manager’.”

Mourinho uttered near on identical words.

“It was the biggest compliment I could receive and one I’ll always remember. I say the same back to them,” he added.

“They respect the players – they don’t just use them and their key focus is to make them better and become successful.

“I’ve got to know both managers well, they are my friends. Jose is aggressive to the media sometimes but that isn’t the way he is, it’s a front to protect his players and people.

“He is a very nice human being and Sir Alex is the same – they enjoy getting the best out of people. And winning, of course.”

Biver’s strong faith in Manchester United has shown no sign up of let-up despite their dip in form on the pitch – as he feels their brand is as good as ever. He is not concerned at all – and why should he be – given the financial clout United still carry.

“The club is a huge, massive asset for Tag Heuer. Manchester United is a brand and they are more than a team. We want to support them more in this new era and take our relationship even further into Asian and Middle East markets,” the Tag supremo said, while also confirming he is in favour of the Premier League playing additional matches outside England in the future.

For Luxembourg-born Biver, who as President of the LVMH Watch Division is active across several high-profile watch brands and is known for producing famed cheese at his farm in the Swiss Alps, man-management is the key.

In fact, he is a complete opposite from a stereotypical CEO, given that he gets involved on the ground in his factory and is known for being very approachable and contactable for all his 42 years in business.

“I think to be a good manager you must love people and share the success, troubles, failures, vision and hope,” he said. “But, most importantly, treat people with respect. I forgive the mistakes – nobody is perfect. This is the way I handle people.”

And with that, comes his latest venture. From January 1 2017, the Swiss avant-garde watchmaker will be the BMC Racing Team’s official timekeeper.

The partnership is something of a throwback. In 1985, more than 30 years ago, TAG Heuer moved in earnest into the world of professional cycling as sponsor of the HEUER SKIL SEM team and its leader Sean Kelly.

And then from 1986-1987 to 1990, the brand’s involvement continued with Team KAS TAG HEUER and the American 7-Eleven Cycling Team, founded by none other than Jim Ochowicz – the current President and General Manager of the BMC Racing side.

It was an obvious choice for Biver to reconnect with the sport he loves, as many factors tempted him back.

“TAG and BMC are both Swiss, embody prestige and luxury and boast the latest technology. The owner, Andy Rihs, is a good friend of mine and we have always had a good relationship,” Biver said.

“We have the same production, our factories are close together, we know our people – there’s a real synergy. Cycling is one of the biggest growing sports, appealing from young to old, has health benefits and is constantly evolving.

“Take the hosting of the UCI Championships in Qatar in October – the first time the event has been staged in the Middle East – for example.

“Qatar has been clever and welcomed the future, combining and connecting with tomorrow and not to yesterday.”

Biver is keen to keep expanding Tag’s impressive arm of big-name clients. Indeed, their roster of football talent is actually overwhelming.

It currently includes the Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, the MLS, China’s Super League, the Australian National football team, the Copa America and International Champions Cup.

And while the aforementioned carry considerable clout, the endorsement and link with ambassador Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the most significant cogs they have in their sponsorship wheel at the moment.

“Cristiano brings a lot of followers! If he says ‘today, I’m going to wear my Tag Heuer’ – 100 million people will see and read it,” he explained.

“This is massive and what Cristiano does is make people dream.

“Young people are sometimes dreaming about actors, actresses, sports people and Cristiano is moving a lot of people – he brings us an image transfer, through the transformation of performance, success and awareness.”

Away from the glamour of Ronaldo and Co, Tag has definitely gone back to its roots by connecting with cycling again. For a sport which doesn’t exude the same kind of financial reward as football, the link-up is special for BMC, especially to one of their riders – experienced Australian road racing star Richie Porte.

He said: “When I was riding with Team Sky in 2013, I pointed out a watch to Chris Froome – my close mate and team-mate at the time. I said: ‘that’s my dream watch’.

“We went to the Tour de France that year and Froomy obviously had an incredible run and won the Yellow Jersey.

“I was there helping him so after the tour that’s what he got me, that exact Tag watch I had shown him.

“It was a really nice memento and this sponsorship means something to me.”

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Cycle Challenge set for UAE first with full road closures

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Organisers hope over 2,500 people will take part.

This year’s Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge continued Friday will enjoy full road closures for the 92km challenge in a first for an amateur cycling event in the UAE.

The announcement was made at the third Build-Up ride which saw over 600 cyclists from across the UAE take part at Al Qudra Cycle Track.

Now in its seventh year, organisers hope over 2,500 cycling enthusiasts from all over the world will take part in this year’s edition.

“It has taken almost seven years to make this announcement and we are thrilled with the support we have received from the Dubai Police, the Dubai Sports Council and the RTA who have all been instrumental in making this happen and special thanks to everyone involved,” said a Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge spokesperson.

“We are getting closer and closer to the 92km challenge and it’s great to see everyone continue with their training as they near the end goal. This morning’s atmosphere was fantastic and everyone seems very excited about the news.”

The event is highly popular.

The event is highly popular.

The final Build-Up ride will take place on 25 November at Al Qudra Cycle Track ahead of the 92km challenge taking place on Friday 16 December starting at Dubai Autodrome.

Juniors also have the opportunity to be involved in the cycling weekend with dedicated 15km and 30km Junior Rides taking place on Thursday, 15 December at the Dubai Autodrome.

To register or find out more about any of the Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge events please visit

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A Day With: The Arab cyclist leading the pack

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Big responsibility: Youcef Reguigui.

While some of us stumble upon our careers, for Youcef Reguigui, life as a professional cyclist was his destiny.

Following in the footsteps of his father, who was part of Algeria’s national cycling team, Reguigui was practically born into the sport.

Now 26, the North African sprinter has come a long way, as he rides for WorldTour outfit, Team Dimension Data, with Mark Cavendish as his team-mate. As the only Arab currently competing at this level, Reguigui stood out as he helped Cavendish win two stages in the Abu Dhabi Tour last weekend.

Sport360 caught up with him to find out about his journey from amateur rider in Algeria, to riding the Vuelta a Espana last year, and being one of Cavendish’s lead-out men in the peloton.

How did you get to join Team Dimension Data?

It was a very long journey before I managed to join a professional team like this. I got an opportunity to train at Centre Mondial (the UCI World Cycling Centre) in Switzerland from 2009 to 2011. And from then on, I won several Under-23 races that gave me a lot of motivation and pushed me forward in my career.

What encouraged you to join this team?

This is my fourth season with Dimension Data. I was in touch with other professional teams in France and Spain but this was a right fit because they’re an African team and they recruited many African riders in their first two years. So I chose to join them because I liked how they were helping African cyclists. My contract with them is still running in 2017 and we’ll see what happens after that.

How did you initially get into the sport?

My father used to be a cyclist in the Algerian national team. He wasn’t lucky enough to get a chance with a European professional team. I feel like I’m continuing his journey, and keeping the family name alive in the sport.

What was it like training at the Centre Mondial?

It was like a school that shows you how to be a professional rider without actually joining a professional team. It was a tough period though, I’d stay in Switzerland five months at a time, training hard and competing in races but thankfully I made the best out of it. Hopefully we see more Arab riders coming through the ranks. I’m still 26 and have many years ahead of me but I hope I can transfer my experience to a younger generation of Arab riders so they can represent us in the future.

Do you feel that being the sole Arab rider competing at this level, in a WorldTour team, is a big responsibility?

It is a huge responsibility especially when I’m competing in a Gulf country or any Arab country.

And what about your team-mates and other riders, are they curious about you being from an Arab country?

I get asked a lot about my how I made it, as an Algerian, Arab professional rider. They didn’t really know that cycling exists in Africa, and they ask me about my religion quite often, almost daily I receive one or two questions during team dinners. They are curious to know more every time they see something new.

Did things change drastically for you and the team when Mark Cavendish joined this year?

Yes for sure things changed. I’m very lucky to be in this position. After watching Mark Cavendish on TV for years, now I’m his leadout man. He created a different atmosphere within the team – having 30 Tour de France stage wins is no small feat. He created a different atmosphere outside of competition and during competition. Because riding a race with Mark Cavendish, you feel 100 per cent professional and there is no room for error. There is pressure for sure. But you get used to it.

From the outside, it’s not easy to figure out Cavendish, what’s he like as a teammate?

I myself had a wrong impression of him before he became my team-mate but since he joined, I got to know him well and he’s a good guy, he creates a fun environment within the team, always likes to share a good laugh… if you see him from afar, most people would say he’s arrogant but he really isn’t.

Enjoying life: Reguigui.

Enjoying life: Reguigui.

Your team is organised by the Qhubeka Foundation, the World Bicycle Relief ’s charity programme in South Africa. Tell me about the charity element of the team…

We work with them in providing youngsters and mothers with bicycles, to be used as transportation, in South Africa, Eritrea and other countries. It’s been going well and I hope we can also help North African countries.

What’s been your proudest moment so far as a cyclist?

Every race I contest, I make sure that I’m enjoying myself. Life is short and you have to enjoy it. I do my best to soak up the moment when I’m competing. I spent nine or 10 months of the year racing, and the rest I spend it with my family. I’m based in Italy but during the off-season, I go to Algiers with my wife and daughter, then we travel abroad for a bit.

You competed at the Olympics in Rio, how was that experience for you?

It was my first Olympics. As a sprinter, the route was not for me, with lots of climbs. But I enjoyed the experience and hopefully in 2020, the route in Tokyo will be flat which will help me do well.

What’s your impression of the Abu Dhabi Tour?

It’s my first time doing the Abu Dhabi Tour and it really is an honour for all Arabs. The organisation is great, which is no surprise for the UAE. All the riders have been really happy with this race.

What’s the biggest race you’ve taken part in?

I competed in the Vuelta a Espana last year. Let’s just say that I’ve made a huge leap since Vuelta 2015 until today.

I’m sure you looked up to your father growing up, but did you have any sporting idols?

I always admired Mark Cavendish as well as Edvald Boasson Hagen, who is a class rider.

What’s the reaction back home to your accomplishments, do the people in Algeria follow your results?

Thank God I feel like I have somewhat of a status in Arab cycling, not just in Algeria, and I hope I do my people proud and record good results so I can motivate the younger generation to follow suit.

What do you think young riders must do to try and follow in your footsteps?

They should take part in as many races abroad as possible, in Europe, and they should follow a strict training and put together a strong race programme.

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