Interview: Edwin Bull on the End of Van Dessel’s 11-Year Cyclocross Team – Cyclocross Magazine

Yesterday, we brought you the news of the Van Dessel Cycles cyclocross program ending and heard from 2018 Nationals silver medalist Sunny Gilbert on her sponsor search and much more.

For that interview, we reached out to Van Dessel Cycle’s founder Edwin Bull to learn more about the company’s decision to pull back from sponsoring its Elite Women cyclocross racers, including Cassie Maximenko, Caroline Mani, Petra Schmidtmann and Sunny Gilbert, as well as its grassroots program.

Bull offered plenty of thoughts on the matter, far more than we used in the lead-in to the Gilbert interview.

Edwin Bull of Van Dessel Cycles reflects on 18 years of offering unique, versatile bikes at Interbike 2017 © Cyclocross Magazine

Bull has always been upfront, whether discussing his company’s challenges, new bikes or his singlespeed gear as a contender at Nationals (when others wouldn’t).

Today, we’ve got more of Bull’s thoughts on ending the cyclocross sponsorship, Van Dessel’s 11-year history sponsoring cyclocross racers, its involvement with Floyd’s Pro Cycling and potential future plans.

If there’s one thing that’s clear from Bull’s comments, it’s that he’s not excited about the decision. We’re also guessing that his use of passive voice implies that not every decision was his to make.

Van Dessel is owned by Kent International, the corporation behind Univega, Shogun, GMC, Northwoods, Weeride and Razor Bikes, and the company at Sea Otter said it’s investing heavily in sales reps and distribution.

See Bull’s thoughts below, which have been edited for clarity.

On the decision to end Van Dessel’s cyclocross sponsorship:

As far as the team and our decision to not continue the program for 2019-2020, it was not an easy choice to make. Sponsorship does have a cost, both financially and in terms of energy needed to do it well.

I take supporting the riders and making sure they have everything in place to focus and push beyond their limits very seriously. In order to run the program, we need to run it right, with the proper support structure in place. Not having everything buttoned up and running smoothly is no way to go into a season.

The athletes put everything into it, and if we can’t match that from a team perspective then we are not really helping them. Having the team where it needed to be was in jeopardy for next season and so a decision needed to be made.

As a small brand with very limited resources, where to put those resources is always a balancing act. Supporting a national and international Elite-level race program is a big investment of those resources. My philosophy has always been that if you’re going to do something, do it well, and so the amount of energy to keep everything growing and running smoothly over the long term does add up.

Edwin Bull brought the Van Dessel RV to many a cyclocross race and expo. photo: courtesy

We are a brand with racing at its heart and in its history, and it’s always been an investment I’ve been happy to make and something I really enjoy. At the end of 2018, we looked at the financial and time demands of everything and evaluated where we are and [looked at] our goals.

It was decided that we should take a step back and do things a bit differently for 2019-20. For this upcoming season we have put our [cyclocross] sponsorship commitments on hold a bit in order to put that energy towards strengthening our corporate structure and distribution.

Caroline Mani, like Sunny Gilbert, is looking for a cyclocross season sponsor. © R. Clark / Cyclocross Magazine

We will unfortunately not have cyclocross programs this season. Both the Elite and grassroots programs have been put on hold for the time being, allowing the brand to invest more resources toward building our dealer base and tightening up operations. We are not abandoning cyclocross or sponsorship, but for this season are reshuffling and refocusing that energy towards strengthening our operations and distribution efforts.

On supporting the Floyd’s Pro Cycling Team:

This does not at all mean the end of our commitment to sponsorship and supporting the sport however! We are proud to be working with the Floyd’s Pro Cycling Team this season and are still very active in sponsorship and supporting developing riders. I’m really happy about working with the Floyd’s Pro Cycling Team this year. It’s a great dedicated group, and they are focused not just on road racing, but also targeting gravel and mountain bike events.

As a bike brand active in all those categories we are really getting a tremendous amount of exposure in a lot of different categories with that. Unfortunately, no cyclocross for the time being, but of course I am hopeful some of the guys will get bit by the dirt bug and will want to give cyclocross a bit of a go.

Best of all, on a personal level with the Floyd’s program, Jake Sitler and Noah Granigan are on the team and that makes it really fun. Jake is a Van Dessel cyclocross alumnus and Noah has been a Van Dessel lifer since his early NJ junior days! I predict Noah will win US criterium title before long.

Just because we don’t have the capacity to do everything we want to do doesn’t mean we have any less passion for cyclocross and the racing. The Floyd’s team will be our sole sponsorship for 2019-20, but it’s not that one taking the place of the other.

Compared to running our own [cyclocross] program, Floyd’s is completely hands-off. Gord Fraser is running the team like a fine-tuned clock and that makes it easy for us. As we grow and strengthen our structure, we will come back to cyclocross stronger and better than ever.

Reflecting on Van Dessel’s cyclocross history:

The team started in earnest back in 2008 with Jeff Bahnson, 11 years ago. We had our local Van Dessel Factory Team of Bill Elliston, Gui Nelessen, Maurice Ghamano and me at the time.

Jeff was this really great and super talented kid from Newark, DE that really impressed the entire East Coast, especially as Juniors were racing on the course with the “35+ Elite” class at the time, which we were racing, and so we got to see a lot of Jeff riding his way to through the Masters field. The kid was just incredible and bursting with talent.

One year, Jeff sent me a photo of him winning 15-16 Nationals on his Gin & Trombones, and so we started helping him as much as we could and that really was the start of it all on a national/international level. Over the years many riders have come and gone: Adam McGrath, Mike Garrigan (2x Canadian National Champion), and many others.

Van Dessel’s first cyclocross national champion, Jeff Bahnson. photo: courtesy

When Mike Garrigan retired from racing, Cassie Maximenko was quickly stepping up the ranks in the UCI New England scene and had turned into a solid national-level Elite racer. She was racing for Bone’s Silver Bullet team on our Gin & Trombones, and we combined forces and the team sort of developed around her.

From there on into what it was the last two seasons with Cassie Maximenko, Caroline Mani, Petra Schmidtmann, and Sunny Gilbert, with Bones doing an incredible job with support at races. The energy on the team was really good over the years and was a tremendous amount of fun.

Cassie Maximenko at Jingle Cross. photo: courtesy

Our cyclocross sponsorship was very successful and highly rewarding. It was a great way for me to put my passion for racing back into the sport and a way to pay forward the support I have received over the years. Our cyclocross program has always received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from dealers and riders alike. We didn’t set out to have a women’s team intentionally, but that’s where we ended up and as a result our 48cm cyclocross frame sales doubled over the recent few years.

Cassie, Caroline, Petra, as well as Laura Van Gilder, Jessica Cutler with the NWCX project, the Vanderkitten CX crew of Alex Forte and Ellie Sterne, Natasha Elliott, and Sunny, of course, have all been really great to work with and have been the best brand ambassadors anyone could hope for.

Laura Van Gilder celebrates her last win as a Van Dessel Cycles athlete. Masters Women 55-59. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships, Louisville, KY. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

We have always been fortunate to have an incredible group of super positive and inspiring people representing us and working with all of them has been a blast. No doubt the popularity of our extra small size frames and the Full Tilt Boogie has been a direct result of their awesomeness and dedication.

On Sunny Gilbert’s silver medal ride at Nationals:

Seeing Sunny progress over the years and then ride this incredible race for second at Nationals was just the best. She has always been a rider that has impressed me tremendously with her talent, dedication and incredible personality. Her focus and energy are the best and seeing her and Doug make so many sacrifices to set up their season and come into Nationals 100% focused and ready—and then have it all fall into place with the perfect conditions and perfect race—was just the best thing ever. I knew she was going to have a really good ride at Nationals but watching the race and seeing her attack into second place and then owning it was really emotional.

Even Sunny Gilbert was a little surprised by her big ride. Elite Women. 2018 Cyclocross National Championships, Louisville, KY. © A. Yee / Cyclocross Magazine

I’m so proud of her and so happy to have been able to play a part in the journey to get her there. All the pieces that took to get there—the energy, the bikes, the focus and dedication, the sacrifices—that’s why I love what do what I do and what gets me out of bed in the morning. There’s a been a lot of good days like that, but Sunny’s ride at Nationals was a very special day.

Looking ahead:

Any brand or company would be incredibly lucky to work with Sunny, Caroline, Cassie and Petra. While I wish we could do everything we want to do and continue the journey we’ve been on with the cyclocross team, it came to a point where we couldn’t keep growing the program while also putting the focus and energy needed to grow the business and distribution side of the brand.

We will jump back in at some point, and no matter what or who anyone rides for, I’ll always do everything I can to help the riders along and will still be screaming my lungs out cheering them on at the races.