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nats.'03

snoqualmie

After a brief period to check out dirt racing in 1992, I did my usual "jump in at the deep end," and took out a pro license. I certainly had the road/cross experience, but that was about as different as you could be from the local crop of mountain bike racers of that era. No one would really give me a chance with any kind of sponsorship. No one except Paul Sadoff at Rock Lobster Cycles. He had seen me race cross, and thought it was a good opportunity to take a chance on me, unproven in mountain bikes and all. Since I had road backing at the time, but needed dirt backing, I formed a completely new entity in Blackmarket Racing. I even wore my sponsored road clothing, but entered races under the Blackmarket Racing heading. My road team didn't really understand what the deal was, but I had essentially made them just another sponsor of my own team. The Blackmarket army of one was born.

After I won the Elite district cross championship in the 1994, I decided to make the jump to a bigger format. I wanted team clothes, team equipment, a uniform look that represented the professional image we were trying to convey. At that time, mountain bike racing was experiencing it's largest growth spurt; sponsors were flush with cash, but wanted a big bang for their buck. This meant that with respect to exposure, teams were being favored in lieu of single riders. Switching to a multi-rider team format would insure bigger exposure, and therefore bigger potential for sponsorship. We were also mainly a cyclocross team. The only way to get a lot of sponsorship was to pitch the idea that companies would get 12 months a year of exposure- myself in the Summer months, and the whole team all Winter. In this fashion, we were successfully able to piggy-back our cross team onto a mostly mountain bike-themed sponsorship package.

We started with three hand-picked riders. By the 1995 season we were up to five riders. Our biggest roster included seven riders. Since then, sponsorship of mountain bikes and mountain bike/cyclocross teams has seen a decline, and the team has been paired down and rebuilt several times. The thing I am most proud of about the team is the fact that we have been able to not only get new sponsors in these financially difficult times, but keep some of the very first sponsors we ever worked with. Paul at Rock Lobster Cycles is a perfect example of this. He has been my official frame builder for 22 seasons! There aren't many teams or riders that can say this. It is a testimony to what our team is, what we try to represent, the message we try to convey with our racing. It's about being passionate about something, and not compromising it just to get stuff. If we are riding something, we really like it. Otherwise I would just buy what I want, instead of just riding what comes free. If we call on a potential sponsor, the first thing I try to impress upon them is that they are being called because I believe in their product. And if they won't give it to me to represent, I'll probably just end up buying it in the end. You can't buy that kind of honest devotion or the interactive marketing that goes with it. And that's still what I consider our job is for our sponsors. (Although it should be known that I've had many a piece of equipment on my bike with the label taped over from potential sponsors that wouldn't give me the time of day...)

I wish I had some nifty motto or slogan for our team, but I don't really. At least not yet. I would rather be out racing than trying to think up clever tag lines. There may be more to come, but that's all I have for you right now. Thanks for taking the time to read this page through. I hope you understand myself and the team a little better for it.

Mark "Howie" Howland
Team Director


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