American cross-country racers Cole Paton and Savilia Blunk have launched a privateer program with title-sponsor support from Orange Seal. The independent, two-rider team will formally be known as the Orange Seal Privateer Program.
Paton and Blunk, formerly of the Giant Factory Off-Road Team and Liv Racing respectively, chose to go their own way this year to better control which sponsors they can work with, as well as their race calendar.
"We're really able to develop relationships with each partner," Paton said from a training block in Texas. "The new style of us managing our own team is we get to choose which races we go to and what events we show up to, and also who we get to work with, that's been really attractive to us."
Along with Orange Seal, the pair are supported by Pivot Cycles, DT Swiss and Fox suspension.
Securing sponsorship during the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, Paton said, especially since they didn't decide to form the program until October. With the pandemic impacting supply chains across the bike industry, the racers were not able to lock in a drivetrain sponsor, so they had to pay out-of-pocket for those parts.
As for race plans, Blunk will focus on World Cups as a last-year u23 rider. In 2019, she raced to multiple top-15 World Cup XCO finishes and a second-place finish at the U.S. XCO national championships.
Paton will focus primarily on domestic racing such as the Epic Rides marathon series and the USA Cycling Pro XCT series. He also rode to multiple top-15 World Cup finishes in 2019 as a u23 racer.
In addition to racing, the pair plan to give back to the mountain biking community through kids' development camps.
"A big part of our program is giving back to the younger youth, so we're really excited to bring that into our program throughout the year," Blunk said.
With brand sponsorship budgets constantly in flux, more riders are opting to take their own path down the trail as opposed to joining a traditional team.
In 2014, fellow American racer Payson McElveen launched a privateer program of his own, which led to him eventually connecting with Orange Seal. Blunk and Paton, who know McElveen from living in Durango, Colo., cite McElveen as an inspiration, being a rider who paved his own way into a successful career.
Orange Seal sponsors a number of top American cross-country athletes, including Alex Wild, who is targeting World Cup success this year with an eye toward the Olympic Games.
With the pandemic still impacting every aspect of life, Blunk and Paton recognize that their race and event plans may be impacted, but they're ready to press on with their new program.