It's more than just going out and riding your race. It's about the time, the sweat, the blood and tears that are put into getting to that race. It's the training: running up hill, pounding laps in the mud and muck, the down and dirty nitty gritty that gets you to the podium, and to many sponsors it counts just as much, if not more, than the podium itself.
"Training is so important," says Giroux. "It is just as important as everything else. Being dedicated to your sport, you have to train like an athlete because that is what you are." And Giroux has a good point on the training; he competes against riders who are younger than him on a regular basis, and he wins, because he is fit, because he is dedicated.
"It's like any job," agrees Hudgins. "You need to be able to put into it in order to get something out of it... We don't need someone who's going to be lazy, that's not what we're looking for. Someone who's dedicated to the sport, who goes above just racing and has riding schools, or is visible in their smaller riding community, is much more valuable to us as a rider."
I remember talking with one rider, after a less than expected finish, and he put it very clearly: "I know my sponsors will still be okay with the way I finished; I worked as hard as I could, I trained as hard as I could. I will continue to train. I will continue to improve. And they will continue to support me."
Realistically, if you've shown your improving, you've put in as much effort as you can, but your results aren't reflective of that, most sponsors will stand by you, so long as they've seen that the effort is there. It's when there's no improvement, and there is no sign that you're trying to improve, that sponsors start to get peeved. At the amateur level, there are plenty of cases where low level sponsorships (ie deals, a few free parts, good cost on equipment, some free gear here or there) exist where riders show lots of dedication but consistently fail to translate that dedication, those hours spent training, into results.
Now, that said, if you want to compete at the highest level, with the big boys and girls, you're going to need more than just heart and desire. No big sponsor is going to hang onto a rider who isn't worth their investment, regardless of how much he puts in.
It's almost Friday, and Friday will be the last in our series, looking at the final piece to the sponsorship puzzle.