A high performance car brand and the emissions-free pursuit of cycling may seem like strange bedfellows. But in recent years Maserati, the luxury sports car manufacturer, has been sponsoring high profile cycling events like the Tour de Yorkshire, the prestigious Rouleur Classic and the vintage cycling festival, Eroica Britannia. It even has a former professional bike racer, David Millar, as an ambassador. We spoke to Peter Denton, general manager of Maserati Northern Europe, to find out why.
When you first meet Peter, it becomes evident, very quickly, just how passionate this man is, not only for the car brand he represents, but for cycling. Having conquered Ventoux last year, he has a long bucket list of cycling challenges yet to be fulfilled and could recently be seen powering his way through the not insignificant matter of the 100km and 2,300m of climbing that is the Tour de Yorkshire sportive. Having done the shorter, 75 km route on the same day, I can vouch for the fact that it’s not exactly a gentle spin.
Dig a little deeper and this man has a remarkable story to tell regarding his own personal history with cycling. It was only a few years ago that his obsession was with another two-wheeled sport, that of motorbike racing, and interestingly it’s this that led him to embrace the pedal-powered variety.
Because in 2008, Peter was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and had a terrible accident while taking part in a motorbike race at Brands Hatch. The details of his injuries are too gruesome to go into here, but he could have lost his right leg, could have died in fact. “I knew it was bad when they started cutting off my leathers at the Medical centre – usually they ask you if that’s okay. But there was no conversation, the scissors just came straight out.”
After being helicoptered to the Royal London Hospital, he was fortunate enough to be treated by a doctor who had experience of working in war zones and the leg was saved, albeit with a great deal of titanium to hold it together. And although he was soon able to walk again, it became clear that many of the normal pursuits most of us take for granted, like running, were going to be out of the question.
So it was that he turned to the low impact sport of cycling to rehabilitate his leg and get fit and healthy again. Starting out on an £800 bike that he bought from Halfords, he rode solo for a couple of years before he felt he was at a good enough level to go out with other people. But it wasn’t long before he became drawn into the rich heritage that so many of us have been seduced by. “I realised there was so much more to it than riding a bike – there’s a whole world of inspiration, information, history.”
What’s more, he could see other people like himself, gripped by the cycling frenzy engulfing the nation, going through a similar evolution as they immersed themselves into cycling culture. Bikes, the kit that goes with them, the clothing, the sheer aesthetic beauty and style of the sport, following the Grand Tours – it was a whole new world many have embraced in recent years.
It was the connection he saw between cycling and a certain style that got him into thinking that this was an area that Maserati, purveyors of a certain flair themselves, should become involved in. “I thought that if these people were conscious of how they looked and felt on the bike, they’d probably start to feel like that about the car that they drive. How it makes them look and feel. That’s when the connection started. If Maserati had a message to get across, then probably that audience would be receptive to it and probably the environment of cycling would be a great way to get that message across.”
With a new price point that directly competes with mainstream car brands, and the new Levante entering the lucrative SUV market, Peter is spreading the word that the trident-badged Maserati is no longer the extravagant and whimsical choice for the super rich. Riding out with a group of 30 or so people over three or four hours is a good way of getting that across.
And then there’s David Millar, their brand ambassador. Millar was always one of the most glamorous bike riders around. “What I really like about David’s attitude to cycling is that it has to be stylish, it has to be graceful…” and to see him handle his bike on a recent preview of the Eroica route certainly confirmed that. While everyone else looked distinctly average in merino wool jerseys and (short) shorts, he was all languorous long limbs, swept back hair and big sunglasses. How was he able to ooze such old school cool in identical kit to the rest of us? Millar and Maserati are a pretty good fit, something that Peter was quick to identify and he’s delighted to have him on board.
Cycling to work from his home in Oxfordshire gives Peter a good base fitness to begin ticking off his bucket list. “The Mallorca 312 appeals,” he’s planning an assault on The Alpine Challenge and would love to tackle the Fred Whitton, an event that ranks alongside the Marmotte in terms of difficulty. “I won’t be fresh at the end but I’d love to do that.” For someone who’s had to overcome more difficulties than most in realising their cycling goals, I wouldn’t put anything past Peter Denton.
It comes as no surprise to hear that, six or seven years after taking those first tentative pedal strokes on an entry level bike, Peter has expanded his bike collection. Working for an Italian car brand, he has a penchant for Italian bikes, including a vintage Colnago that he plans to ride the 100 mile Eroica route on next month, not to mention a former Team Sky Pinarello Dogma bought at a charity auction. “I’ve gone as Italian as I can go!” It's that same Italian flair that Maserati are bringing back to cycling as they celebrate the style, elegance and glamour of our wonderful sport. Chapeau!
David Millar is an ambassador for Maserati GB, presenting partner of the Eroica Britannia Ride. For more information and to discover the all-new Maserati Levante visit: www.maserati.co.uk