A Pro’s Pivot: Now it’s a privateer life for me

·4 min read

Hannah Otto, formerly Finchamp, is a professional racer and VeloNews training columnist. She was named to the USA Cycling Olympic mountain bike long team, and races MTB World Cups and gravel races.

I am excited to announce that in 2022 I will be privateering. Honestly, excited is an understatement. I feel more motivated and inspired than I ever have before and that's for more reasons than you might expect.

What is privateering?

The word 'privateer' has become somewhat commonplace in the professional cycling world, but outside of our industry, that word might not mean a lot.

Privateering is when an individual gathers his or her own sponsors and funds their season and their salary through the collective sponsorship of those partners. Essentially, privateering means that an individual creates his or her own one-person team.

Since all of the sponsors come in at different price points and commit different levels of support, it's usually the lump sum of sponsors' investments that makes a privateer's program possible and profitable.

That means that the first contract you sign is a huge leap of faith. You have to bet on yourself. It's unlikely that you will have all of the contracts in hand at once and when you sign that first contract, you're committing to your privateer program. You're committing to finding more partners. You are betting on yourself.

Pivot Cycles and DT Swiss are heading up my program, and other major sponsors include Voler, The Feed, and Kenda.

Why privateer

As you can imagine, privateering isn't for everyone, it comes with its own sets of challenges and benefits. Looking at my career, I understand the desire to privateer and I also understand the desire to be on a team. The traditional team structure can make life a whole lot 'easier' and streamline many processes and outcomes, not to mention it comes with team camaraderie built in.

As a privateer you are responsible for planning your season, booking and scheduling your travel, running your own publicity, social media, communicating with sponsors, and more. The logistics alone can be intimidating. That said, being a privateer also removes a lot of red tape. There aren't so many approvals needed to run with an idea and it can be easier to pursue passions and dreams.

For example, often a team will hire an athlete to participate in the team's already established program, but a privateer will pitch their own program to sponsors in pursuit of a custom-designed schedule.

Why now

I've had this thought of becoming a privateer for a while now, but the time never seemed right. It can be intimidating to carry so much responsibility and to book those sponsors yourself. While on a team you can gain the support of a sponsor through collective results; as a privateer you can only pitch yourself. It's an extremely vulnerable experience and it took a lot of courage to just go for it.

Partway through last season, I felt like it was time to give privateering a shot. I tried talking myself out of the challenge, but it was calling my name. Could I really pull it off? Would people really believe in me that way I believe in myself?

It's easy to write this in retrospect now that the pieces have come together, but I write this from a place of much gratitude and humility. I felt inspired and motivated with every contract, offer, and agreement that was sent my way (the ones I signed and even those that I didn't). It is beyond exciting to know that people believe in me and that gives me even more belief in myself. Now, I know, I can do this.

What's in store for 2022

In 2022 I'm tackling my dream calendar, all made possible through the support of my sponsors and the privateer model.

I have big Olympic aspirations. As I sit typing this, I look up at an Eifel tower I have sitting on my kitchen table as a reminder. I've never been to Paris, but I hope to go in 2024.

That said, I love racing my bike every way I can so I will continue to diversify by racing the Life Time Grand Prix Series, Pro XCTs, and World Cups. It's a huge schedule and a lot to take on, but it's what I've always wanted to do and now is the time to go all-in.

Something that I have learned from this process is how much community really matters. While privateering may sound like a solo pursuit, I feel more connected to my community than ever before! I plan to lead group rides, clinics and discussions in 2022 and instead of finding me at a single team tent, you'll likely be seeing me all over the venue as I visit all my friends and partners at their booths.

I'm starting this New Year absolutely undone with gratitude, more motivated than ever, and I think you'll see that with every pedal stroke this season!

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