A few times a year, the world’s professional road cyclists compete in their national kits rather than professional teams. In the case of Slovenian player Tadej ‘Tufts’ Pogačar, this means he swapped the white, black and red of UAE Team Emirates for a lime green Slovenian jersey during his time in Wollongong.
Even though riders don’t represent their usual sponsors, that doesn’t mean their World Cup kits are a sponsor-free zone. National federations often have their own group of supporters, and in the case of Slovenia – foremost on the chests and buttocks of their riders – is the name ‘NiceHash’, a cryptocurrency platform officially based in the British Virgin Islands, but in practical terms based in Slovenia.
If Slovenia’s crypto sponsor rings a bell, it’s probably because of the ill-fated WorldTour sponsorship from the second half of the 2022 season. Fear not: that was NextHash, and this is NiceHash.
But two they are connected.
As CyclingTips reported earlier this year, NextHash founder Ana Benčič was at one point a 35% shareholder in soundalike NiceHash. The latter company was on the verge of collapse after a group of North Korean military hackers stole US$80 million in bitcoins — just the tip of the crazy iceberg that is this story — and they accepted Bencic’s offer of investment to help right the ship.
When it became clear that Bencic didn’t actually have the investment ready, NiceHash sued her and her affiliates, resulting in their removal from the company. However, Benčič caught the crypto bug and soon after founded the similarly named NextHash. “Even the choice of name for her company is ridiculous to say the least, and her published materials are very similar to NiceHash,” NiceHash CMO Joe Downie told CyclingTips. “We just hope that people don’t confuse us [for NextHash]because we run a completely different type of business.”
Slovenia is a small country with a disproportionately large power in the cryptocurrency sector, so despite NextHash’s unfortunate legacy in this sport, NiceHash has not been deterred. At the beginning of this year, the company signed up as the main sponsor of the Cycling Association of Slovenia, and for the first year of the year, its brand was prominently placed in all disciplines of this sport. “We have been a minor sponsor of Slovenian cycling events for several years and this opportunity was the next logical step,” Downie told CyclingTips.
The sponsorship includes placing jerseys, banners and flags on the race routes and “video time with Roglič and Pogačar for some media campaigns.”
“The goals are mutually beneficial, as we promote both some of the best Slovenian athletes (on their side) and one of the largest Slovenian crypto companies (on our side) and to show that crypto is no longer in the shadows, but is receiving legitimate, mainstream attention and is useful for everyone,” Downie said.
While NiceHash’s partnership with the Slovenian Cycling Federation appears to be going smoothly, NextHash’s legacy in the sport is much more mixed. The team that sponsored it, Team Qhubeka-NextHash, ceased operations at the end of 2021, and team boss Doug Ryder is currently working on a return to the sport’s higher divisions. Regarding NextHash’s missing sponsorship payments, Ryder told CyclingTips today that “we’re trying to work things out and we’ve been in touch.”
Recent Slovenian media reports indicate that Benčič is accused of misusing company funds and faces up to eight years in prison.
So when you’re watching the Men’s World Championship Road Race and you see Tade Pogačar animating things with a crypto brand splashed across his kit – remember that NiceHash, no The next oneHash. For the sake of everyone involved, let’s hope this one is a success.