Bid target Blacks seeks Evans Cycles link-up

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The Independent Online

Blacks Leisure was at the centre of takeover speculation yesterday as the leisure group unveiled a deal to get its own back at Halfords, which stole camping customers from the leisure group over its peak summer trading period.

Shares in Blacks, which blamed poor tent sales for issuing its second profit warning in just over a month on Wednesday, rose 15p to 410p after Mike Ashley, the secretive owner of Sports World, was linked with the company.

Mr Ashley, who has a reputation for trading in troubled sportswear groups, is understood to be behind an 11 per cent stake in Blacks Leisure which was declared by Man Financial.

Traders immediately bet that the billionaire sports entrepreneur could swoop on Blacks with a takeover offer. Yet in the past, Mr Ashley has amassed big stakes in JJB and John David Sports, only to later pare back his holdings. He is on holiday this week and Sports World declined to comment on its boss's intentions.

Separately, in a tit-for-tat battle for customers with Halfords, Blacks said it was linking up with Evans Cycles, the country's biggest independent bike chain. Blacks intends to open Evans Cycles concessions in its biggest out-of-town stores, which form the cornerstone of its expansion strategy. One will open on a trial basis, but if it is successful as many as six others could swiftly follow.

"We are both looking forward to working together to introduce a cycling offer alongside Blacks' specialist outdoor product range," Russell Hardy, Blacks' chief executive, said.

Competition from Halfords, which launched a camping range two years ago as part of its leisure offer, was partly to blame for Blacks' profit warning, after tent sales at its Millets chain fell short of its expectations.

In a sign of cycling's increasing popularity, Halfords, which sells one in every three bikes in the UK, is intending to open a chain of dedicated cycle shops under its Bikehut brand.

Blacks also said it had signed a five-year licensing deal with Australia's Gazal Corporation to sell the Mambo surf brand across Europe. It will take control of four UK-based Mambo stores as part of the deal.

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