European ambition dashed as Continental status denied
As Pegasus Sports' bid to gain Continental status failed over the weekend, we take a look back at the highs and lows of a push by Chris White and his management team to create Australia's first-ever ProTeam or second-ever Professional Continental outfit.
After months of speculation surrounding sponsorship for the project, by early November Pegasus Sports' dreams of becoming a ProTeam were shattered when the UCI ranked it 23rd in the race for a ProLicence, meaning the option of a ProConti licence was on the table.
White said at the time: "2011 was always going to be a year of consolidation and building for us, that's exactly where we are - not a lot has changed. Certainly one of our objectives is to secure a Grand Tour start next year."
Despite some quality signings such as Robbie McEwen, Svein Tuft, Luke Roberts and Christian Knees, White began to realise the mammoth task of gaining a ProTeam licence.
"This has been just such a monumental task… The task [to apply for a ProTeam licence] has been so big, it's almost beaten me. It's just such a humungous undertaking – we've been hard at it for four months," he said.
"A lot of our resources and a lot of our effort has gone into applying for the licence… The life's been completely sucked out of us.
"I think the whole process is really... the whole ProTeam licensing process needs to be reviewed. It's really difficult to get certainty. To make such a heavy commitment before you've even turned a pedal in the process is really very, very difficult.
"The lack of certainty... and to only know the rankings occur after the process has basically finished – you can't go back and lodge any documents."
Knight in a ProConti coat?
White held out hope that the ProConti licence application would be successful, saying at the time: "You're just relieved; you've got a licence at the end of the day. It's a good landing place for us to be, and 2011 was always going to be a place for us to build from, so we're very pleased."
On December 7, Pegasus Sports' major backer in the form of the Gillett family withdrew its support after the Alberto Contador scandal created uncertainty amongst sponsors. White told his riders via email that this had occurred and that the team would not be receiving a ProConti licence.
Publically, he admitted: "What happened last week was that I didn't have enough time to deal with that situation and adequately complete the process with the UCI, so at the last minute, I had to apply for an extension in time. And I wouldn't have applied for that extension, had I thought we [did not] have a chance of replacing that funding.
"Yes, I have spoken to all the riders... and I have their commitment. But clearly, from a career-guidance [point of view]... my advice is to have a look at 'is there another option?' We've got our work to do, I'm confident we'll get it done, but we've got a job ahead of us... and it'd be silly not to have a back-up. But right now, everybody's committed through to our deadline.
"And this plan hasn't quite worked out. [But] we can make it work from here; there's strong commitment from everybody within the organisation and within team. And right now, we've got a financial gap to close; it's not a massive financial gap. And we're working with a number of interested parties to close that out.
"We believe that it's possible to do that and we believe that some of the discussions we're having are positive in that light, and we'll put together the paperwork and the agreements that meet the minimum requirements of the UCI."
Last ditch efforts...
White held out hope that the team would secure the money necessary to gain ProConti status, telling Cycling Central that the funds to secure the bank guarantee required by the UCI had been derived from "one of our existing sponsors upping their commitment".
"[The sponsor] has come from within the family," said White but cautioned, "This is not the time to put the cherry on top here yet."
The team's ProConti licence application was ultimately unsuccessful and on December 20 the UCI issued a statement outlining the reasons it decided upon declining the team a permit to contest some of the season's biggest races.
"Despite the extended deadline of 15th December that was exceptionally granted by the Licence Commission, Pegasus Sports did not provide either a bank guarantee or sufficient financial guarantees for 2011," said cycling's governing body.
"The Pegasus Sports file was evaluated for a possible registration as a Professional Continental Team. However, given the shortcomings on the financial side, which could not guarantee that the team would survive the whole 2011 season, this option also had to be rejected."
For the riders the situation was becoming grim; Luke Roberts, whose Milram team had announced it would fold at the end of 2010, faced a very uncertain future.
"It's extremely stressful for the riders over the last month; the position I was in at the Tour, with so many ProTour points... I made the decision to go with the Australian pro team and be a part of the project," Roberts told Cyclingnews.
"After what happened there are a lot of unanswered questions - I don't know whether to put the blame on the management or the blame lies with the UCI...
"To me there are just unanswered questions and at the end of the day it's the riders who are the victims of the whole thing. Some riders are lucky to get out and find spots somewhere else but there are still riders who are sitting here and have been totally burned by it."
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