The hours following the announcement of the Velon business project were punctuated by a series of almost identikit press releases from the 11 member teams. Each declaration from team managers and riders was couched in remarkably similar language: stability, sustainability and new technology were the recurring buzzwords.
Velon's stated aim is "to drive a financial model that ensures a sustainable future for the teams," although its precise means of doing so remains unclear for the time being. It appears that lack of clarity was one reason why the FDJ team has opted out for now.
The absence of the Astana team of reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali as a founder member of Velon was surprising. Indeed, the Kazakh squad has since revealed that it was never formally approached to join Velon in the first instance. Astana is currently waiting for the UCI Licence Commission to confirm its WorldTour status for 2015 following a hearing to explain a spate of recent positive tests on the team.
"Representatives from the Velon project have not made any contact or proposal to the team," a spokesman for Astana told Cyclingnews on Wednesday.
A spokesman for Velon acknowledged that the group had not spoken directly with the team's general manager Alexandre Vinokourov but said that Astana's Monaco-based management company, which handles the team's business affairs, had been involved in a conference call on the project in the summer.
Along with Astana and FDJ, the other WorldTour teams who remain outside the Velon group are Movistar, Europcar, Ag2r-La Mondiale and Katusha.
In a statement to Velonews, Movistar confirmed that it had been involved in talks but suggested that, for now at least, the telecommunications company that sponsors the team is reluctant to enter into any collective deal on audio-visual content and television rights, which appears intrinsic to Velon's plans.
The Velon teams already struck an agreement to use on-board cameras at the Tour de Suisse, Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 2014, and the hope of member teams is that in future, such footage, as well as rider telemetry and audio from radio earpieces, could be commercialised and sold as a package to viewers.
"There 3.5 billion people watching the Tour," Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere suggested to Het Nieuwsblad. "Suppose that 10 million of them are willing to pay $5 each for such an app. Then you have $50 million in additional revenue, to be spread over eleven teams."
However, Europcar manager Jean-René Bernaudeau told L'Équipe that he was opposed to the idea of the group because he fears it might lead to the introduction of a closed league at the top flight of cycling. "Behind it there's always the idea to create a pro league like the NBA and I'm against that," he said.
FDJ manager Marc Madiot also decided not to sign his team up to the group, although he was careful to add that his was a "wait-and-see" approach rather than an outright dismissal of the project and its objectives. In a statement from the team to Cyclingnews, Madiot confirmed that FDJ had been approached by Velon and explained why he had opted out, for now at least.
"FDJ does not reject the project but its outline is still too fuzzy," Madiot said. "We are in a period of observation, many things will change from 2016 and in 2017 [the planned start date of the UCI's changes to the WorldTour structure – ed]. We don’t know what the future will be."
Madiot also explained that because the FDJ team is funded by the French national lottery, and, by extension, the French state, investing in a foreign company (Velon is based in the United Kingdom) would have been problematic.
"We didn’t go into Velon because we're a state enterprise and participation in Velon requires a financial commitment to a company based in England. So for purely legal reasons, it was difficult," Madiot said.
Cyclingnews contacted Velon to ask if any other teams with partial funding from state bodies had cited similar concerns. The lottery-sponsored Lotto-Belisol and LottoNL-Jumbo (currently Belkin) are signed up to Velon, for instance, but Astana and Katusha are not. Cyclingnews also asked Velon if it was possible to outline the kind of financial commitment demanded of each member team.
"Each team is different and each will make its own decisions for its own proper reasons as to whether or not to join the Group and we respect those positions," Velon CEO Graham Bartlett said in an email, although he did not mention the financial outlay involved nor did he refer to any individual team.
"The teams in Velon come from seven different nations and represent the growing global interest in the sport. There are eleven teams committed at the start of this venture and whilst its aim is to grow in number there's a great deal this group feel they can achieve right now. For all other teams, there’s an opportunity to join Velon not just as a shareholder but also as a business partner. There are many options to explore for positive benefits for both. We're open to talk."