Europcar team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau says that he is confident that his team will survive into 2016. Bernaudeau has been busy courting new prospective sponsors after Europcar announced, last October, that they would pull their sponsorship at the end of 2015, after five seasons with the team.
“I have had several discussions with potential partners for 2016. Budgets are being considered. I am not worried, no, I'm still very confident,” he said in an interview with L’Équipe.
Bernaudeau’s team was refused a WorldTour licence at the end of last season after they failed to come up with the required budget for the top level of cycling (around €14 million). Due to one of their partners pulling out, the team fell short by around 6 per cent.
"I just had terrible weeks, the most ugly end to a year of my life,” he said. “I felt trapped because I am the head of a very big structure, with 26 riders under contract that I did not have the means to dismiss. I went to reason with the licence commission, in my fifteen years without smudge as a head of a team, my sport school training center, no salary ever late. A partner had withdrawn, I lacked 6% of the budget, a gold mine is half the average budget of a WorldTour team. I was hoping for a delay. I had naively trusted them, but the punishment came.”
The Europcar demotion was polarised by the UCI’s decision to allow Astana retain their WorldTour licence despite a series of high-profile doping cases in the latter half of 2014. Bernaudeau gave a pragmatic answer when asked if he was disappointed about the result. “If the license commission managed the Astana case with the severity that it extended to me, we can be reassured,” said the Europcar boss.
French cycling in trouble?
It is not just his own money problems that Bernaudeau is worrying about, economically, he believes that cycling in France is balancing on a financial knife edge. “The fact that it is based on three loyal sponsors (AG2R, Cofidis and FDJ) is not a healthy barometer,” Bernaudeau said.
“Those who practice today who are outbidding transfers should instead talk of compensation for our DN 1 (national level) teams, which make our riders and are all but suspended, endangered, with very precarious fiscal balances. This system is too closed. And this selfishness will kill us.”
In terms of results though, French cycling had a stellar year with two riders making it onto the Tour de France podium for the first time since 1981 (Richard Virenque was the last Frenchman step on the podium in 1997).
“If Bardet, Pinot and Barguil are willing to take risks with the heart, with panache, to race to win the Tour, even losing, as a result of rational scheme, then we would know what (Chris) Froome, who has always hidden behind his teammates in the climbs, is actually worth.”
Bernaudeau’s own Pierre Rolland was tipped as the next big thing when he claimed victory in the 2011 Tour de France young rider’s competition, finishing 10th overall and winning atop the Alpe d’Huez. The potential was never really borne out but he showed that riding with a certain amount of panache could produce results by finishing fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia and 11th at the Tour de France. With Europcar not riding the Giro, Rolland will turn all his attentions to the Tour in July and a course that Bernaudeau thinks is made for the 28-year-old.
“Last year he was criticized, insidiously, because he was trying the Giro-Tour double. It was daring. And this experience will serve him. This season, he will focus on the Tour. (Thomas) Voeckler, (Roman) Sicard and (Cyril) Gautier will be there to help. And the course of the 2015 Tour, with five mountain top finishes, is for Rolland, so we'll see.”