Jean-René Bernadeau is facing a race against time to secure the future of the Europcar team. The car rental company’s sponsorship of the French Pro Continental team runs out at the end of 2015 and they announced at the end of last year that they won't be renewing.
This has left Bernaudeau struggling to find a sponsorship deal that would prevent the team from folding and riders and staff finding themselves out of work. With interest in cycling at its peak during the Tour de France, the manager and former rider is currently in negotiations but riders will understandably be getting twitchy and may be thinking about trying to secure a deal elsewhere.
L’Equipe reported that Bernaudeau has asked his riders to allow him two weeks to find a deal, after which they are free to sign contracts with other teams.
“I have never lied, I have contacts and plenty of meetings. I’m going to Paris on Wednesday for two days. I’m not messing them around, I tell them the truth. I’m not going to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower," said Bernaudeau in an interview with RMC Sport.
"I know I have some good avenues. I know I could have signed something three weeks ago, but that came to nothing. But today I am sure of what I am offering; I know that there is interest. The Tour de France also raises interest."
The team developed from the Vendée U amateur set-up and entered the professional ranks in 2000 as Bonjour. Europcar took over as the main financial backer after its previous title sponsor Bouygues Telecom pulled out at the end of the 2010 season and the team jumped up to WorldTour level for a year in 2014.
“I need 5,5 million euros to cover my budget," continued Bernaudeau. "We have a team which, when things aren’t going so well and we are having less success, is still there nonetheless. We embrace victory. Our Tours de France are good, more or less in line with the exploits of 2011 and 2012. We have had two jerseys in Paris and five stage wins in five years."
It has been reported that Bryan Coquard could join IAM Cycling for 2016, though no signings can become official before the window opens on August 1. As teams snap up riders and fill their rosters, there may come a point, if it hasn’t been reached already, where Europcar riders lose faith and pragmatism becomes the priority. Bernaudeau insists his riders are faithful at this point in time and that while it would be disappointing if one or two were to jump ship, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“They have confidence in me, I have confidence in them. I say to them: ‘first of all, your performances are your assets but don’t forget those who work in the background - thanks to them, you will be able to have a big market value'. So I do my job, they do theirs and then we let things play out. If a rider leaves without warning me I’d maybe have the feeling that I was wrong about them.
“It’s not just the professional team that’s in danger but the whole system I’ve created with it, made up of around 100 people. It’s not going to change my life if there are one or two departures.