Dutch WorldTour teams hanging by a thread
Team Blanco’s search for a sponsor continues with the team’s manager confirming to Cyclingnews that negotiations are ongoing with a number of international and Dutch parties.
Richard Plugge, who took over the position of team director, last December, told Cyclingnews that, “the process is still ongoing but we’re waiting for signatures. It can take two months but the process is still ongoing. There are still a handful of parties we’re talking to, both international and Dutch.”
“I’m confident, but we don’t have a signature yet. In the end it could be a no from all parties so we have to wait. I can’t predict anything at the moment.”
“My job is to save the team and that’s what I’m working on. The earlier the better but if it’s later that’s fine too.”
The team is currently bankrolled by money reserved by their previous sponsor, the Dutch bank Rabobank.
They pulled out of sponsorship at the end of the 2012 season, ending their 17-year association with the team in dramatic fashion after damaging headlines surfaced from both the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong and US Postal, and the doping practices carried out at the Dutch squad before 2008.
Only a handful of riders who rode for the team between 1996 and 2008 have confessed, with Michael Rasmussen and Michael Boogerd the two highest in profile.
The steady stream of doping confessions, coupled with the tough economic situation in Europe, has left Plugge with a difficult task in replacing Rabobank’s funds but he believes that despite the recent doping headlines at home, “abroad it’s less of a problem than it is in Holland.”
The team has confirmed to Cyclingnews that a number of riders have existing contracts through until the end of 2014 and that these will be honoured regardless of whether a sponsor can be found. Cyclingnews understands that these riders include Robert Gesink, Sep Vanmarcke, Luis Leon Sanchez and Bauke Mollema.
A situation could therefore play out in which the contracted riders are paid their 2014 salaries and then given an additional contract from a new team if Blanco fails to find a new backer.
The bigger picture is much bleaker though. Blanco is not alone in its struggles to find funds for next year. Vacansoleil is on the fence with regards to its ongoing sponsorship of the team, and has set an April deadline before announcing its plans.
Their WorldTour manager, Dan Luijkx, as talked positively about finding a backer for next year, telling Cyclingnews, “We are busy with the investigation and we'll wait for all the results and then we'll make a statement. I don't know how long it will take, but it could take weeks.”
Unlike Blanco’s management Luijkx at least has experience in attracting sponsors to the team. Rabobank’s structure and mentality meant that finances flowed freely, leading to a situation where average domestiques were - and still are – heavily overpaid.
It’s therefore conceivable that Holland could be left with just one WorldTour team in 2014, and Argos-Shimano, who has a far more selective and scrupulous hand in the transfer market, is unlikely to change its philosophy and hire more than a handful of riders.