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Crelan-Euphany saying goodbye at the Tour of Taihu Lake.
A chapter of 25 years closing at Tour of Taihu Lake
After winning his third stage in a row at the Tour of Taihu Lake, Yuriy Metlushenko of Torku Seker Spor went to the Crelan-Euphony team car to offer the orange helmet made by Ranking for the race leader to his former directeur sportif Marco Saligari. "I know your son rides a bike," said the Ukrainian.
"It breaks my heart to see the [formerly known as] Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team disappear from the peloton," Metlushenko told Cyclingnews. "With this team, I've started my career [in 2002], I've had my first pro win… I've lived for two years at the house of Jef De Bilde, one of the sponsors. I felt really good racing under Gérard Bulens as a team manager. I've had fantastic years with them."
One of the longest serving teams in professional cycling is folding at the end of the 2013 season. Under the names of Saxon and Tönissteiner at the beginning, the squad has existed since 1989. "We knew that our main sponsors, Crelan [a branch of Belgian bank Landbouwkrediet] and Euphony would not renew their contracts with us," explained Jonathan Bulens, son of Gérard and public relations officer for the team. "We had found a new sponsor but we couldn't obtain the financial guarantee on time. We asked the UCI for a delay but we didn't get it.
"We weren't the oldest team in professional cycling but one of the oldest, and one of our sponsors, [water and sodas company] Tönissteiner, was the oldest. They've always been on our jerseys and they were backing cycling even before the Belgian national lottery."
Colnago was Bulens' other faithful partner. The Italian bike manufacturer put the team in a new dimension in 2002 when they brought a generation of talented young Ukrainians, especially Yaroslav Popovych alongside Metlushenko. That's when former Tour de France stage winner Saligari jumped in as directeur sportif and always remained in what looked like one of the most stable organizations in cycling since.
"The final podium of the 2003 Giro d'Italia with Popovych third [behind Gilberto Simoni and Stefano Garzelli] was a real big thing," Saligari remembered. "He was the strongest neo-pro of the past twelve years, stronger than [Vincenzo] Nibali, but after leaving our team he dedicated himself to a different job as a domestique. In those years, a small team was still able to get great results. I've loved working with a Belgian team because I've found harmony with people of a real cycling culture.
"With Landbouwkrediet, we've never felt too much pressure. It's been fantastic to work with such a faithful sponsor. Unfortunately, the increasing standard of the World Tour has left too little space for Pro Continental teams, in races as well as in business with technical partners forced to put their whole budget into Pro Teams."
The Saxon-Tönissteiner-Landbouwkrediet-Colnago story has lived a quarter of a century thanks to the interest for cyclo-cross in Belgium, with world champions Danny De Bie, Radumir Simunek, Paul Herijgers and Sven Nys carrying the flag.
"Our sponsors also loved the philosophy of bringing young talents to pro cycling," said Saligari who directed the debuts of Tomas Vaitkus, Ludo Dierckxsens, Maxime Monfort, Aidis Kruopis, Stephen Cummings and Ian Stannard, just to name a few.
"My father won't disappear from the world of cycling, professionally or for his own pleasure", said Jonathan Bulens. Gérard Bulens is also an expert commentator on French speaking Belgian TV RTBF.
"Crelan-Euphony has been a real Belgian team, not Flemish, not Walloon but speaking the two languages of our country," said Christophe Prémont, one of the riders who has found a new destination for 2013: Wallonie-Bruxelles, together with Frédéric Amorison and Rund um Köln winner Sébastien Delfosse.
Other continental teams will welcome Kevin Peeters (Vastgoedservice), Baptiste Planckaert (Roubaix), Gilles Devillers (Doltcini-Veranclassic), Egidijus Juodvalkis (3M) while Maxime Vantomme, Koen Barbé and Jonathan Breyne are set to join the new project of Crelan-Euphony's assistant directeur sportif Gino Verhasselt.