When Team Sky was launched in 2010, its stated aim was to deliver a British Tour de France winner within five years. While the French Cycling Federation hopes that its newly-announced project will reap a similar dividend by eventually producing France’s first Tour winner since 1985, managing director Olivier Quéguiner said that its planned WorldTour team will not be confined to French riders and will be international in its makeup.
On Friday morning, Quéguiner briefed a small group of reporters at the newly-built Velodrome National, in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in the outskirts of Paris, on the FFC’s plans to create an ambitious, multi-disciplinary professional project, which will feature men’s and women’s teams on the road and track, as well as in BMX, cyclo-cross and mountain bike.
The flagship team and principal driver of the project will be the WorldTour team. Given the FFC’s desire to attract a multi-national sponsor who can provide some €20 million per annum to the budget (the remaining €5 million would be provided by technical suppliers), that WorldTour squad will be more international in its scope than the rest of the project.
“We would like to have a French rider who can win the Tour de France, but if tomorrow, on the road, there is a British or Spanish Tour winner from this team, then we will be very happy, because that means the team exists already,” Quéguiner told Cyclingnews. “Afterwards, we will see if our junior and under-23 riders, who at the moment are at a very high international level, could become the winner of the Tour. But we are talking about sport, so you never know.”
Quéguiner’s thoughts were echoed by Vincent Tong Cuong of sports marketing company SportFive, which is working to find a title sponsor for the French federation’s project. “On the road, it will be an international team more than a French team,” Tong Cuong said. “For the others [women’s, track, mountain bike, cyclo-cross and BMX], it will be more French, of course.”
The FFC’s aim is to have its WorldTour team on the road as early as 2015, although without a title sponsor in place and with rider contracts being negotiated ever earlier in the season, it seems more likely that the team will debut in 2016 at the earliest. “We know that this team will start. We would like in 2015. If we have to wait for 2016, it doesn’t matter,” Quéguiner said.
“When you’re talking about a road team, that means you have to recruit riders next summer and we know that is very ambitious,” Tong Cuong added. “If it’s not in 2015, it will be after, but clearly the ambition of the president and the managing director is to launch this team, whatever the time limit. We are ambitious and we want to do it in 2015. We already have good contacts, I would say, but we will see where we go with our current discussions.”
While it is believed that the team’s sponsor is more likely to be an international company than a French one, Tong Cuong said that it was all still to be decided. Indeed, while the preference is for a lone sponsor, he refused to rule out the possibility of more than one partner contributing to the required €20 million annual budget.
“We are looking everywhere, in France and abroad. We see today in sport that there are a lot of new brands coming into this area,” Tong Cuong said. “It might be a sponsor coming from the cycling world but it might be a sponsor coming from outside, an unexpected one. It can be French or it can be an international one.”
The federation’s touting of the project in recent weeks has included a presentation to new UCI president Brian Cookson – “The UCI is changing a lot of things in terms of ethics and this is the key of this team,” Quéguiner said – and another before the French Professional Cycling League and its constituent teams. But do the existing French teams see the federation’s project as an opportunity or a threat?
“Maybe both,” Quéguiner joked. “We’ve launched the project without large communication with the actual cycling world because we know what we would like to create. We know where this project is coming from and where we would like to go. Ethics is at the heart of this project.
“We presented this project to the French League and we’ll see. Some of them will like for sure that this project exists because it’s unique to have all the disciplines with men and women.”
One possibility is that the FFC will look to form a merger of sorts with one of the existing French WorldTour teams, and the federation has already presented its project before FDJ. Given that the French national lottery has already committed €30 million to Marc Madiot’s team over the next three years, however, Quéguiner suggested that talk of a merger was premature.
“For sure, a company like FDJ has received this presentation and has to consider it, of course,” Quéguiner said. “At the moment it’s too early to speak about saying that the current FDJ could become this team because we are talking about 2015 and FDJ exists at this moment, it’s going on and we’re creating something else.”