BMC manager Jim Ochowicz has played down reports of a possible merger with the IAM Cycling team in 2017 but confirmed to Cyclingnews that he is trying to find further sponsorship to secure the long-term future of the US-registered team.
Cyclingnews understands that BMC team backer Andy Rihs and IAM owner Michel Thétaz have held talks in the past and even recently at the Tour de Romandie. Both could be interested in joining forces to create one strong Swiss-registered WorldTour team.
Several sources told Cyclingnews during the Giro d'Italia that Ochowicz could be close to securing sponsorship from the huge financial company Deutsche Bank. Ochowicz admitted that he is looking to secure the future of the team for 2017 but refused to give any specific details.
"It's true that the team's future after 2016 is not secure yet. We're working on it. It's still a year and a half ahead but we're working on it. When we know, we know. At the moment we don't,” he told Cyclingnews.
"The team license is owned by Continuum Sports, which is owned by Andy [Rihs] and I. We are always looking for partners; that's not a secret, almost everyone in the sport is too. It's not unusual. We're happy to be with BMC at the moment and we'll continue on."
Cyclingnews understands that Ochowicz is looking to bolster the BMC roster for 2016, perhaps by adding a second Grand Tour rider alongside Tejay van Garderen.
Both Richie Porte of Team Sky and Dan Martin of Cannondale-Garmin are out of contract this season and have been linked to BMC. However, it seems that Ochowicz's lack of a sponsor for 2017 leaves him unable to offer multi-year contracts. Rigoberto Uran is also out of contract and may move on from Etixx-QuickStep, perhaps sparking a chain of changes in several teams.
"There are a number of riders on the market but we've not made a commitment to anybody yet," Ochowicz said. "But how many riders are out of contract for 2016? Any manager will hand you that list and those names you mentioned are available.
"We have already a big roster for 2016 with the riders we have under contract. We're not out shopping for a dozen riders, maybe one or two will come to the team and that will be a sufficient number to keep us in play."
Reducing the size of the peloton, creating a pro cycling league
Ochowicz caused an angry reaction from several Professional Continental team managers during the Giro d'Italia when he called for a reduction in the size of the peloton to make races safer.
When talking to Cyclingnews, Ochowicz denied that he was taking aim at the Pro Conti teams who often secure wildcard invitations to major races, and especially Grand Tours, without the same obligations and budget needs of the WorldTour teams. He also denied that his ideas were in contrast to proposals for the reform and development of professional cycling for 2017 onwards.
UCI president Brian Cookson talked about evolution rather than a revolution in an interview with Cyclingnews earlier in the Giro d'Italia. One proposal could be to change the number of riders per team in Grand Tours.
"It's not about the reforms, it's about safety and security in the races," Ochowicz argued.
"There are too many riders in the races for the road conditions we're riding on today. The roads weren't the same as they were even ten years ago. The local municipalities are trying to slow down the traffic by putting up road furniture and obstacles like roundabouts. We have no control over that but we can control the size of the peloton.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't have Pro Continental teams in the race. We need to reduce the number of riders in the race. If we started reducing the numbers of riders in a team, then maybe we have to reduce the Grand Tours to two weeks and ride with seven riders. The truth is that we need nine riders for a three-week Grand Tour.
"Every rider has certain functions in a Grand Tour team. Not every rider is the quarterback – someone has to get bottles and someone has to bring teammates back up to the front. Riders also get sick and get eliminated. We can't do three Grand Tours with a 22-rider roster. It's physically impossible. We have 29 riders this season but I don't have even 2 reserve riders at the moment. We've got five riders injured and I know other teams are in a similar position. What would happen if we only had 22 riders? 25-30 riders is adequate, we can't do it with less, so what do they want to change?”
BMC is part of the AIGCP teams association and the Velon business group that has 11 major teams as contracted partners. Ochowicz is not directly involved in the reform process but told Cyclingnews he would like to see more of an American-style sports system, where the sport is run and commercially managed by some kind of commissioner, CEO, or leader.
"They can't do everything that is being debated overnight," he suggested, confirming Cookson's new philosophy for a more gradual change to the structure and format of the WorldTour.
"We need a leader and there has to be leadership for us to get there," he said. "It should be an outside group that manages a pro cycling league. Who are the members? I don't know, I guess the teams would be members, the riders would be members and the organisers and the UCI would be there too. But it needs to be a separate entity."