The sponsors of Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto have announced their split effective at the end of this season, following a seven-year partnership. Lotto will continue its current arrangements with the team until 2015.
In a statement on the National Lottery of Belgium website, Lotto explained that: "The visions of two sponsors on a joint future are too divergent."
"Lotto players want to encourage their favourite Belgian riders and we must offer this possibility," said National Lottery Marketing Director, Mark Frederix. "A Lotto team that is accessible, popular and professional creates opportunities for talented Belgian cyclist to enjoy a huge reserve of support.
"Lotto remains committed to the peloton to allow a high-level team back into service in 2012. We have worked constructively with Omega Pharma for many years and I thank them for that. In 2011, we have peaked, with a fantastic start to the season and excellent prospects for the Tour de France."
Omega Pharma and the Lotto have been in talks about the future of the team since the start of the season and this announcement comes with some pressure with Philippe Gilbert currently in contract negotiations with the team. Alexandre Vinokourov is already courting Gilbert and is keen to sign him to Astana, with BMC also rumoured to have shown interest.
With sponsorship dollars now up for grabs, Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere has denied any involvement of luring the pharmaceutical company to his team.
"Quick-Step Cycling Team has had nothing to do with what's going on right now between Omega Pharma and Lotto, and there's absolutely no basis to the rumour going around about a partnership between Quick-Step Cycling Team and the Omega Pharma company for next season," he said via statement.
"The misinformation that appeared in some media is completely irresponsible and frivolous and it shows a gross lack of respect for Quick-Step Cycling Team, for our sponsors, for team Omega Pharma-Lotto and can even disturbing current and future negotiations with potential sponsors."
The immediate future of Quick Step was assured earlier this year when Lefevere and the Unilin Group, Quick Step's parent company, came to an agreement with Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala where he provides financial support for 2011 and guaranteed the operating costs of the team in 2012 and 2013. Lefevere meanwhile, is still looking for a company to replace Quick Step in title sponsorship, given they have scaled back their investment.
In terms of a new partner for Lotto, Belgacom and Adecco are rumoured to be in the sponsorship mix.
"There are several potential candidates with whom we are considering the possibility of a structural and lasting partnership that is consistent with our vision and provides sufficient prospects for retaining the best Belgian riders in a Belgian team and to develop young talent in professional supervision," Frederix confirmed. "The past has taught us that change of partner has been synonymous with each new start, opening new perspectives
"But we'll first focus on the current program and the ensiling of sporting success after the Walloon classics, in the Giro, the Tour de France and during the late season."