By Brecht Decaluwé
Cyclo-crosser Jonathan Page is reportedly close to inking a deal with Belgian team Sunweb-Projob after a tumultuous season where the American was beset by a serious shoulder injury but returned to take a dramatic second place at the World Championships in January.
Page, a multiple US National Champion, started his comeback at the end of December, racing independently with the support of small Belgian company Morgan Blue. But since his silver medal in Hooglede-Gits, Page has attracted offers from several teams and individual sponsors. "When the season was over we decided to hire Paul De Geyter [a Belgian agent] to help me out," Page told Cyclingnews. "Actually I haven't signed anything yet but if the deal's on then I'm a Sunweb rider for one year and a half, so from July until the end of February 2009."
The Sunweb Projob team was only founded in January this year but is aiming to rival two of the sport's biggest names: Fidea and Rabobank. However, their first months in cyclo-cross have not gone smoothly with team leader Sven Vanthourenhout unable to live up to expectations, resulting in the search for a supporting team leader. "There's not too much available on the market right now and we didn't have a foreign rider in our team just yet," explained team founder Jurgen Mettepenningen to Cyclingnews. "Page is interesting for us towards our material sponsors Ridley and Lazer as he is the ambassador of USA cyclo-cross.
"The financial part has been discussed and we have a deal, now we only need to sign. Page confirmed after the World's so we hope that he can display that level again throughout the upcoming season."
Former cyclo-cross world champion Mario De Clercq is Page's personal coach but also team manager for Sunweb-Projob and has therefore been an important link in courting the American rider. "Jonathan rode an excellent second part of the season and I strongly believe in him. If the team gets him we'll take a good step forward," said De Clercq.
Given cyclo-cross' huge status in Belgium, local media questioned the team's other manager, Hans De Clercq, on why Sunweb would opt for a foreign rider. "Mario [De Clercq] knows Page very well and he said that he can still make some progression as he didn't live for the sport in the past," noted Hans De Clercq to Sporza. "It's because we couldn't sign Richard Groenendaal that we decided to sign Page. But I'm convinced that Page can form a perfect partnership with Sven Vanthourenhout and Tom Vannoppen."
Groenendaal's financial demands were reportedly too high with the Dutchman now opting for support from individual sponsors.
Meanwhile, Page has been working hard on his Belgian home to prepare for the arrival of a second child next week. "By signing for this team, my wife Cori's visa problems could be solved as well, so that's the theory right now," explained Page. "Anyway, it would be good to ride for a team although I acknowledge there are negative sides about that as well."
Asked for a response to Hans De Clercq's comments on whether he lived for cyclo-cross in the past, Page laughed, "People can have their comments... since my injury I've become more aware of my task on the bike, I've become more balanced."