Sojasun manager Stéphane Heulot has revealed that he had discussed a possible merger with NetApp-Endura as he sought to save his team for 2014. The Frenchman said that he withdrew from negotiations when it became clear that NetApp-Endura was interested only in securing the services of Heulot and five of his riders rather than in a fuller amalgamation between the two Pro Continental teams.
“It seemed ideal to me but when I started talking with them, I realised that they didn’t want much from the existing Sojasun team other than five riders and me,” Heulot told L’Équipe. “I quickly put an end to the negotiations. It was inconceivable for me to leave the rest of the team and staff.”
On Monday it was confirmed that Sojasun will disband at the end of the season after failing to secure an additional sponsor for next year. Heulot had already informed his riders on August 1 that they were free to search for new teams for 2014, although he had continued to look for a new backer in the intervening period.
“The doors that were open in July subsequently closed one by one, as if the passion of the Tour de France and the interest we could have stoked had disappeared,” said Heulot. “Sojasun didn’t want to leave cycling, but they couldn’t guarantee the same budget by themselves, which they had done in 2013.”
While Heulot is determined to work on securing a sponsor for 2015 – “I want to believe that our story isn’t over, that it’s just a page that’s turning” – only five of Sojasun's 23 riders currently have contracts for next season.
Julien Simon and Cyril Lemoine have already been confirmed with Cofidis for 2014, Anthony Delaplace has signed for Bretagne-Séché, while Jimmy Engoulvent will ride for Europcar. On Tuesday, Ag2r-La Mondiale announced that they have signed Maxime Daniel on a three-year contract.
“The situation is worrying,” said Jonathan Hivert, who has yet to find a team for next year. “The French teams’ rosters are already full. Up to now, I have no certainty for 2014.”