By Shane Stokes
As the weeks and days tick down to the start of the new season, Team High Road general manager Bob Stapleton has expressed his satisfaction with the progress made thus far in the restructuring of the squad. At the end of November the then-T-Mobile team was rocked by the news that the German telecommunications company was pulling out as main sponsor, and that secondary backers such as Adidas and Audi were also stopping.
One month on, Stapleton has been pleasantly surprised as to how things have gone. "On every level the support for the team has been amazing," he told Cyclingnews in recent days. "All of our sponsors and suppliers have been very enthusiastic. We got basically a full sponsor line-up for next year, except for cars. Cars always take a little longer because they are big companies and their budgets are set earlier in the year. But I don't view that as anything that hurts our team. That's something that will come, it will just take longer [to finalise]."
Stapleton reports that there have been already some talks with interested companies about the vacant title sponsor slot, but said that the team will take its time in working out a new deal. "For us, the main thing is to get the team in full and strong operation, very focused on being an exceptional team that stands out from the rest.
"In terms of potential title sponsors, we have what we need for the next year or so and, if we are careful, the next two years," he continued, referring to the contract severance deal that was eked out with T-Mobile. "There have been some talks [with potential backers], more interest than I am really able to deal with, frankly, but we are going to take our time. I came into this with a powerful sponsor that wanted to do big things in T-Mobile, and that is the kind of sponsor we are looking for. Somebody who will make a significant long-term commitment to the sport."
He declined to elaborate on the payout from the German telecommunications company, which has been estimated in some media reports - rightly or wrongly - as being in the range of €20- €25 million. "Unfortunately I can't say anything about the terms and conditions of the separation from T-Mobile," the Californian stated. "There are a lot of reports in the media, a lot of speculation, but I really can't comment on them.
"For me, the basic issue was do I want to stay, to keep the team together, to keep these guys on their bikes? So this was never from me about the money or trying to bring in new sponsors. It started off with the question if I wanted to screw up a bunch of people's careers, people who didn't do anything wrong? If we had folded the team, these guys were all damaged.
"I really felt it [continuing] was the right thing to do for everybody. To keep the team going, to maintain our operations and thus give these guys a chance to show what they could do."
A full interview with Bob Stapleton will appear soon on Cyclingnews.