Bbox Bouygues Telecom team manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau has until Monday afternoon to secure a main sponsor for the 2011 season. If he fails to find a new backer, key rider and current French national champion Thomas Voeckler will decide which of two other offers he will take up for the 201 season. If he decides to leave, it will be the final blow to Bernaudeau's chances of survival.
"I'm in contact with several teams and I've got to give them answer on Monday night," Voeckler told the Ouest France newspaper, setting a rapidly approaching deadline for Bernaudeau to find a backer.
He also told l'Equipe: "If Jean-Rene finds a sponsor, there's no question [about staying] but I'm starting to think of the worst possible outcome. Unfortunately I can't wait a week longer."
According to reports in the French media, Voeckler has offers from Cofidis and the growing Saur-Sojasun team. Both teams would love to sign Voeckler and so secure their invitation for the 2011 Tour de France and other leading races on the international calendar.
"I've got a preference but I haven’t made up my mind yet," he told l'Equipe, admitting that he would prefer to stay with a French team.
"It's not about the money, I've got a certain idea about the practice of my sport. For sure I've soon got to chose and there are one or two offers that interest me."
Caisse d'Epargne to the rescue?
Bernaudeau spent Friday afternoon in his office at the Bbox Bouygues Telecom Service Course in the heart of the Vendée region. The central coastal region of France is a key co-sponsor of the team and will host the start of the Tour de France in 2011. On Sunday the Bbox Bouygues Telecom team will ride the Tour de Vendée, their home race, with doubts about the future growing darker and darker.
Yet Bernaudeau refuses to give up hope. Ouest France has suggested that his links to President Sarkozy could help him convince French bank Caisse d'Epargne to back the team despite planning to ended their support of the Spanish-based team managed by Eusebio Unzue.
"I can't imagine that my team won’t be at the start of the Tour de France and Philippe de Villiers (the President of the General Council of the Vendée region) doesn't either," Bernaudeau told Ouest France.
"If all goes as I hope and as we're working towards, we have a nine and a half chance of out of 10 to keep going. I haven’t abdicated yet and that's why I haven’t let my riders go."