For the second time this season, general manager Daan Luijkx has told the riders and staff of Vacansoleil-DCM to look out for new employment as the team's future is still not secure. As the search for replacements for its two exiting title sponsors continues, the squad has now mutually terminated its contract with equipment sponsor Bianchi. The Dutch media has speculated that Belkin would ride on the Italian bikes next season, while Belkin sponsor Giant moves to Argos-Shimano.
"We had an verbal agreement for 2014 and 2015 with Bianchi. I was clear with them at the start of the Tour de France on how things were going with regards to finding a new sponsor. They were willing to wait until after the Tour but then had to take a decision. We mutually agreed that we would break our agreement. Bianchi has been a great partner who wants to stay at the highest level of cycling after they have been away for a few years."
The Vacansoleil-DCM team started out in 2009 when it secured the Dutch camping firm Vacansoleil as main sponsor. In 2011 DCM signed on and the team rode for three seasons in the WorldTour. In May, both Vacansoleil and DCM announced they would not renew their contracts. The team has searched for replacements, but nothing has been finalized. Time is running out to not only retain riders, most of whom had one-year contracts because last year Vacansoleil would only extend through the end of this season, and rider points are necessary for entry into the WorldTour.
"It made a difference in who we could sign for 2013. It was difficult to find riders because we could only offer them work for one season. Only some young riders, which I won't disclose, and Thomas de Gendt have a contract for 2014."
Luijkx is adamant that he wants to stay in cycling, although making the sport's highest level for 2014 is nearly impossible at this point in the year. "We need a miracle to get a WorldTour license because the paperwork needs to be filled in on short notice. Even if I find a sponsor for the required budget it would mean I need to sign all sorts of riders with points to make it to the top 18 of the team's ranking. We did that in the past because we really wanted to act on WorldTour level, but I don't want to do that again," Luijkx said.
"The chance we are going to find a sponsor to keep us in the WorldTour in 2014 are slim. There are two options: work with a team of young talented riders as a Pro Continental team in 2014, or do nothing but prepare for a return to the highest level in 2015," Luijkx told Cyclingnews.
"We started talking with several parties and we still do. There are offers on the table but especially the interested party in the Middle East is slow to react. We try to convince them of the urgency and answer all the questions they have," Luijkx explained. "But the companies we are talking with also show interest for 2015 so we'll keep talking with them."
In June, Luijkx informed his riders and a staff of 50 people of what was going on. He repeated this on August 1, after the set deadline of the Tour de France had passed. In the meanwhile, Lieuwe Westra signed a contract with Astana and Kris Boeckmans signed with Lotto-Belisol. "We want our riders and staff to find good new teams. And we also help them to do so, even though the majority of them don't have a contract for 2014 in place. Many of them are in negotiations with other teams."
Luijkx is still weighing the option of trying to field a division II team, or wait and come back stronger in 2015, when he can sign top riders without pressure. "I want to have a team who can be around the tenth spot in the WorldTour team's ranking and not be the smallest team like we are now."
Vacansoleil-DCM didn't have a particularly successful season so far with only seven victories. Thomas de Gendt won a stage in the Tour of Catalonia, Lieuwe Westra won a stage in the Tour of California and took the national time trial title. Pim Ligthart won the last stage in the Ster ZLM Toer and Johnny Hoogerland became the Dutch road race champion.
Last week Kenny van Hummel (Arctic Race of Norway) and Grega Bole (Tour de l'Ain) added two more victories to the list. This results in a 19th and last place for Vacansoleil-DCM on the UCI World Tour team ranking.