Aqua Blue Sport announced today that they have acquired Sniper Cycling, the company behind the Verandas Willems-Crelan squad of cyclo-cross world champion Wout Van Aert. The budding Classics star will remain with the new structure through 2019, according to the press release.
"Aqua Blue Sport, the company behind the www.aquabluesport.com e-commerce platform and the Irish-registered Pro Continental squad of the same name, have confirmed the purchase of Sniper Cycling team and all of its assets in a move designed to broaden the reach of its online cycling marketplace," the team announced.
The press release went out early on Wednesday, but later on the same day the announcements disappeared from the Aqua Blue Sport web page and social media channels. An denial of the deal followed on Sniper Cycling's social media account from the team management, saying:
"We dissociate ourselves expressly from all communication that has been published today regarding the supposed acquisition of our team by Aqua Blue Sport. We can confirm that Sniper Cycling and Aqua Blue Sport are currently holding talks to look into possible collaboration from 2019 onwards. Out of respect to all parties involved, we will currently refrain from further comments."
Van Aert, who placed third in Strade Bianche, ninth in his first Tour of Flanders, and 13th in Paris-Roubaix, is under contract with Verandas Willems-Crelan for one more season, but declined to extend his contract beyond 2019.
As the Belgian squad's future looked increasingly uncertain, he was heavily courted by several WorldTour squads, including LottoNL-Jumbo, with whom he was reported to have agreed to a three-year deal beginning in 2020. He also was reportedly entertaining offers from Bahrain-Merida, Team Sky and Lotto Soudal.
With Aqua Blue Sport, Van Aert would be able to compete in both cyclo-cross and road races. His current general manager Nick Nuyens will move across to the new organisation, according to Aqua Blue Sport.
"Aqua Blue Sport is going from strength to strength, on the road and also off it. I am very excited to be able to be involved in the team going forward," Nuyens said.
"There is a lot of potential, and it is a dream for me to be working with the riders that are already there, and will be joining soon. It's a good day for Sniper Cycling and Aqua Blue Sport."
Tom Timmerman, the former CEO of United Dutch Breweries which has sponsored the Aqua Blue Sport team, will become the new CEO of the team and its e-commerce platform.
"This is a golden opportunity to expand our project internationally, and increase our audience for the e-commerce project," Aqua Blue Sport founder Rick Delaney said.
"Wout will be a huge addition to the Aqua Blue Sport squad and we are currently in negotiations with a number of other high-profile riders for the 2019 season. We will hopefully announce these signings shortly.
"I am delighted with this project's success to date, on and off the road, and the opportunity to acquire Sniper Cycling was a no-brainer for us. Having Sniper Cycling personnel involved with us is a huge bonus as it brings years of experience and expertise to Aqua Blue Sport."