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Gerard Vroomen, Cervelo co-founder.
Cervélo co-founder frustrated by uncertainty of entry in biggest races, doping
Last week's Garmin-Cervélo camp in the Caymans was the start for a new professional team but also the final curtain call for the Cervélo TestTeam.
Gerard Vroomen, co-owner of bicycle manufacturer Cervélo, was at the camp and watched as the likes of Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler mingled with their new teammates. After two years of racing at the top of the sport with his own Cervélo TestTeam, Vroomen is sad to reach the end of the road and warned that cycling must to do more in order to make sure sponsors are encouraged into the sport.
"One thing that's holding the sport back, and Jonathan Vaughters and Bob Stapleton have both commented on this, is the uncertainly that's involved in sponsoring a team. It's very hard to find a sponsor when you can not guarantee them that you'll be in the Tour de France," Vroomen told Cyclingnews.
Vroomen pointed towards the example of Gianni Savio's Androni team, which made the top 17 teams for the season. Under current rules this would have guaranteed them entry in the world's biggest races in 2011. However, new rules enacted towards the end of season, and after initial ProTeam licence applications were requested by the UCI, meant that the Italian team missed out on a place in cycling's biggest league.
"There was a rule this year that if you finished in top 17 in the world rankings then you can demand participation in all the ProTour races next year. Androni finished 17th, the finish photos from [Tour of] Lombardy weren't even dry and the message was that the rules might not be applied. So the whole year this team had fought to be top 17 and they raced in ways to do that," Vroomen said.
"I don't think that's the way to offer certainty to teams and sponsors. I don't have a problem with rule changes but there needs to be a notice period. I read yesterday that the race organisers might be agreeing with the UCI on what to do next year, but it's December and this is for races that start in January. So with less than a month's notice there might be an agreement between federation and the organisers on how to arrange the sport next year. They should be talking about 2012, 2013, and not 2011. This is the situation that the entire sport has maneuvered itself into.
"When you see how much trouble Bob Stapleton is in to find sponsors to keep the team at this level, and I don't think there's anyone better at finding sponsors than Bob, that just shows how difficult it is."
Vroomen also pointed towards doping as to why sponsors were not forthcoming, however he did applaud cycling for trying to improve its image and reputation.
"There's not a week when there's not something going on. Just look at the home page on Cyclingnews. Count the top 20 stories and how many are related to doping? It's ridiculous but there's something every week. The damage has been done.
"I'm not saying it's a bad thing for the sport that there are these stories. The only way something changes is if it's shown to be necessary and the clearer it is to riders and everyone that there are consequences for stupid actions, the better. It's a positive step. Not for us at this particular moment but certainly in a general sense."
However, doping and the uncertainty surrounding sporting status were not the only reasons Vroomen and Cervélo was unable to find a substantial backer for the future. Cervélo TestTeam was announced to the world in the summer of 2008, with Hushovd and Tour winner Carlos Sastre signed as their marquee riders.
Just months later the world economy began to nose-dive into recession, meaning that the hunt for a sponsor was, according to Vroomen, almost impossible for the first 12 months of the team's existence.
"It was hard to see the world economy crash coming. That almost destroyed our first year of sponsorship searching because it's hard to approach companies and ask for money when they don't know if they'll exist the following year. It makes conversations with prospective partners really hard," Vroomen told Cyclingnews.
"I guess we wouldn't have started it all if we'd known that it would have finished after just two years. You don't start something just for that to happen. From that point of view there was a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money put into the project that eventually didn't work out.
"There are thousands of things you would do differently in hindsight but someone said that the only way to make no mistakes is to make nothing."
Vroomen is now looking to the future and along with Jonathan Vaughters and Matt Johnson from Garmin is actively looking for more sponsors for their team.
"I think things are changing now. Cervélo TestTeam was a strong team for the budget we had but we weren't a super team. I think what you see now with Garmin-Cervelo is a top three team in the world. There's no doubt in any sponsor's mind that we'll do all the big races and it's one of the few teams that can convince sponsors they're doing all the big races. That's a good situation for just the very top teams."
In its two years, Cervélo TestTeam was seen as a breath of fresh air in cycling with an approach that didn't revolve around the single goal. Yet one moment in the team's short history stands out above all others - unsurprisingly Thor Hushovd's Worlds win in Australia.
"He had a horrible season because whenever he wasn't racing a Grand Tour or Classic he was sick. But he was able to squeeze in a full season of racing and then crown it with a world title. To see the rainbow jersey with the Cervélo name on it was pretty special and with Emma Pooley doing it too, that was extra special. The way Thor decided to postpone his operation to honour the jersey and the team and the way he was emotional about the end of team it made it my favourite moment."