By Shane Stokes
On Friday Discovery Channel directeur sportif Sean Yates received the unexpected news that the media giant would not be renewing its contract with the ProTour team when it expires at the end of the current season. He and others linked to the squad had expected an extension to be given but this is not the case; it means that the riders and staff have a nervous time ahead while Bill Stapleton, Johan Bruyneel and others do what they can to get a new backer.
Yates was with the team at the start of the Challenge Volta a Mallorca and said that he was surprised by what had happened.
"It was unexpected," he stated. "They have been involved for three years. I guess the primary reason they came into the sport was because of Lance... he is no longer here as an active rider although he is involved with the team. Three years is one of the shorter periods of sponsorship that I can remember for a top team. I would say that normally the optimum amount of time is five or six years to gain the maximum amount of publicity, of payback, so one would have thought that they would have continued a bit more. But no, that's not the case."
"Bill Stapleton and the others will be dealing with this [looking for a new sponsor]. We are just going to keep our heads down and work away... that is nowhere near my department. I am just over here doing what I have to do. The team is run out of America so I would imagine a replacement would be an American sponsor."
Yates said that the management have been preparing for this possibility. "They have had certain discussions, have looked around, because that is the way it is, you can't just assume that they [Discovery] are going to continue, no matter what. And if someone enquires about coming on board, you are going to follow it up. But beyond that I just don't have a clue.
"I personally would like the team to continue for many more years. I feel I have been very, very lucky to get a job in this sport. The first few years I was with CSC which is an English speaking team, basically, and then I went onto Discovery which, while it has mixed nationalities, is also English speaking.
"I have just been exceptionally lucky in the sport that I have been able to work under those conditions. And to work with Johan... he has just been fantastic. We get on so well, and with Dirk [Demol], Laurenzo Lapage and Eki [Ekimov] now as well. It is a dream team really, as far as communication goes and getting on as friends. You could not ask for anything better."
Although Yates says that he's uncertain what will happen, he is remaining positive. "I think we are pretty confident that we are going to find a replacement sponsor. Individual riders know that if they are going to perform, they are going to find a job somewhere else. So it is more the staff...at the end of the day we will find a job, one way or another. But I can't imagine a team of this size not finding a sponsor. We have to just wait and see. For now, we will just get on with what we are paid to do, which is to work with Discovery until the end of the season."
In order to continue with its current size and structure, the team will likely require around 15 million euros per year according to Het Nieuwsblad.