The Belkin team began the Tour de France knowing that time is ticking away to find a new title sponsor for next season but within the Dutch squad, there appears to be quiet optimism that the team will be in the WorldTour, with a new backer, in 2015.
A report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf suggested that bike sponsor Bianchi was putting Plugge under pressure to secure the future of the team, with an apparent deadline of July 15, the first rest day of the Tour. Plugge shrugged off the threats, pointing out he has a contract with Bianchi for 2015. He also seemed optimistic he will be at the start of the 2015 Tour de France in Utrecht.
"When we were Team Blanco, we had several companies who were interested in sponsoring the team and we kept those relationships warm," Plugge explained.
"We started the process again as if we didn't have a sponsor (when Belkin decided to end their sponsorship). We've got four or five contacts. There are a lot possibilities coming up maybe."
Even though the clock is ticking to find a sponsor, Plugge suggested the Tour de France was the perfect place to persuade a major company to come into the sport and sponsor a team.
"It's maybe better to be looking for a sponsor during the Tour because everybody is interested. All the sponsors can see the potential during the Tour de France. They can see the sport is progressing well. And going in a good way. The riders will show themselves for sure," he said.
Belkin riders to stay united
Plugge has tried to convince his riders to stay united as a team, rather than putting possible contracts with other teams first. He revealed he has asked his riders to wait until August 1 before agreeing to contracts with other teams. Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam again lead the Dutch squad, with Las Boom and Sep Vanmarcke also in the nine-rider squad.
"Yesterday we had a meeting and I asked them to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight to show ourselves united. That's because two of the nine riders here will easily find a new team but the other seven maybe not. So I said: 'please help the team first but help each other too'. They all said that’s a good idea."
Everyone at the Belkin team was surprised and somewhat disappointed that the Belkin brand opted not to continue its sponsorship, just a year after coming on board for the 2013 Tour de France. The US-based company cited cycling's lack of global exposure as their reason to end their involvement in cycling.
“You need to asked them the reasons why Belkin stepped away," Plugge said, still clearly hurt and angry by the decision.
"We're upset, that's logical. We're especially disappointed because the figures tell a different story."
"Sponsors need to understand that the Tour Down Under is as big as the Tour de France but only in Australia. So if you're a company with a global image, you go there and do it as if it's the Tour de France. So for companies with a global reach, the WorldTour is a good thing."
"There's a lot of value for money in cycling. I think potentially this sport could be one of the top five sports in the world, next to football and F1, but we have to create a better story around it. I don’t have to explain to anyone what the football Champions League is but I have to explain what the WorldTour is. The sport needs to change. Fortunately that's coming in the next few years with a better calendar, a better structure."
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