The news that Belkin will exit professional cycling at the end of the season has already sparked uncertainty within the sport with the jobs of an entire roster of riders and staff under threat for next year.
The official news broke Tuesday morning with riders and staff notified via text message that the team’s lead sponsor had exercised a clause within their contract to pull the plug.
Belkin entered the sport in 2013, and were officially unveiled as Team Blanco’s replacement in June of last year. The initial contract was set to run for two and a half years, but a change of strategy from within the American firm leaves team boss Richard Plugge with his second sponsorship search in 18 months after Rabobank exited the sport at the end of 2012.
While Plugge’s main aim will be to secure a sponsor he must also ensure that he has riders on his books in order to court potential suitors. The transfer market is already in full swing with riders and agents busily securing deals for the coming season. Officially contracts cannot be announced under the UCI’s August 1 deadline but the majority of major riders will have agreements in place by the end of the Tour de France.
Martijn Berkhout a Dutch agent with three riders at Belkin, and a host of other riders on WorldTour teams, told Cyclingnews that Belkin’s announcement came as a shock, especially as two of his riders had signed contracts with the team for 2015.
“I’m not going to wait until September to find out if there’s a sponsor. I really like Richard Plugge and I’m really supportive of what they do, and all the plans they’ve made in what has been, and is, a great team but my job is to secure the futures of my riders. They have to keep me informed and at the same time I have to see how things proceed. Of course this is a difficult situation for everyone.”
Plugge could not be reached by Cyclingnews this morning but in a statement on the team’s website he said:
"We will now start an intensive search for a new sponsor to be able to continue the journey that we started. We have full confidence in the future and expect to appear with a new sponsor on the shirt at the start of the 2015 season," Plugge said.
There’s no word yet as to whether Belkin or the team’s management will honour the existing contracts of riders who have signed for 2015 but Berkhout questioned the reasoning as to why riders were offered long term deals if the sponsor had the option to pull out.
“And you have to ask why offer contracts for 2015 if the main sponsor deal wasn’t entirely secure. It’s not easy to find a new sponsor and this is a big crisis for cycling.”