The number one women's team in the world, Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam, announced Thursday that its co-title sponsors will end their contracts at the end of 2020. At a press conference at the Majestic Hotel in downtown Harrogate at the UCI Road World Championships, director Danny Stam said that he is confident that the team will find new sponsors and that he intends to continue to build the program.
"I'm confident we will find new sponsors," Stam said. "We are in talks [with sponsors], but nothing is sure until you have signed. There are potential sponsors that are interested to take on our team."
Boels-Dolmans has been the most successful women's team in recent history. They have been the number one women's team in the world since 2015 and have won the elite women's road race World Championships for four consecutive years: Lizzie Deignan, Amalie Dideriksen, Chantal Blaak and Anna van der Breggen.
Asked if he would accept a reduced budget, Stam said, "No."
"If you go for a small budget you are going back, we want to go forward not back. We are ready for the next step now. All respect to the Boels and Dolmans, but it was always the Dutch team. I think we need to think about an international team. We want to make steps. If you want to make steps, you need to go bigger."
Stam said he plans to grow the team beyond 2020, aiming for an 18-rider roster that he can field two teams across the Women's WorldTour and other international events throughout the season. He understands that his ambition seems big considering he is searching for a new sponsor.
"You must show what kind of ambitions you have," he said. "If you speak with our new potential sponsors, we also need to explain to them where we want to go with our team. Our team has grown fast and we need to continue. If we want to be part of the growth of women's cycling, we need to say that we need to provide better contracts … we need double teams."
Some of the up-and-coming teams in women's cycling have formed off the benefits of established WorldTour men's program; Trek-Segafredo, Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar, have all experienced much success in their first years of racing. Stam said that he has not been approached by a men's team to join programs, but that he would prefer his team to remain as an independent women's program.
"In the moment, there is no interest from a men's team, so that is not an issue," he said. "Also, in a normal life, we speak about independent women and we want to grow on our own. It gives us something extra if we have an independent women's team, but still can be the number one, and not lean on the benefits from a men's team. We always try to get our own things handled, to show that this can be an independent women's sport."
Anna van der Breggen, defending world champion ahead of the elite women's road race in Yorkshire, said that she believed that now was a good time for change. She said that women's cycling is growing, there is more funding coming into the sport, more live TV, more races and the UCI is implementing more professionalism for the women's side of the sport. Stam agreed with Van der Breggen noting that now was a good time for sponsors to come into the sport.
"Boels and Dolmans jumped into the sport nine years ago, and they saw the development, and their time is done," Stam said. "Margins are still growing, if you jump in now, you can start for a really good amount, and go into the boom with [the team]. If you want to be part of it, you need to do it now. A lot of men's teams own women's teams - Trek, Mitchelton, Movistar - if you want to have a brand that shows it's own name [independent women's program], this is the team."
Boels Dolmans not among the top-tier in 2020
The UCI announced the list of eight teams that will make up the top level (WorldTeams) of the new two-tier system and notably absent from the list was the Boels Dolmans team. Stam said that he applied for a licence but because he could not provide a guarantee of four years, given that Boels and Dolmans contracts would end in 2020, his application was denied.
"In the first meeting, we applied for the WorldTour but we came across the rule that you need to apply for a four-year licence," Stam said. "We had a very short decision to make. They said we needed to have a four-year future [guarantee] or else we could not apply for the WorldTour."
The UCI announced the Women's WorldTour reforms last year, which include the two-tier system along with minimum salary, insurances and other steps to improve the professionalism of women's cycling. Asked if he felt the four-year guarantee would be too difficult for women's teams to meet, Stam said, "No", and that would help provide more stability and security for women in the sport.
"I assume that everyone knows the regulations from the UCI to apply," Stam said. "We also knew the regulations but we put the question to the UCI that we wanted to apply for the WorldTour even with the issue with the four years. The UCI makes the regulations. It was no exception for us. But I agree with the four-year guarantee because it will help women's teams provide longer support, a bigger future.
Even though Boels-Dolmans will not be a top-level WorldTeam in 2020, Stam believes he will have no problem being invited to all of the Women's WorldTour races. He also said he plans on joining the WorldTeam-level in the future.
"They [organisers] have to invite us. There are only eight WorldTour teams next year, and you cannot make a race with just eight teams," Stam said. "They will need to invite the first teams from the UCI ranking, as long as we are in that top level, you have nothing to worry about. By 2022, however, there will be 15 World Teams, and so in one moment, we will need to be among the WorldTour teams, even for our image. If we didn't have the problem with the contract for four years, we would have been there next year."