After a brief scare that his team might not be able to replace Trek and its subsidiary, Bontrager with a new title sponsor for next season, Axel Merckx told Cyclingnews Sunday that his development team will return in 2014.
The team's future was temporarily in doubt after Trek took over title sponsorship of the RadioShack Leopard World Tour team next year and would not be able to continue to support the US-based Continental team. But Merckx said Sunday before the final stage of the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado that he has a "handshake agreement" with a new sponsor.
"To me it's a deal, and to them it's a deal, too," he said. "But we just need to put it on paper and make everything official and then make the announcement. It's going to be really exciting and I'm really glad about it."
Merckx will also take over ownership of the team, which has produced a steady stream of riders for the WorldTour.
"To be honest, it is a different step because it is going to be my team," Merckx said. "It was my team a little bit before, but Trek had lots of say in it. But now I'm going to take ownership of it, and with a new partner we're going to be able to build on something for the long term."
Although Merckx has enough financial commitments line up to move forward with his team at its current level, he said, he is still seeking out new partners for next season and beyond.
"We're not at 100 percent of where we want to be with the budget, but I have enough to at least start a team and try to keep it at the same level as it is right now," he said. "It is a huge relief for me and a huge relief for some of the staff and some riders. It's been a stressful few weeks, but I'm glad that it's coming around, and we'll make an announcement later about who [the title sponsor] is."
Now Merckx will be busy with the task of signing riders for 2014 after having graduated five riders from the 2013 team onto the WorldTour and Pro Continental levels.
"There's a base that I want to keep for sure from this year, which is Tanner Putt, Ryan Eastman and James Oram," he said. "Those guys are pretty much certainties and they want to stay, too. I asked those guys to wait around. And I want to get the first-year guys that were with us, like Alex Darville and Greg Daniel. I want to keep those guys, because there is still room for development. And it's time for them to step up a little bit and contribute to the program in maybe a bigger way. But from there on it's pretty much an open book."
Merckx said he is excited about the prospect of finding more riders and helping develop their potential over the long-term.
"We'll try it for one year with a new partner, and then we'll take it year by year," he said. "But we're still looking for some partners for the long term. Hopefully it's going to work, and then we're going to work with USA Cycling to build something really cool for cycling in North America."
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