The U23 development team owned by Axel Merckx will return for 2015 with the same mission but a new structure and several new sponsors, the former pro from Belgium told Cyclingnews this week at Interbike in Las Vegas.
The team will undergo a re-branding effort for next season that will step away from one main title sponsor in favor of creating a long-term sustainable brand focused on the development mission of Merckx's six-year-old program.
“Think of it more as a legacy that we want to create with the alumni,” Merckx said. “We're working on the team name right now. It's going to be based upon my name, but we don't know specifically what the name will be yet. We have a few partners that are really interested in coming on board. We're losing some sponsors, but we're getting some new ones. Overall I think we'll have a stronger budget, and that's the main thing.”
Bissell will remain with the team next year, as will SRAM, but Merckx said there will be a new bike sponsor next season after working with Trek since the team's inception in 2009. Rumors on the Interbike floor pointed to Cipollini as the new bike sponsor, but Merckx would not comment on who the bike sponsor would be.
Allyson Vought, marketing director for Cipollini USA, said the company had been in talks with Merckx and several other teams, but she would neither confirm nor deny the 2015 sponsorship.
The UCI Continental team will continue to be registered in the United States, requiring that 60 per cent of the riders be US citizens, but Merckx said there could be more focus on Eurpoean racing next season. He said the program already has several interested European partners.
“The jersey is going to be branded with the partners and sponsors that want to be part of the program,” he said. “We're going to create a lot of marketing and merchandising around that, because we kind of know that we are one of the teams that young kids want to come to because we're independent, we're not tied to anyone else and because of what we've done in the past.”
The team will return multiple riders from the 2014 roster as well as adding some new names for next year. Riders already signed from this year's team include James Oram, Geoffrey Curran, Greg Daniel, Chris Putt, Daniel Eaton, Keegan Swirbul and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
“That's a big one for sure, for the future,” Merckx said of the 19-year-old rider from the UK.
New riders already signed for next year include Will Barta and Justin Oien. Tanner Putt and Ryan Eastman aged out of the program, and Ruben Zepuntke, who finished third last week at the UCI 2.1 Tour of Alberta, will likely move on as well.
“Ruben is negotiating with a few ProTour and Pro Continental teams, especially after his ride last week in Alberta,” Merckx said.
The roster will be structured similarly to previous years, Merckx said, with 10 Continental riders and two “club” riders fresh out of the junior ranks.
“Things are changing, but the mission is staying the same very much,” he said. “So what I'm trying to create is a brand that is sustainable over the years.”