Cylance will return to the UCI women's peloton for another season in 2019, although the team structure behind the California tech company's sponsorship will change significantly.
Current Cylance Pro Cycling team owner Omer Kem confirmed to Cyclingnews he will no longer own the team in 2019, and the Cylance sponsorship will be combined with another program.
"It will be a lot different," Kem said of the 2019 Cylance structure. "Cylance will still be part of the name of the team, and I think, at last check, it's still in the top 10 [in UCI team rankings]. But as I said, there's going to be an announcement made, because it only just came together."
With a mass exodus of riders taking place in the off season and no new 2019 roster announced yet, the Cylance Pro Cycling team's future had been in question. The team lost star sprinter Giorgia Bronzini to retirement, Rosella Ratto to BTC City Ljublijana, Lauren Stephens to Tibco-SVB, Kristabel Doebel-Hickok to Rally Cycling, Sheyla Gutiérrez to Movistar, Jelena Erić to Ale Cipollini, Marta Tagliaferro to Hitec and Israeli champion Omer Shapira to Canyon-SRAM.
The loss of so many top riders meant a significant drop in the team's UCI points and overall team ranking, which is important for gaining entry into the Women's WorldTour races.
Only the top 15 teams in the rankings, which are determined on the second Sunday in January, get automatic invitations to Women's WorldTour (WWT) events. Teams outside the top 15 must rely on wildcard invitations, a much shakier proposition if sponsors expect the team to appear in specific races.
Cylance has been ranked ninth the past three seasons, guaranteeing invitations to all of the WWT races, with the sponsor using the opportunity to host VIP events at the Tour of Flanders over the past two seasons.
Kem told Cyclingnews the new partnership will likely keep the team among the top 10 in the UCI rankings for next year, and, more importantly, he said, it will keep Cylance, which is in the process of being purchased by Blackberry for $1.4 billion, in the sport.
"So, yeah, there were a lot of conversations that happened," Kem told Cyclingnews. "I mean ultimately it came down to Cylance and what they wanted. And so there were conversations about how does Cylance stay in the top 10. We had conversations with plenty of teams.
"So that was a big box that needed to be checked for Cylance and what it is that they wanted to do, and my priority was just trying to keep them in sport more than anything. We didn't need to lose another sponsor."
Kem declined to offer details of the 2019 deal or to name the other team that will be involved, preferring to wait for the official team announcement expected in January.
Cylance, a southern California-based cyber security company, has a global presence and has used the cycling team as a way to reach into the European market. Despite being US-based, Cylance Pro Cycling raced almost exclusively in Europe over the past three seasons, choosing to skip the Women's WorldTour race at the Tour of California this year. The team last competed in September's Madrid Challenge, where Bronzini ended her career with a win on the final stage.
Kem started the Cylance Pro Cycling team in 2016 following his own racing career and director jobs at Bissell Pro Cycling and with Axel Merckx's development team. He managed the SmartStop Continental team in 2015 before that program imploded under a cloud of controversy and unpaid riders. He started the Cylance women's team the following year and also ran the men's Continental Cylance-Incycle team, which folded following the 2017 season.
Although Kem would not confirm the details of the Cylance sponsorship, Cyclingnews understands the company's commitment has gotten smaller with each passing season and is $300,000 for 2019.
With teams likes Boels Dolmans scooping up the top riders, and with Trek stepping into the game with the Trek-Segafredo women's team, putting together a roster that could stay in the top 15 is getting more expensive, Kem said, and so he decided to offer the sponsorship to other teams, hoping to combine with another program to keep the Cylance deal afloat.
"The economics of women's cycling have changed dramatically from when I started doing this," Kem said. "I would say for every team that's come in and spent more money, it's certainly caused a ripple effect, or kind of a trickle-down effect, for the rest of the teams.
"Fairly early on I knew I was going to lose Sheyla Gutiérrez and Giorgia Bronzini," he said. "Lauren Stephens got hurt in Australia and never really came back. So we had kind of a tough year even though the team won races. But for every dollar that was invested in those riders and their success, you know that those UCI points are going away. That's a tough reality for women's cycling.
"If you look at Boels Dolmans, they have like 5,000 UCI points. They have enough UCI points to be three top-10 teams. They can afford to pay riders and have a really deep roster. And for a lot of teams like mine, you know, for the Cylance team, it's just the reality of every year you're chasing points."
There are myriad teams Cylance could combine with to remain in the top 10 of the UCI rankings, with candidates including Danish team Virtu Cycling, which is run by American Carmen Small and which recently gained UCI points by signing Marta Bastianelli, Rachel Neylan, Anouska Coster and Sofia Bertizzolo. German-registered Canyon-SRAM on Tuesday announced a last-minute signing of the Israeli road champion Shapira, who rode with Cylance in 2018.
The former Trek-Drops team has been looking for a new sponsor since Trek threw its weight behind its own women's team, with Drops starting a crowd-funding campaign to save the program. Although the team is not in the UCI top 10, it recently announced it would return in 2019 with new sponsors.
Kem told Cyclingnews the deal only recently came together, and the organisations involved expect to make an official announcement in January.