What a difference a few weeks make. At the start of the month, August 1 to be precise, a press release was dispatched with the announcement that Aqua Blue Sport had bought Sniper Cycling, the parent company of Veranda's Willems-Crelan. Within hours the news was deleted, as Sniper Cycling issued a strongly-worded denial and Aqua Blue was left looking for excuses.
On August 30, Sniper Cycling are once again in the news as owner Nick Nuyens has confirmed that his Veranda's Willems-Crelan team will merge with Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij for next season and race under the banner of Roompot-Crelan.
According to Nuyens, his Belgian Pro Continental team only opened negotiations with Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij within the last week, and although he would not discuss the exact reasons for negotiations breaking down between Sniper Cycling and Aqua Blue, he stressed that the merger would provide the new team with a more stable footing for the future. Aqua Blue confirmed on Monday that they would disband.
"You know how it goes. Suddenly you meet each other, you have a good talk and you join forces," Nuyens told Cyclingnews after the merger was made official on Thursday.
"This move is better for both us and things actually moved really fast. We started talking at the end of last week. It took only a few days to agree. We met each other through another person, so it wasn't like we came to them or they came to us. You know how cycling is, and it's the same people at races. That's how it goes."
Nuyens added that both his team and Roompot could have carried on as single entities in 2019 but with Veranda's Willems and Nederlandse Loterij both leaving the sport, the remnants from both teams' management saw mutual benefit in working together. Both squads have around six riders contracted for next season, and there are plans to have a roster of around 18 riders in 2019. Bike suppliers are still to be confirmed but the new team will have a Belgian paying agent and race under a Dutch flag.
"We talked about the situation that we were in and the situation that they were in. We had a sponsor that was stopping, and they had the same. They could continue on their own, and so could we, but joining forces gave us more opportunities," said the former Tour of Flanders winner.
"There are now the next steps because this all went really fast. Now we have the agreement, so next is to decide which riders and people. We have some riders under contract but the next step is to make the team complete. I think we have six riders under contract for next year and with Roompot it's more or less the same. Next year we'll have around 16 to 20 riders. It depends a little bit on what happens in the next few days. We also have our cyclo-cross team so we need to keep those riders. It could be that we have 18 riders."
If both teams could exist as single entities in 2019, as Nuyens says, then the question must be asked to as why a merger was needed. Sniper Cycling admitted that they were in talks in Aqua Blue, but that a deal could not be reached, so a concerted effort to find the right partner had been made for several weeks at least.
"It gives us a lot more opportunities. It's a better story," Nuyens added.
"We have a lot of contacts, they have a lot of contacts and as a Pro Continental team it's not that easy because you've got to always fight for wildcards, for your budget, and for riders. So the nicer your project is, it's not easier, but it's less complicated. If you have the same vision, of helping young guys take the next step in their careers and there's a big gun in the team like Wout van Aert, then why not do it? If you continue on your own it's more of a struggle and this takes us to a higher level. That's something that both teams want."
Van Aert has a contract with Nuyens for 2019 and by keeping the same paying agent for next year the deal remains watertight. That said, Nuyens admitted that the young rider had not signed an offer of a contract extension for 2020 and 2021. Nuyens admitted that the reports of LottoNL Jumbo having already signed van Aert for 2020 could well be true.
"I've been reading the same stories as you. We made an offer for 2020 and 2021. It didn't work out, so after that, I've been reading the same rumors. I assume that they are true but we're focusing on 2019. Those rumors could be true."
As for Aqua Blue, Nuyens would not discuss why or how talks broke down. According to Aqua Blue, the management at Sniper Cycling kept on moving the goal posts, while Cyclingnews understands that Aqua Blue jumped the gun on their purchase of Sniper Cycling and that several members of the Belgian organization's board were unaware of the negotiations.
"I don't want to come back to that too much," Nuyens said.
"It didn't work out. There are some reasons as to why but that's life and we're really happy with Roompot. There was no agreement with them [Aqua Blue Sport]."