Dimension Data team manager Doug Ryder is hoping to keep both Deloitte as a major sponsor and Mark Cavendish as a team leader in 2019 as the African WorldTour team tries to fight back after a testing spring hit by injuries to a string of leading riders.
Last week the usually well-informed Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf first reported that Deloitte would no longer back the Dimension Data team in 2019 and instead join up with bike brand Giant to replace BMC as title sponsor of Jim Ochowicz's squad for 2019.
Cyclingnews understands that Ochowicz has confirmed to his riders that the reports of Deloitte coming on board are not true and he is hoping to fund a team for 2019 via sponsorship from Giant, as well as existing partners Sophos, and Swisse Vitamin.
The reports about Deloitte caused Ryder a few sleepless nights. He was with a group of important Deloitte guests at the Tour of California when De Telegraaf published its story, and Deloitte never confirmed or denied the reports.
The precarious nature of professional cycling and the huge budgets needed to sign the biggest riders and provide them with the best support means the WorldTour is often dog eat dog and a battle of survival. However, Ryder ruled out a merger with the BMC Racing team, despite reports that Dimension Data will ride BMC bikes in 2019. He is focused on securing the next phase of the African team's future and is convinced the team can continue to help develop African riders and help African children via the Qhubeka charity.
"There are lots of conversations going on with sponsors all the time and I don't think reports like that help anyone, neither us or even Jim Ochowicz as he tries to secure the future of his team," Ryder told Cyclingnews at the Giro d'Italia.
"Our contract with Deloitte is up for renewal and we're in conversation with them. I'm not sure if it will be yes or no but we want to maintain the partners we have because we have some amazing partners and we've brought some amazing partners into the sport. We want to continue to do things a little differently."
The 2018 Dimension Data squad includes 13 African riders, who the team are helping to develop, with Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Louis Meintjes, Steve Cummings, Igor Anton as stand-out riders. Although Meintjes was forced to quit the Giro d'Italia due to illness, 22-year-old Australian Ben O'Connor has emerged as a future Grand Tour talent. He is currently 12th overall and third in the best young rider competition.
Keeping Cavendish is key
Mark Cavendish's arrival at Dimension Data in 2016 lifted the squad to a new level, securing the team WorldTour status. He won four stages at the 2016 Tour de France, including the opening sprint stage that gave the team the first yellow jersey of the race. Steve Cummings won a stage to Mende in 2015 on Nelson Mandela Day when the team was known as MTN-Qhubeka.
Cavendish turned 33 last week and has endured a difficult spring due to crashes and injury but his decade of sprinting success means he is one of the few globally recognised athletes in professional cycling. Cavendish helped bring Deloitte and Oakley to the Dimension Data team and his choice of teams for 2019 could still significantly shape the sponsorship market.
If Cavendish opts not to stay with Dimension Data it could undermine Ryder's plans for the future. He would have to find a new team leader, in a difficult market, to keep his major sponsors happy and ensure success in 2019.
"We'd love to keep Mark. He's core to our team, an amazing individual, and has done a huge amount for the Qhubeka charity. It'd be a privilege to keep Mark in the team for 2019, we'd love to keep him," Ryder told Cyclingnews.
"Mark's had a tough start to 2018 but you never write off a champion and Mark is a born-and-bred champion. He fights every day. He's still hungry and wants to do a lot. We're confident he will be back at his best for the Tour de France."
Riding the down wave, working to get back up
The Dimension Data team have won just three races this season after injuries massively disrupted their ambitions and race rosters. They sometimes face problems securing visa for their African riders, obliging other riders to step up and race more. Their African status makes them unique and attractive to sponsors but makes it harder to compete at WorldTour level.
Their current difficulties coincide with the end of the Deloitte sponsorship and Cavendish's three-year contract.
"If you look at our Classics group, five out of our eight riders were eating hospital food in the spring instead of racing. We had to bring other riders in and that affected their race programmes. It has been tough but we're through it now and confident we're fighting back," Ryder explained.
"The sun shone on our backs for a long time but we know every team has its ups and downs. We're just riding that down wave at the moment but we'll be back soon. We won Milan-San Remo in 2013 when we'd just stepped up a level. In 2015 we were in the top three of the Tour de France teams classification with three days to go. Mark gave us that special moment in 2016 and Steve Cummings won on Mandela Day. That was a historic moment.
"The tough times unite a team together and connect everybody. Of course, sometimes people don't believe in each other anymore but our team know that if we do well, race well, we end up doing more for the Qhubeka charity. Our success reflects on the donations to that. That's what motivates us and picks ups up every day. This team has another dimension, we have something to focus on when times are hard."