Drops to make decision on team future next week

Trek-Drops co-owner Bob Varney says that he and his son Tom will make a decision on the future of the team next week.

The women's team were left in the lurch almost three weeks ago after a potential sponsor for next season dropped out at the 11th hour.

They launched a crowdfunding campaign in the immediate aftermath of the news and have continued to speak with potential backers but, with the new season rapidly approaching, they need to make a call.

"We’ve got the crowdfunding finishing on Monday and British Cycling have various bank guarantees ready to go through to the UCI if everything comes together. I think we’ll be looking to make a decision next week on where we go," Varney told Cyclingnews.

"We’re not going to let people down. We’ve got a lot of people involved with the team and they’re worth fighting for, and we’ll fight to the last minute."

The team have been given an extended deadline of November 27 to get everything together.

Varney said that he was reluctant at first to set up a crowdfunding campaign, but was persuaded to do so by the success last season of Jonathan Vaughters and the Cannondale-Drapac team, who had found themselves in a similar situation when a prospective sponsor dropped out. Though they only received 28 per cent of their $2,000,000 target, EF Education First were inspired by the response and signed a deal to sponsor the team for 2018.

The Trek-Drops crowdfunding campaign has earned over £13,000 since it was launched but it has also put the team on the map. Several other donations - not through the crowdfunding website -  have been given, and some potential sponsors have also come forward.

"We’re not massive fans of crowdfunding, not in professional sport, but it worked for Jonathan Vaughters and hopefully it will work for us. It has raised a huge amount of awareness," said Varney.

"We’ve raised over 13 grand, we’ve had a couple of donations outside of the fundraising, which has been helpful. We’ve had five or six conversations with different levels of potential sponsors."

Riders could race unsalaried in 2019

It is the second time this year that Varney has found himself searching for a new team sponsor. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that their primary sponsor Trek, who had been with the team since the start, would step aside as they focus on setting up their own team. It was a blow, but the Varneys quickly had a new backer lined up and everything was looking positive.

Contracts had been shared and the team believed that they would be able to announce the new deal before the end of October. However, the company began dragging their feet and the deal soon fell through. Varney says the experience has made him less trusting.

"We’d been speaking since May and everything was positive. You look to yourself and think 'could we have done more? Were we a bit gullible?' We trusted them and they were saying all the right things," Varney told Cyclingnews.

"So, that was pretty shitty and I feel sorry for our girls. We’d had Nico [Marche] over from France and we’d discussed all about the training camp and Australia and which riders we thought might go. We were pretty advanced. We were at the point where we were probably going to be talking about booking airline tickets, it’s crazy.

"We were expecting the contracts to be signed that week and once they were all signed we were going to announce it that week. It was all very stressful. We wanted to tell the girls as soon as we could. That was pretty heart-breaking.

"We’ll be a little less trusting going forward, which is a little sad, but it is the way it is."

The team still have a number of their smaller partners on board and they have secured a new bike sponsor for 2019, though that will not be announced until they have all their ducks in a line. On the crowdfunding site, a target of £250,000 has been set out to secure their desired budget. The team could survive on less but that would mean making some very tough decisions.

"If we don’t get there then we’ll have to have a conversation with our riders about being unsalaried," explained Varney. "In our first year, we didn’t pay our riders and they were all openly amateur and that shone a light of that even being a possibility. We would be very reluctant to go back to that if I’m honest. It goes against what we’ve fought for. If that was the worst-case scenario and the girls wanted to do that then that would be something we would discuss."

The team could choose to sit out a season but Varney says that this is not an option.

"I’m not sure that’s a good strategy. I think that once you’re out of the public eye, you’re tomorrow’s chip paper."

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