The UCI women's team Bigla-Katusha have announced that their future is in jeopardy after receiving notice that both title sponsors have withdrawn funding amid the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.
"The professional women’s cycling Team, Bigla-Katusha, is now uncertain of its future. The Swiss team, which sits in the top 10 of the UCI world rankings and has done so since 2015, recently received communications from both of its title partners that put the existence of the squad in doubt," read a statement.
"The Team Manager received a letter from its main title partner Bigla, indicating that the company wishes to withdraw 100% of its payments to the team. The team’s other title partner, Katusha, has already declined to pay the team any funds for the past month.
"The team hopes that both title partners will be willing to undertake further discussions with the team to negotiate the best way forward and ensure the squad’s survival."
Bigla has partnered with the professional women's team since its inception in 2005, supporting the team as both a single title sponsor and a co-title sponsor during its during that time. The team has stood on the podium on many occasions and has positioned itself among the top-10 teams in the UCI World Rankings.
"To see such a well-recognisable and successful team, with 200 podiums to its name since 2015, in this difficult situation is very disappointing, not only for the squad, but also for its partners, supporters and cycling fans in general," read the team's statement.
The COVID-19 coronavirus has sparked a global sports shutdown, and while it will continue to have an impact on professional cycling, it has hit the women’s teams particularly hard with 14 of the sport's top-tier 22-event Women's WorldTour being cancelled or postponed.
Ronny Lauke, president of the new women's teams association UNIO, of which Bigla-Katusha is a founding member, expressed concerns that some women's teams would not survive because of the pandemic's impact on sponsors and businesses.
Katusha Sports announced last October that it would co-title sponsor the Bigla team in 2020, not only as the official clothing partner but as a financial backer. Cyclingnews understands that it funded roughly a third of the team's annual budget this year.
In addition, the men's Katusha-Alpecin WorldTour team was taken over by Israel Cycling Academy, and newly named Israel Start-Up Nation. However, Katusha Sports remained on board as the team's clothing partner for 2020, but it does not provide the team with financial support.
Cyclingnews understands that Katusha Sports has been hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and hasn't produced product for the past two months as factories are closed. In addition to its e-commerce centres being closed, the company is not bringing in a profit and stock sales have dropped, which has affected its ability to fulfill financial sponsorship agreements with the women's cycling team.
"Due to the unforeseeable circumstances created by the global Coronavirus pandemic, Katusha Sports has suffered greatly for the last months, causing internal financial hardships for the young company," read a press statement from Katusha Sports.
"Katusha's manufacturing is all within Europe, and unfortunately due to COVID-19, most of the company's factories were shuttered, along with the french based dispatch and e-commerce centre.
"Due to its current financial situation, many commitments of the company had to be reviewed and the financial sponsorships with professional teams are unfortunately in jeopardy for the coming months."
Katusha Sports said it hopes the financial setback is temporary and that it will be able to continue financial support in the future. It also indicated that it would continue to support the women's team as much as possible.
"We know this situation has caused particular stress on our women's team: Bigla-Katusha. Yet in whatever avenue we are forced to take, we will continue our dedication to these riders and this team as much as feasible," read the company statement.
"We all know 2020 is going to be a difficult season for cycling, but we have been actively looking for potential new sponsors and partners for the future, and we will do everything in our power to support the riders on the team in every aspect possible."