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Future uncertain for Equipe Nürnberger and Milram

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The 2009 Equipe Nürnberger

The 2009 Equipe Nürnberger (Image credit: Olaf Grünewald)
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Team Milram riders during the 2009 season

Team Milram riders during the 2009 season (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

German cycling continues to suffer as its two major men's and women's teams face up to an uncertain future. Sponsorship problems have plagued German professional teams in recent years, with Milram and Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung the latest squads to suffer the pinch.

The past decade has witnessed a huge reduction in the number of top-level German-registered professional teams. Long-time sponsors T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner withdrew from the sport in 2007 and 2008, respectively, while Team Bianchi lasted only one season after it rescued Team Coast in 2003.

Now, Milram - Germany's only ProTour team - is faced with the search for a new sponsor after this season. Sponsor Nordmilch AG, maker of the Milram brand of dairy products, confirmed to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Monday that it will stop sponsoring the team at the end of 2010 and that an extension of the sponsorship is not under consideration. “Sponsoring is an efficient method to increase product recognition. We have achieved this goal.”

Team manager Gerry van Gerwen is already searching for new sponsors, and hopes to maintain the team as German. He has promised to announce details of the team's future in July, “on the second rest day of the Tour de France.” Van Gerwen told the FAZ that he is already going all-out in the search for new sponsors, “with all contacts that we have. We are not nervous [about finding a replacement sponsor].”

Nordmilch will continue to fulfil its financial obligations for this year, “but only what is necessary.” It has already cancelled its sponsorship of the Milram Continental team, which has subsequently folded.

However, Milram's situation looks good compared to that of Germany's only women's team, Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung. The insurance company announced over the summer that it would stop sponsoring the team after 16 years of support. The team quickly came up with a new sponsor, Skyter GmbH - a Bavarian-based yacht leasing firm.

Team manager Herbert Oppelt was happy with his new sponsor and promptly signed several new riders, including Olympic Champion Nicole Cooke of Great Britain. But everything fell apart late last week as the Skyter announced it was withdrawing from the project.

However, according to the Nürnberger Nachrichten, Skyter has never signed the sponsorship contract. According to the newspaper, Skyter has had the finished contract since July, but came up with “sometimes obscure” reasons to postpone its signature. Oppelt trusted the firm and went ahead with signing contracts with riders and suppliers.

The team has turned to Nürnberger Versicherung, to see if the company can possibly extend its sponsorship for another year, according to the Nürnberger Zeitung, but the chances don't look good.

With only a few weeks to go before the start of the 2010 season, the management and riders see little-to-no-chance of saving the team, with Oppelt calling it a “total disaster” for cycling. He has told all his riders that they are free to look for new jobs. Sport Director Jochen Dornbusch has made efforts to affect eleventh-hour transfers for the team's riders, but admitted that there is very little room left elsewhere.

“I have already called Columbia-HTC and Cervélo TestTeam, but they don't have any places left,” he told the Nürnberger Zeitung.

Dornbusch had no good words for Skyter and its business director, Michael Lindemann. “He cheated us all and used the team to get some publicity for his firm. I wasn't even surprised when he cancelled,” he said.

“My impression of him was negative from the beginning, I always found him suspicious,” Dornbusch continued. “I wouldn't even buy a used car from someone like him.”

Lindemann could not be reached for comment, and according to the Nürnberger Nachrichten the team has been unable to reach him for a week.