Hanegraaf secures sponsor, awaiting UCI decision

Team Manager Jacques Hanegraaf

Team Manager Jacques Hanegraaf (Image credit: Gregor Brown)

Dutch cycling team manager Jacques Hanegraaf, who operated the Unibet.com ProTour squad through his company, Cycle AB, is busy planning a new team for the 2008 season having secured a new title sponsor. The outfit is expected to be built around the remaining structure of the now defunct Unibet.com squad, according to the Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, however what level licence the squad participates under is in the UCI's hands.

"I have found a new sponsor for next season," Hanegraaf confirmed. "I have good reason to be optimistic. I can't say much about the team, but what I can say is that I am waiting on an answer from the UCI to find out at what level the squad will be – in the ProTour or as a Professional Continental Team. Once I have heard, then I will be able to tell you more on the teams structure."

Hanegraaf didn't release any further information about the squad's new sponsor; however the news will come as a welcome surprise for many of the ex-Unibet.com riders who are still looking for a new employer in an increasingly difficult job market. "We are looking at a squad of a minimum of 15 riders, but everything hangs on the UCI's decision," he concluded.

The Unibet.com outfit suffered at the hand of event organizers in 2007, with many of the major race organizers moving to block its participation. Following the joy of being granted the final ProTour licence for this season in late 2006, the elation was quickly quashed when the Amaury Sport Organisation announced on January 13 the team wasn't welcome at the opening ProTour race of 2007, Paris-Nice.

ASO's announcement in January was the first in a string from the French organizer, whose portfolio of events included the Tour de France, with other race organizers soon joining the movement to exclude the squad. Despite a number of court cases in a last ditch bid to gain entry at several events the squad was entitled to start due to its ProTour status, the squad and its riders were ultimately forced to miss the majority of 2007's major races.

While the reason being put forward for the Swedish squad's snubbing was related to primarily French law forbidding the advertisement of online gambling in a country that has a state-owned monopoly on gambling, it's widely accepted that the team became a victim in the battle between the Grand Tour organizers and the UCI. This notion is supported by the fact that many organizers also refused Unibet.com's proposal to ride without the company's branding, instead offering to compete under the name Canyon.com – as it did at several events throughout the season.

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