Jim Ochowicz insists he doesn't feel under any time pressure to secure the future of the BMC Racing team and, despite key riders starting to think about 2019 contracts, he hasn't set a deadline for acquiring the requisite funds to run the team next season.
BMC Racing don't make the lengths of their contracts with riders or sponsors public, but Ochowicz, speaking to a small group of reporters at the opening weekend in Belgium, said he has partners 'in the pocket' for 2019. However, with BMC multi-millionaire team owner Andy Rihs not guaranteeing his backing, Ochowicz admitted he is engaged in a daily search for additional funding.
"We've had this team for 10 years now, and this kind of question seems to come up every year. Every year we come back and we sit here and we get asked the question again," he said
"We have a policy of not telling people what are contract terms are like, with sponsors or even with athletes. We have partners in our pocket for 2019. What the extent of those are we are not making public but we have good partners. We're talking to people outside the industry, many people, and they're ongoing. I can tell you that we have ongoing discussions with a number of people in a lot of different businesses.
"It's an interesting situation that we're in, but we're still talking about February today. There's a lot of time left and we're not by any means out of business. We're strong, we're healthy financially right now for the rest of the season, and that bears a lot of fruit because it gives us the time and the efforts to try and raise additional funding, because we do need additional funding, just like any team.
"Every team is looking for sponsors, except maybe Sky. Everybody else is out doing the same thing I do every day. If you talk to Patrick [Lefevere, Quick-Step] or any of the other managers, they're going to say the same thing: we're always looking for sponsors."
BMC have been largely funded by Rihs since their inception in 2007 and have consistently enjoyed one of the highest annual budgets in the WorldTour. However, doubts about Rihs' continued involvement have circulated for a number of years now and it has been reported that at the end of 2018 the Swiss businessman will finally pull the plug. In the last two years, the team has brought on watchmaker Tag Heuer and IT company Sophos as partners but they're still looking for title sponsorship or the sort of investment that would replace Rihs' millions.
"We're definitely looking at a new platform for the team. We don't want to back the programme up to a smaller dimension than how we participate today," said Ochowicz.
"We want to maintain this level of quality, being a contender in every race we go to, whether it's a Grand Tour or a Classic, or a time trial or a team time trial – we kind of do it all. We like that balance and we're comfortable in that zone."
A May deadline
The questions surrounding the team became even more urgent earlier this month when Richie Porte told Cyclingnews that he was giving the team until May to shore up their future.
As it stands, none of the team's riders are under contract for 2019 and, naturally, many of them will start to think about their future employment. Cycling's transfer window officially opens on August 1, but in reality, most deals have already been thrashed out for many months by that point, and many of them already start to take shape in the spring.
Porte is the team's number one Grand Tour rider but with Greg Van Avermaet - their other marquee rider - things could well be even more urgent, with the Classics season – when his market value is at his highest – getting underway at the opening weekend.
"I'm not under any time pressure, no," said Ochowicz. "They're free to do whatever they think they need to do, but I don't think that the first thing on their checklist is to get out of this team. I don't think that's something that anybody's in a rush to do.
"I don't think anybody's running out the door. If they do, that's their choice. There's always an ebb and flow with any team. This year, in particular, there were a lot of player changes – you saw [Marcel] Kittel leave, [Alexander] Kristoff leave, and you had a number of key riders in other teams that left and went somewhere else. Movement in sports is a known thing. It happens in every sport and cycling's not going to be any different. The wish list is absolutely that Greg and Richie are on this team long-term."
Ochowicz said he wouldn't have a problem with riders opening negotiations with other teams.
"Everybody should talk to other people," he said. "You also want to feel out your market value as well, so you have to talk to other people to know what that is. I have riders from other teams come to me right now about riding for us in the future, so if it's not the rider himself it's the manager of the rider."
Asked whether, like Porte, he had drawn a line in the sand and set a provisional deadline for himself, Ochowicz simply said: "No."
He also denied having had discussions with riders about the situation, and indeed having received questions from the riders themselves.
"We've had no discussions about 2019. Nobody's tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'what's going on?'. They're letting us do what we do."