CCC Team manager Jim Ochowicz has expressed optimism that he can find a new title sponsor to replace the CCC shoe brand for 2021, going as far as predicting a new backer for his WorldTour team could be in place before the start of the rescheduled Tour de France on August 29.
CCC was struggling as a company before the COVID-19 coronavirus and was forced to close its stores across Europe in recent months as part of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. After several weeks of reports and rumours, Ochowicz confirmed ten days ago that he is looking for a new title sponsor. However, he has noticed the global interest in cycling in recent weeks and appeared confident it can help him find a new sponsor, especially if the rescheduled race calendar between August and November can showcase professional racing.
"I think the races will be important for us, though I get the feeling we'd probably get a sponsor before we get to the Tour de France. I just feel that the way it's going to go down. If I'm right or wrong, I don’t know but I feel that's how it will happen," Ochowicz said in a conference call with selected media, including Cyclingnews on Wednesday afternoon.
e"Business has slowed down in all respect but it also offers opportunities, too, in crisis situations like this. People are looking for opportunities in a lot of different business and new businesses, which have flourished in the last several months. I believe that cycling as an industry is quite healthy. Globally, there's a boom for the bike industry, that's good for the sport and for me when I talk to potential sponsors, they like the cycling story; it's healthy, its transportation, it's a lot of things that are 'in' and that communities all around the world want to participate in. It's a good situation for cycling and also it's a good situation for us to be out there selling the sport."
Ochowicz refused to reveal any names or nationalities of potential new sponsors, recalling how two years ago the swirl of rumours and reports about a replacement for BMC often disrupted the search for new funding. However, he was optimistic and revealed he had even flown to San Francisco, despite the on-going health risks in the USA, to meet with a potential sponsor.
"I am optimistic, yeah. For the reasons I just mentioned," he said.
"At the moment I'd say we have half a dozen of active discussions going on with potential sponsors. You can’t take anything to the bank until you get a signature on a document that confirms a commitment. We don’t have that at the moment but we are talking to a lot of people.
"That number ebbs and flows. I've got two calls after this chat with two interested parties. How interested I don’t know. But we have regular calls from different people, in different countries, different companies with different priorities, that come across our desk on a weekly basis. Some have left and new ones come. A few there for a while now… There's a process for this and it doesn't happen in one day.
"We have something unique on our hands, that isn’t available. We have a franchise and licence with the UCI that we own for the next two and half years. There's value to that because we will be at the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and Paris-Roubaix. Other people can’t say that. Now that Mitchelton-Scott has settled their financial issues with a new sponsor, we may be the only groupe sportif in the WorldTour out looking for a sponsor, that gives us a unique position. July and the Tour de France are traditionally a first deadline for securing title sponsors and big-name riders."
Ochowicz is in a race against time but suggested all deadlines for 2021 are off. The UCI is likely to postpone the team registration process for 2021 until deep into the winter and the impact of COVID-19 has also slowed the rider transfer market.
"Deadlines have kind of disappeared in 2020 because of the virus and because of the nature of our racing calendar," he said.
"There are no deadlines, they keep changing every day. The Tour is in September. So we're not going to put a deadline down. There's just December 31, 2020 if you want to have a team in 2021, that's our only deadline.
"So many things are different today. We're doing business differently to how you normally would, even the executives and CEOs you usually speak to are sitting at home in a t-shirt and shorts like we are. That all slows the process down and why it's not realistic to have a deadline. We're having to adopt to this new way of doing things."
Holding onto Greg van Avermaet
CCC Team leader Greg van Avermaet has again shown his loyalty to the team but is also concerned about his future and considering his options. He and new signings Matteo Trentin and Ilnur Zakarin have contracts until 2021. Ochowicz said he'd respect them but is confident riders will want to stay with his programme.
"Many have perhaps been offered opportunities for 2021 already and they have elected to pause on that until we get some footing. We won't get that until we announce we have a sponsor or until we start racing and show their colours," Ochowicz suggested.
"Greg has a contract and he prefers to stay and we'd prefer to retain him. Opportunities are not going to be few and far between for Greg van Avermaet. He's Olympic champion and will go into 2021 as defending champion, that's a big asset for a team to grab hold of, not mention he's one of the top Classics riders in the world and a great teammate. Greg is going to have a good future in his hands for the next several years and we hope to see wins ands benefits will be shred with our team.
"If he has an offer he couldn't refuse I'd probably not hold him back. I can't say for certain. I don't know if he's had an offer. I know he's had discussion and that’s fair and fine. But I don’t think he's going to jump to a conclusion. We have a long relationship and respect each other.
"I don't think too many people are going to make too many decisions in June or July. After that it’s a normal scenario when you get to the Tour de France and you start to close deals. But we're talking about September."
Ochowicz said he hopes to travel from the USA to Europe in early July as CCC Team ramp up its preparation for the return to racing. Much of the planning for the intense August to November season has been done.
"We've opened the Service Course in Belgium. We've got about 120 race bikes hanging up and there's a lot of work to get equipment prepared for the first races," he explained.
"We'll be on the road heading to Spain and Italy before you know it. The riders are motivated about getting back to racing; they can’t stop talking about it. We've just confirmed our race calendar as of last night. We'll finalise which riders go at the end of this week and riders will adapt their training depending on where they race."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.