The split of cycling sponsors Omega Pharma and Lotto continues to create headlines in Belgium. Three days after the national lottery announced that it was parting ways with the pharmaceutical company, Omega Pharma CEO Marc Coucke has denied causing the split.
"Since the break-up has been announced, Lotto is saying that it's our fault because we supposedly wanted to become more international," Coucke told Belgian Radio 1.
Still "surprised" by Lotto's decision, which they had announced on Friday last week, Coucke also regretted the situation. "It is, after all, a beautiful project that is being stopped. We showed that a private business could also very successfully be involved in cycling, and our cooperation with the national lottery set an example for that success.
"Everyone on the team is a bit scared and sad. We had the feeling of being part of a beautiful Belgian cycling project."
Coucke is busy planning the future without Lotto, determined to keep the squad's leaders Philippe Gilbert and Jurgen Van Den Broeck. The team's management company BCC (Belgian Cycling Company), a daughter firm of Omega Pharma, is now looking to find a new co-sponsor and negotiate with the team's most important riders to extend their contracts.
"We want to keep our leaders, and Jurgen Van den Broeck and Philippe Gilbert have already said that they wanted to stay - which is normal, as they are still under contract with us. But we also believe there is a real chance of keeping them in the future. We talked and the reactions were positive," Coucke said, at the same time warning his former allies not to become his rivals.
"If the national lottery really wants to start a new project, I wish them success. But if they come to steal from us then that's not going to be OK," he added.