Fresh uncertainty has been cast over Philippe Gilbert’s future following Monday’s announcement that Omega Pharma and Quick Step will join to form a single team in 2012.
Gilbert has been heavily linked with a move away from Omega Pharma-Lotto at the end of the season, with BMC strongly tipped to land the Belgian champion. However, it is has been reported in the Belgian media that he still has a contract with the team’s management company BCC (Belgian Cycling Company) for 2012.
Before Monday’s announcement, Gilbert was also considering an offer to ride for Quick Step next season. It is as yet unclear if BCC will manage the new Omega Pharma-Quick Step amalgamation. However Omega Pharma manager Geet Coeman is adamant that Gilbert remains under contract for next season and that the recent transfer speculation surrounding the rider was contingent on his current team leaving the sport.
"Let's not forget that Gilbert is still under contract with us," Coeman told Het Laatse Nieuws. "Gilbert was a free agent if the team ceased to exist, but we are continuing."
Gilbert’s manager Vincent Wathelet has refuted Omega Pharma’s contention that Gilbert is under contract for 2012, claiming that the agreement was with the soon to be defunct Omega Pharma-Lotto team. Sporza reports that BCC will seek a buy-out payment of between 1 and 1.5 million Euro before allowing Gilbert to leave for another squad.
“It is a legal struggle and it makes us sick,” Wathelet told Gazet Van Antwerpen. “We do not understand the game that is currently being played.”
Wathelet said that he was unsure what impact the Omega Pharma-Quick Step merger will have on the offer Gilbert had received from Quick Step.
“There are four contract proposals, from Astana, Quick Step, BMC and the new Lotto team,” he revealed. “BCC has not even proposed one. Whether Quick Step’s offer is now considered to be that of BCC, I’ll leave to the lawyers to decide.”
On Monday evening, Philippe Gilbert distanced himself from Omega Pharma’s new project and voiced his disappointment at learning of the Quick Step merger by reading about it on the the internet.
“I’m sorry to discover that Omega Pharma is joining with Quick Step via the internet, I would have preferred to have been informed by my sponsors out of respect for my results and the benefits that I bring to them,” Gilbert told Le Soir, before reiterating that he alone will decide on his team for next year.
“I am the only one who will decide what my next sporting project will be,” he said.
Gilbert confirmed that BMC, Quick Step, Astana and Lotto had all tabled concrete offers for 2012 and he suggested that he was close to a decision.
“To date, Lotto, BMC, Quick Step and Astana have made sporting and financial proposals that interest me. The Tour de France confirmed my choice,” he said.
Although August 1 marked the beginning of the official transfer period, Gilbert explained that he could not yet formally announce his destination for 2012.
“I regret that I am unable to inform my loyal supporters and the press as to my decision, but note that the last official contact with BCC was held through our respective lawyers.” Gilbert said. “I will fight until the end of the season for the colours that I am wearing and also and above all for my formidable teammates.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.