A sponsor announcing it is not to continue is news that no team ever wants to hear, especially mid-season, but after losing DCM and Vacansoleil, the Dutch squad of Juan Antonio Flecha is hoping to keep the team together. The goal is to land a new sponsor before the Tour de France is over and the transfer negotiations begin on August 1.
At the Tour of California, team director Hilaire Van Der Schueren told Cyclingnews that general manager Daan Luijkx has some irons in the fire, and he's confident the team will continue.
"Our manager Mr. Luijkx has been looking for new sponsors since the start of the season. We knew about DCM at the beginning of the year, Vacanasoleil committed at the beginning for five years, possibly seven, but after five years they received what they needed."
Van Der Scheuren wouldn't say that the rumors linking the team's riders to doping contributed to the sponsors' decision, but did say that hiring Riccardo Ricco back in 2010 was a bad idea.
"We thought that he had learned, that he was thinking about his child and his partner, and at the time we were a Professional Continental team and it was important for us to have a big name rider for the wild card invitations. We know now that this was a mistake."
Regarding the team's decision to place Jose Rujano on inactive status after his name came up in association with a doping investigation in Italy, Van Der Scheuren said that choice was made to avoid problems with the Giro d'Italia race organisation, and that he is sure there is no substance to the rumors.
"The decision was made my Mr. Luijkx, and was made after consultation with the UCI and many other contacts. We are sure there is nothing. We sent lawyers to Italy to see what was happening, and there was nothing."
Regarding the alleged links between Flecha and Operación Puerto, Van Der Scheuren was dismissive. "There are rumors, but there are a lot of rumors. When there were rumors four years ago (regarding riders linked to Operación Puerto), Flecha was not on the list."
Van Der Scheuren said that the riders want to stay together with the team, and that sentiment was echoed by both Flecha and young Dutch riders Lieuwe Westra and Wesley Kreder, both of whom are racing in the Tour of California and are more focused on getting results than worrying about sponsorship.
"The team has the aim of continuing, and our team managers are already working on sponsorships. We are focused on our rides and our races. It's a good team structure and they will work something out," Flecha said.
The Spaniard moved to Vacansoleil from Team Sky in order to have more of a free reign in races and enjoys the team's approach to racing. "I was wanting to have more freedom in certain races, especially after the Classics. Maybe not as a captain but to have a different way of racing. Sky is always focused on the GC and on going for one guy in the Grand Tours and other races. Here it's different. You saw the first day [at Tour of California], and yesterday, we were going on the attack and taking different opportunities. We don't have big guys for winning the GC like Team Sky. It's different racing, I'm enjoying it a lot."
When asked if there was more pressure to get results in order to look good to prospective supporters, Van Der Scheuren replied, "We always have pressure. Every day we want to win, it's not because of the sponsorship situation, they will pay us through the end of the year and we hope we can do a lot for them because they gave a lot for the past five years."
Westra, who wore the Tour of California's green points jersey and won the opening stage in Escondido told Cyclingnews that he thinks the chances are good that the team will continue, and is motivated to continue to race aggressively for the team.
"All I can do is race and get results, the rest is out of our hands," Westra said.
As a first-year rider in the WorldTour and for Vacansoleil, Kreder said he is still committed to fulfilling his two-year contract, but said that even though Blanco is also seeking sponsorship, he's not too concerned.
"It's difficult in this time with the money and cycling, but that happens some times, that's cycling. There is always big support for cycling in the Netherlands, that hasn't changed."
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