IAM Cycling founder Michel Thétaz has said that he is proud of what he team has achieved and that there is little he would do differently despite the decision to close the team at the end of the season. After months of speculation about the team’s future, the news came on Monday that they would shut up shop at the end of 2016 after failing to find a co-sponsor.
“I’m pleased and proud with what we have done in the last four years,” Thétaz told Cyclingnews. “We made a lot of mistakes but we often corrected them… What I get now, the feedback I get from the riders and the staff, is that it was a great adventure. There are certainly some things that weren’t perfect but everybody was very comfortable in the team.”
The team may have failed to find the extra funds required to stay afloat but that wasn’t to say there was no interest in the team. Thétaz says that plenty of teams had noted their interest in joining forces with the Swiss outfit. BMC were one of those who reportedly in talks with IAM Cycling but Thétaz did not want to dilute the team that he had already built. He was also reluctant for his investment company IAM Funds to step back and be a secondary sponsor.
“IAM Cycling always wanted to be in the driving seat, and a leading position so the only thing that we were looking for was a co-sponsor and not us becoming a co-sponsor,” explained Thétaz. “As we have a strong team, although not quite strong enough, we felt that the structure was there. We wanted a co-sponsor who was convinced that the structure was appropriate. BMC is a totally different structure, which allowed them to go alone without any trouble.
“We met [people] all the time at races, we saw all the managers of the teams so we discussed with a lot of teams. We had discussions with different teams that were willing to give up their status and to link with us for a potential merger but this is almost impossible. Our answer was 'thanks very much, come in but you have to fire most of your riders and your staff because we have some outstanding staff already'. Then you realise that it was almost impossible to merge because then we would have to destroy what we have already made.”
IAM Cycling’s journey began with Thétaz and others sitting down to set out their vision in April 2012 and they joined the Pro Continental ranks for the 2013 season. The got off to a solid start with Thomas Lofkvist’s overall win at the Tour Méditerranéen in February of that year. Things progressed the following season with Matteo Pelucchi delivering them a win at Tirreno-Adriatico, Sylvain Chavanel’s GP Plouay success, and Mathias Brandle’s two stage wins at the Tour of Britain.
The success would send them into the WorldTour as Europcar was demoted, Astana had troubles with the Licence Committee, and Cannondale and Garmin-Sharp merged, leaving the top level of cycling with a dearth of teams. They enjoyed 14 wins and Brandle put them in the spotlight again with his successful Hour Record attempt but the writing was on the wall already and stepping back to Pro Continental level was not an option.
“At the launch for this season last December, I already told the team that we wanted in terms of the positioning of the team and that we would be working at the beginning of this first part of the year to try and achieve that goal. Slowly and surely we realised that it would be difficult to convince potential investors,” said Thétaz.
“Downgrading is not the sort of spirit and conviction of the company in Geneva. We are into non-conventional cycling and therefore we like to differentiate ourselves from mainstream and coming back to be a Pro Continental team would be a disaster. We wanted to do, stronger or bigger and if we can’t do that then we prefer to give up.”
Thétaz decided to make the announcement in May, rather than later, to give his riders and staff enough time to find new jobs for 2017. His first foray into professional cycling may not have gone to plan but he has not discounted a coming back further down the line.
“I will always focus on cycling as much as I can and who knows maybe there will be something that makes me interested. In any case, my door is wide open to new possibilities.”