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UnitedHealthcare folds after ending sponsorship search for 2019

UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling men's and women's programs will fold at the end of his season after a lengthy search for a new sponsor failed to yield a financial backer that would allow the team to continue racing in 2019.

"We have set a deadline by which to reach a title partnership agreement," Thierry Attias, owner of the team's management company Momentum Sports Group, told Cyclingnews Tuesday. "That deadline has passed for the 2019 season. We are keeping our options open for rekindling the program in future seasons."

Momentum Sports Group started the men's program under the title sponsor HealthNet in 2003, before Ouch took over as title sponsor in 2009 for one season. UnitedHealthcare, a health insurance provider, signed up to back the team in 2010, and has been the title sponsor of the men's team for nine seasons and women's team for four seasons. Parent company UnitedHealth Group also owns Rally Health and sponsors the Professional Continental Rally Cycling team, and after management changes, it decided to keep only one team.

Attias knew over a year ago that the company would not renew its contract with the team upon its expiration date at the end of this year. He has been in search of a replacement sponsor and told Cyclingnews that there were several potential partnership contracts in the works, but nothing formulated quick enough to meet the deadlines to go ahead with the teams.

He was upfront with his riders and staff about the struggle to find new sponsorship and set a deadline of July 31 with which to notify them of the team's financial status, so they could find new contracts with other teams for 2019.

The men's team did not meet the August 15 deadline to request an application from the UCI to renew their Professional Continental licence, after which, such team's contracts would have been audited by October 20 and approved no later than December 1. UCI Continental and UCI Women's Team deadlines via USA Cycling required final paperwork to be submitted to the UCI by November 12 but with no financial backing, both teams will be forced to fold.

Attias told Cyclingnews in August that he had set a deadline to find a replacement title sponsor by August 30, and if they had no agreement in place, he would continue the search and consider downsizing the program, or perhaps refocus on 2020.

The UCI announced the 22 teams that had applied for 2019 Professional Continental licences in October and UnitedHealthcare was not on the list.

The American outfit has been one of the most successful in the history of US bike racing. During their 16-year history, the men's team has secured 450 victories, won the National Racing Calendar (NRC) title four times (2004-2006 and in 2008), and individual titles in 2005 with Scott Moninger, and 2007 and 2008 with Rory Sutherland.

They also won the National Criterium Calendar four times (2012-15). The men won the Pro Road Tour (PRT) twice (2016 and 2017), and the individual championship in 2016 with Ty Magner and 2017 with Gavin Mannion. They were two-time UCI Americas Tour team champions (2005 and 2013) on won the individual title with Sutherland in 2012.

Over the years, they have spent time focused on American stage races and criteriums, along with a focus on international races and WorldTour events where they could secure wildcards. This year, the men secured 11 UCI victories; Serghei Tvetcov won Chrono Kristin Armstrong and stages at Tour de Beauce, Tour of the Gila and Tour of Korea, where he also won the overall title. Gavin Mannion won a stage at Tour of the Gila and Colorado Classic, where he also won the overall title. Travis McCabe won two stages of the Tour of Utah and a stage at Colorado Classic.

The women's program has secured over 100 victories in four years, won the PRT championship and individual classification with Ruth Winder in 2017. This year, the women's team won 11 UCI races and overall titles in every major US stage race; Joe Martin Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Gila and at the Women's WorldTour's Amgen Women's Tour, along with the Colorado Classic - all while riding in support of Katie Hall.

Some of the riders on the women's team have found new contracts: Hall will join Boels Dolmans, Lauretta Hanson goes to Trek Factory Racing, Diana Peñuela to Ale Cipollini, Elizabeth Banks and Leah Thomas head to Cervelo Bigla in 2019. Of the men's team, Mannion is set to join Rally Cycling.

It's a tough market for riders as the professional peloton has lost several men's teams including Aqua Blue Sport, Jelly Belly and JLT Condor, and the women's Wiggle High5 team folded, while the Hincapie team is searching for sponsorship. In addition, Silber Pro Cycling found a last-minute replacement sponsor through Floyd Landis, his winnings from the Lance Armstrong whistleblower case and his company Floyds of Leadville. Sniper Cycling and Roompot have announced that they will merge to form Roompot-Crelan, and CCC will take over sponsorship of BMC.

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