Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
Team Belkin has often talked about the desire to “ride the future“, but many riders must today be asking “so, what future is that, exactly?”
The title sponsor has decided to pull the financial pin at the end of the season.
Belkin, an American technology company only signed up twelve months ago to fill the void left by the doping related departure of Rabobank.
Their 2014 season was going ok too. Belkin was ranked ninth in the World Tour rankings, just ahead of Orica-GreenEDGE, who many would say have had another great season. Belkin has 13 wins on the board, compared to the top ranked Omega Pharma Quickstep with 35, and Sky seventh with 18.
OGE do have an impressive 22, but 13 is not a shabby effort when you concede Astana only has eight wins, Trek (ranked eighth) nine, Garmin andamp; Cannondale have 10, Lotto Belisol and Europcar 12 each. Sixth ranked BMC has 14.
So why did they pull out?
A statement on their website says that “while initial brand awareness results increased for the Belkin brand throughout Europe, the company strategy has changed to be more globally focused for all of the Belkin International brands: Belkin, WeMo and Linksys.”
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Belkin before they joined the World Tour and I would’ve thought a ‘World Tour’ would’ve given them a global profile.
So now 30 riders, many of whom are contracted for next season, could face weeks or months of uncertainty, unless Team Belkin MD Richard Plugge can very quickly find a replacement sponsor.
He says they (Belkin) were already in conversation with additional sponsors and can still attract money ahead of the Tour, but time is running out. Riders are officially allowed to sign for new teams after August 1, but the reality is that many riders seal their deals during the Tour.
Belkin riders could hang on and see what happens with their team or decide that that’s too risky an option and look for another team.
The problem is that Belkin need riders to commit so they can attract new sponsors. If the top riders leave, then why would new money want join the team?
Theo Bos, Robert Gesink, Wilco Kelderman, Bauke Mollema and Sep Vanmarcke would all be great pickups, with Kelderman a perfect fit for Orica Orica-GreenEDGE, but Belkin would dread any of them leaving.
But it shouldn’t come to that, because as essentially a Dutch team, they should stay and continue to represent one of cycling’s heartlands.
It’s not right for Belkin to be able to pull out after one season. The comment about switching to a more global focus smacks of using cycling purely as a stepping-stone. A year on the World Tour has lifted awareness of their name, but now they want more. They’ve got greedy and it could cost a bunch of good people their jobs.
When it comes to the UCI awarding licenses for Pro teams at both World Tour and Pro-Continental levels, the only financial stipulation is that sponsors can pay the approximately $1m bank guarantee and have enough money to see out a whole season.
The UCI can award a license for up to four years, but because there’s a points and promotion-relegation system in operation, locking teams into four-year licenses could prove difficult if the funds dry up.
But a one-year guarantee just isn’t enough.
How can anyone plan around that?
Why not insist sponsors unconditionally agree to a minimum three-year deal. In sporting terms three years is a good amount of time. No three years of money, no deal.
Yes, it’s a lot of money, but if the UCI makes it too easy to get your name all over a team, then will cycling ever move forward?
In relation to promotion and relegation, all is needed are some well worded contracts, as racing costs will drop dramatically if the team get relegated to Pro Continental level.
Riders can easily be made aware of the salary outcomes that would apply should that happen. Who knows it may inspire them to race harder because for many the fear of failure is the ultimate motivator.
Only nine teams originally qualified for the 2014 World Tour, leaving nine others, including Sky, Movistar, Orica-GreenEDGE and Lotto-Belisol, to appear before a review board before getting the green light, so what’s to say we won’t see another “Belkin” before the year is out.
So what’s the answer?
Getting sponsors with more money is the obvious one, but you can’t force that to happen. Look back a decade though and you’ll see how the financial backing in cycling has improved, so maybe it’s just an evolutionary thing.
Reducing the number of World Tour teams would also help.
Riders would have more chance of winning because there would be smaller pelotons in the big races, and there would be more money to share from the World Tour sponsors.
Fewer teams would also lift the quality and safety of racing and increase the exposure for sponsors on TV and in other media due to less competition for “camera time.”
Of course, fewer riders would be able to ride the big races but as long as we see the best riders, does it really matter?
But how many teams should there be?
Ten seems too small but 15 seems a good number.
Of course this is all idle speculation, the issue at hand is what do Belkin do and what should their riders do?
Formula One ace Fernando Alonso says he is still committed to building a new team for 2015, and he could step in to save the day, but it seems Spain is where he wants to base his project.
Surely though the Dutch can find someone fairly soon. After all Holland is a cycling heartland, and the riders currently being paid by Belkin deserve better than being sold short by a greedy, short-sighted sponsor.
Let’s ride the future? Yeah, right!