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Quick Step takeover makes room for Zdenek Stybar arrival

Belgium’s most venerable team – Quick Step – secured its future Thursday when a pair of high-rolling investors stepped in to guarantee the team’s financial backing through at least 2013.

Quick Step proudly carries the Belgian banner in the European peloton, but its saviors are a Dutch businessman, Bessl Kok, and Czech investor, Zdenek Bakala, who bought a majority share of the team.

According to media reports in Belgium, team manager Patrick Lefevere will stay at the helm and Quick Step will remain the title sponsor in 2011.

“This agreement will allow the team as well as the people who work for the team to have a guaranteed future even after 2011,” Lefevere said in a team statement Thursday. “From now on we will be able to focus on next season and on building the team for the near future. Our objective, as usual, is to win prestigious awards. Quick Step will stay as the main sponsor for the 2011 season. All remaining partners of the team also confirmed their commitment for next season.”

The arrival of Bakala seems to confirm rumors this week in Europe that cyclo-cross world champion Zdenek Stybar is poised to join Quick Step and make a run at the spring classics. Stybar told Belgian journalists that he has a standing offer and could join the road team as soon as this season.

Quick Step – a Belgian-based manufacturer of floor coverings – stood by Lefevere through a string of scandals including team stars Tom Boonen and Johan Museeuw ever since becoming title sponsor in 2003. Quick Step stays on through at least next season.

It’s the ownership of the holding company behind the ProTour team that’s changing hands. Lefevere said the deals was in the works for “several months.”

Stepping in is Bakala, who, according to media reports, is a self-made millionaire who started a financial services company in the 1990s to help facilitate the sales of the state-run companies in his newly independent Czech Republic. He later invested in the mining industry and has branched out into media operations. It’s not known how much Bakala and Kok paid for the team’s shares.

If Stybar does make the transition to the road, it will be interesting to see how fast he can adapt to the new style of racing. Another cyclo-cross star, Lars Boom, has enjoyed considerable success since switching full-time to the road two seasons ago.

The news comes as Quick Step confirmed its place in the 18-team ProTour league and will be entering the 2010 season losing some of its top riders, including two-time Tour of Flanders winner Stijn Devolder, Spanish scrapper Carlos Barredo, sprinter Wouter Wylandt, and workhorses Kevin Hulsman, Matteo Tosatto and Marco Velo.

Boonen will be on the comeback trail next year from knee surgery in July. Among 11 new arrivals are Gerard Ciolek, Nicki Terpstra and Francesco Chicchi.

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