The message on the side of the BMC Racing team car sums up the spirit inside the team bus at the Vuelta a España: “We Ride for Andy.”
That motto is for the late team owner Andy Rihs, who died this spring after a long illness. BMC Racing is shuttering its doors at the end of 2018 and the Vuelta marks the team’s final grand tour.
For a team that won the Tour de France with Cadel Evans in 2011, this Vuelta feels like a going away party for many staffers and riders.
“Everyone’s got pretty good morale,” said Joey Rosskopf, who joined BMC in 2015. “We’re happy to be here. Everyone’s excited about the changes they have for themselves, whether they’re leaving or not. We want to do the team proud.”
BMC Racing is dismantling as the season ends, with many of the top riders already finding new teams. Some, like Rosskopf, Fran Ventoso, and Greg Van Avermaet, are staying as BMC brings on Polish shoemaker CCC as new title sponsor.
Others are moving on. Brent Bookwalter, one of only two riders who rode with BMC during the team’s entire run, said it’s a bittersweet moment for many inside the team bus.
“Everyone is being professional and we’re all racing hard, but everyone also knows this is the last grand tour,” said Bookwalter, who joins Mitchelton-Scott next season. “It’s been home for a long time, so it’s exciting at a certain level to have new challenges, but it’s going to be a bit sad to say goodbye to everyone at the end of the season.”
The ritual of a major team closing at the end of a season is nothing new in professional cycling. Every season, at least one major WorldTour or Pro Continental team closes down. This year is seems like more teams are shuttering, especially in the lower ranks.
Luckily for BMC, the team will continue in a new form. General manager Jim Ochowicz worked out a deal with CCC to keep the team in the WorldTour league for 2019.
Many of the staffers, sport directors, and support crew are staying on. Among them is Marco Pinotti, who raced the final two seasons of his career (2012-2013) with BMC before staying on as a coach and trainer.
“People are not sad. It’s like the last year of high school and a nice experience comes to an end,” said Pinotti, who will continue with the team. “People are enjoying what they are doing and everyone knows it’s their last time together. This is the last time we are all part of the same family. We will all be here in the same cycling world, just not all on the same team.”
The race isn’t shaping up to be a final GC farewell that the team might have been hoping for. Team leader Richie Porte fell ill just before the start of the Vuelta. The Australian wasn’t truly expecting to be a factor in the race anyway because of his recovery from a crash that took him out of the Tour de France in July. Porte, who is heading to Trek-Segafredo next year, still wants to try something before this Vuelta is over.
“The race has been a tough one,” Porte said. “It’s nice to race without pressure and expectation. For me, it’s a bit of a training race, and the spirit of the team is pretty good. That’s the big goal … to go to the worlds and have a good result.”
Instead, BMC has been hunting stages with breakaways and long-range attacks. Several riders have been on the move in the first half of the Vuelta, and it paid last week when Alessandro De Marchi won a stage.
“This is the best way to race, because to win is the best way to remember Andy Rihs and to say thanks to our sponsors who have supported us for all these years,” said De Marchi, who also will stay. “It’s the last time we will have BMC on the jersey or the BMC bikes. We are trying to enjoy every day and nobody is thinking about the last days of the team.”
Hot off a victory Tuesday with Rohan Dennis and with Rosskopf second in the Torrelavega time trial, BMC promises to race hard all the way to Madrid. With three stage wins already to the team’s palmares, the squad is leaving its final grand tour with its head held high.