FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Swiss businessman Andy Rihs, the financial backer for one of cycling’s top WorldTour teams BMC Racing, died Wednesday evening.
The 75-year-old, born in 1942, had been suffering from a blood disorder and was at the Susenberg clinic in Zurich.
Rihs reached the sport’s high point when his BMC Racing team won the Tour de France with Australian Cadel Evans in 2011.
“I just didn’t lose a mentor and/or a team sponsor, but a close friend. He’s going to be missed,” BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews.
“You can’t measure all those things that he did for cycling, but he’s done it with open arms and has always been a doer and not a taker. He contributed tremendously to the growth of the sport.”
Rihs funded BMC Racing to promote his bike brand since 2007. His contribution took the squad from a small, third-division U.S. team to the top with wildcard invitations to the grand tours and eventually a spot on the WorldTour.
His hearing aid company backed Team Phonak from 2000 until it disbanded at the end of 2006 after the Floyd Landis affair. Landis won the Tour de France but had the title stripped when a test showed he used synthetic testosterone.
Rihs stayed committed to the sport he loved. He built the current team around stars Greg Van Avermaet and Cadel Evans. The Belgian Van Avermaet won Paris-Roubaix in 2017 and new hire Richie Porte is trying to get the team another Tour win, with the help of American Tejay van Garderen.
The team will continue, with plans to race Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but things will be “difficult” without Rihs.
“It’s difficult,” continued Ochowicz. “He’s been with this project for 10 years and a friend for 20.
“It’s not a bit [easy], in the end, it’s always a surprise and a shock to everybody. And at the same time, we are losing our best friend. It’s not easy. It’s going to take a while to recover from this.”
A native of Zurich, Rihs also funded the Young Boys football club in Bern and owned La Coquillade, a winery and luxury hotel in the south of France.
In the coming months, the cycling team plans to honor the man who made everything possible. Ochowicz said, “We are going to do something to show our respect.”
The current roster includes 24 cyclists. Over the past 18 years, countless others have worn one of Rihs’s jerseys.
“He’s been in the sport, helping tremendously in lending support in many different elements in the sport. Always someone who was giving and not taking. On many different fronts,” Ochowicz said.
“And if you look at the peloton, there are a lot of riders in the peloton who raced for Andy’s teams over the years. And staff who’ve worked on his teams. So it’s a pretty big audience of friends and family who Andy has influenced in the sport of cycling.”
BMC Racing runs on a budget of around 25 million euros ($30.9 million). Already, Ochowicz and his team were looking for a title sponsor to take over in 2019. Several are lined up, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
“We hope to carry on his dream and his wishes that the team continues,” Ochowicz continued, “That’s what we are working on every day, and have been anyway many months for some time now. And that will continue.”