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Ellingworth: Bahrain-McLaren ‘kicked’ by racing stop, but future is secure

Team boss confident in team’s finances and eager to regain momentum after winning start to season.

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Bahrain-McLaren got “kicked in the balls” by the coronavirus just as it was gaining momentum in its first season since its major makeover. However, team boss Rod Ellingworth is confident the Bahraini outfit will get upright and live to fight stronger than ever.

Despite riders and management forgoing salary through spring, and new backers McLaren offloading nearly one-third of its workforce in late May, Ellingworth asserted to VeloNews last week “there’s no long-term issues with this team.”

It’s been a tough few weeks in the WorldTour, with CCC Team losing its title sponsor and the future of newly branded Manuela Fundación a puzzle as stakeholders butt heads over license ownership.

A whole host of teams has cut wages and laid off staffers through the coronavirus racing stop, with Bahrain-McLaren among them, deferring 70 percent of salary from March through May. A slump in oil prices resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized the team’s Middle Eastern backers, and last month, news came that British motorosport outfit McLaren was due to cut 1,200 of its 4,000-strong workforce.

Nonetheless, Ellingworth is confident in the finances of the outfit that he joined this winter, and is instead focusing on the racing.

Ellingworth was part of a major makeover for his team this winter, which also brought a new title sponsor and major recruitment drive. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“I don’t have any concerns about the future,” Ellingworth told VeloNews. “No, not at all. I have concerns about the here now. That’s about making sure we go back racing, making sure things happen, because we want to go racing. It’s disastrous for the sport if we don’t.”

2020 marked the start of a new chapter for the Bahraini team after an off-season boost from new title sponsor McLaren and the recruitment of a host of staff and rider talent. After a strong showing through winter, along came the coronavirus and landed that lethal kick, shutting down the season.

“It’s one of those situations where you’re thinking ‘we’re all good, singing and dancing’ and then next minute this whole virus thing comes along and just kicks you in the balls,” Ellingworth said in a telephone interview. “And it certainly kicked us in the balls good and proper.

“People back the team for investment reasons and publicity and everything else. But obviously they’ve got their own companies to run and people to employ, and the chain goes on, and somewhere along the line, somebody gets bitten,” he said of the team’s sponsors. “Hundreds of thousands of people are getting bitten, and we’re certainly some of those that got bit. But there’s no long-term issues with this team.”

Ellingworth is focused on winning the Tour with Landa, not Froome. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

With racing now back on the horizon, Ellingworth is investing his energies into preparing a run at the Tour de France podium with new signing Mikel Landa. The pair worked together through the Basque’s two-year tenure with Team Sky, a spell that saw Landa play a pivotal role in Chris Froome’s 2016 and 2017 Tour de France victories.

Landa can breathe easy that his Tour leadership is safe for now, with Ellingworth quick to quash rumors of contract talks with Froome. Rather than scrapping for the grand tour star’s signature in advance of this August’s Tour, Ellingworth is concentrated on battling against him, believing that Bahrain-McLaren is more than capable of contending for the yellow jersey in late summer. While he may have brought Landa, former Sky/Ineos climber Wout Poels, and a distinctly British flavor into the Bahrain-McLaren fold with the onboarding of Mark Cavendish and performance director Roger Hammond, Ellingworth is keen to shake off comparisons to his former team.

“What I didn’t want to do is come in saying this is how we do it at Sky, because it’s not Team Sky; it’s Bahrain-McLaren,” he said. “We’ve co-created a brand-new team.”

With confidence in his team’s future and even more faith in its potential, Ellingworth just wants to get the wheels turning again having scooped a handful of GC and stage wins this winter.

“It’s still very early days,” he said. “You just get going and then it all stopped just as we were getting moving.  There is real energy in the team. We’re on a bit of a journey, we feel like something’s happening. We just want to get racing again and show it.”

The finances are there. Now it’s up to the riders to show the sponsors that their investment was wise.