Mercury team director John Wordin confirmed Wednesday that the U.S.-based team may be on the brink of a merger with the French division II La Française des Jeux squad for the 2002 season.
“LFJ has made an offer,” Wordin told VeloNews, “but it’s still way too early to comment on how all of this may or may not work out.”
Wordin traveled to France in the closing week of the Tour de France in an effort to secure a co-sponsor for next year. Wordin said the discussions did produce a formal offer from the team, one of several French Division II squads participating in the Tour. Earlier speculation had focused on the Festina squad, a team also thought to be looking for a merger agreement with another program.
Wordin, however, had been spotted at the Tour speaking with La Française des Jeux riders and staff, by several reporters in the closing days of the Tour.
“People knew something was up and I was being followed around by reporters everywhere I went,” said Wordin, who at six-foot-five is not hard to spot in a crowd and has never been accused of having a subtle presence about him. “But we managed to make progress and now have an offer.”
Of course, the American team had another co-sponsor for the 2001 season, the telecommunications firm Viatel. Viatel, however, went into bankruptcy earlier this year and its assets, including an 8700-kilometer fiber optic network, are now being divided among a long list of creditors in United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The resulting withdrawal of the co-sponsor has triggered financial problems on the team. Current problems, however, won’t necessarily be addressed by a new co-sponsorship, which will be largely focused on next season.
“The offer is there, but it still has to be reviewed by Mercury and they have to agree to any arrangement like that,” Wordin said.
UCI professional cycling council coordinator Alain Rumpf said that he had only heard speculation of surrounding a possible merger of the two teams and couldn’t comment on the specific proposal, but spoke in general terms of how the UCI might view the combining of two teams from different divisions.
The UCI plans to expand the number of Division I teams to 30 next season. There are currently 23. But Rumpf said that a merger of a Division I team like Mercury with a Division II squad “would have to be reviewed carefully as far as riders, management, sponsorship and so forth” before the new team were granted the UCI’s top designation for 2002.
“It wouldn’t be automatic, of course,” Rumpf said.
Wordin declined to comment on the possible make up of the 2002 team and how he and La Française des Jeux management might go about trying to merge the two programs.
“We have a contract with Mercury for next year,” Wordin said. “They are happy with the results we’re getting this year and I look forward to having them as the title sponsor next year. And now we have an official offer (for co-sponsorship) from La Française des Jeux. But let’s wait until Mercury gets a chance to go over, review and possibly accept it before anyone starts talking about riders, staff and the roles people might or might not play on the team.”