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Hagens Berman Axeon will race in 2021 despite budget shortfall

Axel Merckx confirms the team will race next season even with ongoing sponsor search.

Axel Merckx, the pioneering manager of the U-23 powerhouse team Hagens Berman Axeon, confirmed that he is still in search of €300,000 ($356,000) to carry his team through the 2021 season.

Despite the ongoing budget shortfall, Merckx confirmed that the team will start the 2021 season as the sponsor search continues.

“We are going to start. We submitted our file to the UCI. We are going to try to survive for at least a half a year so that we can offer something to the riders,” Merckx said. “I remember that Patrick Lefevere (the manager of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team) used to say that sometimes it is harder to find €300,000 than 3 million.”

Since retiring as a professional, the son of the legendary Eddy Merckx has devoted his energies to developing up-and-coming talent. His team has produced some of the world’s top professionals today, including Neilson Powless, Jasper Philipsen, João Almeida, and recent Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Yet despite the team’s striking success, securing sponsorship remains a struggle, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

“There is not much new,” he told the Belgian daily newspaper La Dernière Heure. “I had a lot of compliments after the Giro (in which where Almeida wore the pink jersey for 15 days, and Geoghegan Hart won the overall), and also in the Vuelta, where a lot of my old riders were active. But for the moment there is nothing concrete.”

The team’s future was thrown into doubt earlier this season when one of the team’s key backers said it would not continue beyond 2020.

“I think that the environment of the elections in the U.S. slowed down potential investors,” he said. “What has surprised me the most is that I haven’t had much contact with European sponsors even though we have a lot of presence there. And then there is the absence of reaction from the world of cycling that surprises me as well. With everything that is happening, it seems to me to be the moment to advertise. Bikes are sold out everywhere.”