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Lacking sponsor money, BMC racing faces closure after 2018

The U.S.-registered team is seeking sponsor dollars for 2019, but time is running short.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The 2018 Tour de France has yet to begin and cyclists have half the season to race, but for 2019, the month of June carries significant weight. As it stands now, the American-registered WorldTour team BMC Racing lacks money to race next season.

Management is searching for new backers with the planned pullout of sponsor BMC bicycles. General manager Jim Ochowicz and his staff need something secure soon, ideally this month before the Tour de France begins on July 7 in Vendée.

Without a solid foundation, stars Tejay van Garderen, Richie Porte, and Greg Van Avermaet will sign elsewhere. It is a catch 22 because without the stars, the difficultly of attracting big financial backers increases.

“There’s no white smoke, nothing about the future of the team,” said Ochowicz. “At this moment I would not be able to make a team because I have no money.”

Ochowicz commented to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad while at the Tour de Suisse, where his stars are racing this week. The team won the opening team time trial and dedicated it to Andy Rihs, the founder of BMC bikes and long-time team backer who died in April.

The American manager later clarified that he does have money, but the amount falls significantly short of what he needs to run a WorldTour team. Budgets vary in the first division. Team Sky leads the way with $42 million. BMC Racing runs on an estimated $29.4 million.

Cycling is full of stories — from Linda McCartney to Sony-Sony-Ericsson to Pegasus — of riders left stranded without teams when backers failed to materialize or pulled out at the last moment. Stars like Van Avermaet want to avoid leaving contract negotiations too late in the season, when their options and team budgets decrease, so they use the month of June to make deals. Often they sign contracts in July during the Tour de France that are only declared after the official August 1 transfer date.

Australian Rohan Dennis could have already done so. The team’s young diamond wore the pink jersey in the Giro d’Italia and won the time trial stage. Thanks to his years at BMC Racing, his stock value increased significantly. Sources say that Bahrain-Merida may have already made a deal with him. The team, funded partly by Bahraini Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, also wants Van Avermaet.

Van Avermaet and Porte, whose contracts end this season, would like to stay with Ochowicz because the winning formula is already in place. Their helpers and trusted masseurs and mechanics are all there. But at some point, their eyes will wander.

VeloNews learned that Ochowicz asked his riders in an internal communiqué to give him until June 17, which is the last day of the Tour of Suisse. By that point, he hopes to have sponsors confirmed. If he’s not able to have backers by then, he will understand the riders’ need to look elsewhere for a job next year. Ochowicz would not comment on any deadline, however.

“I do not want to put a deadline on finding the much-needed sponsor,” he continued. “Even the Tour de France is not a deadline for me.

“At this moment, I simply can’t say anything. But I am confident that the riders will continue to focus on their job, also in the Tour. The current situation will not affect that.

“Yes, I realize that I can lose a number of riders, but that would be the case if I had budget, because there are a lot of riders at the end of contract. However, I also know that every year some cyclists only sign with a team in December.”

Ochowicz managed 7-Eleven, Motorola, and Phonak before BMC. His experience tells him it is “all or nothing” when giving information about his contract dealings with sponsors.

“It’s ongoing,” he added. “There are a number of things in the pipeline. But collecting money is not an easy process.”