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Lights out: Paris-Tours is IAM Cycling’s final race

IAM Cycling, folding after four years in the pro peloton, will ride its final race at Paris-Tours this Sunday

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Sunday’s Paris-Tours marks the end of the road for IAM Cycling.

The French classic will be the Swiss-registered team’s final race following four years in the peloton. Without new co-sponsors to step up, the team’s owner said enough is enough.

“All of us will have a heavy heart for sure,” said IAM’s sport director Eddy Seigneur in a team statement. “This will be the last team briefing, the last race where the beautiful IAM Cycling jersey will be present. But we will approach this race the same way we have approached every race this season. We’ll come with the ambition to win.”

Unable to find co-sponsors to step up and help carry the financial burden, team owner Michel Thétaz announced in May that the team would shutter at the end of this season. There was some talk of mergers, but Thétaz insisted that the team would stay afloat only if a new sponsor came on board to support its existing infrastructure, because he said a merger with another team would only mean that one of those two teams would all but collapse.

Unable to find money, Thétaz confirmed the bad news in May. Ironically, that seemed to put the fire in the belly of the team, with riders keen to find new contracts, and IAM enjoyed its best season in four years in the peloton.

In May, Roger Kluge won the team’s first grand tour stage at the Giro d’Italia. Jarlinson Pantano won a stage at the Tour de Suisse, and followed that up with the team’s first stage win at the Tour de France. During the Vuelta a España, the team came away with two stage victories. That put the team into elite company as only one of five WorldTour teams to win stages in all three grand tours this year (Etixx – Quick-Step, Movistar, Orica – BikeExchange, and Sky were the others).

“We have always been attacking, always trying to win. Finally, this season, we’ve been able to show what we are capable of,” said Matthias Frank after he won a stage at the Vuelta. “It is a real shame that the team stops, but that is the way it is.”

With the team folding, riders have been scrambling to find new contracts to keep them in the game going into 2017. Of the team’s 28 riders, only 13 appear to have confirmed contracts for next year. Staffers have an even harder time, and many of the sport directors, soigneurs and other support staff will likely be out of a job.

Kluge joins Orica – BikeExchange, and Pantano and Matthias Brändle head to Trek – Segafredo. Heinrich Haussler joins the start-up Bahrain – Merida, with Jonas Van Genechten landing at Cofidis. Stef Clement heads to LottoNL – Jumbo and Dries Devenyns to Etixx – Quick-Step. Mathis Frank joins Oliver Naesen, Sondre Holst Enger, and Clément Chevrier, who are all moving to Ag2r – La Mondiale. Vegard Laengen heads to the new Chinese incarnation of the squad currently known as Lampre – Merida, while Reto Hollenstein joins Katusha.

American rider Larry Warbasse was among those still holding out hope of landing a World Tour contract for 2017. Pirmin Lang, another IAM rider without a contract for next season, will race Sunday in what will be a bittersweet farewell.

“It could be very emotional,” the Swiss rider said. “From start to finish, these moments will remain engraved on my memory. For this last race, my mission will be to help our sprinter Jonas Van Genenchten. Since I still have no contract for next season, I will give my maximum to have no regrets.”

With IAM Cycling folding, along with Tinkoff, it opens up spots in the World Tour league. There’s brewing controversy there, as teams are battling for 17 spots at the top of the sport as the UCI rolls the count down from 18. But after Sunday, that will be left to others, and IAM Cycling will join the list of teams that have faded into obscurity.