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PONTEVEDRA, Spain (VN) – It’s been more than a decade, but Switzerland will have its own elite pro team again next season thanks to an investment banker based in Geneva with a passion for bikes.
It’s been more than 10 years since Swiss Post folded and perhaps just as long since a Swiss rider seriously challenged for a grand tour title.
That will change next season as Michel Thétaz is bankrolling a multi-million-euro squad budget his IAM financial management company, with the goal of creating a pro-continental team for the 2013 season and taking aim in the mid-term toward the Tour de France.
“The spirit of the team will be Swiss, but it will be an international team,” Thétaz told VeloNews. “We have a fairly ambitious program. We will be at the upper limit of a Pro Continental team, with a full roster, four directors, with around 40 people working on the team.”
Thétaz said the team’s budget is “between six-to-eight million euros” and he aims to reach the Tour de France and the other elite races within the sport in the “next few years.”
“The Tour is like the chicken and the egg. We have top riders and some riders are reluctant to come to the team without the guarantee of going to the Tour,” he said. “We are going to be a top professional team. We are not amateurs. It’s going to be a good project and we will see what happens.”
Thétaz says he’s backing a cycling team for very simple reasons — he wants to grow his business.
An investment banker based in Geneva, Thétaz works in institutional pension funds and other investment products, managing more than $7 billion in assets.
“I want the name of my business spread across Europe,” he said. “Cycling is a good sport to spread your name. It’s better than golf or Formula 1. Also, I am passionate about cycling. It all made sense.”
The 60-year-old Thétaz said the doping legacy of pro cycling did not scare him off from sponsoring the team. He promised the team is taking a strong anti-doping stance and will conduct internal controls.
“We will make sure we have the best controls and we will work closely with the UCI,” he said. “We have a strict policy. We will not hire anyone, not a rider or a staffer, who has something to do with doping. We are going to work with doctors from a clinic in Geneva to control the riders.”
Right now, IAM will remain the lone sponsor, but he said he’s certainly open to other sponsors, and said that discussions are ongoing with potential sponsors.
“We have an investment of a minimum of three years. We will see what happens and where the project goes,” he said. “It’s certainly possible that the project has a longer life.”
Several big names have already signed on with the team. Among them are some of the leading Swiss riders, including Johann Tschopp (BMC Racing), Marcel Wyss (NetApp) and Martin Elmiger (Ag2r La Mondiale). Others include Gabriel Rasch (FDJ-BigMat) and Sebastian Hinault (Ag2r). Another half-dozen lesser riders fill out the squad so far, with about another half-dozen riders still to come.
The sport director lineup is also confirmed. Lead director will be Serge Beucherie, with former High Road and U.S. U23 director Marcello Albasini and ex-pros Kjell Carlstrom and Eddy Seigneur rounding out the staff. The team’s service course and headquarters will be in Switzerland near Geneva.
With such a heavy Swiss accent, it’s only natural to ask Thétaz if the biggest Swiss star today would be part of his plans. That, of course, is Fabian Cancellara.
“We have had discussions with Fabian,” is all Thétaz would say. “Is it possible? We will do our best.”
It sounds like Cancellara and the team are also a bit like the chicken and the egg. With Cancellara, the team could dream of punching its Tour ticket in its debut season, but without the guarantee of riding the Tour, Cancellara would be hesitant to sign on with a new team.
The Swiss are skilled negotiators. Perhaps they can find some common ground.