Road

Ochowicz confident in BMC sponsor search amid Flanders pressure-cooker

BMC Racing has not confirmed sponsors for 2019 and beyond, but Jim Ochowicz remains calm amid the pre-Tour of Flanders hype.

SINT-MARTENS-LATEM, Belgium (VN) — BMC is among the WorldTour’s biggest-budget teams, but the American squad has no guarantees of continuing into 2019.

According to reports, Andy Rihs is not locked in to continue bankrolling BMC Racing after 2018. This Swiss millionaire owns the BMC bike brand and is the squad’s key benefactor. Team manager Jim Ochowicz acknowledges that his riders and staff would like to know about their long-term prospects as soon as possible. For now, they are being patient.

“No one is knocking on my door,” Ochowicz said Friday in Sint-Martens-Latem, Belgium. He is currently with the red-and-black squad ahead of Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, a major goal for BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet.

For now, Ochowicz is optimistic that either one of the team’s current sponsors or possibly a new outside player will step up with the necessary investment to keep the team alive. Beyond BMC itself, options include Swiss luxury watch brand Tag Heuer and British computer security company Sophos, along with a host of smaller sponsors.

“We have sponsorship partners for next year already. There’s other people that we’re also discussing the opportunity with,” Ochowicz said.

Greg Van Avermaet
Greg Van Avermaet was active in the chase group, trying multiple times to break away at E3 Harelbeke. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

The trick is getting one of those current or potential sponsors to sign on as the main funding source for a WorldTour team. Reeling in that kind of deal is a process that requires some data collection on the part of would-be partners. That takes time.

“There’s still a time gap to measure performance from us, and also the sport,” Ochowicz said. “Is the sport going in the right direction, and also is our team going in the right direction for their expectations?

“How many fans are going to watch this race on Sunday on television, and how much print and media are we going to acquire from our efforts in Sunday’s race? There’s a measurement there that I can’t do, it has to be those outside media groups that provide that data for sponsors to make a value decision.”

A strong result at Tour of Flanders — ideally a win by pre-race favorite Van Avermaet — would be an ideal way to demonstrate value. Failing that, the riders can keep collecting personal results if the team doesn’t find backing.

“All sport teams change rosters from time to time,” Ochowicz added. “[BMC riders] are all confident that regardless of what happens to us they’ll find a job somewhere else most likely.”

BMC celebrated another Tirreno-Adriatico stage victory atop the podium. Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images

Ochowicz insisted that he does not have any personal deadlines to iron out a deal. There is no hard date. He pointed to past partnerships that have come down to the wire, and recent teams succeeding in the same mold.

“[It was a] different era, quite a different sport then, but I didn’t sign Motorola until after the worlds in Japan. I didn’t even meet with them until after the worlds in Japan. We signed with them in mid-September and then we announced it at the [World Cup race] in Montreal,” he said.

“They put a few recent teams together in the fall. The two Arab teams weren’t consummated until November and December. They were still looking, putting the package together. They made it happen.”

Of course, waiting until the end of the year to determine the team’s fate is not Ochowicz’s ideal scenario. Although transfer season does not officially begin until August 1, out-of-contract riders typically begin quiet negotiations with suitors earlier than that.

Any sponsorship uncertainty that lingers into the summer will jeopardize BMC prospects of hanging onto the many notable riders on the roster.

In the meantime, Ochowicz must run his team. BMC star Van Avermaet is a top-flight contender for Tour of Flanders and the defending champion at Paris-Roubaix. Ochowicz said he and his squad are busy focusing on racing, although he also pointed out that he’s keeping his riders informed of the team’s situation.

“They know what’s going on,” Ochowicz said. “They read the papers. There’s no mysteries here. Everybody understands.”