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Vacansoleil riders keep pedaling as sponsors depart team

Dutch squad will lose both of its title sponsors at the end of the season

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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (VN) — The week opened beautifully for Dutch squad Vacansoleil-DCM. It earned a win and the leader’s jersey in stage 1 at the Amgen Tour of California on the legs of Lieuwe Westra, but it’s been tough news from there.

Shortly after, second title sponsor DCM, a fertilizer producer in western Europe, announced it was leaving the sport. And then on Wednesday, Vacansoleil — the main sponsor of the ever-attacking team — announced it was leaving as well. This means the squad of Juan Antonio Flecha, Thomas De Gendt, and Westra, to name a few, will be without a sponsor at the end of the season. For riders at the races, there is little they can do but pedal and hope to fetch a result.

“We’re proud. We have to thank Vacansoleil for the sponsorship, and we’re proud they achieved their goals. We’re happy for the sponsorship, we’re happy for that,” Flecha said before the start of stage 4, which ran from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara. “And about the future, the team has the aim of continuing, and our team managers are already looking for sponsorships, and so on. We focus on our rides and our races. Personally, I’m not much concerned about it. It’s a good team structure, and it will work out.”

Flecha departed juggernaut Sky in the offseason to heed his own riding style — always attacking, always opportunistic. He wasn’t regretting that on Wednesday.

“I was willing to have a little more freedom in certain races. Especially after the classics,” Flecha said. “It’s a different way of racing. [At] Sky, the strategy’s always more focused on GC, on going for one guy in grand tours, and smaller races. And here, it’s different. It’s more going on the attack, taking different opportunities of course. We don’t have as big of guys for winning the GC as Sky, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

Asked if he would need to know if the team had a sponsor locked down soon or decide to leave, Flecha was calm.

“I would say later. I’m focused as I say now on the races and Tour de France coming, and it’s not my job to try to find a sponsor,” he said.

At his age and with his palmares, Flecha said he doesn’t feel pressured to notch results right now. “Not at my age — sorry,” he said.

Westra, currently in the green points jersey in California, said the situation gives the riders more conviction.

“Motivation? Yeah, for sure. I hope the team is going forward,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. The team is perfect for me. And I hope that next year I stay here also. Today is not good news. Both Vacansoleil and DCM have stopped.”

The Amgen Tour of California continues Thursday, from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach, and for now, the Vacansoleil flag flies on.