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Van Avermaet departure raises questions about CCC future

Ochowicz says hunt for new sponsor continues as three top riders leave.

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Greg Van Avermaet waited for Jim Ochowicz in 2018. The Belgian star didn’t this time around.

News on Monday that the 2016 Olympic champion confirmed he will join Ag2r-La Mondiale on a three-year deal raises new questions about the ongoing sponsor hunt to save the CCC Team for 2021.

With the Polish shoemaker exiting the sport under the weight of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, veteran American team manager Ochowicz said his sponsor hunt continues.

“We are still actively looking for a new title sponsor for the 2021 season,” Ochowicz said hours after the Ag2r deal was publicly revealed.

Also leaving are longtime riders Michael Schär, also to Ag2r-La Mondiale, and Patrick Bevin, who joins Israel Start-Up Nation.

All three had long-running ties with Ochowicz, with Van Avermaet racing a decade with Ochowicz. The trio’s exit will only fuel questions about the future of the team.

In June, Ochowicz confirmed that CCC would be leaving as team sponsor at the end of 2020. That came after a round of salary cuts for riders and staffers. At the time, Ochowicz said riders would be free to exit their contracts and accept other offers if they came along.

In 2018, Ochowicz faced a similar scenario with the exit of BMC Racing following the passing of longtime backer Andy Rihs. Van Avermaet, who emerged as a Belgian superstar under the team’s banner, waited for Ochowicz, who eventually sealed the deal with CCC.

This time, Van Avermaet couldn’t wait any longer. One big difference from 2018 was that there wasn’t a pandemic that was throwing the international economy into a tailspin.

And with Romain Bardet leaving the French outfit for Team Sunweb, Ag2r-La Mondiale offered a three-year deal that Van Avermaet, 35, simply could not pass up.

Despite the high-profile departures, Ochowicz isn’t giving up. The founder of the 7-Eleven and Motorola franchises has an important ace in his pocket: a valid WorldTour license good through the end of 2022.

Having a WorldTour license in 2018 was pivotal in helping him link up with CCC, which was already backing a development and second-tier team, and desperately wanted to enter cycling’s top league.

“Owning the WorldTour license for 2021 and 2022 is a valuable asset and we believe there are still companies out there who are interested in investing in cycling,” Ochowicz said. “So, we will be doing everything we can to see the team continue.”

Ochowicz is still hoping to strike gold, but the pressure will be mounting in the coming weeks to secure something. Many teams are extending with their existing rosters while a few teams with secure financial backing are taking advantage of the uncertainty, working its way through the rider market.

Last month, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Spain’s Manuela Foundation, a Spanish non-profit that saw an attempted take-over of Mitchelton-Scott go off the rails in the final hours, was reportedly in talks with Ochowicz. The Spanish foundation reportedly has upwards of $12 million ready to invest in a team, and said it would like to jump right into the WorldTour.

Ever cautious, especially after having media speculation derail sponsor talks in the past, Ochowicz has refused to comment on those reports.