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Van Avermaet scopes out backup plan in wake of CCC Team sponsor crisis

Belgian star plans to remain true to the team and longtime manager Jim Ochowicz, but is working on a Plan B.

After months of uncertainty, it was confirmed Monday that CCC Team would lose its title sponsor at the end of the season, leaving team boss Jim Ochowicz on the hunt for new backers.

And it’s not just Ochowicz eyeing out the possibilities for 2021. Greg Van Avermaet, one of the squad’s marquee riders, is considering his options should his team be left without a sponsor next year.

“I hope Ochowicz finds a new sponsor, but I am also open to a transfer,” Van Avermaet said Monday.

“There are many teams that are interested,” continued the 35-year-old in an online press conference. “My performance is still there and I was the best one-day rider in the UCI ranking last season. That reassures me for next year. It is also quite early, but we will see. It is the Plan B, if no sponsors are found in a short time.”

Van Avermaet transitioned onto CCC Team from former squad BMC Racing following the death of longtime BMC backer Andy Rihs. After a period of doubt through the 2018 season, Ochowicz saved the WorldTour outfit with the onboarding of CCC as title sponsor. Having ridden with Ochowicz-led BMC since 2011, Van Avermaet has a long relationship with his American manager and hopes to remain loyal to him.

“Hopefully there are still sponsors interested to keep this project alive,” Van Avermaet told Sporza. “I definitely want to participate. Whether I set a deadline? That is difficult, especially because it is not a normal year. I give Ochowicz the benefit of the doubt.”

Van Avermaet stuck with Ochowicz through the turbulent 2018 period that saw his manager scrambling for a new sponsor, while several of BMC Racing’s top names such as Richie Porte and Tejay Van Garderen chose not to gamble and found new homes elsewhere.

“I am not eager to experience such a second situation as at BMC, but I want to be available to this team until a certain time. I have been driving for this employer for about 10 years and it would be a pity to let this go to waste,” Van Avermaet said. “Let’s hope there are sponsors who are interested.”

Van Avermaet revealed that many teams have shown interest in getting his signature. As an Olympic champion, Paris-Roubaix winner, and consistent podium finisher in cobbled classics, the experienced Belgian would make a fitting leader for many teams. Estimating that the chance of Ochowicz guaranteeing his team’s future for 2021 was “50-50,” Van Avermaet said while he intends to remain with his longtime team and manager, he is making sure he has a backup plan for a worst-case scenario.

“I am certainly open to an adventure,” Van Avermaet said. “It is somewhat the same story as with BMC. Then CCC was found at the last minute, otherwise I might already be gone. I am open to it. I see myself racing on many teams.”

The coronavirus pandemic has not only ripped up race schedules and sponsor agreements, but also played havoc with the transfer market as teams hold out for better visibility of economic growth before penning new contracts. Ironically, the uncertainty gripping cycling’s rider market may provide hope for the Van Avermaet-Ochowicz relationship to continue as the Belgian holds out on rushing toward a new team.

“It’s not a normal year,” Van Avermaet said. “The transfer window is out of balance, as the season restarts later. It is difficult to provide certainty about the future. Some contracts are being signed, but everything still has to get going. I have to wait for the right moment.”

For now, Van Avermaet, like Ochowicz, will be keeping his options open regarding the name on his team’s jersey in 2021.