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Van Avermaet walking tight rope again as Ochowicz hunts for new sponsor

Olympic champion, valid WorldTour license key parts of securing new deal.

Two years ago, Greg Van Avermaet was loyal to the end, standing by Jim Ochowicz while other riders bailed as the veteran team manager saved his team in the final hour.

Flash forward to 2020, and Van Avermaet’s loyalty is being tested again. CCC Team, which took over from BMC in 2018, is exiting at the end of what’s been a tumultuous season.

Ochowicz is on the sponsor hunt again, and once again, Van Avermaet is standing by his man. At least, he is right now.

“I don’t look forward to experiencing the situation of BMC for a second time,” Van Avermaet told Sporza. “Hopefully there are still sponsors that want to keep this project alive. It’s difficult to set a deadline because it is not a normal year. I will give Ochowicz the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been riding with this team for 10 years. And it would be a shame to let it go to waste.”

Last week, Ochowicz said he is “optimistic” new sponsors will be found in time to save the team following the sudden and unexpected exit of the Polish shoemaker.

Rumors are flying, however, that the 2016 Olympic champion has a standing offer from Israel Start-Up Nation. Team owner Sylvan Adams has also been talking to other top classics riders as well as four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome as he wants to bolster the team’s profile in dramatic ways going into 2021.

Other suitors for Van Avermaet’s signature could include Bjarne Riis, with sources telling VeloNews he is also actively looking for a few key marquee riders to join NTT Racing in 2021. Lotto-Soudal, an early possible move, has recently played down its public interest in Van Avermaet. Deceuninck-Quick-Step, Belgium’s long-running classics powerhouse, could also be a good option if the money’s there.

Ochowicz admitted that Van Avermaet will attract attention from several teams, and said he would let him go if the Belgian gets an offer and Ochowicz has nothing lined up.

“He prefers to stay with this team, and we prefer that he stays with us,” Ochowicz said. “Opportunities will not be few and far between for a rider like Van Avermaet.”

Ironically, having the Olympic Games delayed to 2021 could bolster Van Avermaet’s market value, since he will enter next season as the defending Olympic champion.

Ochowicz and Van Avermaet have a long relationship together, and prolonging that may prove vital in the manager’s sponsor hunt. Photo: Tim De Waele / Getty

The coronavirus pandemic blew a hole in the team’s budget after title sponsor CCC, a Polish shoemaker, started to hemorrhage money when stores were closed across its chain. Facing severe budget cuts at the corporate level, CCC has cut loose its long-running ties with cycling, and reached an agreement to finish out the 2020 season on reduced wages for riders and some staffers.

That gives Ochowicz some time to search for a new backer. With a WorldTour license in his back pocket valid through 2022, Ochowicz expressed optimism something can be found before the start of this year’s rescheduled Tour, set to begin in late August.

In fact, having both — a valid WorldTour license and the presence of a superstar-caliber rider like Van Avermaet — might be what Ochowicz needs to lure in new backers in such a pinch.

In 2018, Van Avermaet held out for Ochowicz when other riders such as Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen took other secure offers. Van Avermaet, 35, will have some pressure to sign what could be the final big-money contract of his career.

Van Avermaet, who was backed early in his career by Ochowicz and former team owner Andy Rihs, appears to want to pay back the loyalty one more time.

“Teams are interested in me,” Van Avermaet said. “I’m pleased teams are still interested, but keeping this project alive is the most important thing for me. If there is no new sponsor, then I can look at Plan B. If it’s similar to what happened at BMC, CCC came at the last minute. If not, well, I could see myself riding for several teams.”

It appears Ochowicz will let his riders go if they get offers, but he’s holding out hope that “Golden Greg” can help deliver a big sponsor one more time.

“If any of our riders would get an offer, I would support any decision they would make,” Ochowicz said. “Greg has had some discussions with teams, but we have had a long relationship together. We trust each other, and I would support any decision he makes.”