Who is behind Team Luxembourg?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

You might have seen the website for the new Luxembourg cycling team but it’s one page and tells you nothing. A beautiful picture of the San Gottardo pass but little else, except a caption saying “Leopard, true racing”. I got wind of the Leopard idea weeks ago but could only drop a hint about this. Team manager Bryan Nygaard has denied that the team will be called Leopard in 2011, which makes you wonder about the choice of website.

But the mystery isn’t really about URLs. It’s not even the riders for if the team is slowly confirming its roster, we already know who they have signed. Expect Stuart O’Grady, Fabian Wegmann and others to be named so. No, the biggest mystery here is the identity of the sponsors and the people behind the team.

As much as it’s unknown I’ve not looked too hard into the sponsors. I think you’ll see the airline Luxair named and we already know Trek will supply the bikes and Mercedes the vehicles. Instead it’s the guys behind the team that are far more interesting than any company with a marketing budget looking to get their name on a jersey, significant though this can be.

The trio behind the squad are Luxembourgers Flavio Becca, Gérard Lopez and Eric Lux. Search for information on this trio and you won’t get much, ask around and two words appear: “private” and “secretive”. Now this doesn’t mean mysterious, this is just strict privacy. I personally admire such discretion but it makes it harder to get clues about the team.

I’ve written about Flavio Becca in early August and can’t add much more, he’s a wealthy entrepreneur involved in property and sports. As one Luxembourg media outlet says, “one thing is sure, few prestigious national projects happen without him“.

Eric Lux (L) and Gerard Lopez (R) with race driver Jacques Villeneuve

Lux and Lopez might have admirably discreet private lives but the business side is high profile to say the least. Lopez is described as a serial entrepreneur, an investor in high-tech start-ups. Armed with MBA from Miami University, he’s apparently fluent in eight languages, ideal for dealing with a variety of riders. His big break came when his business, Mangrove, was the first to invest in Skype at an early stage, later selling the business to eBay for billions. There have been other successful ventures too and since then the 38 year old has teamed up with property mogul Eric Lux to launch several projects. Lux is a business partner of Becca via their Promobe Finance real estate venture.

Lux and Lopez recently bought the Manoir de Ban near Montreux in Switzerland, famous for being Charlie Chaplin’s home and are turning the luxury estate into a museum about the world’s first filmstar. When asked about this project, why two financiers wanted to invest in a Swiss museum, all Lopez would say is “Chaplin is about reliving our childhood – therefore we don’t want to talk about it“. In other words, you can discuss the films, the museum but ask about my private life and the interview’s over.

But so far, so discreet. You might have heard of Skype and Charlie Chaplin but not people in the background. It’s been in the past 12 months that Lopez and Lux really stepped into the limelight thanks to their investment company Genii Capital. They bought the Renault Formula 1 team, a most high profile deal. The pair started backing motorsport with Gravity Racing, a project to back young drivers but the investment in the Renault stable was on another level, especially given the budget. So far it could be paying off, the team is fifth in the F1 Constructors ranking.

But again many an article in the motor racing world mentions these Luxembourg financiers and the word “secretive” pops up. And that’s fine, people are entitled to their private life. It’s a contrast though, Formula 1 bosses are usually ready with quotes and often never far from a champagne bar.


The Big Idea
So there you have it, a trio of multi-millionaires with a history of investing in sports. Perhaps the biggest thing to bear in mind is that these guys don’t just invest for the fun of it. They’re serious. As Lopez and Lux put it:

our investments should have the potential to lead fundamental change in industries or markets rather than follow predefined market trends

Taken like that, this team is not going to be content with a win here or there. Instead it will be a actor in the world of the pro cycling with ambitions that go well beyond the finish line and the podium.

EDIT – I could be wrong here. I’m certain Becca is involved but now less so on Lopez and Lux. I’ve written a follow up to this with more information.

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{ 20 comments }

Max October 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Awesome work. Seems these guys are serious players, not just a few people wanting to be friends with the Schlecks.

david lewis October 26, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Everytime I come back to your site, it's just chock full of great info nuggets. I love that. Interesting background. I would think that the owners would have a damn strong anti-doping policy. They don't seem (upon reading up) the types that would take being embarassed by a doper too well. This may prove to be an interesting 2011. Especially for Contador who has a lot at steak. ;)

TheInnerRing October 26, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Max: yes, these guys look like heavy-hitters, not the "sugar daddy" type. But we'll have to see how it works out.

David: thanks. I have some tiny reservations over the team but maybe, long term observers like me just are conditioned to be sceptical? Here's hoping it all goes well.

Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Just a quick note that Renault is actually 5th in the constructors championship (the team in first is Redbull and owned by an Austrian)

TheInnerRing October 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thanks, I'm not a close follower of F1. I saw RBR-Renault at the top and made the link. I'll edit the text for accuracy.

T. Booker October 26, 2010 at 7:13 pm

I wish I could remember where I read this (maybe http://www.wort.lu with a Google translation or maybe http://www.lequotidien.lu) that Becca is sponsoring the Schleck salaries only, not the team. The Luxembourg government is going to be a major sponsor of the team and they guessed some kind of Russian company too. We'll see if they were right… there is a lot of speculation out there.

Neil October 26, 2010 at 7:27 pm

leopard – snow leopard – apple macintosh. Surely not haha.

TheInnerRing October 26, 2010 at 7:48 pm

T Booker: yes I think the Luxembourg government is involved, possibly the state telecoms company but didn't want to run with too much speculation.

Neil: Apple might have a lot of cash but I can't see it go on a cycling team. Stranger things have happened.

Anonymous October 26, 2010 at 10:05 pm

What is said in the article about the people and their companies is more or less correct. But the links you have made between each other involvement in the cycling team is not correct…

TheInnerRing October 27, 2010 at 7:19 am

Anonymous, that's potentially very interesting and I'd like to know more. Feel free to email me.

Anonymous October 27, 2010 at 8:37 am

I dont know, Lux as a country has a very bad reputation, on black money banking accounts, cash in suitcases brought from other EU countries to be lodged black in Lux banks etc…only this, plus all that secrecy about where the sponsoring money for the team comes from, makes me "wonder"…

TheInnerRing October 27, 2010 at 9:23 am

That's a bit harsh Anonymous. For sure the country has what we might call a "relaxed" banking system but the same is true for Britain, Switzerland and other places that thrive on attracting inflows of money.

Flashing Pedals October 27, 2010 at 10:34 am

"Zwart Geld" is a national obsession in some Euro Countries & Luxembourg is the destination of choice for many, the degree of secrecy surrounding this team, its financial partners & strategic ROI, has yet to be adequately explained.

Luxembourg has more registered companies listed there, than citizens – or is that false teeth…

TheInnerRing October 27, 2010 at 10:39 am

Flashing Pedals: I know what you're saying but Delaware has most US companies registered there, not for bad reasons but because corporate law is quick and easy. So let's see what this team does before condemning it!

If you want to ask questions about money and teams:
http://theinnerring.blogspot.com/2010/04/roslotto-zg-mobili-mafia-time.html
and
http://theinnerring.blogspot.com/2010/08/diamond-watches-and-katusha.html

Flashing Pedals October 28, 2010 at 8:54 am

The comment was not necessarily to imply or suggest impropriety, merely to point out the Financial secrecy is a given within Luxembourg, whether that is business or personal.

The Roslotto link / MG Mobili team – is an aged story, even more dangerous when you delve slightly deeper….. pay particular attention to the TDF of that year, with the joint venture, names involved, and who sanctioned such behaviour…..

as for the Katusha "watch" angle, again it doesn't take Columbo to establish a few details, but whether the relevant organisation wish to look but not see, is another matter….

which global accounting firm undertakes due dilligence for the UCI

Suffolkcycles November 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Love the blog. Got through to the comments and wanted to add my two penneth. In a previous life I was a lawyer in the Cayman Islands. Much is written (mainly by uninformed press) about secrecy of jurisdictions such as Cayman or Luxembourg. Fact is that every govt has the right to legislate for whatever tax regime it wants. In order to attract business, some have legislated with advantageous tax regimes. However, in terms of secrecy it's harder to open bank accounts and keep things secret in these jurisdictions than it is in places like, say the UK.

Now, back to the cycling!!!! Keep up the good work.

TheInnerRing November 2, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for this and the feedback.

One interesting element to bear in mind is that as banking regulations change, money simply flows elsewhere, for example into proxies like real estate.

Jimu Kawano July 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Why the name Leopard?

The Inner Ring July 25, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Because the company set up to form the team was called Leopard, it was meant to be a transitory name but no headline sponsor arrived.

mistermaumau January 6, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Suffolkcycles, errm, I think you are discussing a very specific category of people there. I officially live in the UK, Lux and France all at the same time (goes to show how lax controls and communication between countries are) and I can safely say, the easiest one to open an account in is Luxembourg. It’s probably a harder if you don’t live there but then you can easily open a company account if you register one. And don’t even bother with banks unless you need credit or investments or insist on getting interest, you’re even better off at the Post Office, better guarantees and more discreet. PS Luxembourgers ship their money to Switzerland with a detour to Lichtenstein, they must know or have experienced something many don’t think about, namely that employees of any bank often have loose lips.

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