If the headlines are about Gilbert, I just wanted to ask some questions about the move and the future of the BMC Racing team. Because if the answers are hard to come by, thinking aloud does allow some reflection on the matters ahead.
- How much has Mark Coucke got? Gilbert had a year to run on his contract with Belgian pharmacist Mark Coucke of Omega Pharma although Gilbert’s side said the merger with Quick-Step voided the contract. With his points and his image, this is one of the most valuable riders around. Sky bought Bradley Wiggins out of his contract for a big sum of money, perhaps Gilbert has gone for even more?
- Will the team recruit more managers? The squad is getting top heavy and it’ll take some planning to ensure everyone’s happy. Cadel Evans has already said he doesn’t want Hushovd in the Tour de France; but who can ensure things run smooth. Just planning the pre-season get together will be a big job.
- Aside from the Tour de France, imagine the classics. Hushovd might be happy in Paris-Roubaix but maybe Van Avermaet was excited. But who will lead for Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or the Ardennes races where Gilbert will want his say but Hushovd and Evans will also be up for racing some of these. Yes you can have two leaders on the day… but it’s easy for people start distributing blame after the race.
- Is anyone else joining? Cadel Evans still rode much of the Tour de France by himself. That’s maybe his style but he could do with a climbing lieutenant. Where’s Matthew Lloyd?
- Similarly, who else has Gilbert brought with him? His results were the result of excellent team work à l’ancienne with domestiques toiling in service of a sole leader. Plenty of guys at BMC could do this for him but we’ll see if any of his crew join with him. His protégé, the British rider Adam Blythe, has joined I believe.
- What will the other teams make of this? I feel a touch uneasy seeing billionaires snapping up the best riders and of you view the transfer market as a zero-sum game then BMC’s additions are negatives for others. That might not the case, after all it’s possible Rihs is buying up today’s best riders rather than nurturing tomorrow’s best riders.
- Where’s the money coming from, as surely BMC don’t sell that many bikes to generate all the money? This one I can answer. Andy Rihs is a billionaire with a substantial shareholding in Sonova, the hearing aid company he’s taken from start-up to global medical technology giant. He tripped up over insider-trading allegations and had to step down and his shares in Sonova have halved in value since earlier this year. But in mitigation the Swiss Franc has risen in value and either way, he’s still a billionaire. It’s like playing Velogames with infinite credits.
Finally, if we can only ask questions, it’s also because BMC aren’t ready to give us answers. There’s no press conference and the team has said it will not be offering interviews or additional commentary. But for all the backroom planning, it’s about what happens on the roads.