Europcar’s Difficult Ride

Europcar Cycling Team

Europcar have a training camp in Spain. Only you’d never know, while other teams broadcast the news, the green team is keeping a low profile. Amid all the fuss about Astana’s licence Europcar’s ejection from the World Tour has been a smaller story. It might hope to win wildcard invitations to the top races but that requires a UCI licence and it’s yet to get one of any kind for 2015. This won’t be easy.

Radio silence
The team are in Calpe, Spain but there’s no news. At pixel time:

  • the last news on the website about new signings Guillaume Thévenot and Julien Morice dates from November
  • the last tweet was a retweet of the Tour de France account and was exactly a week ago
  • the last Facebook update is also a week old

Compare this to all the other teams in Calpe, busy getting free publicity with pictures of riders pulling wheelies, doing sprint drills, trying new equipment and clothing and the other ordinary, but clickable images of group rides. Meanwhile Europcar are silent, as if they’ve decided to save the pesky data roaming charges in Spain as part of their economy drive for 2015. Mockery aside this absence is symbolic rather than substantive shows something’s not right, they’re missing out on free publicity.

Life in the second division

Pro Conti Licence
If the team’s PR officer is asleep then management won’t be. They’ve been refused a World Tour place but they’ve not been relegated to the second tier Pro Continental level. Instead they don’t have a licence of any kind for 2015 yet. This is being worked on. You’d hope it’ll be a formality but it’s not so simple. The squad was denied a licence because of a significant budget shortfall.

How much? Last Thursday L’Equipe quoted team owner Jean-René Bernaudeau saying the gap between the budgeted income and planned expenditure was 5% short, on Friday he was quoted in the paper saying 6%. I understand the team budget is just over €8 million so let’s call it 5% of €8m and that’s a €400,000 shortfall. The UCI had given the team more time to close the gap, either raising new income or cutting costs. They still couldn’t make it.

Can they make the savings for Pro Conti licence? Based on last year’s data the World Tour licence fee €76,125 while a Pro Conti spot costs €16,000. So there’s €60,000, or 15% of the savings needed in one go. But finding more isn’t easy. There might be savings from avoiding some races, for example Marc Madiot raged against paying €70,000 to send his FDJ team to the Team Time Trial race at the Worlds so we could deduct that but Madiot might be, believe it or not, exaggerating the cost. But avoiding some races means not collecting the more generous participation payments either while still having to race in smaller events.

One way to save money could be to let a rider go. Under French law riders can’t be fired, instead an existing rider could exercise a break clause to move to another team. It’d have to be a big name, first to attract another team’s interest and second to score a significant saving. Playing fantasy cycling you could imagine MTN-Qhubeka signing Pierre Rolland on a two year deal, the Frenchman gets job security and the South African team’s chances of a Tour de France wildcard go from “maybe” to “oui“.

As good as the best

Uncertain Future
Back in the real world Europcar are pulling out of team sponsorship at the end of 2015. We know this because the car rental company told the team early, a polite advance notice allowing the search for a replacement to start early. The team need results to attract a sponsor and the story of “relegation” doesn’t help their image. It also places added pressure on the team and the riders. As Velochrono point out the team faces a paradox: since it won’t ride all the big races it can focus on the Tour de France but in order to secure a sponsor it cannot wait until July to shine.

In 2010 French telecoms firm Bouygues pulled out and the search for a new sponsor was proving awkward. Come October and riders had enough, Thomas Voeckler had even signed a contract with Cofidis, only just before he faxed it to the team Europcar came in to save the team and he stayed onboard. The experience marked others with Pierre Rolland hinting he’ll start shopping for team if there’s no news on a replacement sponsor by the mid-season.

Shrinking Empire
The pro team has always been run on a reduced budget and has punched above its weight. While in the World Tour this year it had less money to spend than some lower status Pro Conti outfits, for example red rivals Cofidis spend significantly more. But the team’s been shrinking, classics specialists Damien Gaudin and Séb Turgot left last year for Ag2r while FDJ poached former former junior world champion Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier who’d been a stagiaire and now Bryan Coquard’s sprint leadout Kévin Reza has moved to FDJ. British U23 rider Owain Doull even turned down a contract to ride.

As the World Tour team Europcar has been the most visible part of a larger cycling outfit. There has been a track cycling cell with Bryan Coquard and Thomas Boudat given time and resources to plan for the Rio Olympics but this will face pressure now that the team needs more immediate results all while the allure of gold will attract sponsors too. There’s also the Vendée-U team, Europcar’s sister team in the amateur ranks, it’s in the French first division and regular supplier of pros. There’s been talk of a new feeder team with a training base in the Alps too. All these efforts aren’t in the balance but they do benefit from association to the pro team, for example a promising amateur will see less use in going to Vendée-U knowing there’s no obvious move onwards and upwards.

2015, a vintage year?
Beaucoup pessimism above so time for some good news. Thomas Voeckler isn’t getting any younger but he might get luckier, he had a year to forget in 2014 with two broken collarbones meaning he should be fresh for 2015. Pierre Rolland finds a Tour de France route to suit and Bryan Coquard will win more. One rider who’s been overlooked is Romain Sicard but was once the next big thing for French cycling after winning the Tour de l’Avenir win and the U23 rainbow jersey. He faded in the pro ranks with Euskaltel, an injury led to further problems and he made more headlines for a drunken night out than winning anything. But he was back in 2014 with a strong ride in support of Pierre Rolland in the Giro and then rode the Vuelta as team leader to finish 13th overall. Good but not astonishing but behind this is a rider with little coaching support who remains a rough diamond. Perhaps Europcar won’t be polishing the goods in 2015 but renewed confidence might see him improve further, a valuable rider.

Europcar team

Europcar aren’t just out of the World Tour, they’re out of pro cycling all together as they they don’t have a UCI team licence of any kind for 2015. They’re not even visible on the internet this week either.

Hopefully Pro Conti status will be a formality but if they couldn’t find the savings required for the World Tour it’s not automatic that they’re accepted into the second division. Further pruning of an already diminished team is needed given their reduced status is unlikely to appeal to a new sponsor. All this while the team management are trying to find a replacement sponsor and the riders get edgy about jobs. 2015 will be a hard ride for the team.

46 thoughts on “Europcar’s Difficult Ride”

  1. I thought Joe Lindsey and Neal Rogers already declared that Europcar would be just fine with a ProConti license. So, why are you exaggerating here, Inring?

    • I’ve also said they’ll be ok if they get the licence, it could suit them well given they were stretched having to race on simultaneous fronts, this way they can save their best for the Tour. But as suggested above, saving the best for July is awkward given riders and the team probably need some early results too. But this all supposes they get a pro conti licence. They’ve got nothing so far and they still have to find savings, I hope that’s no exaggeration. It all makes for an awkward time.

      • Good work bringing out the Europcar story amdist all the Astana noise. Much greater loss to the peleton should the former vanish, in my opinion.

        Not so concerned with Europcar’s need to shine before July, though. Their Frenchness has been a wild card guarantee in the past, and along with reduced expences of pro conti life, sponsors should see them as safe bet for TdF at a bargain price (Belkin, anyone?)! Still, cycling sponsors don’t always adhere to business logic…

        • There’s a Catch-22 situation though. Their French status is appealing for sponsors who get enormous publicity in July. But without star riders under contract a sponsor will think twice about backing the team. So they really need to have a sponsor in place soon in order to retain their existing riders otherwise the likes of Voeckler, Coquard, Rolland, Sicard etc will start signing elsewhere.

    • I only have a vague notion who these 2 people are. And I think they are not officialy from the Team Europcar. So it is no “declaration”, it’s an opinion. They have theirs, you have yours, inrng has theirs/hers/his and I have mine. That’s the point and the good thing of having different people viewing the same subject: The sources and/or opinions usually differ and you can choose what you personally think and which opinion you share. I think the post isn’t so much about the licence for 2015, more a general look at the why, how and quo vadis for Team Europcar. Personally I think even for the second league it will get hard with this budget? They probably will get a licence for next year, but I am not so sure about a real future after 2015. Would be sad.

    • I would hold InrRing’s opinions in MUCH higher than Neal Rogers. Rogers is nothing more than a liberal Obama wannabe with a poor track record of reporting anything of significance in the cycling world. He is also a staunch Pro Lance fanboy.

    • Yes is the answer:
      – technically because they’ll have paid a UCI bank guarantee to provide the funds to cover things in part. They might also have moved the money into Euros already too.
      – more significantly you’d expect this project, very much built out of national pride – Team Kremlin – cannot afford to walk away as it would look bad.
      – lastly the team has a big budget but it’s loose change for its sponsors with names like Gazprom and Itera on the jersey.

      That said Igor Makarov said the other day he’ll decide whether to continue with the team soon for 2016 and beyond, a call for co-sponsors. It’ll be much harder now.

    • This question could be addressed also to Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana (besides doping problems). I hope Oleg Tinkov was clever enough once more to convert as much Rubels as possible to other currencies, but who knows. Given his past he is even able to make profit in turbulent times. Kazachstan is one economic regional union with Russia (kinda Soviet Union v. 2.0) and their problems must be also immense, though they did not occupy anything.

  2. Europcar must want to get marketing value from this final year of sponsorship, and a team that isn’t racing the big races would seem to not be delivering much marketing value. But nonetheless Europcar is not stepping up to fill the sponsorship gap. Suggests, I think, that the Tour (which the team will race) is almost all of the marketing value that Europcar feels it gets from the team, or that Europcar’s sponsorship is a small enough part of the team’s budget that filling the gap would be a major increase in its spending, or ??? something else.

  3. To me this is what’s wrong with Heinie’s folly – have a doping record like Astana and you still get a top-tier license, but come up a bit short on the euros and it seems you’re out on your a__ right away. And I guess maybe I jinxed Inner Ring with my recent bit about how we don’t have to put up with “You suck!” type comments here? Sorry folks.

  4. Seeing through the eyes of the humans at Europcar, I can see an executive team that made a reasonable business decision to pivot from marketing through cycling and honorably notified everyone a year in advance. Then a very creative, impassioned cycling PR division that’s put their heart and soul in to this project for 4 or 5 years who now feels slighted, disrespected, a little furious and anxious about their uncertain professional futures in a year who’s said f this and gone home for the holidays. One would hope they return in January realizing how much they’ve let everything slide and that the best way to secure future employment is to finish this current project strong if only for personal pride and a genuine respect for the team, fans and project at large. This team has been so entertaining and a group that will be interesting and almost odd to see individually elsewhere. Really been pulling for Sicard from his early days. I hope he works out.

  5. Although not a surprise given the state of the Euro zone economy.
    I can only hope that we don’t lose other predominately French teams, as they do add
    a element to the WT peloton that will be missed.

  6. Only in cycling.

    I know this does not happen in MLB, NBA, and certainly not the NFL. I am willing to bet in the Premier League this sort of bs does not happen either.

    I love the sport, but the shenanigans away from the competition are comical at best and sad at worst.

    • I really HATE the idea that pro cycling might ever end up like the North American “sports” franchise corporations you listed. The hypocrisy there is rivaled only by FIFA and F1. It bothers me when any of these are held up as something to be emulated.

      • Indeed. Maybe we will really end like the Formula 1 some of the cycling world are so jealous of: Selling rides instead of giving them to best suited rider. Which of course would turn the whole thing to a paradoxon and comedy, like it finally did with Formula 1, when they sold cockpits last season. The sporting aspect is put aside for the financial aspect to stay in a sporting competition. Nonsense.

        • Haven’t we seen a bit of this already? I’m thinking of Japanese riders who get on teams who just happen to be sponsored by Shimano or a Chinese guy on a team that just happens to ride a Chinese-brand bike? More and more it seems the only sponsors interested in pro cycling are those catering to the hard-core cycling audience. This reminds me of the pre-Nivea days. Long-term I don’t think this is good, especially as those bike-industry interests start to influence the sport in non-sporting ways. UCI has already allowed electronic shifting and disc brakes are right around the corner. When ol’ Henri Desgrange tired of the bike industry influence he changed LeTour to national teams and supplied the bikes in an attempt to thwart it. I’m not advocating anything that drastic but I hope the true sporting aspects are never lost in a trade for financial gain. To me that’s a race-to-the-bottom.

          • Amen to this.

            Allowing the equipment manufacturers to take over the sport is the a sure-fire way to have them dictate and end the sport. The manufacturers ultimately (consciously or not) will want the “sport” to be about their equipment and their makets, not about the athletes. The more they control they have, the less it’s about the athletes, the less it’s a sport for me.

            As Larry T. says, you can see this in other sports.

            It would be terrible if cycling went down this route.

            I think heavily standardised equipment would be great, from a sporting perspective. The usual gadget-blinded MAMILs would complain, but screw them – listening to them will only kill the sport in the long-term. (Note: I’m a MAMIL too, no disrespect to any other MAMILs 😉 ).

  7. Rolland to MTN Qhubeka? That could work but I think he seems the kind of guy who wants to stay on a French team.

    When do we get news of their Pro Conti licence?

  8. I think any French based team with French sponsors has to know that for World Tour status you’ll need a more than French sponsors to make your budget. Luckily French teams can still into the tour if they have enough French riders and thats ok in my book. Is it the teams fault that the Tour de FRANCE is bigger than most races? Hopefully being in the Tour will get them some sort of new sponsor.

  9. Even in the team’s Boygues Telecom days, they suffered from unsteady sponsorship. I’m wondering whether this problem stems from the team manager/owner’s lack of interpersonal skills and his inability to finesse and shmooz his way around the right kind of rich people who could become potential sponsors. After all, some teams like Lefevre’s OPQS, Vino’s Astana or even the great Gianni Savio and his ever-name-changing pro conti team always seem to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat every year.

    • I think all teams suffer from this, you need a real marketing effort and it’s a very different skill compared to managing a team, driving a car or calling race tactics. Some teams do use marketing agencies to handle this.

      • And said agencies naturally take a healthy commission for their services.

        He seems to be one of those “like him or not” guys, but J. Vaughters appears adept at the sponsorship game.

        I think the perception of Return On Investment uses a multiplier of negativity with regard to pro cycling- the grand mistakes made by a portion of the peloton and the shambling UCI top brass (former top brass, I’d like to think, perhaps naively) might skew the actual, real benefits of sponsor product or service exposure in target markets. It don’t think it sustainable to depend upon individual “rich guys” to float teams.

  10. In response to SAM: It’s not so much about where the money comes from but more where the majority of money comes from. A healthy mix is, well…healthy. First the costs need to be reduced and I’d start with dismantling Heinie’s big folly, the World/Pro Tour. I’m still waiting for someone to remind me what the benefits of this scheme are to anyone but the UCI who collects the fees? Do teams really need a bus…or two? Do they need 30 riders and all the staff to back them up? A huge truck with the massive workshop inside, which is a great target for thieves? None of this really improves the quality of the racing. Next, truly dealing with the doping scandals will make the sport more appealing to potential sponsors, who could get in for less money. Over the history of cycling and motorsports, entries have been funded by business interests controlled by those with a passion for cycling, the INDY 500, etc. These guys had their BUSINESS but spent money on their hobby/passion, two separate things. I think things really start to go down-the-drain in terms of sporting values when the difference between sport and business get squeezed away. The rest of the current downturn in the fortunes of pro cycling lie in the financial woes of the traditional cycling countries – only time will fix that situation, but why not fix the other two right away?

  11. I expect this whole episode is a bit of a ruse so they can drop out of the WT which they have never really wanted to be a part of. Dropping down to Pro Conti will easily save that money with no need to go to Australia, Canada or China. The problem for the UCI is that there aren’t many Pro Conti teams that want to move up to the WT either, which is probably why they are being given extra time.

    The following year is going to be different as France has some major economic problems.

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