Lotto are stepping down from sponsoring Dutch team Lotto-Jumbo. Their contract is up at the end of the year and that’s enough for them. The good news is co-sponsor Jumbo has said it will step up and become the main sponsor and even increase the budget to somewhere north of €15 million.
The team are already splashing the cash having just announced Steven Kruijswijk has a contract extension through to 2021 too, a rare long term deal. It’s good to read of this smooth succession of sponsors. Has pro cycling found its level? The sport may struggle to attract the likes of Coca Cola, Gilette or Samsung but Jumbo is a decent business in the Netherlands, one of the country’s biggest grocery retailers and now expanding in Belgium.
Things look rougher for Astana. As well as an open letter doing the rounds calling for the Kazakh government to stop funding the team, reader comments on this week’s Astana piece point to the Astana team’s problems stemming from a court battle between a Moldovan oligarch and Samruk Kazyna, the principal backer of the team. Anatolie Stati was into oil and gas in Kazakhstan only to allege the Kazakh state tried to loot him with trumped-up criminal charges and then seizing and nationalising his goods. A court ruled Stati should be compensated, the Kazakh’s haven’t paid and so court orders have been issued to freeze Kazakh assets abroad. This suggests pumping money into Luxembourg to keep the team on the road is somewhere between hard and impossible. The court proceedings are going to take months to resolve… the team may not be able to wait.
From Kazakh politics to China where some of the country’s richest men are feeling nervous. A top insurance company has been seized by the government and its founder and boss prosecuted. Now parts of the media are speculating whether Wanda could be next. The big conglomerate has already been clipping its wings by unloading foreign assets – it no longer owns Velonews – and there’s talk it could hive off its sports division which owns Infront, which in turns owns the Tour de Suisse and more in cycling as well as the World Triathlon Corporation. Wanda is also supposed to run the UCI’s developmental programme in China too. Outsourcing the usual UCI and federation role upset some – and I’m told cost Brian Cookson votes – but are there guarantees to protect the cycling in case of a political backlash?
It’s not only team sponsorship that can hinge on faraway stories of fraud and politics, races can have to deal with it to. The Samyn took place earlier this week and saw Quick Step dominate the race in a way they couldn’t last weekend. One reason was the lighter field, the Quicksteppers were one of only three World Tour teams in the race. The race was defrauded by a former treasurer who apparently looted the race’s cash reserves. It meant last year’s race had no money and several teams were not paid and some of them didn’t return this year, despite the race moving to a Tuesday slot from the usual Wednesday in order to encourage them to prolong their stay in Flanders.
Still things could be worse, look at the Tour of Alberta which has collapsed with debts of over CAD$ 1.6 million, a vast sum for a small race and quite how the event was given so much credit by so many is a mystery.
To a small race with an asset this year. The Tour de Finistère is not a big race but its final 65km are identical to Stage 5 of the Tour de France and so the race is getting interest from bigger teams, Le Télégramme, a local newspaper, reports Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen will take part to test the course for themselves. Others are bound to follow. It’s on Saturday 14 April… will they stay on for the Tro Bro Leon the next day?
Talking of BMC Racing, remember Samuel Sanchez? He had an A-sample positive for GHRP-2, a kind of growth hormone. 196 days later he’s still provisionally suspended. Long but there’s also André Cardoso’s positive A-sample for EPO just before the Tour de France. He’s still provisionally suspended some 248 days later. These things can’t be rushed… but still.
On the subject of anti-doping, a small note on Froome’s case. Cyclingnews headlines “UK Anti-Doping data a blow to Chris Froome’s salbutamol defence” but it’s not really the case. It is a small blow to Sky’s media comments that these cases happen and are resolved in private and therefore by implication Froome’s case is just one of many only it got leaked. But we’ve known this, the stats exist on the WADA website too. But Froome’s case is not about others, statistics or the law of large numbers, it’s still about him proving he took a permitted amount as the reason behind the reported high quantity in the sample.
Finally full circle back to Lotto-Jumbo. The team will need an increase in funding because Dylan Groenewegen’s value must be going up and up, he’s on four wins already and just took Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. As well as retaining him he’ll want a strong lead out train. That’s him aged 20 in 2014 in the Trofeo Mallorca riding for the De Rijke Continental team, he’s celebrating but Sacha Modolo has got the win. That year he won the U23 Tour of Flanders – remember this race is hard but not the berg fest that is the senior Ronde – and has been steadily improving. What next?