Sponsor merry-go-round edition, a few loose ends on the smaller teams struggling to stay on the road with UCI deadlines and shrinking sponsorship.
With Giacomo Nizzolo, Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid and others leaving Qhubeka-Nexthash the chances of the team continuing look ever-smaller. Plus behind the scenes last week was the hard deadline for the team to submit all its documents to the UCI. Fail here and the rule says a team will be excluded. That’s still not the end of things, a team could send in paperwork which the UCI could ask for clarification on and so on and you’d imagine the UCI would try to accommodate a team. But the firm deadline has passed and there’s no talk of a saviour sponsor.
Two weeks ago the other team missing from the UCI’s list was Drone Hopper Androni, the new name for Gianni Savio’s Androni-Sidermec squad. The Italian team announced they missed the soft deadline for applying for their UCI licence for next year. It’s soft because miss it and a team can pay a little more for each day’s delay, but last week was the hard deadline. At the time Savio put the delay down to Drone Hopper being a start-up and so the paperwork needs a bit more time. Let’s hope it’s just an admin issue because Drone Hopper is a Spanish company making industrial drones – not the kind consumers buy to photo a roof, or film their cycling rides but ones for carrying heavy payloads, even water for dousing forest fires – and you wonder about the demographic crossover between cycling’s popular audience and the niche world of industrial drone procurement where a handful of people presumably need to be reached. Perhaps the bigger concern is a quick look at Drone Hopper’s details on the Infoempresa website reports “una facturación anual de menos de 2 millones de euros“, Spanish for sales below €2 million for the year. If this is right, it could be for older accounts, they have other entities, and might have raised more cash since. If the infoempresa number is wrong, well it still looks like a start-up launched by the University of Madrid and acquiring the naming rights for a pro cycling team is odd.
Meanwhile Vini Zabù team is likely to fold as well, perhaps shrink to a regional amateur racing squad. Title sponsor Vini Zabù has jumped ship to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and the Italian team’s record – it seems to have lodged more doping disappointments than memorable wins of late – means there’s no queue of sponsors to keep it going.
With the added cash Intermarché-Wanty’s management say they will have a budget of €11 million for the World Tour which must place them second last for now with Qhuebka-Nexthash below. It shows the range in the World Tour with Ineos on €50 million.
If Drone Hopper-Androni does get its UCI licence for 2022 this still doesn’t solve the conundrum of wildcard invitations for the Giro. Assume Qhubeka-Nexthash is alas no more, this means Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic get the automatic invites which leaves two invitations left. There are three teams chasing them: Androni, Bardiani-CSF and Eolo-Kometa. Eolo sponsor RCS races and Kometa is a Hungarian company and there are Hungarian riders on the team which suits the Giro grande partenza in Budapest so they’re an obvious pick. So Androni or Bardiani? Or maybe both if Arkéa-Samsic declines to start, the French team is obviously going to place a lot of eggs in the Tour de France basket but Samsic does have business in Italy and the team has a 30-strong roster where they could, say, spare younger riders.
You can see why giving the two best Pro Teams near-World Tour status suits them. The likes of Alpecin-Fenix get most of the benefits of being a World Tour team without any of the extra costs. But those extra costs aren’t so big, the savings on team registration fee and anti-doping contribution amount to about €100k a year, handy but not game-changing? View it like an insurance payment and it’s cheap, a guarantee to ride the top races rather than worrying about a challenger team overtaking them on the rankings next year. Perhaps the bigger benefit is the choice, they can go World Tour races if they want but if the sponsors have no interests or the calendar is too congested they can say “no” when others can’t.
Finally Nippo is the co-sponsor of the EF team and has been backing Japanese pro cycling since the 1980s. It too has looked like an odd deal but helping Japanese athletes develop has worked to the point where there’s a pathway into the World Tour for their riders. But for how long? US investment bank Goldman Sachs is trying to take over Nippo and with this might come new marketing priorities and cost-cutting. Very much a background story for now, but one to look out for.