Paris Perdus

All teams have to secure sponsorship but the smaller squads have it hard just to get meagre funding relative to their rivals, then face all the challenges of allocating what they’ve got. The B&B-KTM team and its big ambitions for the future have gone, taking with it Mark Cavendish’s plans, and others too including a women’s team that will never turn a pedal. It’s a story about one small team but also a structural issue for pro cycling.

The sponsor has been B&B Hotels and according to reports the hotel chain had been willing to support what was left so it feels wrong to keep referring to the demise of the B&B team when the sponsor was willing. Instead the name of the legal entity behind the team is Pineau Cycling Evolution so let’s use PCE, named after the team’s founder, ex-pro Jérôme Pineau.

PCE started well enough… it began in 2018 as Vital Concept, backed by a Breton retailer of farming supplies. The jersey design with the glaz tone was a good idea, the idea being that if sponsors might come and go, the team was always recognisable because it would keep the same colour, and that of the blue-green sea of Brittany, France’s cycling mad-region and with a big maritime identity. That was the theory, in practice seeing them up against Bora-hansgrohe and Kern Pharma required a keen eye. And of course sponsors didn’t come, they went, we’ll get to this in a moment.

Bryan Coquard was the big recruit and so close to Pineau that he called his recruit fiston, or “sonny”. But Coquard struggled for wins, 12 in four years including none in 2020 and one in 2021. Pierre Rolland and Arthur Vichot joined in 2019, with the arrival of new sponsor B&B Hotels. Frank Bonnamour had a strong 2021 Tour, taking the combativity prize. The team made some interesting signings, Victor Koretzky for example – although coached by Pineau’s brother Sébastien – and Luca Mozzato’s turning into a promising rider but all together this wasn’t sizzling. It took them two years to get a start in the Tour de France because as a second tier team reliant on an invite they didn’t quite have an incontournable, a must-have rider. They’d been getting invites but this wasn’t assured going forward, first the UCI rules meant the top two Pro Conti teams got automatic invites and PCE didn’t have a budget to compete for this, so it was at the mercy of subjective invites and the hope that they’d supply “animation”. As other teams rose up PCE was looking less attractive. The pressure was showing, Pineau had taken to the questionable strategy of emailing his riders to berate their results, and if the private messages inevitably leaked, he was also blasting his own team in the media. Perhaps this was meant in refreshing honesty but it sure look panicky too.

Enter Didier Quillot
For all that Pineau is getting a roasting in the media right now, he’d linked up with Didier Quillot in the quest for sponsorship. Long time a telecoms and media executive, in 2016 Quillot became the directeur général of the French football league, the body that runs professional football in France and with it, sells the lucrative TV rights to Ligue 1 for hundreds of millions of Euros. Only here’s where the problems occurred, the broadcast rights for 2020 to 2024 were sold to a company called Mediapro which outbid everyone else. Great you might think, but commentators and rival bidders even were surprised at the amount Mediapro offered and the assumptions that financed the knock-out bid when it came to subscription income and ad revenue, and that La Ligue and Quillot bought in. How much Covid is to blame is up for debate but l’affaire Mediapro as it’s known in France – alternatively le fiasco Mediapro – saw Mediapro unable to deliver on its payments to La Ligue; nor had the Ligue taken out insurance or sought financial guarantees from Mediapro. It left French football with a big bill, a fire sale for the rights and red faces. Now Quillot hadn’t gone rogue here, colleagues supported his bid to try and sell the French football rights for a billion euros but the short version – there’s a good long version in French at – is he carried the can and quit La Ligue in the spring of 2021.

Fast forward a year and up pops the news that Quillot is working with the B&B team on a new project. In some ways the team had to do something. As suggested here in February, the team was in trouble because it was freewheeling while others were closing in. This bother wasn’t obvious in the moment, more a case of problems to come. Something had to be done. But Quillot? Hmm, the recent past wasn’t great but still with his background he came with one heck of a rolodex.

The plan was to do more than change the sponsor. Quillot seemed to be on to something with the idea the team would take on the name of Paris, a touch of glamour. Crucially all along the Paris town hall was clear it was agreeing to the name but was not paying a single Euro into the team budget. Instead it was an identity around which to build the team. The idea’s a great concept, but here it came with two practical problems. First switching to Paris meant the team had to dump more than its Breton identity, the region had also been funding the team. Next if the team was to be called Paris Cyclisme or some derivative label, this meant less room for a title sponsor. Now, done right a team can have an identity and shirt sponsor, most other sports pull it off, think Paris Saint-Germain. But it’s one of the benefits of cycling that the media reference the brand directly when mentioning the team. In short the bridge back to Brittany was burned and the avenue of title sponsorship was closed off.

Still, a big sponsor was mooted and things sounded confident, a mooted budget of €20 million was doing the rounds, they’d pass Arkéa-Samsic and Cofidis to be in the same bracket as Groupama-FDJ and just short of A2gr Citroën and with this kind of money, bonjour World Tour. With hindsight there’s a touch of “they would say this, wouldn’t they?” but when the news emerged in May it sounded promising, albeit surprising. In June Pineau said we’d know the sponsor during the Tour de France, perhaps on a rest day but it was said this depended on board meetings to sign-off the deal, evoking images of mahogany-panelled boardrooms rather than the actual situation that there was no new sponsor.

Various sponsor names were floating around like Carrefour and Amazon. But why would such retail giants back a second-tier cycling team when they could buy a WorldTeam with loose change from their marketing budgets? Behind the scenes it seems PCE ended up in a Catch-22 situation. A sponsor would only sign up if there was a clear project with riders on board to get therm a Tour start. Riders would only want to sign if there was a backer to pay their wages. So new riders were lured by the promise of things being (almost) a done deal, and this in turn was interesting to sponsors. But the hard part was inking the deal, Michael Matthews, hot property in the wake of his superb Tour de France stage win was interested but said no thanks. As we know Mark Cavendish was keen.

No news by the time the Tour reached Paris and a tiny alarm bell started to ring. Then we’d hear something during the Vuelta, but still nothing. A press conference ahead of the Tour de France presentation in October was called off. Klaxon time. Alas though no sponsor would commit and around this time the beauty and perfume retailer Sephora said non to PCE, according to L’Equipe. Riders were getting very nervous because they didn’t know more than anyone else, the Commissaires de Course podcast recounted how riders were left asking others to forward them articles behind the paywalls of local newspapers Le Télégramme and Ouest-France about the team because they weren’t getting any news from management. The UCI didn’t even mention the team when it listed the teams applying for a licence for 2023, this regularly happens with smaller teams struggling to get the paperwork in on time (eg Androni, Qhubeka, Europcar). Only there was no news a few days or weeks later and last week the inevitable news came that the whole project had imploded and that the team is unlikely to ride as even a third tier Conti team next year with talk of PCE, the legal entity, facing bankruptcy.

So how to prevent all of this? You’d be surprised how many other teams have come close to folding over the years only to secure late funding. But ideally a sponsorship contract needs to be in place earlier, obvious but in place as in signed and filed with the UCI by, say, 1 August. If a company has a marketing strategy to spend tens of millions in the coming years, and this is what we’re talking, then having some dry ink on a contract with five months to go is not asking too much. Especially because it means if there’s no deal then everyone is aware and can at least look for employment elsewhere over the summer when the transfer market is functioning. As things stand (updated) only two riders, Koretzky and Mozzato, have announced they’ve got a job elsewhere and if others ought to follow, only a few and nobody will get the terms and conditions they’d like.

It’s possible to see this is just a small team that was struggling and so inevitably forced to take more risks to stay in the game and those behind the search lost their gamble, a pari perdu in French. Indeed unless they secured something transformational perhaps this squad had been on the way out because a Tour de France start was essential and the chances of an invite were diminishing. But all the same, the timing of this late demise is a disaster that tells us plenty about cycling’s second tier and the struggles to secure sponsors. While Pineau’s not coming out of this well, it’d be interesting to learn what Quillot thinks of it all.

If this can happen this year with PCE, it can happen next year to others too and within the World Tour too, men and women alike. The least the sport could do in the wake of a fiasco like this is explore ways to insist the funding is in place earlier so that riders and staff alike are not left struggling in December.

28 thoughts on “Paris Perdus”

  1. I always thought it was a bizarre connection: Sephora and a not very glamorous male cycling team. Because I would be surprised if most of Sephoras big spending customers are not young women, the whole set up of trying stuff as part of the process and the luxe store environment is very feminine. How many young women are glued to mens cycling ( apart possibly for a few of the top rank Grand Tour winners and even then….). To be honest, I’m quite glad they listened to their marketing department.

    Would Sephora or similar be interested in a womens team ? Maybe. It’s a long long way from the perfumery heartland , especially with the on going problems of a different sort of woman emerging as potential winners in female cycling.

    • When I heard there was an LVMH brand in the works earlier this year, I thought it could be watchmaker Hublot, after all rival brand Tudor was quietly and successfully building its pro team next year. Sephora? Possible and of course both men and women watch women’s and men’s cycling alike, it’s not like there’s some gender silo and the brand is less luxury, you see the shops all over Europe in out of town malls. But of course they said no. We don’t know which other companies were actual possibilities, it’s hard to untangle the gossip like Carrefour from possibilities like Enedis, the French electrical distribion company.

      • But within those out of town malls, they are still delivering or promising glamour ( feminine glamour) . Of course men and wome watch elite road cycling, here I am! But not for lipstick. 🌷

        • By the way , two years ago I asked for a Tissot for Christmas, a nice Watch but the clincher was the tdf ( but it’s a question of being appropriate).

  2. Absolutely. There is every reason that a large marketing deal should be signed off in early summer. This would be normal procedure for a large companies marketing department.
    Lets hope the UCI takes notice and makes the necessary changes.
    Sorry for the riders, would be riders and backup staff of B&B Hotels.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if some smaller potential sponsors stopped thinking about working with PCE after they heard the medium-sized WT budget numbers and large companies involved, and that might have hurt them later when PCE would probably have settled for a smaller budget as long as that kept the team going…

    Also, like I have said before, all the precarious announcements & eager leaking of talks that weren’t even close to becoming real made the team management look unprofessional & unreliable. And what sponsor (big or small) wants to tie their name to a bunch of incompetent amateurs?

    • It really seems to me they blabbed way too early. I’m sure it would be a dealbreaker to hear the other side publically talk about a deal being close when you haven’t committed to the deal yet.

  4. You would have tought their chances of a TdF start would be great. Ag2R, FdJ, Cofidis and Arkea are now WT, Total is one of the guaranteed wildcards, so that leaves only one french team for two wildcard spots?
    Teams fold all the time, but what smarts is the fact they kept stringing everyone along including new signings until well in December. I think of their proposed signings only Sinkeldam found another team.

    • And that’s the problem if we can see it that way, a great chance but not solid or certain and this is worrying for sponsors and ambitious riders alike.

      If they’d continued as they were (ie no Cavendish and other new signings) then they’d have a chance at a wildcard, but not easy. Israel look a strong team, they won two stages last July, and have more star power so a likely pick. So it could be down to Uno-X vs B&B, maybe B&B would get one last chance or ASO could just think they had enough French teams already?

      PS Stephen Williams has got a ride with Israel, add him to the list with Sinkeldam.

    • It’s especially poor for Pierre Rolland as a forced retirement, but there is a whole women’s team – and this is where the LVMH connection would have made sense – who have been strung along. It involved big names. This from Ouest France on 6 Dec;
      Toujours est-il que des coureuses comme Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Lucie Jounier, Typhaine Laurance, Roxane Fournier étaient de la possible aventure. Sept étrangères avaient également donné leur accord. Ce mardi soir, Ouest-France a contacté l’une des coureuses. Elle était amère et confirmait l’information : « On nous a dit lundi que ça le ferait, qu’on signerait nos contrats très vite, et ce mardi on nous a fait savoir que c’était mort… Mais on ne l’a pas su de la bouche de Jérôme ! Pour moi, c’est mort, terminé, je passe à autre chose ! »
      So not only has Pineau’s so-called friend blown it for the team, he’s also turned an important fashion brand away from the sport. Oh, and there is a whole team of women who’ve been kept in the dark about their futures, now having to scramble for places on other teams.
      – Can there be a claim for damages and misrepresentation to follow?

      • Terrible news for the women, Cordon-Ragot’s husband is a mechanic at B&B so there’s an even more personal angle here, as in both of their jobs are gone.

        As for damage, it’s hard to say and will depend if contracts were signed or not. There is talk of bankruptcy for PCE but one of the issues this autumn was setting up the new team in legal terms, apparently there was a new entity (this was creating headaches bringing the old contracts across) so if people did sign as opposed to shaking hands, the new entity might not have much behind it to claim either.

      • While I can understand that there’s no way to save the men’s team by going down a level the way Gianni Savio manage, I cannot understand why the women’s team couldn’t have been saved.
        OK, as a separare entity and without the men’s team, the sponsors will not get the same amount and the same kind of publicity, but OTOH the cost of sponsorship would have come down hugely.
        I would imagine that the budget of an average WWT won’t exceed € 3-4 million in 2023?

        PS Had I bought shares of Apple or Amazon in 2001-2 or thereabouts, I think I could be grabbing the opportunity to play out my fantasy of owning a cycling team. I mean, I would probably be dropped on the training rides, but a women’s team would be much more fun and make sense in every way 🙂

      • There can be a potential claim for damages, and it may very well be justified, however if the management is out of money, damages might be unpaid forever.

        It’s a lose-lose situation, management should have discussed setting up A NEW team in Paris, and do everything possible to keep the Bretagne team on budget and still moving.

  5. While well meaning in trying to secure bigger sponsors, it just screams epic mismanagement. Breaking links with Brittany isn’t clever either.
    Not the first, and certainly won’t be the last team this happens to.

  6. “The pressure was showing, Pineau had taken to the questionable strategy of emailing his riders to berate their results, and if the private messages inevitably leaked, he was also blasting his own team in the media.”
    Maybe Pineau wasn’t encouraging his riders to stray across the line, but some could have interpreted it that way. We’ve had this sort of criticism from sponsors and team directors before and, giving cycling’s history, it always sounds worrying. Was he saying they weren’t trying or getting close to suggesting they needed to do what was necessary for improved results. Miracles don’t exist and certainly not in pro cycling.

    Apart from that a fascinating summary of a sad story.

  7. At first glance, this reads like a classic perfect storm of a) cycling’s poor structure and b) very poor management decisions.

    Eg. switching to a Paris based team with ZERO financial backing. Refusing to continue with backing from the existing Bretagne region… in exchange for what?

  8. I see on the UCI notice about WT teams today that a certain “Paris Cycling City” has been refused registration. Am I right in assuming this was the planned new name of B&B Hotels?

    The whole sorry saga seems to have been a well meaning pipedream, that should have been dismissed after 2 minutes of critical thinking – why would a big French sponsor give lots of money to a team who had no guarantee of being in any 3 week race? Why not DSM instead, who have Bardet for example?

    I agree totally with the idea of bringing forward the date of new sponsors etc as it’s not acceptable to let everyone wait until December. This is something the UCI must do to stop a repeat of this.

    • If the “big sponsor” would have been a big sponsor of the TdF (e.g. Carrefour), or otherwise have close ties with ASO, they could most likely have successfully pressured to start there.

    • Unfortuntely, you’ll never fully stop these situations from happening – however, I wish there was a mechanism to help team managers stick-handle these scenarios. The mismanagement led this great regional team structure to burn their bridges at home in chasing a pipedream. This proves that the Brittany region can support a strong local club, and that’s what PCE should have maintained… it’s a great part of France, loves cycling, and will be a loss next year if this structure can’t be salvaged at the last minute.

      • I think some check or proof of a deal would help things here. Imagine a house sale or a company takeover where the buyer says they will pay but doesn’t have to show how or where the money is coming from until the last minute… it wouldn’t happen. So some situation where things are in place by August could help. But easier said than done, this particular situation would still see the team trying to shift to Paris, only to have burned its Breton bridges but at least if things were not going to work people would know in the summer rather than in December.

        • Exactly, and then potentially even a replacement Bretagne team could have come out of the ashes and poached B&B’s regional riders…. something/anything is better than losing this team entirely for 2023. Even if the region was able to start creating a tier 3 (or pro-am) team in September 2022 to at least scoop up some of the regional sponsorship funds before they found other uses, this would be better than the current situation.

  9. I’m not terribly familiar with French labor laws, so I’m curious how this collapse affects the riders still under contract? What recourse do they have in terms of recovering wages they would have received?

    • There are the employment laws, but also the French pro cycling “Ligue” has rules too and riders under contract are supposed to be paid… but if the team structure has no revenue, there’s no money to pay out etc.

      Sometimes we see riders go to another team and their wages can still be paid, perhaps in part, by the old team if there is money left.

  10. My last post. Inrng is right, it can happen to anyone, and to build on his point, if it can happen in this region, a region that is cycling mad and even financially supported the team…

    We really need to have UCI or ASO or other guidance to build the strength of the group. Personally, I’d prefer the for-profit organisers to step up and work together to help behind the scenes all teams that need it. Note, I’m not saying give them money… but in this case clearly PCE needed better advice. They dropped the ball in a big way.

  11. But aren’t a l l the team owners and managers wheeler-dealers in one way or another? There’s ample proof on INRNG of the sugar-daddy’s role in procycling.
    Quillot was already damaged goods so questions were always going to be asked, and proof required. – The UCI was already on guard.

    It would have been fantastic to have a true luxury brand of a prestigious corporation in the peloton, though I suspect it was only the prospect of a women’s team that got them to the table and so Pineau had to pick this up, perhaps on Quillot’s insistence.
    -Perhaps now is the time for one of the properly-managed French teams to go calling and to pick up on that supposed promise of women’s sponsorship, although some of the marquee names have already gone to other new set-ups that aren’t full-on women’s teams (thinking of Pauline Ferrand-Prevot who’s gone freelancing at Ineos off-road,for a start)

  12. Having a look at the B&B website before it evaporates and struck that personnel lists only riders, with no mention of finance, HR, admin, PR, logistics, medical and all the rest that is frequently shown on team websites. I know they don’t have the budget of Ineos, not even Arkéa…but to see no organisation structure is surprising. After all it doesn’t cost to put names, roles and photos on a site. Were Pineau and a handful of others trying to do too much without the required competences?

  13. This from the UCI list of approved WT teams for the next three year period;
    “TEAM DSM (DSM – NED) – the Licence Commission has made the second and third years of the licence conditional on the provision, during the season, of additional documents related to the financial criterion”
    – Will this raise the hopes of anyone just relegated?

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