Newly-elected Union Cycliste Internationale president, Brian Cookson raised concerns today over the financial strength of teams. Just hours before Saxo Bank agreed to give more funds to its team, the Brit on a visit in Beijing said that too many teams walk a knife's edge.
"Right now, the problem is that too many teams are on the financial knife edge," said Cookson to journalists including Cycling Weekly at the Tour of Beijing. "Structurally, we have to do a lot more work to give the teams long-term substantiality."
Today in Madrid, team owner Bjarne Riis announced Saxo Bank agreed to last-minute aid for 2014. It will help fill a €6m gap in sponsorship created when Tinkoff Bank pulled its funding.
Riis tried to find a new co-sponsor to help support Alberto Contador and the structure needed to compete in the Tour de France. In the last week, the Riis and Contador went on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Their bid worked but highlighted the sport's desperate situation.
"This will give us the time we need to continue our work without stress," Riis said in a press conference. "We are going to continue to search for a sponsor for next year and beyond."
Saxo Bank saved its team, but others are not so lucky. In just the four folding professional teams - Vacansoleil-DCM, Euskaltel, Sojasun and Champion System - approximately 72 riders face unemployment. Without new teams entering, they face a difficult search for a 2014 contract.
"The structure of pro cycling needs a major overhaul," Cookson continued. "That's underway and good work has already been done."
Cookson has been in office only a week and a half since winning the election in Florence. Last week, reports spread of the UCI's plan to revamp its three-tier system of first, second and third division teams. According to a UCI document, a plan is going forward to reduce the number of first division teams and spread the other teams over a different tier system. If successful, it would possibly kill off the current ProTeam and WorldTour set-up created by former UCI president, Pat McQuaid.
Cookson today spoke in loose terms about that plan and highlighted pledge five in his campaign manifesto, to overhaul cycling's structure.
"There's not an easy answer, it's going to take a lot of work over a long period of time," explained Cookson.
"We have good strong teams that have good backing but we have a lot of teams that are shaky and a lot of teams that depend on wealthy individuals, who have a team as a pet project. I think that it benefits teams to get sponsors to want to invest in cycling. Germany is an example, the biggest economy in Europe without a team. They have good riders, they had good events in the past but very little TV coverage. Until we crack that and change that problem, we are not going to be able to develop the sport."
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