After weeks of turmoil following the withdrawal of a new sponsor, last week Drops announced they would be continuing as the only British UCI Women’s team. While former pro Jonny Bellis will take the reins as lead sports director, the team confirmed they will not be paying riders unless a sponsor is found.
Bob Varney, who owns and runs the team with son Tom, admitted the situation regarding rider pay is far from ideal.
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“We are very sad and very embarrassed to say we will not be paying riders next year unless we get additional funding,” he told CW.
“It wasn’t a decision that we took lightly, it was something we did in communication with our riders, it was a collective decision. We wouldn’t have been able to run the team with salaries.
“We are actively seeking additional funding and they will get paid if we find the funding, but they will get a good race programme, they will get first class equipment and they will be getting full expenses.
“It is disappointing, but we would rather have a team than not.”
The 2019 squad will race as Drops after title sponsor Trek withdrew to form its own super-team, a move which sparked the financial issues which had recently plagued the British outfit. After the late withdrawal of a replacement sponsor a crowd funding campaign raised awareness and some funds but no substantial investment.
The uncertainty saw a number of riders move on and the team lost staff after they were offered roles at bigger teams, allowing Bellis the opportunity to return to the sport.
“Drops have always been a team I liked,” 30-year-old Bellis told CW. “I like the ethos and that they create a relaxed atmosphere. I know some of the riders and can see how much they value the team, I can see how great it is, so I am excited to be part of that.”
Bellis raced at WorldTour level for Saxo Bank for three seasons from 2009 after joining as a stagiaire the previous season. However, he was unable to recover fully from injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash, eventually retiring half way through the 2015 season to begin a coaching career.
After some part time roles as sport director, Isle of Man born Bellis hopes his professional experience will help Drops through the 2019 season.
“I’ve been on the best national federation, British Cycling, I was part of that for a number of years. Obviously I’ve been on big teams, like Saxo Bank so I’ve had the best managers and the best directeurs sportif in the world.
“I know how things work and ways to get the best out of riders and I know how they feel because I’ve been there myself.
“Being a director is always where I’ve wanted to move to, back involved in a team. That is the only thing I miss, the whole team thing and being at bike races that’s what I enjoy. So to have this opportunity with Drops for next year was really great.”
The team is yet to reveal the names of the 10 riders Bellis will have under his charge when Drops begin their 2019 campaign in the spring.