The downfall of the Paule Ka team

Owen Rogers investigates a tale of out of work professional cyclists, disappearing benefactors and international finance - and the lack of it

Geneva is well known as one of Europe’s most expensive cities, but when Bigla-Katusha team manager Thomas Campana met businessman, Matthias Thoma for coffee in the Swiss city he had no idea what it would cost.

The two men met in May, a few weeks after Campana’s team sponsors, Bigla and Katusha both withdrew backing with immediate effect, leaving his squad with no funds. Though the bank guarantee that teams are required to lay with the UCI was released to pay the riders, including British star Lizzy Banks, that left no money for travel, accommodation or the usual sundries of running a team. The situation was dire.

Thoma was in the process of buying the struggling French fashion brand, Paule Ka and his interest had been piqued when he read of the team’s plight. With plans to add younger products to the Parisienne company’s more classic lines he felt sponsoring the team would be a perfect match.

So, with snow topped Alpine peaks towering beyond the glittering Lake Geneva, the two men shook hands on a deal. Paule Ka would sponsor the team until the end of the season when a four year deal would be agreed to take the squad to Women’s WorldTour team status. 

With contracts signed Equipe Paule Ka was born, the proposed financial security allowing many of the team’s collection of rising stars to extend their deals with the squad.

But in mid-October the team was dissolved. Staff and riders were unemployed, another UCI bank guarantee paid out, vehicles and bikes sold, and a team which had run for 11 of the last 15 years had gone.

Read the full article in the January 21 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. You can subscribe to CW at an introductory 40% discount, that’s £24.99 for 12 issues. You can also buy single issues of Cycling Weekly should you be avoiding the shops at the moment.