Lotto to split with Omega Pharma and form second Belgian team

Philippe Gilbert wins Fleche Wallonne 2011

Long-time cycling sponsor, Lotto will split with Omega Pharma at the end of the season to form a team with a stronger Belgian nationality. It wants to create its team, possibly with sponsor Belgacom, around the country's star, Philippe Gilbert.

Briton Adam Blythe, Gilbert and six others are free to leave at the end of the season. Omega Pharma has the 19 other riders still under contract for 2012, but must search for a new co-sponsor to replace Lotto.

"I don't understand why the national lottery is not happy with what we have done in the last few years. I think they've found an excuse to step away from the team and to get behind another one," said General Manager and CFO, Geert Coeman.

"With Gilbert and [Jurgen] Van den Broeck, we have the Belgian heroes and that's just what Lotto wants, so I don't understand why they are not happy. The positive side, though, is that we know where we are right now."

Coeman explained that he will search for a new sponsor to replace Lotto's 4.5-million sponsorship contribution. The team's budget is at nine million this year, with pharmaceutical company, Omega Pharma providing the other half.

Lotto wants the team to become more Belgian, similar to Sky in Great Britain or Australia's new project, Green Edge. Its marketing director, Mark Frederix, already talked to Telecom company Belgacom about his plans.

"Lotto," said Frederix in a press release, "remains committed to the peloton to allow a high-level team back into service in 2012."

Gilbert will be key to Lotto's team as he's the top Belgian cyclist, recently winning all three Ardennes Classics. If it can secure a sponsor and Gilbert, then it can put in a strong bid for a first division, Worldtour licence. Gilbert often wants Blythe at his side in races and may ask the 21-year-old Brit to join him in his new team.

Coeman will need to find a co-sponsor to keep his 19 riders and to make sure that he can renew his WorldTour licence, which expires this year. The same for Bjarne Riis' Danish team, Saxo Bank-Sungard. In fact, Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad printed a rumour today that Sungard may join with Omega Pharma.

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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.