UCI continental team Ribble Weldtite will cease to exist in 2023 due to a lack of sponsorship cash.
Head sports director Colin Sturgess confirmed the demise of the squad to Cycling Weekly and explained that a shortfall of £50,000-80,000 in sponsorship has made carrying on impossible.
He said: “A little bit before the Tour of Britain, we all had a message from Tom [Timothy, the team's general manager ] which said, ‘Guys, just a heads up that there’s a fairly sizable shortfall in sponsorship for next year so you know, just be mindful that we’ll be looking for replacement sponsors.
“We went into the race with that in mind, looking for a result and Jack [Rees, operations director] and Tom were working in the background to try to plug this shortfall if you will.
“Nobody wants to see the guys without a ride, I think most of the lads have managed to secure something but it’s just bloody difficult when there are only two or three conti-teams around,” he added.
Cycling Weekly understands an email sent to all the riders told them that they were free to find another team for next season.
Cameron Jeffers confirmed the email and explained that the loss of the squad leaves domestic cycling in a perilous situation.
Jeffers said: “It explained that due to a combination of economic uncertainty, the issues British brands now face with Brexit and exporting, the costs were outweighing any benefits.
“I think to be fair from the sponsors position, it was just a simple decision that it wasn’t going to make sense to continue supporting the team moving forward,” he added.
Cycling Weekly understands that bike brand Ribble still wanted to be involved with the squad for 2023.
Fellow rider Charlie Tanfield explained that the loss of the team is inevitably a big loss for the British domestic scene.
“The team had a good budget for the year. I think what’s happened is that the costs have increased this year, which has been a little unexpected. I think Ribble is keen to be involved next year but we didn’t have a co-sponsor,” he said.
“It’s a real shame as they [Ribble Weldtite] have been a long-standing team. It’s a bit of a sorry state at the moment in the UK scene with this happening. There are only a couple of Conti teams left now that aren’t development squads.”
BRITISH DOMESTIC SCENE SHRINKING
Founded in 2017 as Ribble, before Weldtite came on board as joint sponsor at the beginning of 2020, the team has been registered with the UCI since 2019 and is a key pillar of the British cycling scene, winning on the road and track at home and abroad.
Former riders John Archibald and James Shaw both moved on from the team to pro-contracts as they punched above their weight racing in Europe.
The future of the team has been in doubt for several months. Ribble Weldtite general manager Tom Timothy told Cycling Weekly in August that the financial situation wasn't due to a lack of support from their two main sponsors.
“It primarily boils down to cost - Ribble and Weldtite haven’t got unlimited pools of money,” Timothy said. “Whilst they are able to give us some support for next year, it’s not to the level that we need to be able to continue, and certainly not to the level to grow and represent the riders,” he added.
Today, Jack Rees, operations director of the British outfit, echoed Timothy’s earlier comments and told Cycling Weekly that as well as the shortfall in sponsorship, the wider economic climate and side-effects of Brexit was still impacting the team and their future.
He said: “We identified a figure that we felt was realistic to be able to run the programme at the level we wanted to run. We were then unsuccessful in reaching partnership funding towards that number. It was a Brexit thing, an inflation thing and the bike industry changing.”
“We don’t think it’s fair to pin anything on any particular partner, or put blame on anyone withdrawing, we see that it’s definitely a wider economic thing and that’s the primary driver of this decision,” he added.
The demise of Ribble Weldtite leaves Great Britain with just Saint Piran, WiV SunGod and Trinity Racing as the only domestic continental-level squads.
Lack of opportunities available at home has also meant that multiple young British stars have been forced to seek opportunities abroad to ply their trade and develop, with Groupama-FDJ’s continental level squad providing a stage for the likes of Sam Watson to progress.
The loss of the team also leaves British Cycling with questions to answer on the domestic scene's long term strategy to avoid it slipping into a future of disarray and obscurity.
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