Friday Group Ride #77

So Omega Pharma has announced it will merge with another team. L’Equipe is reporting that there will be no Belgian superteam merger with QuickStep. Rather, the merger is likely to take place with Dutch formation Vacansoleil.

Why no announcement has been forthcoming from Vacansoleil is curious. If the deal is done enough for Omega Pharma to announce that there will be a merger, one wonders why Vacansoleil needs to wait.

Regardless, the merger is unfortunate. Any team merger—such as this season’s merging of Garmin and Cervelo—invariably results in a game of musical chairs that leaves a number of people without seats. From riders to mechanics to soigneurs, there are always some good people who are left scrambling looking for paychecks when one formation ends, and that happens even if they don’t act like Trent Lowe.

The two best Belgian climbers in a generation (or two), Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen van den Broeck are said to be headed to the new Lotto formation, and that—quelle surprise (exclaimed with not even a hint of irony)—Philippe Gilbert is headed for BMC. That’s great for Gavin Chilcott, Jim Ochowicz and Andy Rihs, but I mean, dude.

I began today thinking that today’s FGR would speculate on just what formation would join forces with Omega Pharma, but with these latest revelations, the question has changed.

If you have Philippe Gilbert, who is unquestionably the finest one-day rider of this season, at your disposal, would anything short of your personal, professional and moral bankruptcy allow Gilbert to slip from your clutches? There’s no denying that Vanendert and van den Broeck are gifted climbers but nothing signs sponsors like a win, which is something Gilbert can do against anyone, any day.

And while we’re at it, you can’t help but wonder what else BMC has up their sleeve. Are BMCs selling that much faster than Cervelos that Rihs can fund a formation with some of the world’s top riders out of his pocket without suffering the same fate as the Canadian frame maker? Not to put too fine a point on it, but multiple sources told me that team nearly bankrupted the company. Do you think Rihs is really funding the team strictly out of BMC’s operations or is he feeding it with his own money?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International


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  1. grolby

    The hard fact of the matter is that OP got the deal done too late in the season to hang onto to Gilbert. Whether a newly merged Omega Pharma Vacansoleil team could afford a rider as expensive as Gilbert has become academic, even after he confirmed his dominance still further at the Tour de France (and speaking of Gilbert’s dominance, you’d better believe that BMC is glad that contracts are signed in midsummer, not after the last one-day races of the season in October). We know that OPL simply could no longer afford a market value contract for Gilbert after the Ardennes week; the team bosses all but said as much. Gilbert is no Tomas Voeckler, he does not have the kind of ties to the team that would keep him there at less than his actual value. Had they managed a deal before the Tour de France, they may have been able to keep him. They didn’t, and then it was too late.

    As for BMC, it seems impossible that BMC’s sponsorship could be increasing that company’s bottom line if the funding is strictly out of its operations. On the other hand, I don’t want to call Andy Rihs a liar. At the end of the Tour de France he said that the BMC team, for all that he’s a cycling fan, is a business operation and that he would not be sponsoring the team if it were not making money for the company. But, seriously, that stretches credulity – does it make money for BMC, the business, because of money coming out of the pockets of Andy Rihs, the man? I don’t think he’s going to tell us!

  2. Robot

    I think, if you let Gilbert go, you have to ask yourself what you’re doing in the race business. Gilbert is the sort of rider who provides big ROI for sponsors. He’s the sort of rider you go out and secure personal sponsorship for, so you can pay his wages. There are only a few “properties” so valuable in all of pro racing. Further, once you let him go, who do you replace him with?

    1. Author

      Robot: Exactly. If you let someone like Gilbert through your fingers (and keeping him should be job one), then what is your purpose?

  3. randomactsofcycling

    Oh the guys at BMC must be squealing like little girls after Gilbert won San Sebastian! With all the rumours about where he is going, they are getting their name up in lights every time Gilbert does. I am sure they have did up Cadel Evans quite securely and if Gilbert odes indeed go to BMC, they won’t be letting him get away. I actually think the relationship between Evans and Gilbert might have a little to do with that move. Evans worked hard, post World Champs victory, for Gilbert.
    Let’s not forget that Andy Rihs has very deep pockets and this is his second crack at a Pro Team. I am sure he has learned a lot of lessons from team Phonak and I’m sure the Global Financial Crisis couldn’t hit Hearing Aid sales the same way it might have hit bike sales.

    1. Author

      Gilbert wins San Sebastian. Incredible. I admit, I’m surprised. Not that I didn’t think he was capable, I just didn’t think he’d have that form right now.

      This just proves how stupid the management is at Omega Pharma-Lotto. I mean, I’ve been singing that song ever since they let Chris Horner go (remember, the one thing Evans requested of team management before he left was that they keep Horner), but still.

  4. lqdedison

    I’m pretty sure Andy Rihs is bankrolling the team from his own pocket. The rumor on my side of the pond (europe) is that Gilbert is asking 3.5 million euros a year with a three year contract. It wouldn’t be the first time Rihs dipped into his own pocket to fund a part of BMC.

    BMC isn’t really a top seller over here. They are still considered to be a unknown brand. Maybe they sell well in the states but not here. They don’t have a name like Wilier, Cervelo or Pinarello. Maybe with Evans winning the tour it will help sales, but I doubt it.

    Yet letting a top winning Belgian get away from a top Belgian team? That’s just stupid. For Belgian fans it’s a disappointment.

    On a side note has anyone heard what BMC really means? Bring Me Cash!

  5. Robot

    Really, it calls into question the ability of the top Belgian teams to compete in the big leagues. Despite the passion of the fans, is there just not enough money there to support a team at the highest level? If only Flavio Becca had been born a few clicks to the northwest.

  6. adam

    There’s a non-financial side to why riders stay where they are that’s not being discussed here. Gilbert has only been with OPL for two years after they got him from FDJ, that’s not the stuff that loyalty is made of. Without strong ties a rider is either going to want boat loads of cash or the strongest supporting cast (Gilbert was complaining about his team not working hard enough at LBL
    All this has to be a strong argument for finding and developing your own young talent. I’m thinking of Rabobank and Garmin in particular, but also thinking of Boonen choosing to stay with Lefevre, or Cancellara with Leopard.

  7. Souleur

    Agreed. The Belgians will go nuts about Gilbert leaving and going anywhere else.

    I suppose, given speculation, if he did go to BMC, what role would he play. Now now, I KNOW, but really, with realistic expectations, with Cadel looking for the next campaign, how will that team support the two huge riders like this all spring and then all july?? Or will Gilbert be compromised and make good money in that???

    maybe boonen is the winner?

  8. adam

    Souleur I don’t see a conflict, BMC were arguably the strongest team in Flanders this spring and the only the second team (Leopard) with two men in the final of MSR but lacked a closer. Had they had Gilbert this year, we’d now be discussing whether or not they were one of the greatest teams ever.

  9. Nick

    BMC has the perfect storm this year (in a good way).

    An Australian winning the Tour on a BMC, just when bike sales are booming like never before in Australia, and the Australian economy (and dollar) is doing better than anywhere else. I don’t know about elsewhere, but BMC is absolutely killing it here at the moment.

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