Former Gerolsteiner boss concerned for the future of Saxo Bank
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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Former Gerolsteiner boss concerned for the future of Saxo Bank

by Ben Atkins at 10:30 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling

saxo bankSaxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis risks losing many of his top riders if he doesn’t find a new sponsor before the Tour de France, says former Team Gerolsteiner manager Hans-Michael Holczer. The Danish Bank ends its sponsorship of Riis’ team at the end of this year and the 2006 Tour de France winner has yet to name a replacement. “D-day is one to two days into the Tour de France,” the German told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet. “If you do not have a sponsor for next year you can lose your riders to other teams.”

The day that riders are officially allowed to start to negotiate with other teams is July 5th, and the Tour de France starts in Rotterdam on July 3rd.

Holczer speaks with a voice of experience, having been through the same process in 2008 when he spent the first half of the year in a fruitless search for a replacement for the German mineral water producer. Many of his top riders, including Bernhard Kohl and Stefan Schumacher, were lured away to other teams during and after that year’s Tour de France. Both of those riders – and a number of others in the team – were subsequently embroiled in doping scandals though, which exacerbated the difficulty in finding a sponsor and the team folded at the end of the year.

With big stars like the Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara, Holczer sees Saxo Bank as a victim of its own success. With its other sponsors on board, and the profile of Riis itself might keep a lesser team going as Bob Stapleton did with Team Highroad after the withdrawal of T-Mobile. “When the team was smaller Riis might have had the personal and financial power to keep the team going,” he said, “but now the team is much bigger and it’s a very expensive team.”

The situation that Riis finds himself in is not a comfortable one, says Holczer. “As a leader you still have to focus on the team,” he said, “and at the same time you must chase a sponsor; taking the calculated risk that you will not find a sponsor and have to abandon everything. It’s a difficult balancing act.”

Part of the problem, Holczer thinks, is the way that the top level of the sport is organised. If someone has enough money then they can start a new ProTour team from scratch, rather than investing in an existing team structure. There have been rumours that a wealthy Luxemburger is planning to create a new team around the Schleck brothers and a Swiss is planning the same around Cancellara. For Holczer, the thing for them to do would be to invest in what is already a successful team set up with Riis.

“I would like to see a structure where teams can move up or down,” he said, “like in football [soccer – Ed]. If you had a new team you’d have to start from scratch and work your way up. Or, sponsors and financiers put their money behind a team that is already in the ProTour.”

Saxo Bank was announced as a new co-sponsor – then chief sponsor – of Riis CSC team just before the Tour de France in 2008. The Dane will need to pull off a similar feat this time if he is to hold on to his stars.


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