Omega Pharma hopes to hang on to Philippe Gilbert after Lotto split
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Monday, May 02, 2011

Omega Pharma hopes to hang on to Philippe Gilbert after Lotto split

by Ben Atkins at 11:13 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics
 
“Would not really be correct” for new project to poach team’s Belgian stars

philippe gilbertAlthough co-sponsor Lotto has announced that it is to leave and set up a new Belgian cycling project, Omega Pharma intends to carry on with its current team; if necessary as the sole sponsor, according to Sporza. The pharmaceutical company’s CEO Marc Coucke expressed surprise at the decision made by Belgium’s national lottery to quit what, right now, is the nation’s number one team, and also his confidence that he will be able to keep the current line up together.

"We had been negotiating since November and the negotiations were becoming increasingly more complex," said Coucke to Sporza. "We hoped that Lotto had no hidden agenda, but Lotto said Friday that they were not staying with us."

"A few minutes later we got the press release,” he explained. “We are surprised, but we must respect that choice. But we must of course continue."

The company has been involved in the top level of cycling since 2003, when, through its multivitamin brand, it was co-sponsor of Quick Step-Davitamon. It switched over to the Lotto team in 2005, where it has been ever since. Like many companies, Omega Pharma has found that the relative low cost of cycling sponsorship, especially in a cycling-mad country like Belgium, the return on its investment has been extremely good.

"The cycling project is important for our marketing and we want to keep it that way," said Coucke.

"The team will continue, but with one less sponsor,” he confirmed. “What is important now is continuity; if necessary we'll do it alone. We have already received expressions of support, but there is still a big difference between that and a sponsorship contract."

Although Lotto has been a sponsor of the current team since 1984, it is the lottery that is leaving to set up a new project. Consequently Coucke expects the current set up to remain.

"Everyone in the team is shocked and is also a bit sad. We felt we were part of a beautiful Belgian cycling project," he said. "I've talked with them and the reactions are positive.”

As part of continuing the project, Coucke expects the team’s riders to stay on, especially the big Belgian stars, like Philippe Gilbert, that the new Lotto project might be looking to recruit for itself.

"It's normal that they say they want to stay,” he said, “they still have a contract with us. Gilbert? If we can keep him and we think it is realistic, then we will do that. We want the project and to retain the leaders."

"It is a strange situation. If the National Lottery is launching a new project, I wish them success,” he added. “But if they want to come steal from us that would not really be correct."

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