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by Shane Stokes
December 7, 2016
Photography by Kristof Ramon
Several weeks ago the topic of whether or not Team Dimension Data would be a WorldTour squad in 2017 was one of the biggest talking points in the sport. The UCI had originally said that 17 rather than 18 WorldTour licences would be issued for next season and, with the new Chinese-backed TJ Sport squad planning to continue on from Lampre-Merida, this put the squeeze on.
The UCI ultimately decided to continue with 18 teams, relieving the pressure on Team Dimension Data, but on Tuesday it emerged that TJ Sport may have been the most fragile of the squads after all. According to a story on VeloNews, the team’s planning December training camp has been cancelled and questions now exist about the future of the squad.
It had earlier missed out on the awarding of a UCI WorldTour licence and while there is still time for the necessary paperwork to be done, for boxes to be ticked and requirements to be fulfilled prior to the December 15 deadline, VeloNews suggests that more may be going on behind the scenes than simple administration delays.
It said that neither general manager Giuseppe Saronni nor team sponsor liaison Mauro Gianetti have responded to requests for comment, while directeur sportif Mario Scirea conceded that many on the team are worried and will remain so until the UCI gives a final go ahead.
CyclingTips spoke to rider agent Robbie Hunter on Tuesday. The former professional represents Louis Meintjes, one of the team’s top riders and a likely future Tour de France contender, as well as Marko Kump. Hunter said that he is, ‘very concerned,’ at the current situation.
“Put it this way…I’m not one hundred percent convinced that the team at this point in time has got enough to get it up and running.”
Read on for the full interview, including Hunter’s thoughts on whether his two riders could get contracts if the squad were to stop, his own difficulties in dealing with the team in recent weeks and his concern with the explanation given by the squad.
CyclingTips: There have been reports that there may be issues with the TJ Sport team. Would you describe them as accurate or inaccurate?
Robbie Hunter: I wouldn’t say inaccurate. It’s difficult to say. At the end of the day what I can confirm is that the UCI didn’t give them their licence, which we all know. There are obviously reasons for that.
They say they’re trying to get the correct paperwork. I did see in the [VeloNews] article that it said one of the ladies who did the paperwork fell sick. From what I know, what’s being told to me by the team is that it was the head of TJ Sport who fell sick, that is what I heard.
But at the end of the day, obviously whatever the situation is, the team is in a bit of a predicament. I personally would prefer that the team continues simply because I’d rather see sixty or eighty people’s jobs…whether they are riders or masseurs or mechanics…continue, rather than possibly come to an end. I don’t that’s the ideal situation for anyone.
But yes, I mean we’re coming up to mid-December and nothing has been guaranteed. As the article said, the management of TJ Sport are very hard to get hold of at the moment. They are not really replying to anybody.
So are you finding that yourself?
I am finding it very complicated. I mean, it’s been it’s been almost two months that they have had been very limited with their communication to certain people, myself included. That obviously raised certain concerns a while back.
So yeah, if the team folds tomorrow it’s a massive blow to cycling. Obviously some riders will find places but others won’t. I represent Louis Meintjes which obviously…there are possibilities for him. But I also represent some other riders that possibly could be very difficult to find jobs for, especially coming towards mid-December. So it’s definitely not the ideal situation, that’s for sure.
Which other riders do you represent in the line-up?
Well currently I’ve got Louis Meintjes and Marko Kump.
When did you when did you hear that the training camp was cancelled?
I heard the training camp was cancelled three days ago.
When was it due to start?
It was due to start…off the top of my head, around the tenth. For example, Louis Meintjes was supposed to come here to me on the eighth and do some medical checks and those kind of things, and then go direct to training camp thereafter. So, I think it was around the tenth.
Were you or Louis given any explanation for the camp being cancelled?
The explanation which was given, I think to pretty much everybody, was that they are undivided in their attention to try and resolve the deficit that’s been put to us with the UCI. So they would rather put all their attention towards fixing those problems then worrying about getting a training camp up and up and running.
Did you get any clarification from them as regards what were the impediments with the license?
No, nothing…nothing. Like I said, the only thing is being communicated is close enough to what you saw in the VeloNews article in the sense that someone fell sick. I heard it was a different person. And due to those circumstances, there was a shortfall in who could basically forward the documents or whatever the case may be.
But basically, due to it due to a person falling sick the process could not continue. I find that myself very strange because if any organization in the world relies on one single person to make sure that the company continues, there is obviously a massive problem with that with that organization. That’s my honest opinion.
Would you describe yourself as concerned at this point in time?
I’d describe myself as…[pauses]…very concerned. Concerned in the sense that I’m concerned for 60-odd families and people that are relying on the team. For Louis Meintjes, yes and no. For my other rider, yes. So it is a bit of yes and no.
Put it this way…I’m not one hundred percent convinced that the team at this point in time has got enough to get it up and running.
If Saronni was relying on this TJ Sport to get the team up and running, I’d say I am 100 percent concerned. If Saronni is man enough to approach his existing sponsors and fill them in 100 percent on what the shortfalls and go hat in hand and say, ‘please, could we find a solution?’ then possibly you could find a solution.
I’m doubtful it could be what he quoted, you know, some months ago in the press as to how much the existing project would be worth. Obviously I’m very doubtful that you could be able to get to those proportions. But if he could if he could literally just go hat in hand to the existing sponsors like Colnago and like Lampre to try to find a solution, possibly there could be a solution.
But I don’t think it could be to the extent that it was previously.
When you say it’s hard to find answers, do you mean from the Chinese or from Saronni himself?
Honestly, just from Saronni himself. From the management of the team, they are very reluctant to give information out.
Of course everybody would hope this doesn’t happen but if the team were to stop tomorrow, would Louis immediately have a team or would it take a search to find something? I know he was linked before to Bahrain-Merida, for example, as one possibility.
Look I’ve got existing discussions at the moment to try and secure his future. I would say I would be able to secure Louis’ future, yes, but the sad part is that he’s not the only rider on the team.
So what can you say to him at the moment? Just keep the head down and keep working away and see what happens?
To Louis, like I said, continue doing what he needs to do which is train and be convinced that 2017 will be a successful year.
At the end of the day, to let me basically take care of everything that’s happening behind the scenes. That’s that’s exactly what I’m doing and his future will be secured.