ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK & RED

Sal­va­tion for the BMC team, which was in des­per­ate need of a spon­sor, came when the back­ers of the Pol­ish ProConti out­fit CCC stepped in. Pro­cy­cling looks at how the team’s iden­tity and goals will change in 2019

Procycling - - THE BIG INTERVIEW - Writer: Alas­dair Fother­ing­ham

When stage 1 of the Tour de Pologne was do­ing laps of the Kraków sub­urbs this Au­gust prior to a pre­dictable bunch sprint fin­ish, at least the day held one sur­pris­ing event.

On stages like this, team cars of­ten pick up guests and VIPs to fol­low the race for a lap, be­fore drop­ping them off to watch the fin­ish. At one point, the CCC-Sprandi-Polkow­ice team car dis­charged its pas­sen­gers. And rather than the usual set of suits from lo­cal busi­nesses, it was Jim Ochow­icz, the gen­eral man­ager of the BMC team, who climbed out, with a large smile on his face.

Ochow­icz was as sur­prised to see us as we were to see him, and we did not ex­change more than a brief “Good af­ter­noon” be­fore he dis­ap­peared into the throng of Pol­ish fans. But given the up­com­ing takeover by CCC as BMC’s new main spon­sor for 2019, it wouldn’t take a ge­nius to work out what Ochow­icz had been chin­wag­ging!to the CCC man­age­ment about. The man be­hind the wheel of the CCC team car that day was Piotr Wadecki,!CCC’s front­man in the ne­go­ti­a­tions that pre­ceded the BMC-CCC deal this sum­mer, and now over­see­ing the lo­gis­ti­cal op­er­a­tions of the al­liance of the ProCon­ti­nen­tal and World­Tour teams from the Pol­ish side.

For BMC, the at­trac­tions of the Pol­ish multi-mil­lion-pound shoe and bag-mak­ing com­pany sav­ing the team from ex­tinc­tion al­most at the last minute are ob­vi­ous. By early sum­mer, Ochow­icz had still failed to se­cure a spon­sor­ship deal for 2019, and stars like Richie Porte, Ro­han Den­nis, Te­jay van Garderen et al were be­ing linked to other teams.

The press re­leases from

CCC in­sist that it is not a fu­sion, that CCC is tak­ing over as main backer. And this rep­re­sents the con­fir­ma­tion Pol­ish cy­cling has col­lec­tively ar­rived at the high­est level of the sport. The na­tion’s rid­ers were a force dur­ing the 1970s, rid­ing as ama­teurs in events like the Peace Race and Olympics, but this rep­re­sents a break­through at pro­fes­sional level. There will also be, it was an­nounced, a de­vel­op­ment team at Con­ti­nen­tal level and a women’s squad.

In­di­vid­u­ally, it also con­firms how greatly rid­ers like Micha¯

Kwiatkowski and Rafa¯ Ma­jka have raised pub­lic aware­ness of cy­cling in Poland. “I know Dar­iusz Mi¯ek, the owner of CCC, per­son­ally and he’s a big cy­cling fan,” says Kwiatkowski. “It’s a big step for­ward, they were aim­ing high for a very long time and now they’ve done it. Let’s hope ev­ery­thing goes right and they have this pro­ject for years.”

Apart from Kwiatkowski and Ma­jka, for decades Pol­ish cy­cling’s in­ter­na­tional ref­er­ence points have been the Tour de Pologne, a World­Tour race since 2005, and cer­tain, fleet­ing mo­ments of glory for past stars like Zenon Jasku¯a, third in the 1993 Tour de France.

INTO THE WORLD­TOUR

The CCC cy­cling team was formed in 2000 as Mat-Cere­sit-CCC and it has been us­ing its well-known day-glo orange kit since 2001. In re­cent years, it has been a stal­wart of the ProCon­ti­nen­tal cir­cuit. The team has also risen briefly as high as cy­cling’s top tier for a sea­son in 2003 (when the UCI ex­panded the di­vi­sion to 30 teams), but sank to what was formerly known as di­vi­sion three - the equiv­a­lent of the Con­ti­nen­tal league – in 2004.

CCC have long tried to bal­ance the am­bi­tion of run­ning an in­ter­na­tional pro­gramme with be­ing a big fish in a small pond back home, with the em­pha­sis pos­si­bly be­ing on the lat­ter. In their three par­tic­i­pa­tions in the Giro, their big­gest im­pact was a 12th place in 2003 for Dar­iusz Bara­nowski and in 2017 for Jan Hirt. Their only World­Tour win came when Ma­ciej Pater­ski soloed to vic­tory in the open­ing stage of the 2015 Volta a Catalunya and then led the race for two days.

Fur­ther­more, CCC’s ten­dency to sign rid­ers like Da­vide Re­bellin and Ste­fan Schu­macher, whose cred­i­bil­ity had been dam­aged by pos­i­tive dope tests, gave the Pol­ish team the whiff of a lastchance sa­loon.

Przegl d Spor­towy jour­nal­ist Kamil Wol­nicki, who broke news of the team’s spec­u­la­tive in­ter­est in sign­ing Geraint Thomas, says: “There had been talk, in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, of CCC mov­ing into the World­Tour. But it’s only now, when CCC saw that BMC were go­ing un­der, that it’s hap­pened. It was a kind of co­in­ci­dence.

“For Pol­ish cy­cling, it’s very im­por­tant. At the mo­ment, there’s very lit­tle money in the sport, just a hand­ful of low-key Con­ti­nen­tal squads.” Rather than sign­ing big names, Wol­nicki says CCC’s big in­vest­ment in the last few years was to cre­ate a ser­vice course in west­ern Poland and on equip­ment like a team bus, a pol­icy which will stand them in good stead now it is rad­i­cally rais­ing its game. (BMC’s ser­vice course in Bel­gium - be­hind a bike shop owned by Rik Ver­brug­ghe in the small Flem­ish vil­lage of Eke - will re­main in use.)

“It’s also re­ally im­por­tant be­cause young Pol­ish rid­ers have had nowhere na­tional on that level to sign for be­fore. You had to be re­ally, re­ally good to get in any team,” says Wol­nicki.

Kwiatkowski agrees. “So many rid­ers are just get­ting lost in the U23 cat­e­gory and hav­ing a Pol­ish team makes it eas­ier for you to be on the radar,” he says. “The pro team scouts don’t come to Poland that of­ten.” He would have liked, he says, such a team to have been around when he was strug­gling up through the ProCon­ti­nen­tal ranks at Caja Ru­ral in Spain.

Ma­jka and Kwiatkowski may have helped cre­ate un­prece­dented na­tional in­ter­est in cy­cling, but Wol­nicki re­jects the idea that Poland is in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion to the UK when Mark Cavendish’s suc­cess pre­ceded the cre­ation of a first World­Tour team in Sky. In Poland, he says, cy­cling’s sit­u­a­tion is much more pre­car­i­ous.

“In Bri­tain, you had a se­ries of pro­grammes run by the fed­er­a­tion to help de­velop your pros,” he says. “Here, the fed­er­a­tion is nearly bank­rupt and in se­ri­ous dif­fi­culty, and what train­ing pro­grammes and sub­si­dies rid­ers re­ceive largely come through the Olympic Com­mit­tee.” In­deed, the fed­er­a­tion’s for­mer pres­i­dent, Dar­iusz Banaszek, re­signed this Jan­uary amid a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing of­fi­cials in the in­sti­tu­tion he presided over, though he in­sisted on his in­no­cence. The fed­er­a­tion, in mid-Septem­ber, was re­port­edly still lack­ing money to send a team to the Worlds.

Can CCC help plug the gap? One thing is cer­tain, they won’t do it fast. Ac­cord­ing to Piotr Wadecki, who has been han­dling the ne­go­ti­a­tions over the prac­ti­cal im­pli­ca­tions, CCC will spend 2019

get­ting their feet un­der the ta­ble be­fore aim­ing much higher later.

“The aim is not just to be the top Pol­ish team,” he says. “We also want the top Pol­ish rid­ers. We’ve done the Giro three times in the past, in 2003, 2015 and 2017, but our big dreams are Flan­ders and Roubaix, as well. And this is a long-term pro­gramme, not just for three years.

“We had the idea to switch to the World­Tour be­fore, and we have been first di­vi­sion in the past, but the of­fer came through from Jim and the de­ci­sion was made re­ally quickly, in five or six days.”

Wadecki agrees that apart from Greg Van Aver­maet, the team will be short on head­line rid­ers, fol­low­ing the stage-racer ex­o­dus. “The prob­lem was we only got the deal in July. In March, it would have been a dif­fer­ent story. But we have Greg, he’s still the reign­ing Olympic cham­pion and ev­ery­thing is in place for the Clas­sics, and we will surely get a good name at some point for the Tour, be­cause all we need is the leader. With BMC we have the in­fra­struc­ture for the grand tours - me­chan­ics, di­rec­tors and so on, some of whom have done the Tour for 15 or 20 years.

“The one piece of good news is that be­cause it’s all hap­pen­ing so late, we don’t have the pres­sure of other sea­sons. We can’t be the same as BMC last year; it’s too late. But when the team has a new name and is up and run­ning, we should be able to open some more doors. Kwiatkowski and Ma­jka would be our dream sign­ings. From CCC’s cur­rent squad, we’ll hire those rid­ers who can do a World­Tour cal­en­dar from Jan­uary to De­cem­ber, which is maybe six or seven guys.”

The World­Tour team will have an in­ter­na­tional line-up, while the U23 team will pri­mar­ily draw on cen­tral and eastern Europe. The women’s team also has big am­bi­tions: it will be led by no less a fig­ure than Mar­i­anne Vos.

PLAN­NING FOR THE FU­TURE

So the bal­anc­ing act con­tin­ues. The team will com­pete on an in­ter­na­tional level, while re­tain­ing a Pol­ish flavour.

“I see Pol­ish cy­cling like Pol­ish eco­nom­ics in gen­eral,” Wadecki says. “The busi­nesses are grow­ing fast here and we re­ally are get­ting bet­ter. In the 1990s and be­fore, there were some great rac­ers like Zbig­niew!Spruch, Jasku¯a, Czes¯aw Lang…but that was over a long pe­riod of two decades. Now there’s a whole crop of rid­ers - Lukasz Wis­niowski,!Ma­ciej Bod­nar, Micha¯ Go¯as - at the same time and we’d like to keep them in a Pol­ish team.” “Cy­cling in Poland now is a big deal,” says Si­mon Geschke, one of the 2019 sign­ings. “But back in my day as an am­a­teur when I raced there, there were hardly any guys com­ing out of there. What’s ob­vi­ous is that Poland is turn­ing into a re­ally in­ter­est­ing mar­ket for cy­cling. A lot of rich com­pa­nies are go­ing to want to start spon­sor­ing a team.”

The signs of a well-or­gan­ised squad were al­ready in place even as early as Septem­ber, he says, when CCC started to make in­for­mal con­tact with their rid­ers about next year’s plan­ning. That abil­ity to be­gin plan­ning was one fac­tor that at­tracted him, Geschke says: “The fact that they are all part of the World­Tour was very re­as­sur­ing, and look­ing at BMC it’s a su­per-pro­fes­sional team. There are a lot of very tal­ented peo­ple work­ing there.”

Geschke was so con­vinced that de­spite hav­ing two other of­fers on the Tour’s sec­ond rest day, he says, he went for CCC.

Kwiatkowski feels that the de­ci­sion to work with BMC, rather than start from scratch and try to cre­ate a new team, was a sage one. And not just on a prac­ti­cal level. “If you started from zero it would cost you a lot more money to sign a con­tract with the rid­ers. They would ask for more money if it didn’t ex­ist than if you al­ready had a struc­ture in place,” he says.

When we went to press, Patrick Bevin, Alessan­dro De Marchi and Michael Schär were among those BMC rid­ers who had been re­tained, while Guil­laume Van Keirs­bulck and Serge Pauwels were picked up from other teams. “Those are the cir­cum­stances,” said Van Aver­maet in a re­cent in­ter­view with Cy­clingnews. “A spon­sor came pretty late, which wasn’t good to build a World­Tour team around, but I think that the Clas­sics team is re­ally strong.”

Kwiatkowski him­self is cagey about whether he would con­sider sign­ing for CCC in the fu­ture. “I’m not dream­ing about any teams, I’m dream­ing about win­ning races,” he says. “If it would be best to sign for an­other team, to win the Tour or the Olympics or Worlds, I will go for it. It’s not if that team is Pol­ish, or British or Rus­sian. You have to think about what peo­ple do for you and if you want to be there, what other chances you have, the pres­sure you’d have, stuff like that.

“For your im­age of course it’s al­ways bet­ter to race in your home colours. That would have the big­gest im­pact, but sports-wise? I don’t know. I don’t know how the team will work be­cause it doesn’t fully ex­ist yet.”

The ar­rival of the CCC team in the World­Tour, in any case, has a few po­ten­tial draw­backs. Un­der­ly­ing fault lines in the coun­try’s cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture, such as the par­lous state of the fed­er­a­tion, could be over­shad­owed by the im­pres­sive re­sults CCC hopes to garner. It re­mains un­clear, how­ever, what will

hap­pen to those BMC and CCC rid­ers and staff who do not fit into ei­ther new pro­ject and who have not found al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment. There are un­con­firmed es­ti­mates that around half the CCC staff will join the new team and some will move onto the de­vel­op­ment squad. “But if they do so in the devo squad, this will surely be for less money than in CCC at the mo­ment,” sug­gests Wol­nicki. Those CCC rid­ers who are not able to join the U23 team or BMC may also be out of a con­tract.

“So, some guys will be an­gry,” Wol­nicki con­tin­ues. “But in my opin­ion this is a nor­mal sit­u­a­tion. The team is chang­ing lev­els and some peo­ple won’t fit in.”

Over­all, the CCC pro­ject looks like a good thing for Pol­ish cy­cling, and it bucks the trend in some coun­tries of spon­sors dis­ap­pear­ing from the sport. The team won’t win the Tour or Giro, but they have in Van Aver­maet a strong con­tender in most of the big­gest one-day races, a for­mer win­ner of Paris-Roubaix and a two-time wearer of the Tour’s yel­low jer­sey. Suc­cess should lead to a boost in me­dia and pub­lic in­ter­est and there­fore, the the­ory goes, more par­tic­i­pa­tion and greater strength in depth, just as hap­pened with Cavendish and the ad­vent of Sky in the UK.

As for the rac­ing it­self, come 2019, CCC should be able to hit the ground run­ning, in the Clas­sics at least. No won­der Ochow­icz was smil­ing when he got out of that CCC team car.

Ma­ciej Pater­ski wins stage 1 of the 2015 Volta a Catalunya for CCC

Da­vide Re­bellin, then aged 44, won the 2015 Coppa Agos­toni from Nibali

CCC DSPiotr Wadecki is man­ag­ing the BMC# CCC tran­si­tion

CCC’s best chance of a big win in 2019 is prob­a­bly Greg Van Aver­maet

Tour stage win­ner Si­mon Geschke is one of CCC’s head­line sign­ings

For­mer world cham­pion Mar­i­anne Vos will lead the CCC women’s team

Michael Schär is one of the BMC rid­ers who will con­tinue with CCC

Czech rider Jan Hirt came 12th in the 2017 Giro d’Italia while rid­ing for CCC

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