The Le Col-Wahoo team has been rocked by the departure of one of its name sponsors only weeks before the 2023 season. At this point, it is not known which of Le Col or Wahoo has pulled the plug on their sponsorship but it leaves a hole of around €400,000 in the budget for next year for the British team.
The missing amount accounts for almost half of the budget planned for and comes after pretty much all the team’s transfer business was complete for the season ahead. The team has released all of its riders in hope that they will have time to find another team at this late stage of the off-season transfer market. Originally with 12 riders planned, the likes of Ella Harris, Marjolein van ‘t Geloof, Eva van Agt and India Grangier will likely now have to find new teams to ride for.
At this point, teams are beginning to confirm their final rosters for 2023 but some had been rumoured to be keeping a space or two open with an eye on the B&B Hotels project that may or may not be going ahead next season. That may give more opportunities to some of the international riders to find spots even at this point.
For Le Col-Wahoo it’s not the first time they’ve been in this situation. Whilst still called Drops, their new title sponsor pulled out going into the 2019 season leaving a £250,000 budget hole. The team turned to crowdfunding to plug that gap and was able to continue to race. The wheels were initially set in motion that year by Trek ceasing its sponsorship of the team in order to create its own team that now features Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan.
“One of our key partners has indicated that they cannot honour their agreement. I have informed all riders and staff members and told them to look for another employer. I am also in contact with managers of other teams to see what is possible. I think three or four riders have already agreed on a new team, which is good.
By saying goodbye to the highest-earning riders, we have a better chance to continue. We have already had a number of discussions with potential lenders and more clarity will come soon. However, it is a very annoying and unfair situation, especially since it is so late in the season.
As things stand, we still have our second highest budget for next year. It’s more than we’re used to, although it’s not close to what we had this year. The most likely is that we will continue at a lower level next year, although I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet.”Tom Varney, team manager
The last paragraph gives some hope for 2023. Whilst the budget will be reduced, it is more than the team has had in any season except for 2022. So whilst some cloth cutting will probably be necessary unless a new sponsor can be found, it doesn’t have to mean the end of the team. Instead, they will return to the largely British-based line-up they had previously.
The team finished the 2022 season ranked 15th, which by itself would be enough to qualify for the Women’s WorldTour if that position held until the end of the 2023 season. With a Tour de France Femmes invite borderline guaranteed and a real shot at the WWT, it feels like a self-defeating move for one of the sponsors to pull out unless they really are in a situation where the doors are close to closing. Out of Le Col and Wahoo, you would assume that Le Col is at a greater threat of that whereas Wahoo is pushing forward with indoor cycling hardware and recently launched a new Elemnt Roam device.
One nice but probably unlikely situation that would solve the budget hole is the belated introduction to women’s cycling of the Ineos Grenadiers. They’ve dipped a toe in by signing Pauline Ferrand-Prevot to an off-road season but this would be a fuller commitment for not that much outlay – the cost of a lower-end men’s domestique for instance. The outfit has always said that it hasn’t found the right opportunity having assessed a women’s team option around 2012 and subsequently missing the ideal window to create a new team and join the Women’s WorldTour immediately. That window closed at the start of 2022.
The idea of an Ineos Grenadiers-Le Col or Ineos Grenadiers-Wahoo team ticks many boxes, with a British women’s team able to compete at the highest level. It just feels like it will never happen.