Without a sponsor, Vacansoleil leaving sport with head held high

The Dutch-based squad is losing its main sponsor after this season and will fold

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MADRID (VN) — Vacansoleil-DCM ended its final grand tour with only three riders arriving to the finish line at the Vuelta a España.

The Dutch-based UCI WorldTour team will end its five-year run at the Giro di Lombardia in Italy next month. Unable to find a new title sponsor, team management was forced to face the inevitable, and will shutter its doors at the end of the 2013 season.

“It’s been sad these last few days of the Vuelta. We are realizing this is the last time we are giving out race numbers. That it’s all going to end,” Vacansoleil sport director Michel Cornelisse told VeloNews. “We’ve been together on this project for five years. And now it’s all over in a few weeks. Of course, everyone is a bit sad.”

The only riders who made it to Madrid were Juan Antonio Flecha, Rafael Valls, and Grega Bole. There were more support staff than riders at the end of the Vuelta for Vacansoleil.

“I told the guys I am proud of them,” Cornelisse continued. “We kept fighting all the way to the end. We wanted to win a stage, and we were in some promising breakaways. We rode like professionals to the end.”

The team was born in 2008, and earned its currency in hunting stage victories with aggressive racing tactics. Its high-water mark came in 2012, when Thomas De Gendt won in an epic breakaway up the Stelvio to finish third overall in that year’s Giro d’Italia.

Team management, however, could not find a new sponsor to step up once Vacansoleil, a European camper holiday company, announced it would end its backing of the team at season’s end.

Since the Tour de France, riders have been scrambling to find new rides for next season.

“There was never really a formal announcement the team was going to end,” Cornelisse continued. “By the Tour, it was obvious that there would not be a new sponsor, and everyone starting looking to save their situation. It’s worse for the sport directors, the soigneurs, the mechanics.”

According to Cornelisse, more than half of the riders have found contracts for 2014. Officially, however, the number is much less.

Only a handful of them have confirmed deals. Wouter Poels is heading to Omega Pharma-Quick Step; Lieuwe Westra to Astana; and Valls to Lampre-Merida. Barry Markus is confirmed with Belkin, while Kris Boeckmans and Pim Ligthart are bound for Lotto-Belisol.

Other top riders, such as Johnny Hoogerland, Flecha, and Thomas De Gendt, have been linked to several teams, but nothing is official yet.

Dutch cycling will miss Vacansoleil, which provided another outlet for young, promising riders. Belkin and Argos-Shimano will continue, but both teams are moving toward a more international focus, meaning that young Dutch riders will find it even harder to find a spot at the elite level.

For Cornelisse and the rest of the riders and staff, they hope to leave the season with their heads held high.

“Teams come and go, that’s part of life in cycling,” he said. “We are going to try to make the best of it. We still have some racing ahead of us.”

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