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LYON, France (VN) — Dutch cycling received a boost ahead of the Tour de France on Monday when its long-running team announced new sponsor Belkin. Team Blanco, for years known as Rabobank, inked a deal with the American electronics group and signaled a new start.
The UCI WorldTour team, beginning with the Tour, will race as team Belkin and in green and black colors.
Three first division Dutch teams — Belkin, Argos-Shimano, and Vacansoleil-DCM — will begin the 100th edition of the Tour Saturday in Corsica. The three weeks of racing through France will do wonders for their sponsors and, in the case of Vacansoleil, attract new backers.
Chet Pipkin, Belkin’s founder and CEO said, “Associating our … brands with this successful, well-established team enables us to introduce ourselves to millions of people around the world and interact with them.”
Behind soccer’s World Cup and the Olympics, Belkin would be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity than the Tour de France. The race is beamed around the world, runs for three weeks, and provides plenty of advertising potential.
Belkin’s new team, with 19 wins already this year, also participates in a healthy race schedule from Australia, to Europe, and to the U.S. Belkin will be associated with the team’s 29 riders, its wins, and its story.
The history of cycling teams and races in The Netherlands runs as far back as the Tour itself. The country produced Tour winners Jan Janssen and Joop Zoetemelk, and teams like Panasonic and Belkin’s forerunner, Rabobank.
Fans outside of Northern Europe know Rabobank for cycling, but, as the name suggests, it is a bank. For 17 years, and really up until Monday, the Dutch financial group paid for the team’s riders and staff. It continues to support a multi-tier system that includes the women’s team with world champion Marianne Vos.
Doping scandals rocked the team, however. Michael Rasmussen, on the verge of winning the 2007 Tour, was discovered to have lied about his whereabouts and missed doping controls. Thomas Dekker and others tested positive for banned drugs.
The Lance Armstrong scandal, which involved former Rabobank rider and American Levi Leipheimer, was the final nail in the coffin. Rabobank pulled the plug last October 19, but agreed to continue its funding through 2013 while management looked for a new backer.
The situation worsened before it improved. Rasmussen cooperated with authorities and allegedly unveiled dirty details about the team’s activities in the late 1990s and 2000s. Michael Boogerd and others confessed to doping as part of an amnesty program that was established.
Belkin’s arrival, though, signals a new chapter for Rabobank and Dutch cycling. It signed through the 2015 season. With Argos-Shimano running at least through 2014, cycling in The Netherlands appears healthy.
“What we want is that our team recognizes what happened and that we work to make sure this does not happen in the future,” Argos sports director Marc Reef told VeloNews this spring.
Reef added the lows Dutch cycling suffered through only brought opportunities. “It allows a company to come in and make a good investment with their sponsorship dollars,” he said.
Vacansoleil’s brass is hoping for just that. They are using the Tour de France as an exhibition to pull in a new company.
DCM already said it would not continue into the 2014 season and Vacansoleil, after five years, reportedly told the team to look elsewhere.
The 100th Tour de France holds opportunities. Having welcomed Belkin into the sport, it might bring Vacansoleil and Dutch Cycling more good fortune.