The Belkin Pro Cycling Team, on the endangered species list since the American computer company announced its exercise of an option to pull its support after this season, will continue on in its long-running pro tour odyssey as some version of Team De Lotto (actual name t/b/d). The national lottery company of the Netherlands is working with an organization called BrandLoyalty to promote both the cycling team that has existed as a Dutch power team since 1984, with names like Kwantum, Superconfex, WordPerfect and Rabobank. Reportedly BrandLoyalty will also be a sponsor, as will others, including a holiday company called Roompot Vakanties, helping the team cobble (!) together a full budget.
The deal is interesting in several respects. First, it combines a few familiar forces in cycling history. Lotteries have sponsored the sport since it became a sponsored entity, and the Belgian Lotto currently sponsors Lotto-Belisol, as part of its own long-term association with the sport. [And you'll be shocked -- shocked! -- to find that people gamble on cycling in that part of the world.] Secondly, the BrandLoyalty link to speedskating is a stroke of genius. The two sports share physiological compatibilities, and many a cyclist has doubled as a speedskater, and vice versa. The US scene that evolved into Team 7-Eleven germinated in the speedskating hotbed of Wisconsin, where Jim Ochowitz cut his sporting teeth. And that's cool. But what makes this smart is the popularity of speedskating in the Netherlands. I'm told it's a big deal, and a quick check of medal counts shows that they are a powerhouse. That kind of brand identity is pretty much all positive for the cycling team. To drive the point home, Laurens ten Dam is interviewed at De Telegraaf talking about his own speedskating exploits.
If someone can explain to me what BrandLoyalty does, I'm all ears. But skating hero Sven Kramer is involved, so it's a very successful venture. I suspect it has something to do with bringing money and sports together in mutually beneficial ways (marketing, yo), but that's pretty far from my bailiwick.
The question then becomes, what riders have made commitments to leave and are they still committed? In a perfect world, Bauke Mollema's decision to apparently jump to Trek would have been contingent on his current team's demise, but Trek can't afford that uncertainty. Transfers are mostly rumors at this point in the season, but there are all sorts of hard realities taking shape outside our purview, and while Belkin/De Lotto might carry on, it remains to be seen what riders are still on board. Certainly Lars Boom would be a figurehead -- I have heard no rumors of him changing teams. Hopefully Sep Vanmarcke stays as well. Robert Gesink, for years the team's main guy, has put his career on hold as a result of a heart condition. If he ever resumes, De Lotto may give him a home.