(Photos: Yuzuru Sunada)
HTC-Highroad manager Bob Stapleton said he would not rule out merging with another team if he fails to find a major sponsor before the end of the year. Smartphone giants HTC's contract with Stapleton's team, who have several big name riders including Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss and Tony Martin, expires at year's end.
While still in discussions with HTC, Stapleton has been actively courting companies who he hopes would sign a multi-year deal worth at least 10 million euros a year. But he admits, having received proposals "from around half a dozen teams", that a merger could not be ruled out.
"I've been contacted by a number of teams and it's something we would consider," Stapleton told AFP at the start of Friday's 13th stage in Pau. "You have to remember, I come from the world of business so this is
something that happens all the time."
Stapleton refused to say which teams had shown interest in the concept, but added: "There are half a dozen or more, if you look across the first two divisions in cycling." And he said that any merger would only be built on solid foundations.
If it happened, "it would have to have a lot of merit. We don't want to be merging with a weak sister", he added.
Stapleton made his millions after selling his business to telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom at the start of the decade. Seeing the potential in cycling, he then went on to form management company Highroad on the back of the old T-Mobile team.
He went on to attract and produce plenty of success with naming sponsor Columbia, the American sportswear giant, and continued the legacy with HTC.
The world's number one ranked team, HTC has won the most races in the past few years and over 40 stages from the Grand Tours of Italy, France and Spain.
Although still "in discussions" with potential backers, Stapleton is hoping to persuade HTC not to abandon ship. He believes that in marketing terms, his cycling team has given the electronics untold value.
"We're still talking with HTC. Our top focus is for them to recognize the value they have in continuing to sponsor this team. We estimate they've had 400 million euros of measured media value" during the deal," he said. "We have to try and translate that into a long-term commitment."