One Pro Cycling boss Matt Prior has revealed that he plans to wind up the UCI Continental team at the end of the season and will replace it with a women’s team from next season.
The former England wicket keeper told Telegraph Sport that outside the UCI WorldTour, there is “no value right now” on the men’s side of the sport, making the decision a “no-brainer from a business perspective.”
The news, announced on a weekend in which One Pro Cycling began its campaign at the OVO Energy Tour of Britain, which started in Wales today, comes days after the Irish UCI Professional Continental team Aqua Blue Sport folded.
One Pro Cycling began racing in 2015 at UCI Continental level, and the following year moved up to UCI Professional Continental level, with Prior harbouring ambitions of the team one day competing at the Tour de France.
However, funding issues – partly linked to the departure of bike sponsor Factor Bikes, who began supplying AG2R La Mondiale instead – forced the team to drop back down to the third tier of the sport in 2017.
Prior said that a number of domestic teams were facing a funding crisis and that others could fold before the start of next season.
“The amount of races in the UK is declining and everyone is looking for new sponsors,” he explained. “It’s not in a healthy place at all.
“We literally have to pay a fortune just to take part,” he continued. “Obviously everyone knows we lost a key sponsor and had to drop back down to Conti level.
“But you’re still asking companies for huge sums of money just to sponsor a Conti team. With Brexit and Trump and all the financial uncertainty at the moment – and when you think about all the history of men’s cycling [a reference to doping] – it is difficult to ask.”
Prior has not ruled out a return to men’s racing in the future, but he said: “The reality is we are unable to compete in men’s cycling at the moment.
“You’d need £15 million minimum to be competitive at World Tour level, which is where we want to be, and even that would be £20 million below what Sky have.
“For a fraction of that money – maybe £1.5 million – you could have a very competitive Women’s WorldTour team.”
The team’s riders and staff were reportedly informed of the decision on Friday, although Prior said that riders were on one-year rolling contracts and that this year he had “encouraged them to listen to other offers if they came along.”
Prior said that potential backers were interested in the prospect of setting up a women’s team.
“With the announcements the UCI have made regarding women’s cycling from 2020, we are massively excited about what the future holds.
“There is so much potential for growth and all the investors I have spoken to so far appear to be similarly excited.”
Prior acknowledged that many riders have already committed to teams for next season and that a roster and sponsorship needs to be arranged this month, with the deadline for registration falling in September, although he revealed that talks had already been held with one rider whom he described as a “very exciting” potential signing.
He said: “It will be determined a bit by what our budget looks like. Once we know that then we can set about getting our riders.
“Of course, time is of the essence and many of them are already signed up. 2019 will be a challenge, a transitional year, and it’s probably only 2020 or even 2021 when we can expect to be really competitive.
“But we are absolutely serious about this,” he added. “As we were about the men’s team.”