Late last week, second-tier Kiwi men’s team, Bolton Equities Black Spoke, announced it wouldn’t remain at the same level in 2024. Instead, the only ProTeam in Oceania will drop back down to Continental level, after just one season as a second-tier outfit. And this after a terrific September in which the team secured a number of big wins in Asia.
So what’s going on? To find out, Escape Collective spoke with Black Spoke’s marketing and media manager, Jason Ghijs. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Matt de Neef: So the team is stepping back to Continental level next year. Why’s that?
Jason Ghijs: For us, it’s just not a sustainable thing. The cost for the UCI registration, the licence, and medical passports is quite expensive for us. We’re still looking good from the outside. We have the high-end bikes and everything but still our budget is very low compared to other UCI ProTeams.
Was the plan always to do just one year as a ProTeam?
No, unfortunately not. Our idea was to continue doing this UCI ProTeam. I first heard rumours that we wanted to go UCI WorldTeam, which is definitely not the goal for us. For us the goal was to develop the Kiwi riders and then they can still move on to UCI WorldTeams.
Seeing our main sponsor now pulling out is not easy. After four years, we can only thank Bolton Equities for their support. Bolton Equities still will be involved, of course, financially as well, if we run a Continental team. But of course, we will need a different name and different title sponsor, because we can’t run this team on our own and only with one guy supporting us financially.
You said ‘if we run a Continental team’. Is there a chance the team doesn’t go ahead at all next year?
Well, never say never. We’re working on it. At this point, it looks like we will continue, definitely, we just want to make sure that our riders get paid a decent salary. They don’t want to ride for less than they are currently riding, because they are residing in Girona, which is quite expensive. They are living in downtown.
Just so you know, some of our riders are already talking to other teams to go if we drop back to Continental level. Of course, for our major riders, it will be a disappointment to not be on this level anymore.
Was it the plan for the Bolton Equities sponsorship to end at the end of this year? Or was everyone assuming it would be renewed for next year?
Yeah, we assumed, of course, that it was going to be renewed. We have a good relationship with Murray [Bolton] in person. He’s been here to support us. But you always must know and keep in mind that if you rely on one person, at some point, this can’t continue even though we have a lot of successes. We have a world champion Aaron Gate, we had four medals at the Commonwealth Games, and so on.
The team only did one WorldTour race this season – Cadel’s Race in Australia. Is that a factor in the ProTeam license not being worth it? Would doing more WT races have made it better value?
Definitely the pros are if you are a UCI ProTeam and you race the 1.1 and 1.Pros and other stage races, that you actually get paid for hotels and everything. If you’re at Continental level, usually you don’t get paid, and you must cover your own expenses.
This is definitely a benefit for us. But sometimes it wasn’t even needed because we’re based in Belgium and we ride a lot of races in France and Belgium and the guys have a very decent team house. So we were OK – the riders had all they needed. Half the team is based in Girona, half is here.
We only had one WorldTour race, which is correct. We don’t want to have wildcards to the biggest races because we’re not ready for it. This is a step we didn’t want to take. Australia for us was very important though for Bolton Equities course, as a sponsor, but imagine us racing the Tour of Flanders or Flèche Wallonne in our first year as a UCI ProTeam – it would be extremely hard. So for us, it’s a good step. And we still want to focus on 2.Pro races and 1.Pro races as a main goal for us.
Is there hope that the team will get back to ProTeam level?
Yeah, maybe if the budget increases again, I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t go back to this level. It’s just at this stage, for us, there’s a lot of costs related to the UCI ProTeam licence. And of course, Murray is eager to support his fellow Kiwis but he’s not eager to support the UCI, let’s say, because they are the ones taking all the money.
How is the search going for sponsors for the Continental team for next year?
We were in touch with a potential title sponsor, which will now see on a Belgian team, which is a very big team, not Continental level. They were WorldTour before. And this sponsor will now move on to them. We had a small, tight chance to have them, but for them it was a step too big for us to take. And they wanted to be a smaller sponsor on the shirt, to have of course less exposure. They would have got the full title sponsorship with us.
But with Continental [level], this is different. Because we’re talking different numbers. Of course you try to just sell the title sponsorship. But we are now talking to smaller sponsors to make one big team. This is our current plan. We have some interest from New Zealand business people that want to help. But time will tell.
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