Thanks to the exploits of Anna van Der Breggen, Chantal Blaak, Amy Pieters and the like, Boels Rentals and Dolmans Landscaping have become two companies synonymous with success.
The duo have sponsored the dominant Boels Dolmans women’s cycling team for eight years, with sports director Danny Stam at the helm. And so the bombshell news they would be stepping away from the team rocked the world of women’s cycling. If the sport’s most successful team can lose two headline sponsors, what hope for the rest of it, we asked?
But that is not how Stam sees it. And the straight-talking 47-year-old is confident the team will be saved, and he has the time to seal the deal.
“Of course, we are disappointed to lose Boels and Dolmans, but we must also have a lot of respect for them. They are big sponsors, who jumped in and helped shape and develop women’s cycling. The sport made huge steps in the last eight years and a big reason was them. After eight years achieving our goals, we cannot say more than thank you for giving us the opportunities to work with our passion,” the former Six Day track rider stated.
“I knew when we signed the last contract, it would only be until 2020. So I have had time to search. Nothing is sure until you have signed, I know this world now, but I am pretty confident we will find a sponsor.”
And in a bid to continue their reign as world number one, and as one of the remaining stand-alone women’s teams, Stam is searching for a female-specific sponsor too.
He explained: “There are a lot of opportunities with men’s teams to develop more – and I would never say never. But I would like a female brand or company that sees the opportunity to give our team a platform.
“But it is difficult – the budget is increasing. And companies we are speaking to say, ‘that’s a bigger budget than we were hoping for’. Fundamentally we are looking to sign a sponsor for four years, not two years. That will cost a company €2.5 million a year. We are looking for a €10 million commitment.”
Despite the challenges, the team have been world number one for several years, amassing some of the most high profile race wins in the sport including the Giro Rosa, Liege Bastogne Liege, Tour of Flanders, and Fleche Wallonne. A sponsor should arguably see the best exposure with this winning team – provided the media coverage of women’s cycling continues on its upward trajectory.
The UCI’s World Tour regulations dictate 45 minutes minimum of live coverage for every race in the World Tour calendar from 2020 onwards – a vital move for fans, teams and sponsors alike.
Stam continued: “If you compare women’s cycling to men’s cycling – we forget they are on TV all day. It’s easy to sell your brand. There will be a big increase in live footage in 2020. But you need to be a big fan to find women’s cycling coverage. If you are a regular sports fan, you may give up trying to find a live stream. It’s really important to sell the sport and the sponsor names, like we need to. We are asking for €10 million. We must give them a little bit more.”
Stam is speaking from the UCI in Switzerland, at the sports director course. The off-season provides little relief from the stress of working in the sport. When the racing stops, the admin begins.
“The racing is for sure easier!” laughs Stam. “This is always a messy time. We are planning everything, from the kit, to the bike, to registration – you want to have things on time, but it’s not always that easy.”
Stam does find time to switch off though, mentally, with his wife Corina and three kids, Quinty, Luna and Kelvin. Although, as his children are discovering the world of BMX, he is never far from the world of cycling. But the winter also gives Stam a chance to reflect on 2019 – what went right and what went wrong?
“We had a great start with Chantal (Blaak) winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad,” he reflected. “But after that we were missing some riders through injury and different plans. Anna (Van Der Breggen) did Cape Epic for example. You miss that horsepower. We expected more from the Spring Classics but that was the choice we made. We still had a great season – we came back and won races – that is the spirit of the sport.”
With so many race-winning options within one team, Stam could be forgiven for suffering with somewhat of a selection headache when it comes to picking the race leader. The secret? Keep it simple.
“Somehow I do it well – it mustn’t be complicated” he divulged. “More riders in general are able to win the smaller races and that’s where we sit around the table and talk about how we are going to do it. My riders know, we always give something back. If a rider races for a teammate, she knows she will get 110% payback another time. That is what I try to create. I am pretty open, and the girls know they can discuss anything with me. I like to get my own way of course… things happen how I want them to! I want to win. In the end we have a mission – and we have to get it done.”
The sole Boels Dolmans signing for 2020 was young Dutch rider Lonneke Uneken, the 19-year-old from Hitec Products, who achieved top 10 results in World Tour races and won the Under 23 bronze medal at the European Championships. Besides that, the team looks much the same, although Stam always keeps one eye on the peloton – Kasia Niewiadoma a rider he pinpointed with real potential.
As for 2020 plans, the goal is simple: “We hope to win a couple of Spring Classics – the big ones – Tour of Flanders, and the Ardennes Classics. And I have a good feeling about the Giro… We want to finish as the best team again.”
While the strength and depth of the women’s peloton is always increasing, Boels Dolmans – or whatever they become post 2020 – remain the team to beat.