Bernaudeau confirms his new sponsorClose
There is huge relief for Jean-René Bernaudeau and his team staff as telecoms giant Bouygues TélécomPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Only a few days after Sylvain Chavanel said he was moving to Cofidis next season partly because there was no concrete news on who, if anyone, would be replacing Brioches La Boulangre as that team's sponsor next season, Brioches manager Jean-Ren Bernaudeau has announced that telecommunications company Bouygues Tlcom will be stepping into the breach in 2005. Part of the huge Bouygues corporation, Bouygues Tlcom was created in 1994 and is the third biggest mobile phone network in France. It is well established sponsorship links with sport having backed French football's league cup competition and become one of French NBA star Tony Parker's personal backers. The deal was signed in Paris on Wednesday and Bernaudeau's first emotion was one of relief that he had kept his team structure going and saved the jobs of 60 people working within it. "I am relieved and proud," he told L'Equipe, "proud of all those who have stayed faithful to me." Since Brioches announced in May that they would be pulling out of the sport because they were unable to afford the increased costs of backing a team in next season's Pro Tour, Bernaudeau has been frantically searching for a replacement. The sudden departure of team leader Joseba Beloki did not help his cause, but Thomas Voeckler's French title win and subsequent 10 days in the Tour de France's yellow jersey certainly did. Bouygues should now enable Bernaudeau to secure that Pro Tour place. "They are very interested in our development policy, they want to help our guys develop and to do so they will give us the means to enter into the Pro Tour," Bernaudeau confirmed. However, he was unable to confirm either the length of Bouygues' commitment or the sum they are providing. It is believed to be a long-term deal running until at least 2007. Bernaudeau did say that other sponsors would be brought in as backers of the new team. The new team will number 27 riders, with Axel Merckx, who is already being linked with a move to US Postal, apparently one target. Bernaudeau did say that the team's younger riders would be given major tour experience at the Giro and Vuelta, which all Pro Tour teams will have to ride in addition to the Tour. "I hope one day to have a young French rider who will be at the very highest level," said Bernaudeau of his ultimate goal. Having sealed the new deal and thanked Brioches for their support over the past two seasons, Bernaudeau then went home and began to call his riders to tell them the good news. Many of them are currently competing at the Tour de l'Ain, which is being led by Brioches' Jrome Pineau. The whole group there toasted both Pineau's stage one win and the news about Bouygues with champagne last night. Team captain Didier Rous felt the work the team had done during the Tour when Voeckler was leading the race had earned them this reward. "I kept saying to Jean-Ren that I wasn't worried. If he hadn't found a sponsor I would have retired, but I'm happy to be in this team and happy to continue," he told L'Equipe. Pineau said he felt Bouygues' backing would enable the team to move up another level. Ironically, the only rider Bernaudeau could not get hold of was Tour hero Voeckler, who is with the French Olympic team in Athens. Not surprisingly given his recent efforts and the subsequent demands placed upon him, Voeckler was having an early night. As one of his team-mates said, the whole team will be able to sleep well now.