Team Leopard's backer: Flavio Becca
Team Leopard-Trek team presentation, January 2011
Team Leopard-Trek's cyclists began training today in new kits that are notably lacking sponsors. Trek appears down the side, but on the rest of the jersey, there is very little to signify a major financial backer.
The name Flavio Becca should be there.
Becca will provide a significant portion of the €15 million annual budget over the next four years. His money will help Andy Schleck in his attempt to win the Tour de France and help Fabian Cancellara continue his reign of the cobbled classics. The 48-year-old businessman from Luxembourg is doing it because he loves the sport and friends with the Schleck family.
"I am a friend of the Schleck brothers and their dad. We share a great passion for hunting. They proposed the idea to create this structure and I did not miss the opportunity," Becca told La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.
"I love cycling. In 1978, old I rode my bike to see the World Championships at the Nürburgring. [Francesco] Moser, my idol, lost to [Gerrie] Knetemann by a few inches and I began to cry. My heart leads me to do something for Luxembourg that is not just business and finance."
Over the years, Becca developed a small construction business into a real estate empire. He now has ties with fast food chain Quick and supermarket Auchan - names linked as primary sponsors, but for now are not on the jersey.
The jersey and the 25-man team were presented yesterday by General Manager Brian Nygaard and Team Manager Kim Andersen.
"The first practical step was when I talked with Kim Andersen at the Tour of Switzerland. I wanted and I asked him to immediately inform [Saxo Bank Team Manager Bjarne] Riis to explain the situation. Andersen was honest and then it hurt me to hear the lie that Riis had fired him."
Andersen, Nygaard and eight of Leopard's cyclists come from Riis' Saxo Bank team. Riis will feel the loss, especially since his new star signee, three-time winner Alberto Contador, is likely to face a two-year doping ban. Because of this, the Leopard-Saxo Bank rivalry should produce some interesting racing and reading this year.
Becca is targeting Paris-Roubaix, where Riis won with Cancellara in 2010 and 2006 and with Stuart O'Grady in 2007 - both riders now with Leopard.
"Paris-Roubaix, because until the last metre you never know how it will end. I think we are in good standing with Cancellara. But we will be competitive in all races.
"Success comes with hard work. I start at 7am and finish at 11pm. I am precise, meticulous. They say it is not easy to work with me because I want to know everything."
Becca's explanation that the Schlecks proposed the idea of the new team differs to what Fränk Schleck says. Schleck said today that he had heard rumours about the new team and was offered a contract in the first week of June, at the Tour of Luxembourg. Becca said that he approached Andersen at the Tour of Switzerland, in the second week of June.
Nygaard explained in an August interview that Becca approached him on Andersen's advice. He said the meeting took place in Kortrijk, Belgium, in April or May.
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