Samuel Sánchez says he wants to decide his future employer by the Tour de France: Whether he stays with Euskaltel-Euskadi remains to be seen.
With rumors surrounding the future viability of the Basque-backed team, the reigning Olympic champion says he has offers from two teams and wants everything resolved by July.
“I want to continue here, but I have two offers on the table,” Sánchez told the Spanish daily MARCA. “Things are taking too long. The offers have an expiry date. I do not want to make ultimatums or impose deadlines, but it would be better if things were clear by the Tour de France if there’s going to be a team.”
Sánchez’s public comments underscore growing tension within the unique, yet troubled Euskaltel-Euskadi organization, which has signed only Basque riders to its roster (except, ironically, Sánchez, who is the only non-Basque ever on the squad) since its inception nearly 20 years ago.
The future of Euskaltel-Euskadi has been up in the air all season. The team barely met criteria to stay in cycling’s top league for 2012 and there have been rumors about the team’s viability for the future. The departure of top sport director Igor González de Galdeano this winter only fueled speculation about the squad.
In early April, officials assured riders that the team would continue next season, but likely with a reduced budget and almost surely out of the 18-team WorldTour league.
Since then, there’s been no official confirmation of the team’s status and riders are naturally getting nervous about their respective futures.
Team manager Miguel Madariaga, who is reportedly out the door after leading the team for nearly two decades, traveled to the Giro d’Italia last month to meet discreetly with team riders there to assure them that things are in the works to continue with the team.
“I saw that things were getting ugly,” Madariaga told MARCA. “Some of the riders are in the hands of vultures, and I went to Italy to say that although nothing is official, there will be a team, whether it’s a WorldTour, professional or pro-continental.”
One report is that Galdeano is heading up a newly backed project that will open the team to sign contracts with non-Basque riders to allow the team to gain more UCI points in order to stay among the top-flight teams and assure its presence in the Tour de France and other major races.
That story seems to have lost steam recently, and now there are indications that the team will continue, but with a reduced budget, meaning that it’s all but certain the team will lose its ProTeam status. The departure of Sánchez, the team’s top rider who packs the most UCI points, would almost assure it would lose its ProTeam license for 2013.
Sánchez says that despite the uncertainty he’s staying focused on preparing for the Tour de France.
Three times among the Tour’s top-6 over the past four years, Sánchez recently completed a two-week altitude training camp in Spain’s Sierra Nevada and says he’s eyeing a spot on the podium.
“Considering that I have never been on the Tour podium, let alone win a grand tour, my goal is to try to reach the Tour podium this year,” Sánchez told MARCA. “Wiggins and Evans are the top favorites. We have to see what (Tony) Martin does, and (Robert) Gesink has improved a lot.”
Sánchez says he’s not worried about the over 100km of time trials in this year’s course and believes he can be a factor for the final GC.
“When I am in good form, I am OK with time trials,” he said. “What is better for me is that there is not a team time trial, which always costs me a lot.”
Sánchez is off to the best start of his career, with victory at the Vuelta al País Vasco and second at the Volta a Catalunya, with top-10s at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Fourth overall in 2010 – later bumped to third in the wake of Alberto Contador’s disqualification – Sánchez says the absence of Contador will greatly shape this year’s Tour.
“Alberto’s absence will favor some and hurt others,” he said. “It hurts me, because his tactics, his style of attacking and the way he makes the selection are better for me.”