Basque ProTeam Euskaltel-Euskadi has denied media reports that it was poised to sign three-time world champion Óscar Freire simply to snag the WorldTour points he would bring to the table, while not requiring him to race next season.
The Spanish daily El País reported Friday that Euskaltel general manager Igor González de Galdeano had approached Freire’s brother, who acts as his manager, to offer the Spanish star a contract for 2013 simply to gain access to his valuable WorldTour points with the caveat that he would not race or even be required to train.
In a press statement released Friday, González de Galdeano denied wanting to sign Freire “only to gain his points and not race.”
“I spoke with Freire in July, two months before the worlds, to express the team’s interest in having him join us,” he said. “Before our offer, he told us that he was definitely going to stop his career after the worlds in Limburg.”
González de Galdeano did say he was still interested in having Freire, who raced as an amateur in Spain’s Basque Country, join the team as a coach.
The 36-year-old Freire, meanwhile, confirmed his retirement at the end of the world road championships in the Netherlands last month.
“There are younger riders coming up and it’s a good time for me stop,” Freire said. “The only way I would have raced next year is if I had won the world title. Since I did not, the worlds in Valkenburg is my last race. I feel good to stop because I was competitive to the end.”
The suggestion that squads such as Euskaltel are on the hunt for points reveals just how desperate some teams have become to try to stay within the UCI’s 18-team WorldTour league.
WorldTour status is earned through a variety of criteria, including team points, a dedication to clean racing as well as a strong financial foundation, but the most important piece of the puzzle are points earned by individual riders.
Under the current UCI rules, the majority of the points earned by an individual rider are carried over to the next season, regardless of which team the rider is on. Thus, teams are becoming ever desperate to keep riders that are high points-earners and equally as keen to sign riders bringing a lot of points.
Freire ended the 2012 season with 181 points, slotting in at 24th in the UCI WorldTour ranking, well behind the 662 points earned by series winner Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha).
But Freire’s points would have been a huge boost to Euskaltel-Euskadi, where only Samuel Sánchez, ranked seventh in the WorldTour ranking with 332 points, would have had more. Behind Sánchez, only Mikel Nieve, ranked 52nd with 98 points, had any significant points for the Basque team.
In fact, going into the final race with the Tour of Beijing next week, only eight riders of the team’s 24-rider roster have earned WorldTour points throughout the entire 2012 season.
Euskaltel-Euskadi rides into Beijing ranked 13th in the WorldTour rankings among 18 teams, a position that will likely not change next week.
The top 15 teams at the end of each season are automatically re-upped for the WorldTour for the following year. And with teams such as Argos-Shimano looking to muscle in for a WorldTour license in 2013, Euskaltel is under the gun to secure its future in the elite racing league.
After a rough 2012 season, when the squad faced a budget crisis during the spring, the team’s financial future seems secure with restructuring that will see longtime team manager Miguel Madariaga pushed aside in favor of González de Galdeano.
The team has already confirmed it will break its long-running rule of signing a majority of only Basque riders and will reach out to the international peloton to assure its place among the top-ranked teams.
González de Galdeano is quick to point out that the spirit of the team will remain strongly Basque and that only a few key riders might be added to bolster the team’s position among the team ranking.
So far, few of the team’s new signings have been revealed. The two riders that have been confirmed for next year — Jon Aberasturi (Orbea) and Garikoitz Bravo (Caja Rural) — are in fact both Basque.
The team is also reportedly in talks with ex-Euskaltel rider Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan), Jure Kocjan (Team Type 1-Sanofi) and Carlos Barredo (Rabobank).
Freire, for now, remains firmly retired. That might change if someone offers him a big enough carrot to get back on the bike.