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Alonso mulling options following Euskaltel collapse

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Sep. 23, 2013
  • Updated Sep. 24, 2013 at 4:07 PM EST
Fernando Alonso's new cycling project has signed two title sponsors, according to an advisor. Photo: Olivier Morin | AFP

MADRID (VN) — The high-profile takeover of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team appears dead in the water, but officials close to Formula One superstar Fernando Alonso are holding out hope.

On Monday, Basque team officials confirmed overnight rumors that talks between Euskaltel and Alonso were “concluded without agreement.”

That brings to a screeching halt the highly anticipated arrival to the international peloton of Alonso, a two-time world champion driver and cycling fanatic. At least for now, that is.

Representatives close to Alonso told VeloNews on Monday that the driver and his advisors will meet this week to consider their next step. Alonso finished second in the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday, and is traveling back to Spain over the next few days.

“Of course, we are disappointed,” Kiko García told VeloNews. “We are waiting for Alonso to come back, and everyone will sit down to consider their options. Whether that means trying to form a new team for next year, or waiting for 2015, we do not know right now.”

García, the European marketing manager for Oakley, was one of the key players in putting the Alonso takeover into motion last month to salvage Euskaltel, which was looking at the executioner’s block after title sponsors bailed on the team at season’s end.

Alonso’s arrival electrified the Spanish peloton, and brought a fresh jolt of energy and excitement into a moribund sport shattered by economic crisis, doping scandals, and media competition from several rising sports, top among the them Formula One.

Things moved quickly before the start of the Vuelta a España last month, and on Sept. 2 the parties reached an informal agreement that Alonso would take over the squad’s UCI ProTeam license, and retain several top riders on contract going into 2014.

According to reports, however, negotiations stalled over details including the contracts of support staff, such as mechanics, soigneurs, sport directors, and drivers. Alonso wanted to start with a clean slate, bringing the team to his home region of Asturias, and leaving behind the team’s long connection with the Basque Country.

Spanish daily AS reported Sunday that other issues, such as standing contracts with bike and technical sponsors, were additional points of conflict.

García, who was poised to take over as team manager, said the setback was a disappointment for Spanish cycling.

“The sport needs people like Alonso to enter cycling,” García said. “Things become complicated. Now everyone will meet to discuss the options.”

In the short term, it’s disastrous not only for the team and riders, many of whom thought their futures were secure, but also for Spanish cycling. Alonso was guaranteeing contracts for 14 current Euskaltel riders, including 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez. Now those riders will be lucky to find rides for next year.

The Basque Country will lose its franchise team dating back nearly two decades. Though Alonso’s people were intent on making it their team, the squad’s roots would have lived on at least in some form. But, it seems, no such revival will take place.

The dissolution of the contract is even worse for Spanish cycling in general. Once a powerhouse in Europe, without Euskaltel, Spain will be left with only Movistar in the sport’s top league, the WorldTour, with Caja Rural in the second division.

It remains to be seen if Alonso will try to build a team from scratch. In some regards, it might be easier, but it almost certainly will not happen in time for the 2014 season. UCI rules require bank guarantees for new ProTeam applicants be made before Aug. 1 and additional registration documents are due before Oct. 1. Cycling’s world governing body has made exceptions in the past, though at this late point, it appears unlikely that the Alonso camp could move forward for 2014.

Monday’s news is a sad end to Euskaltel’s legacy in cycling, as well as a premature demise of Alonso’s entree.

Excerpts from the communique released Monday by Euskaltel-Euskadi officials:
“The negotiations between Euskaltel and the representatives of Fernando Alonso for the acquisition of the cycling team Euskaltel-Euskadi on behalf of the Asturian driver, which began with an agreement in principle on August 31, have ended without an agreement,” the team said in a statement.

“For Euskaltel it is sad news that after the hope generated by the agreement in principle, a definitive agreement has not been formalized to guarantee a professional future for the members of the team and to reward the fans that have been loyal until the last moment.

“We would like to explain the details of the negotiations, because we have done our part, with total honesty, but it is not possible because we need to respect the confidentiality of the negotiations.

“Having not achieved an agreement, Euskaltel is unfortunately obligated to restart an organized and responsible closure of the project.”

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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