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Sky rescues Nieve while other Euskaltel riders search for jobs

MILAN (VN) — Sky is beefing up its grand tour team to support Tour de France stars Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins in 2014. With his Euskaltel-Euskadi team closing, Spaniard Mikel Nieve will join the British team for two years.

“It seemed like the best option,” Nieve told his local newspaper, Diario de Navarra. “Sky’s the best team in the world.”

Nieve rode his first Tour de France this year, placing 12th overall and third in the Mont Ventoux stage. Next year, the 29-year-old could help Richie Porte in the Giro or Froome in the Tour. With Sky, Nieve will join Spaniards David López and Xabier Zandio; López helped Froome win the Tour and Zandio rode for Wiggins in the Giro.

“I talked a lot with Xabi Zandio, and he gave me a lot of good references,” Nieve said. “We’ve not talked about goals, but we agreed on two years. I made it clear that I’ll work for others, and that it is a team where I can contribute in the mountain stages. I can be with the leaders on those days.

“I know that I’ll be racing differently and that things will be different. I’ll be a good change because this is the best team and I can progress as a cyclist.”

Nieve has also recorded top-10 overall results in the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, as well as winning stages in both of those grand tours. Sky officials were unavailable for comment when contacted by VeloNews regarding Nieve’s transfer.

Nieve is part of Euskaltel’s mass exodus at the end of the year. After the Basque team’s long-term sponsor pulled out and the deal with Formula One star Fernando Alonso deteriorated, around 25 riders, plus staff members, are job hunting. Nieve, who comes from Navarra, has been with the Basque team since 2009.

“Everything became complicated. It was not a simple situation,” Nieve said of Euskaltel’s closure and the possible Alonso deal. “We heard at the Clásica San Sebastián that we’d have to find a new team for 2014. At that time, we had several options. I looked, but then they say that you can’t leave [because of Alonso].”

Gorka Verdugo, who will join Movistar, is the only other Euskaltel rider to confirm a 2014 contract. Mikel Astarloza will retire. Egoi Martínez will reportedly do the same. Jon Izaguirre has been linked with Movistar and Juan José Lobato with Cofidis, though neither of those deals have been confirmed.

With the Alonso deal falling apart late in September, the remaining riders have few options. The problem is compounded by another first division team, Vacansoleil-DCM, also pulling the plug. Not only is Euskaltel captain Samuel Sánchez, the 2008 Olympic champion, searching for employment, but also Vacansoleil’s riders like Thomas De Gendt and Juan Antonio Flecha.

“I’ve been lucky to find a new team,” Nieve said. “I don’t know if everyone will be able to find a team. It’s not a great situation.”