LEON, Spain (VN) — If there’s something a cyclist learns over a career, it’s to never to give up hope.
Yet that’s just what seemed to be happening with Igor Antón, the diminutive Basque climber who just last week was lamenting that, “it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I do not race in 2014.”
Antón, who’s won stages in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, was one of the top names from now-defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi that still had not landed a ride for next season.
Antón was linked to Omega Pharma-Quick Step, but it was mid-December, and Antón had nothing solid lined up. Movistar, Spain’s lone surviving elite team, served up a final-hour lifeline, offering Antón a two-year deal that he happily signed.
It happened quickly. Antón sat down with Movistar brass just a day before the deal was announced Tuesday.
“It just didn’t make sense that a rider like Antón didn’t have a team,” Movistar boss Eusebio Unzue told El Mundo. “We sat down, found some common ground, and he was excited, so we reached an agreement very quickly.”
For Antón, 30, the contract keeps him in the game at least two more seasons, and offers a chance to compete for the first time for a team that is not Basque (though Movistar’s headquarters is in nearby Navarra).
The Movistar lifeline saved Antón, but there are several other big names that still do not have rides for 2014.
With the collapse of Euskaltel and Vacansoleil-DCM, two WorldTour-level teams, there has been an over-abundance of riders desperate for contracts.
That usually means teams are happy to offer cut-rate contracts to pick up ever-desperate riders. Thomas De Gendt said he took an 80-percent pay cut to sign with Omega Pharma.
Despite this market glut, about half of the riders have scrounged up jobs for next season. At Euskaltel, 15 of the 28 have rides. At Vacansoleil, 22 of 29 have found jobs.
Gianni Savio of Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela picked up Johnny Hoogerland and Kenny Van Hummel, both of Vacansoleil, giving his Italian Pro Continental squad a new core for the northern classics.
But not everyone has been so fortunate, chief among them Antón’s former teammate Samuel Sánchez. The 2008 Olympic champion was linked to the Fernando Alonso project, but when that fell through, Sánchez was left hanging.
Though he’s been linked to a possible move to Tinkoff-Saxo for next year, the 36-year-old Sánchez is still waiting on the sidelines.
Another rider caught out is Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner, who remains mum about his future, though he told VeloNews last month that he was still optimistic he would land a ride for next year.
Luis León Sánchez, the reliable Spanish rider whose contract was not re-upped by Belkin, is also waiting nervously. Stained by allegations of a link to the Operación Puerto doping scandal from 2006, Sánchez is still holding out hope to find a lifeline, a la Antón.
Others were not so lucky, with riders such as Juan Antonio Flecha and Mikel Astarloza opting for retirement following the collapse of Vacansoleil and Euskaltel, respectively.