DUBAI (VN) — Fernando Alonso brought Formula One star power to the Dubai Tour Thursday, but his refusal to comment on plans for a new pro team has only fueled speculation about the project.
Alonso was glad-handing with riders and Emirati officials at the start of stage 2 Thursday, but was reportedly here to negotiate a sponsorship deal with local interests.
Photographers and autograph seekers surrounded Alonso, a two-time world champion, but he refused to expand on the status of his team when pressed by journalists.
“We are working on the [team] but we cannot say anything right now,” Alonso told journalists. “We’ll say something when there’s news.”
Alonso’s entree into cycling is being closely watched by teams and riders. His efforts to buy out the now-defunct Euskaltel-Euskadi team fell apart last fall, and Alonso vowed to build a team from the ground up, ready in time for racing for 2015.
The Formula One driver is an avid cyclist and packs huge star power, something that nearly everyone agrees would only bolster a peloton battered by doping scandals and economic crisis, especially in the European hotbeds of Spain and Italy.
Alonso, however, has been evasive when pressed for specifics about the future prospects for the team ¬— dubbed FACT (Fernando Alonso Cycling Team) — yet still insists that a new team will be ready for 2015.
The Dubai-backed Emirates airline has been linked to Alonso as the new title sponsor for the team, but the absence of public confirmation of a deal has only led to expansive tongue-wagging within the tight-knit pro peloton. Insiders say that Alonso’s arrival would be a boost for cycling, yet many are beginning to wonder if the team will come to fruition.
In October, Alonso’s personal manager, Luis García Abad, confirmed that sponsors were already lined up, and that the team would be officially unveiled during a presentation that coincided with the 2014 Tour de France. The growing silence, both publicly and behind closed doors, has only fueled speculation about what’s really happening.
Money, of course, is no object in the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai is betting heavy on cycling by sponsoring the inaugural Dubai Tour as well as the new SkyDive Dubai UCI Continental team, home to Francisco Mancebo.
Riders on the ground here say the SkyDive team, also backed by the Emirati royal family, has ambitions to grow into a Pro Continental team for 2016, and possibly a first-division ProTeam within the next three to four years.
Officials from the Emirati government have also refused to comment on a possible deal with Alonso. The only official confirmation so far comes from Paolo Bettini, tapped as the team’s general manager, who told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he’s working with Abad to get the wheels in motion.
Earlier this week, agent Giovanni Lombardi denied reports that Peter Sagan had verbally agreed to join the start-up team. Cannondale officials also denied the rumor, insisting that they want to keep the prolific Slovakian on the Italian team’s payroll. Sagan was photographed with Alonso in Dubai and his Cannondale contract expires at year’s end.
While there’s been no public confirmation, there is movement behind the scenes. Alonso met with new UCI president Brian Cookson in late December in Madrid for a discussion the Spaniard called “a positive meeting.”
With little detail known about his new project, Alonso’s day job is calling now. The 19-race Formula One series begins March 19 and runs through late November.