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Facing budget crunch, Quick-Step may drop Gaviria a year early

The Belgian squad is trying to free up money as it seeks a new sponsor to continue racing in the WorldTour.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The Belgian Quick-Step Floors team, in a budget crunch, could drop top sprinter Fernando Gaviria one year early.

Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported Friday the Colombian sprinter will join UAE Team Emirates for the 2019 season. Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere is still trying to find money to keep his team in the WorldTour, and Gaviria — with an estimated contact of 2 million euros per year — takes up a sizable chuck of his current budget.

A deal to let go of Gaviria, who won two Tour de France stages and wore the yellow jersey for a day this year, to UAE Team Emirates is pending approval. Lefevere can still rely on Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, who brought in 19 of the teams 69 wins so far in 2018.

New Chinese team on the horizon

As early as the 2020 season, China may have its first WorldTour team. A new management group GCP announced it is looking for backers to make it happen and to eventually produce China’s first Tour de France winner.

“GCP will build a sustainable development program for the integration of international athletes to the WorldTour,” read a statement on its website.

“The team will have a sole Chinese sponsor and to offer a global marketing platform to the exciting world of professional cycling.

“The vision of GCP is to present a top-tier WorldTour cycling team and a 2025 Chinese Tour de France winner, building the exposure of professional cycle racing globally, while promoting the positive effects of cycling in China and reducing the severe air pollution issues.”

Tim Kay, the CEO of the team, manages and develops real estate. The squad lists Brian Smith as the team manager. Smith commentates for EuroSport and has managed MTN, Cervélo, and the Endura teams. Shane Sutton, the former British and Team Sky coach, will direct the team.

Currently, Sutton heads the Chinese national track team. China counts one rider in the WorldTour peloton, Mei-Yin Wang, who saw his contract with Bahrain-Merida renewed Friday.

With Cheng Ji, China had its first Tour de France rider in 2014. It also had a Pro Continental team in Champion Systems.

Had the head of TJ Sport not fallen ill, a group with investment from Alibaba, J-One, and Wanda Sport might have taken over the Lampre team in 2017. Instead, it became UAE Team Emirates, with backing from the government and the Emirates airline giant.

That mega team now may add Gaviria to a roster that already includes sprinter Alexander Kristoff and classification riders Dan Martin and Fabio Aru. Gaviria won four stages in his debut Giro d’Italia in 2017 and two in the Tour this summer. He brought in nine wins so far in 2018 for Quick-Step Floors. The idea is that he can develop into a super sprinter/classics rider, capable of winning in Milano-Sanremo, the world championships, and perhaps cobbled classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Lefevere must make hard decisions, however, because he has been unsuccessful in finding a new sponsor to ease the burden on Quick-Step Floors and owner Zdenek Bakala. His current budget is around 18 million euros per year, roughly $20.7 million.

Lefevere’s current roster includes many stars: Gaviria, Viviani, Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert, Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungles, Enric Mas, and Yves Lampaert. Lefevere wanted to keep Terpstra, winner of the Tour of Flanders this spring, but had to let him go after eight years. The Dutchman will join Team Direct Energie for the 2019 season.

Lefevere said in August, “Unfortunately, I don’t have a chest to draw out the money I would like, otherwise I would be the boss of Team Sky and not of Quick-Step.”

La Gazzetta dello Sport also reported Friday that Mas, who finished second to Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) in the Vuelta a España, could be let go a year early too. After his breakthrough performance, several teams including Spain’s Movistar could scrabble to sign the 23-year-old Spaniard.