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Fabio Duarte, the former U23 world champion, has signed a deal to join the Colombian-backed Coldeportes project for 2012.
The 25-year-old Duarte will headline an all-Colombian team, managed by Italian veteran Claudio Corti, with ambitions to race in Europe next season.
While the remainder of the team will be announced in the next week or so — it’s said to be a line-up consisting of young, promising Colombian talent — the arrival of Duarte is big news for the project.
“The arrival of Duarte represents an important step,” Corti said in a team release Sunday. “I am happy to see that the rider has understood and believes in our project, (and that) he chose our offer that we gave him knowing that he had other very important offers.”
Duarte is the first major Geox-TMC rider to announce his new home following the late-hour announcement that the Italian shoemaker was backing out of the team just hours before meeting a deadline for a bank guarantee last week.
Duarte is seen as a rising star within Colombian cycling. Big things were expected of Duarte in his first full season in the European pro ranks with Geox-TMC, but he had a setback with a knee injury that sidelined him for two months.
Duarte still managed to win a stage at the Giro del Trentino and was second in a stage at the Giro d’Italia (Orvieto) and in the GP Lugano. A strong climber with a punchy sprint, Duarte will likely be the top name in the new Colombian project.
Corti, who previously managed Saeco and Barloworld, was tapped by Colombia-Coldeportes as part of a government-backed effort to help revive Colombian cycling.
Joining as sport directors are Hernan Buenahora, Oliverio Cardenas and Oliverio Rincon.
Colombia-Coldeportes is a federally funded project backed by the national Cultural Ministry created in the 1960s to promote Colombian sport internationally.
Officials are hoping to gain a professional continental license for its debut season in 2012, with ambitions to grow in the coming years.
The project is the second major team to come out of Colombia after nearly a decade of malaise for the South American country that delivered a string of world-class performances in the 1980s and 1990s.
Colombia es Pasión-Café de Colombia raced at the professional team level in 2011, with former yellow jersey rider Victor Hugo Peña headlining the start-up team.