Updated: Geox pulls sponsorship from team

The future of Geox-TMC is hanging in the balance after Italian shoemaker Geox did not post a required bank guarantee to underwrite the team's budget for 2012.

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2011 Vuelta a España, stage 20, Juan Jose Cobo
Cobo's Vuelta win was a big boost for the team. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

Italian shoemaker Geox is ending its sponsorship of a pro team, the company announced Thursday.

“Geox confirms the end of its sponsorship agreement with the professional cycling team leaded by Mauro Gianetti at the end of the current season. After a year of experience in professional cycling, the company considers its presence in this sport not strategic anymore,” read a statement from the company.

The company had caused concern among team directors when it did not post a required bank guarantee to underwrite the team’s budget for 2012.

Geox-TMC officials confirmed the news Thursday that the bank guarantee, which covers three months’ of salaries for staff and riders, did not arrive in time to meet a Thursday deadline.

Speaking to VeloNews by telephone before the shoe company made its announcement, Geox-TMC team manager Mauro Gianetti said he was surprised that the guarantee had not yet been deposited in a Swiss bank.

“It’s a big disappointment to find ourselves in this situation after all the work we’ve done,” Gianetti told VeloNews. “I was in contact with the sponsor over the past few days and we were assured everything was in order. Then we learned that the bank guarantee had not arrived. It’s a very delicate situation.”

Gianetti said he has not had direct contact with Geox corporate officials over the past few hours. He was not immediately available after the Geox statement was released.

Thursday was also the deadline for teams to forward the valid contracts for their top 15 riders, which will be used to evaluate the team ranking for next season based on the UCI’s new points ranking system.

Other contract obligations were also required to be met, including the bank guarantee of several million euros. The UCI introduced the rule several years after a string of teams were left short-handed by sponsors who could not meet contractual obligations as a step to protect salaries for riders and staff.

Gianetti’s holding company, called Club Deportivo Bike Live, released a press statement Thursday saying it may seek damages from Geox in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“In fact, in breach of contractual obligations, the Geox company has inexplicably refused to deposit the bank guarantee required to complete the registration of the team on the UCI,” the statement read. “Unpleasant and surprising that after the brilliant victory in the Tour of Spain, the team of Bike Live may won’t be able to continue for these reasons.”

Gianetti said he believed that he had enough points from his contracted riders for next season to be among the top 15 in world rankings, something that would have likely assured the team a spot in the WorldTour — and in the Tour de France.

But the absence of the bank guarantee throws the team’s future into uncertainty.

“This is a big letdown after all the work we’ve done this season,” Gianetti said. “OK, the beginning of the season wasn’t so great for us, but we kept fighting and we won some big races at the end of the season, including the Vuelta. We’ve done everything right on our end, the riders and the teams. We are surprised by (Geox’s) attitude.”

Geox corporate officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

UCI officials said that the team’s problems do not come as a complete surprise. Geox-TMC was not listed by the UCI in a October 5 press release of teams who had met the first wave of criteria to qualify for racing licenses for the 2012 season.

“We can say we are really not surprised, because if you look at the press release, Geox wasn’t on the list of teams which had fulfilled all the requirements. At that time we had first warning that something was not going so good on this team. Their dossier was not complete, that was the reason why they didn’t appear on this first list,” UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told VeloNews by telephone. “We do not know all the information about the situation right now, so we will not make more comment at this time.”

Geox-TMC has had a rough go since its inception last fall when the upscale shoemaker emerged as Italy’s first major new sponsor to enter cycling in years.

The team missed out on a ProTeam license for 2011, however, which would have guaranteed it a place in the most important events, above all, the Tour de France.

After missing out on the ProTeam license despite the presence of such riders as Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov, there was some back-room wrangling between the Geox company and Gianetti. Despite reports that Gianetti was going to be forced out, the team entered its debut season intent on earning a bid to the Tour.

The squad was invited to both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España, which it later won with Juanjo Cobo, but the Tour refused the team a spot.

Sources said that Tour officials are still steaming about the scandal-marred 2008 Tour, which included CERA doping cases involving Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli on the Gianetti-backed Saunier Duval team.

Despite other rumors later this season that Geox was going to leave the sport, Cobo’s Vuelta victory revived interest in the squad and it appeared Geox was going to stay on board.

It’s likely that the UCI might accept a bank guarantee if the money is posted in the coming days, but that depends on what happens behind the scenes between the major players.

As it stands now, the team’s future is in doubt and scores of riders and staff could be out on the street looking for a job for next season.

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