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SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain (VN) — One of cycling’s most emblematic teams is on life support.
Euskaltel-Euskadi, the UCI WorldTour team based in Spain’s Basque Country known for its loyal fan base and its unique orange team colors, is moving ever closer to permanently closing its doors.
Team officials confirmed before the start of the Tour de France that its main sponsors would not have money to fully fund the team beyond the end of this season.
Over the weekend, things became even bleaker, as Basque daily DEAI reported that Euskaltel officials quietly told its riders ahead of their “home race” in Saturday’s Clásica San Sebastián that they were free to search for new contracts for the 2014 season.
That’s the surest signal yet that Euskaltel will likely not be racing next season in the WorldTour.
Euskaltel is one of cycling’s most unique teams, building upon the deep roots and talent pool in the Basque Country.
The squad once boasted an all-Basque lineup, and rode into the Tour de France a decade ago proud of its cycling heritage and intent on racing on the world’s biggest stage.
Yet the team’s grandiose ambitions always outstripped its modest budget, especially as the WorldTour grew and average budgets pushed north of 10 million euros.
Last year, in a desperate effort to save its WorldTour license, team management broke its long-running tradition of signing only Basque-linked riders. Instead, it dropped such popular riders as Amets Txurruka and reached out to pick up riders who brought a lot of points, assuring its place in the WorldTour for 2013.
That change in direction, which included signing nine non-Basque riders, soon backfired as new Russian recruit Alexander Serebryakov tested positive for EPO. He was quickly jettisoned from the squad, but the damage was done.
After an abysmal spring, Euskaltel was winless in the major races, and did not win a stage at neither the Giro d’Italia nor the Tour.
Ahead of the Tour, the team’s main sponsors told management that they could not continue to fund the team. Half the budget was funded by a mix of local and regional governments, a cost that became impossible to rationalize under Spain’s ever-worsening crisis that is seeing major cutbacks in social, education, and health spending.
The other main sponsor, Basque-based telecommunications company Euskaltel, said it could not spend more than its committed 3.5 million euros per season.
Team management continues to look for new sponsors to fill the gap, but in the meantime, it looks all but certain that the current team as a WorldTour-level squad will fold by season’s end.
Management is looking at continuing with a smaller, more modest team, but many of the top riders are now desperate to try to find a new ride for 2014 with other squads.