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Cycling teams and sponsors make strange bedfellows sometimes, but perhaps none is stranger than the final-hour quest by the ill-fated Geox-TMC team managers to save its squad for next season.
Team manager Mauro Gianetti and Josean Fernández Matxin have traveled to Venezuela in a bid to secure a sponsorship for the 2012 campaign that would keep its squad at Professional Continental level for next year.
According to a report in the Basque daily Deia, the project called “Venezuela pas de sueño” is now only waiting on the final approval from president Hugo Chávez.
“Right now, everything looks to be going in the right direction and we’ll know something soon enough,” Matxin told Deia. “We’re only waiting for (Chávez) to give his OK.”
Matxin and Gianetti traveled to Venezuela last week for three days of meetings, that included sit-downs with the national sports minister and the prime minister.
The idea would be similar to projects like Astana and Katusha, with a “three- to four-year commitment” to create a Venezuelan-backed team to promote cycling and tourism to the South American country.
The Spanish-registered team was rocked last month when title sponsor Geox pulled the plug on the team on the same day a bank guarantee was required by the UCI to meet qualifications for WorldTour status in 2012.
If the pair is successful in securing new backing, the team could still race next year as a Professional Continental — the same level it raced in 2011 — giving it access to some of Europe’s major races with the chance of securing invites to the most important events.
So far, five riders from the team’s 2011 lineup have gained contracts for next season, with Fabio Duarte and Mauricio Ardila heading to the new Colombian team, Coldeportes. Daniele Colli is heading to Team Type 1 while Xavier Florencio has signed with Katusha.
Denis Menchov is expected to jettison the team as well, with links to Katusha and Astana.
Other riders, such as David de la Fuente and Vuelta a España winner Juanjo Cobo, are waiting to see if Gianetti can pull a rabbit out of the hat in time to salvage the team for 2012.
If the team gets off the ground, it would be second major Latin American team set for Pro Conti status for next season.
Colombian-Coldeportes has already secured a second division license for what will be its debut season in 2012.