GRAUS, Spain (VN) — Saxo-Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis has shot down speculation that Spanish star Alberto Contador could be making tracks toward the new project backed by Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso.
Spanish media have been stirring the waters this week, reporting that Contador could bolt Saxo following the electrifying news that Alonso was saving Euskaltel-Euskadi, and taking over its racing license for 2014.
Riis, however, said that talk is pure rumor mongering from the press corps.
“It’s not the first time we have big speculations,” Riis told VeloNews. “That’s part of this game. How many of those speculations can you believe?”
Alonso and Contador have a long mutual history, dating back to 2008, when Alonso was making noise about creating a Spain-based team backed by Banco Santander. That effort fizzled out, but the sudden emergence of Alonso, who is a mega-superstar in Spain, has revived talk that the driver and Spain’s top grand tour rider could join forces.
Contador has a contract with Riis through the 2015 season, and the Dane insisted his relations with Contador are solid.
“Yes, we are working together well. We have no problem,” Riis said. “He has a contract through 2015. We can keep working together, and hopefully more.”
Riis, however, is facing a funding shortfall from the sudden departure of Russian businessman Oleg Tinkov. The Russian’s arrival in 2012 helped Riis sign such riders as Michael Rogers, Nicolas Roche, and Daniele Bennati, giving Riis deeper pockets to bolster the team around Contador.
Tinkov’s acrimonious departure at the end of this season, opening a funding gap of an estimated 7 million euros, leaves Riis scrambling to find a new co-sponsor to help underwrite the team’s budget for 2014 and beyond.
“[Tinkoff’s] still here until the end of the year. We are looking now for new sponsors. We are in that process,” Riis said. “We are looking at different options, and see what comes out. Then we will be ready to make some decisions.”
Riis said even with the departure of the Russian’s investment, he is still hoping to keep everyone on the payroll that has a contract going into next season. And that, of course, includes Contador and his multi-million-euro deal — reportedly the highest in the peloton.
“At the moment, we are trying to keep everyone who has contracts for next season,” Riis said. “Finding a new sponsor always takes time. Of course, we are waiting on that, and that will affect how the team looks like.”
Whether the Alonso project would have money to try to pick up Contador remains to be seen.
Kiko García, the former pro and Oakley marketing manager who helped stoke Alonso’s interest in the Euskaltel project, said that the new project would slowly take shape over the next few seasons.
García, who has been working with Alonso’s representatives to help organize the new project, has been offered the job of taking over management of the Euskaltel team for 2014. García is meeting with Alonso this week in Spain to finalize details of the takeover.
“Next year, the team will look very much like it does now in terms of riders,” García told VeloNews. “Next year will be a transition season, but we hope by 2014 and 2015, the team can grow and become much more international. A lot depends on what kind of sponsors come on board.”
Contador and Riis look to have at least one more season of working together, perhaps two. A lot will depends on who wins the race to land sponsorship dollars.
On the Vuelta and Tour
Riis also admitted he wanted to see Contador defend his Vuelta crown, but ceded when Contador insisted he did not want to race the Spanish tour after a brutal Tour de France.
“I have learned that forcing people to do things that they’re not ready to do, it never really works,” Riis told VeloNews. “Of course, I would have liked to have seen Alberto here, but we still have a strong team at the Vuelta. He is focusing on the worlds, he’s racing in Canada, and he’s training hard. It’s ok.”
Riis also defended Contador’s performance at the Tour, where he fell to fourth overall on the penultimate stage. Despite not winning a stage or finishing on the final podium, Riis said Contador and Saxo went down swinging, trying everything they could to disrupt Sky and overall winner Chris Froome.
“Why not [be aggressive]? If you have ambitions to win, you have to try something. That’s the way we are. Just like here at the Vuelta. Why settle for less?” Riis said. “Ok, we didn’t win anything. We didn’t finish on the podium. Of course, it’s disappointing when you have Alberto on the team and you do not finish on the podium, but I think the team still did a great Tour.”
For next year, Riis said he and Contador would meet in the coming months to plot a racing schedule.
“Let’s wait to see how [the Tour route] looks like. We have not planned anything, but obviously the Tour is the big thing,” Riis said. “We also have other races and we have more guys who can do GC, so maybe we can share it around. We will take serious decisions later.”