Months after many had all but written off the high-profile project backed by Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, things are quickly clicking into gear.
Spanish media has reported that the team has officially registered with the UCI for a 2015 racing license, and sources confirm to VeloNews that team representatives are actively approaching riders.
One American rider told VeloNews that he was approached by an Alonso representative about a contract for 2015, while another major rider agent said Paolo Bettini, the ex-pro tapped by Alonso to run the team, called him out of the blue two days ago.
That marks a sudden restart of the Alonso project, which had been lying dormant throughout much of the 2014 season.
Many speculated that the Alonso project — dubbed FACT (Fernando Alonso Cycling Team) — did not have money, especially in light of no activity on the free-agent market this spring and summer. Most deals are hammered out before the Tour de France, so with no word from Bettini, many thought the project was dead in the water.
Bettini did not return emails Thursday, but Alonso agent and manager, Luis García Abad, told the Spanish sports daily AS last week the team was moving forward despite lying dormant through the first half of 2014.
“There are people working on the creation of a cycling team,” García-Abad told AS. “They are following the rules according to the UCI … If we are going to enter a sport, we’re going to do it the right way.”
There was also speculation that Alonso would try to buy out an existing team, prompting Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov to suggest as much, but it appears that Alonso is forging on alone.
Alonso’s entrance into the cycling world would be a huge boon for the moribund Spanish peloton. Not only is the two-time Formula One world champion Alonso a huge star in his own right, he would also bring a much-needed boost to Spanish cycling. The sport has been struggling with the ravages of an economic crisis dating back to 2008, leaving the once-mighty Spain with just one WorldTour-level team (Movistar) and one professional continental team (Caja Rural).
García-Abad said Alonso wants to have a team ready for the 2015 season, and hinted that it already has invitations to race all three grand tours despite the fact that it will likely race as a professional continental team in its inaugural season.
Alonso’s team would also electrify the rider marketplace. Several big deals have already been confirmed, including the transfer of Bauke Mollema from Belkin to Trek, and the likely move of Peter Sagan from Cannondale to Tinkoff-Saxo, but there could be movement among several riders if Alonso is indeed all in.
Alonso reportedly has a deal with sponsors from the United Arab Emirates worth up to 20 million euros per season, an amount that would catapult it into the top tier of team budgets. Despite Alonso’s relatively late entry, several big riders would still be interested, especially Spanish veterans such as Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).