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Giro d'Italia

Fernando Alonso confirms 2015 WorldTour team plans still alive

Formula One champion Fernando Alonso assures that his project to create a new professional team is still on track, but doubts remain

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LEVICO TERME, Italy (VN) — Fernando Alonso showed up at the Giro d’Italia on Thursday to assure the cycling world that his plans to create a new elite team still have the green light.

Earlier this month, VeloNews revealed growing doubts within the tightknit peloton about the future of the two-time world champion Formula One driver’s plans to unveil a team for the 2015 season.

Speaking to RAI following Thursday’s stage, Alonso said he still hopes to have a team for next year.

“Our intensions are to have the team for 2015,” Alonso said. “We are working on it, slowly and with professionalism, to build a top team.”

The 32-year-old Spaniard created a stir last fall with a doomed effort to save the Euskaltel-Euskadi team from oblivion. That effort failed, the Basque team folded, and Alonso instead recommitted himself to build a new team from scratch.

Last winter, he hired ex-pro Paolo Bettini to run the team, and has reportedly penned a deal with a sponsor from the United Arab Emirates for $20 million per season.

The project seems stuck in first gear, however. According to team managers and rider agents, no real offers have been made to pen cyclists for next season. There also appears to be little movement to hire sport directors or support staffers.

The Spanish media reported earlier this month that only the name of the holding company has been registered with the UCI — called Fernando Alonso Cycling Team (FACT) — but that no money has been put forward for bank guarantees or for a license.

According to reports, Alonso’s group wants assurances from UCI that it will have an elite, World Tour-level license that would guarantee it a place in the Tour de France for 2015 in its debut season.

UCI president Brian Cookson confirmed he met recently with Alonso’s representatives, but said no exceptions would be made for the superstar driver.

“The rules apply to everyone,” Cookson said during a press conference earlier in the Giro. “We will be as helpful with Alonso as we are with everyone else. It’s great they’re interested, we want to support a new team like that because we’ve lost too many teams, but they have to respect the regulations.

“The rules aren’t there to make things difficult. Just a few years ago a well-known sport director was fooled by a fake sponsor,” Cookson continued. “The point of the rules is to assure there is a genuine sponsor and that the team is bona fide. That is right and proper thing to do. The rules apply to everyone.”

On Thursday, Alonso followed the climbing stage alongside Bettini to soak up the Giro ambiance. The 32-year-old Spaniard did the best he could to quiet rumors, but did not give away any firm details.

“We decided to go with the team in December last year, and now there is not a lot of news, so now we are hearing rumors,” Alonso said. “We want to build a team to attract the big riders. We cannot even talk to riders until August 1. We have to wait until November before we know if we get the license. We are working diligently to build a team on par with the quality of Formula One.”

It will be way too late if Alonso waits until August to start chasing riders. Almost no major unsigned rider would be available. Although August 1 is the official opening date of the contract season, deals are sealed months in advance. Peter Sagan (Cannondale), for example, was once linked to Alonso, but has reportedly agreed to terms to join Tinkoff-Saxo for 2015. That’s something that no one will officially confirm, but the deals are being made here, at the Giro d’Italia. If Alonso is serious about joining the peloton, he will need to start spending that $20 million annual budget sooner, rather than later.