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Lampre on shaky ground, Acqua & Sapone shuts its doors

Lampre-Merida waits for Mantova shoe to drop, as Bardiani-CSF lacks Pro Continental license and Acqua & Sapone shuts its doors

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MILAN (VN) — Italy’s financial crisis has crept to the cycling world as several teams are struggling into the 2013 season. Acqua & Sapone is closing its doors after nearly 10 years, and other teams are fighting to stay alive.

Team Cannondale is the only team that stands on firm ground in the nation that brought us cycling icons such as Campagnolo and Fausto Coppi. On Wednesday the team confirmed two new Canadian riders — David Boily and Guillaume Boivin, both from SpiderTech — to support stars Peter Sagan, Ivan Basso, Elia Viviani and Moreno Moser.

Earlier this year, Canadian company Dorel, parent company to Connecticut-based Cannondale since 2008, granted permission to the bike company to take over title sponsorship of the Italian-based team from Liquigas.

Cannondale is estimated to be a 40-percent owner of the team, with the other percentage coming from Lombardy’s wealthiest businessmen, Paolo Zani. Zani is the former head of Liquigas Italia and maintains 30-percent stake in the company. Liquigas has sponsored pro cycling teams since 1999.

For 2013, Italy’s other first division team, Lampre, takes on Merida as a secondary sponsor, but stands on a shaky foundation. The team may be crushed by the Mantova investigation, which is nearing its end. It involves several of its staff and riders, including general manager Giuseppe Saronni. The former cyclist and 1982 world champion allegedly encouraged his riders to visit Guido Nigrelli’s pharmacy in Mantova for banned drugs.

The Mantova investigation does not account for Lampre’s top stage racer, Michele Scarponi, who is involved in the Padua investigation and on Tuesday had to explain his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari to the Italian Olympic Committee’s chief prosecutor, Ettore Torri. Scarponi is temporarily suspended by the team and could face a three-month to lifetime ban.

Italian team manager Gianni Savio has been running teams for 28 years, which helped his Androni Giocattoli team finish the year as Italy’s top second-division team. As such, Androni won the Coppa Italia and already earned itself one of four wildcard spots to the 2013 Giro d’Italia.

“In my 28 years directing teams, the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to be attentive and keep a balanced budget,” Savio told VeloNews. “I’ve been able to help the team to many wins over these years, but the most important one is to honor all of my commitments. I’ve never ended in the red, not by one euro or one lira.”

Farnese Vini will keep drinking wine, but will be sponsored by Vini Fantini instead. It loses top gun Filippo Pozzato to Lampre, but along with Androni serves as home to many of Italy’s aspiring cyclists. The other second division teams are worse off.

Acqua & Sapone says “addio” this winter. The Italian perfume retailer first appeared as a co-sponsor in 2002, enjoying Mario Cipollini’s world championship title, and stepped up to title sponsor in 2004.

Acqua & Sapone’s 17 riders are looking for teams. Colombian Carlos Betancur joins French first division team AG2R after making his mark in several one-day races this and last year. Danilo Di Luca and Stefano Garzelli have been linked to Vini Fantini. Many of the others are still searching for work.

Famous manufacturer Ernesto Colnago is also stepping away from sponsorship. Colnago will no longer be the title sponsor or technical sponsor of Colnago-CSF Inox. Roberto and Bruno Reverberi’s team will become Bardiani-CSF Group, race on Cipollini bikes and lose Gianluca Brambilla (to Omega Pharma) and Domenico Pozzovivo (to AG2R). Reverberi was able to hold on to Sacha Modolo, but as of last week, lacks a second division license.

Also, Irish-registered Italian team Utensilnord-Named is tightening its belt and dropping to the third division with a budget of less than $1.3 million.

With teams closing shop or racing in the lower ranks, the stars are going abroad. Italy’s biggest star, Vincenzo Nibali, signed a contract with Astana this season before Cannondale confirmed its commitment. Italy’s next generation of stars, however, face an uncertain future at home.