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Updated: Disagreement grows over who owns Mitchelton-Scott

Hours after Australian businessman Gerry Ryan denied reports he sold WorldTour license, new Spanish backers insist they now own the team.

Confusion over the status of team ownership at Mitchelton-Scott continues to play out Wednesday following the announcement last week that Spanish non-profile Manuela Fundación is stepping in as new title sponsor.

Early Wednesday, Australian businessman Gerry Ryan denied reports that the high-profile deal included the team’s license, and told RIDE Media that he retains ownership of the team and control of the UCI WorldTour license.

“I own the team,” Ryan told RIDE. “There’s certainly no ownership changes at this stage … I still have the ownership of the team and the license.”

After reading those comments, representatives of the Spanish foundation countered, insisting that they signed a deal that includes ownership of the team as well as eventual control of the license going into 2021. Speaking to the Spanish wire service EFE, Manuela Fundación’s manager Emilio Rodríguez said he was surprised by Ryan’s comments.

“It’s a big surprise to me, it left me cold, because it doesn’t make sense,” Rodríguez told EFE. “There was a deal signed June 5, and it needs to be complied with. They will know why they said this, but we agreed to enter into the GreenEdge holding company from that day.”

Rodríguez said, from there point of view, there is no confusion.

“It was agreed that we would take ownership of the team, and then the license in 2021 once the season is over and we can get through the bureaucratic procedures,” Rodríguez told EFE. “We acquired the holding company on June 5, but since there were so many bureaucratic steps, we agreed to put up the money until the end of the season, and that’s what we’re doing. But since June 5, I am in control. It’s another thing about the license.”

Those comments are in sharp contrast to what Ryan said just hours earlier. Ryan, who is in Australia and said he has not met the team’s new backers, stated that he still owned the team and holding company that controls the license.

Longtime team manager Shayne Bannan is Ryan’s point man on the ground in Europe, and is expected to meet with Rodríguez and others next week to finalize details. Ryan, however, suggested that negotiations are ongoing, confirming that his representatives are still searching for other partners to join the team as sponsors in 2021, suggesting that more changes could be forthcoming.

“The press release went out very early. There are still a lot of details to be discussed,” Ryan told RIDE. “I’m looking at different options. There’s no doubt we’ve been approached to do a couple of joint things together with some other sponsors that we’re trying to lock in for next year as well. We’re weighing up all our options.”

There’s been growing confusion about ownership status since the confirmation last week that Manuela Fundación, a new non-profit foundation based in Granada, Spain, will take over naming rights on the jersey when racing resumes in July.

The lack of details in the announcement left many wondering about the fate of the Australian-registered team that Ryan founded in 2011. There were mixed reports, with one newspaper reporting in Spain said the foundation also bought the team license, but sources told VeloNews that Ryan retained control of the team. Wednesday’s comments were the first on-the-record interview that Ryan has given since the announcement.

It’s clear there is disagreement about to what was signed off on. Both sides said a press conference scheduled for July 1 will reveal more details, but Rodríguez was emphatic Wednesday.

“We came on to save the team because they were not going to race due to a lack of money, but we came with our conditions, with our logo and jersey,” Rodríguez told EFE. “We are already working to prepare for the season. We hope to be in Burgos on July 28 [Tour of Burgos] with the new image. We came into to be the owners, not simply a sponsor.

“I hope they clarify this,” Rodríguez said. “Our idea is to have the team, and all this has been a surprise to us.”

Mitchelton-Scott is among several teams suffering budget shortfalls provoked by the coronavirus pandemic, with the team cutting wages across riders and staffers for 2020. The team has been searching for new title sponsors the past several years since the departure of Orica in 2017, and sources denied to VeloNews the veracity of media reports in Spain that it was close to signing Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.