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Staffers pushed back against reports that Katusha-Alpecin could be on the ropes and might not race next season.
The French daily L’Equipe reported Wednesday that the Russian-backed, Swiss-registered team sent an email message overnight to its riders freeing them to search out new contracts for next season.
Katusha-Alpecin sport director José Azevedo denied that the team is poised to close at the end of the season. Speaking to reporters following Wednesday’s fifth stage at the Tour de France, Azevedo said the team has 10 riders under contract for 2020 and that management is still working to secure the team’s future.
“No it’s not true. There are a lot of rumors and speculations,” Azevedo said. “We have people who are working on the future of the team. When we have real news we will announce it. We have 10 riders with contracts, and these riders have a contract and they need to wait. It’s normal when they finish a contract they are free to decide the future.”
Azevedo confirmed that the deal with co-sponsor Alpecin ends at the conclusion of 2019, but said management is filing paperwork with the UCI to extend its WorldTour racing license beyond the end of this racing season.
“We don’t have a time limit and we are working for the future. We have some possibilities and everything is open,” Azevedo said. “We need to have a decision from the sponsors, and this is the situation, and we are working on this. We have some possibilities and we are working on that.”
According to sources close to the team, management are still working to secure financial backers to keep the team afloat for 2020, but wanted to be transparent with its riders and staff about the team’s uncertainty.
The financial uncertainty is the latest among WorldTour teams struggling to secure its financial future. Last year, BMC Racing merged with a Polish team to create Team CCC to stay in the WorldTour this season. Two years ago, the Slipstream organization was saved by the arrival of EF Education First to keep the team alive.
Rumors have been floating about Katusha’s future all spring. Bike sponsor Canyon is said to be working on a larger project to support budding superstar Mathieu van der Poel while co-sponsor Alpecin is leaving.
Top Katusha riders, including Russian GC talent Ilnur Zakarin and this year’s second-place Paris-Roubaix finisher Nils Politt, have already been linked to other teams. Earlier this spring, German sprinter star Marcel Kittel abruptly announced his departure from the team.
Formed in 2009, the Russian-backed team was funded in large part by Russian billionaire Igor Makarov. The team, however, never delivered a Russia-born Tour de France winner and underwent major restructuring the past few years as team owner Makarov scaled back his financial support and new management was brought in.
The news comes as the team has been working hard behind the scenes to create a new funding model to help cover the operating costs of the WorldTour budget. Officials said those efforts, which including a growing clothing and retail line, would continue even if the team does fold.
L’Equipe also reported of a possible merger with another team, perhaps Israel Cycling Academy, to take over the coveted WorldTour license.
“These are just rumors and speculation,” Azevedo said. “Maybe tomorrow we have a new story. When we have something real and concrete, we will come forward.”
Katusha-Alpecin has won five races this season, including a stage at the Giro d’Italia with Zakarin.