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Basque Country tour, Clásica in danger of folding

With severe economic problems in Spain, the Basque Country Tour and the Clásica are on the brink of the abyss

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2011 Clasica San Sebastian, podiumFebruary 24, 2012 (VN) — Two of Spain’s most important races — the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Clásica San Sebastián – could fold due to a lack of sponsorship dollars to underwrite the costs of the WorldTour events.

Race organizers said in a communiqué Friday that a reduction in funding from the regional Basque government is threatening to see two of cycling’s most colorful and hotly contested races disappear under the growing pressures from Spain’s economic crisis.

“After 51 editions of the Vuelta and 31 of the Clásica, this year (2012) could be the disappearance of our races from the map of
international cycling and its maximum category, the WorldTour,” said Jaime Ugarte Arce, president and general coordinator of Organizaciones Ciclistas Euskadi, which runs both races.

Ugarte said in the statement that the Basque government couldn’t afford to completely fund what would be an option to back both races for one more year from a four-year deal penned in 2009. Facing intense pressure to reduce spending across the board in light of Spain’s economic crisis, government officials said they could only pay 60 percent of what it paid over the past three years.

Ugarte said that the Vuelta al País Vasco, set for the first week of April, is all set to go, but threatened that if more backing is not found for the Clásica, which is usually held the week after the Tour de France, but this year scheduled for August 14, both races could be cancelled.

“With this difference, we cannot guarantee the Vuelta or the Clásica, as there are contracts with Eurovision and ETB that are based on both races and that you cannot separate,” he said.

Basque Country government officials agreed in 2009 to step up and help race organizers fund the two races in order to give them time to find private-sector sponsors. Ugarte said nothing is confirmed, despite lengthy talks with several potential sponsors.

“We made several proposals to potential sponsors and hopes faded yesterday of one potential backer; they said no,” he said. “A huge disappointment.”

Ugarte also said with the uncertainty of what will happen in 2012,they could not meet UCI requirements to assure them a place on the 2013 WorldTour calendar, throwing more cold water on the future of both races.

Spanish cycling has taken a huge hit over the past few years as one of the worst economic crises in the nation’s history has pushed Spain to the brink of bankruptcy. Unemployment tops 23 percent nationwide and government officials confirmed this week that Spain would slip back into recession in 2012.

At the macro-level, federal and regional governments are under huge pressure from the European Union to meet strict deficit limits in order to satisfy international creditors and keep Spain from following Greece into bankruptcy.

At the local level, Spanish race organizers are feeling the pinch. With fewer and fewer sponsorship dollars available from the private sector, organizers have turned to government entities to equal their balance sheets. Many races have been forced to reduce their number of race days, with the Murcia and Castilla y León races both shrinking from five to three days.

Other races have completely disappeared, including the Volta a Valencia, Setmana Catalana, stage races in Aragon and La Rioja as well as the Basque Country’s other stage race, the Euskal Bizikleta, in 2009. Other events, such as the Ruta del Sol and the Volta a Catalunya, are barely hanging on, thanks to regional government backing.

Race organizers are hoping that by going public with their troubles they can find a sponsor to step forward to assure the future of the two historic races.

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