LLEIDA, Spain (VN) — Trek is taking over as title sponsor of RadioShack-Leopard for 2014, but so far, only one American rider is confirmed next season for the team with deep U.S. roots.
Team officials confirmed that Matthew Busche, one of three Americans currently on the team’s 2013 roster, is the lone U.S. rider with a signed deal for next year. Ben King is leaving the team while Chris Horner, who is lighting up the Vuelta a España, still does not have a contract.
Though the squad will likely be U.S.-registered as Trek takes over as the team’s main sponsor next year, general manager Luca Guercilena said the team’s profile will remain global.
“The U.S. market is important for us as a team and for our sponsor, but we and Trek see the team with an international focus,” Guercilena told VeloNews. “We will not necessarily look for American riders. We will search out the best riders in the peloton, regardless of which country they come from.”
Guercilena confirmed that Busche, who joined RadioShack in 2010, will stay with the team going into next season. The 28-year-old continues to improve, and reportedly had several suitors, but will remain with the team next year.
King, 24, is one of the top U.S. prospects and has made steady improvements since joining RadioShack in 2011. The Virginia rider is poised to join a new squad next season.
Horner, meanwhile, is still negotiating a contract. At 41, Horner told VeloNews he wants to race at least for “two more years,” and will be packing valuable UCI points after his Vuelta success.
“The team is interested in keeping Chris. He is a big champion, but sometimes negotiations with big champions can be more complicated,” Guercilena said. “There is nothing final yet.”
Guercilena said the “core” of the team would remain in place going into next season.
Star riders such as Fabian Cancellara, the Schleck brothers, and Jens Voigt are all on board for 2014. Others confirmed to stay include Stijn Devolder, Yaroslav Popovych, Jesse Sergent, Markel Irizar, Gregory Rast, and Hayden Roulston.
“We want to build a strong team around the Schlecks for the grand tours and Fabian for the classics,” Guercilena continued. “We also want to bring up some young riders and develop them for the future. We are still talking to many riders for next year.”
Trek announced in late June it purchased the squad from Leopard SA, owned by Luxembourg businessman Flavio Becca.
The team’s history morphed over the past few seasons. Becca started the squad in 2011 with much fanfare, luring the Schlecks, Cancellara, and several top riders away from Bjarne Riis at Saxo Bank.
After a mildly successful debut season, with the Schleck brothers both hitting the Tour de France podium in 2011, Becca surprised many by merging with RadioShack for 2012.
RadioShack was born in 2010 as a vehicle for the second year of Lance Armstrong’s comeback. The team was co-owned by Armstrong, with John Bruyneel signing on as general manager.
The two teams merged in 2012, with Bruyneel crossing over and bringing RadioShack as the title sponsor, while Becca retained ownership of the team.
The USADA investigation into widespread doping during the Armstrong era soon engulfed Bruyneel, forcing his departure from the team last year. RadioShack announced this spring it would discontinue its title sponsorship at season’s end.
Becca, meanwhile, was growing weary of funding the team with his own checkbook, and was glad to see Trek step in as title sponsor.
RadioShack carried six U.S. riders in 2010 and seven in 2011, but that number shrank to three, with King, Horner, and Busche staying on after the RadioShack-Leopard merger for 2012 and 2013. Leopard-Trek, in 2011, carried no U.S. riders.
Guercilena took over from the departing Bruyneel in the fall of 2012, and has helped steer the team into calmer waters following the turmoil surrounding the Armstrong scandal.
Other changes are due as well for next season. La Gazzetta dello Sport reported that several of the team’s support staff, including sport director José Azevedo, press officer Philippe Maertens, soigneur Ryszard Kielpinski, and the team chef, are heading to Katusha next year. Viatcheslav Ekimov, who rode much of his career arm-in-arm with Armstrong, currently manages the Russian team.
For Guercilena, building on the momentum of 2013 is essential for the team’s future.
“We want to see the Schlecks return to their level. We want Cancellara to continue strong in the classics. We are building a strong group around both the grand tours and the classics,” Guercilena said. “We will also have some young riders who can develop.”
How many of those riders will be carrying U.S. passports remains to be seen.