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Doubts building around Alonso project

Managers and representatives confirm there is little movement from the Fernando Alonso project to sign riders

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BELFAST, Northern Ireland (VN) — The silence is deafening over the future of the Fernando Alonso cycling team set to debut in 2015.

The Formula One racing star has promised a team will be ready for next season, but many peloton insiders say the project’s future could be in doubt.

Several team managers and rider representatives contacted by VeloNews on background said they’re not hearing much from the Alonso project.

“We are not hearing anything from the Alonso people,” said one rider agent. “This is the time of year when serious negotiations begin. It’s not a good sign if they are not talking to riders.”

The top-level pro peloton is a very small place, and it’s hard to keep secrets, especially when it comes to money. If the Alonso project were actively approaching riders about new, big-money contracts, it would create a huge buzz inside the peloton. Instead, riders and agents say there is no movement at all.

“It seems like it’s completely stopped,” said one team manager. “We’d be hearing about it if they were approaching our riders. There is nothing. There’s no news.”

Last September, Alonso made headlines when he stepped in to try to save the doomed Euskaltel-Euskadi project. Facing deadlines and other complications, Alonso decided it was more prudent to regroup, and opted to create his own team from scratch in time for the 2015 season.

The Spanish superstar’s imminent entry into the sport created huge buzz and heightened expectations, especially in Spain, where professional cycling is struggling against a sponsor exodus that has left the once-mighty Spanish peloton with Movistar as the lone team at the WorldTour level.

Things appeared to be heading in the right direction. Last fall, Alonso registered a holding company with the sport’s world governing body, the UCI, called FACT (Fernando Alonso Cycling Team), and promised to publicly unveil the team during the 2014 Tour de France.

He also agreed to bring on former world champion Paolo Bettini as team manager. The Olympic champ left his job as Italian national coach, a position now held by Davide Cassani.

Alonso discreetly met with new UCI president Brian Cookson in Madrid in December, and then traveled to the United Arab Emirates to coincide with the Dubai Tour in February, raising speculation that the Emirates were poised to sponsor Alonso’s team, but even then, whispers began to spread around the peloton.

In mid-March, Bettini told VeloNews contributor Gregor Brown that Alonso was poised to announce the title sponsor, leaving the impression that everything was on track. But nearly two months later, there appears to be little movement to begin to the complicated process of building a professional elite cycling team from scratch.

Sources contacted in Belfast before the start of the 97th Giro said things have gone largely quiet concerning the Alonso project.

“Building a team is more than just signing riders. There is a lot of staff and infrastructure that goes behind that. It’s almost getting too late to even build up a team in time for next season,” another team manager said. “And there are not any teams closing down or mergers, at least not from what we’re hearing now, so it won’t be so easy to sign riders. I know our biggest riders are already under contract.”

Emails to Bettini last week went unanswered. The Italian was spotted at the Belfast opening ceremony Thursday, but could not be reached for comment.

Alonso, meanwhile, is deep into his racing season on the Formula One circuit, which continues through November.

There are a few big-name riders up for contract next year, however, including reigning world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Rounding out a team would not be impossible, but riders are hesitant to hold out for promises from new, unestablished programs.