The future is dark for one of cycling’s most distinctive teams.
Euskaltel-Euskadi, which enjoyed its best-ever season in 2011, is fighting to secure its future. Management is struggling to secure a berth in the 2012 WorldTour, and beyond next season things are looking grim.
“It’s looking bad,” Miguel Madariaga told the Spanish daily El Correo. “It’s complicated that in 2013 that this team will continue in the UCI WorldTour.”
If it sounds as though he’s taking a particularly grim view from his crystal ball, Madariaga says he’s just being realistic. Spain’s economy is in crisis, with unemployment topping 20 percent across the nation, and sponsorship is a tough sell.
The Basque-backed team’s characteristic orange jerseys come from the logo of Euskaltel, a regional phone company that has backed the team since 1997. That sponsorship deal concludes at the end of next season, though company officials have suggested that they might have the money to continue; an announcement is expected by next year’s Tour de France.
Meanwhile, a reduction in the public money from Euskadi, a Basque cultural institution, has already trimmed the squad’s budget by 20 percent, to 6 million euros from 7 million. Madariaga said the management team is working on various angles to try to bolster the 2012 budget, both within and beyond the Basque Country borders.
The team was not among the first round of 15 ProTeam licensees announced last week by the UCI and will go before the license commission next week in Lausanne.
The final list of ProTeam licenses for 2012 will be released December 10, with four teams fighting for three remaining spots.
Madariaga said he talked with UCI president Pat McQuaid during the recent Tour of Beijing, and the Irishman told the veteran team manager that Euskaltel would be back with the elite tour for 2012.
“I am optimistic,” Madariaga continued. “He assured me that in 2012 we would return to be with the best.”
The recent departure of lead sport director Igor González de Galdeano has only added to the pressure on the ebullient 67-year-old Madariaga, who created the team in 1994 and draws his financial support from Euskaltel, regional government and subscriptions from the rabid fan base.
All riders on the team, save Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, come from Spain’s Basque Country, a cycling hotbed that straddles the Pyrénées where the roads are narrow and passion for the sport runs deep.
Basque fans are among the most loyal in cycling, and trek to the Pryénées each July to line the major climbs. The team has ridden the past eight Tours, and in 2001 realized a major goal when legendary climber Roberto Laiseka won stage 14 in that year’s Tour.
This year, the team enjoyed its most successful season to date, with stage victories in all three grand tours as well as a spot on the Tour de France podium with Sánchez taking the best climber’s jersey.
But their fans may soon be in for a disappointment. Madariaga said he’s not likely to have the budget to sign enough riders to allow his team to score the points required to stay in the WorldTour beyond next season.
That would mean it would slip to professional-continental status and once again be at the mercy of the major race organizers to land spots in the grand tours.