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Gianni Savio confirmed that his Drone Hopper squad will merge with a Colombian team for 2023 as he looks to secure its future.
The Italian has been left scrapping for a new sponsor after his primary backer, Spanish start-up Drone Hopper, reneged on its sponsorship deal earlier this season.
The issue forced Savio to sell off some of his top talent midway through the season to keep it afloat and sees the team dropping to Continental level for at least 2023.
Savio has strong ties with South America already, particularly Colombia, and has scouted riders such as Egan Bernal and Iván Sosa. He is reluctant to talk too much about the deal, lest it fall through, but he told Italian publication Bici.pro that a verbal agreement had been made.
“The team will be based in Colombia. The first sponsor is from there,” Savio told Bici.pro. “There will be 10 Colombian riders and five or six riders who were already with us. And these six are: Santiago Umba, Didier Merchan, Brandon Rojas, Gabriele Benedetti and Trym Westgaard Holther. They also had a contract for 2023. While for Riccardo Ciuccarelli let’s see how things go, if he will be able to go elsewhere or if he will stay with us. In short, we are putting the pieces of the mosaic together.”
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Savio’s trouble with Drone Hopper came midway through this season and riders were quickly told that they could look elsewhere for employment. Andrea Piccolo and Alexander Cepeda were quickly snapped up by EF Education-EasyPost on a mid-season transfer, while the likes of Eduardo Sepulveda and Natnael Tesfazion are set to move on for 2023.
Drone Hopper’s failure to live up to their end of the deal with Savio came as a major blow, as the sponsor had been talking about a WorldTour bid, according to the Italian.
“We didn’t expect it. We thought we were making the leap in quality, even in Drone Hopper they were talking about WorldTour. I was the one holding them back. ‘Let’s go step by step,’ I said. They have great potential, but they have been superficial,” Savio said.
“A year ago, we sent the documentation to the UCI to get the green light and obtain the licence. And in fact, as per practice, they analyzed the papers and told us that everything was okay. Then at the beginning of the year the first problems began which they were unable to cope with, up to the point of total lack of liquidity.
“Marco Bellini [team CFO] and I jumped through hoops to pay the salaries. Thanks to the clause on the enhancement bonus, with the disposals of Cepeda and Piccolo in July we were able to pay salaries. The money arrived in the bank on Tuesday and by Wednesday it was already gone. And still today with Marco we intend to honor what is still missing from the members of the team.”