Time is running out for the management team to save what’s left of the Geox-TMC unit for the 2012 season.
With a UCI deadline breathing down their necks, team manager Mauro Gianetti and sport director Joxean Fernández Matxín know that if they cannot pull together a sponsorship deal within the next week, their team will definitively shutter its doors.
“Complicated, very complicated,” Matxín told VeloNews on Friday. “There’s nothing sealed yet. We’re still trying to pull it together, but nothing is closed right now.”
In October, just as a major bank deposit was due to meet ProTeam status for 2012, the team was left hanging by the Italian shoemaker Geox, which pulled the plug on its sponsorship after just one year with the team.
There seemed an unexpected lifeline with the Venezuelan government, when it took interest in the existing European program to act as a foundation for an ambitious nationally-backed program that would be similar in structure to Astana and Katusha.
The project, to be called “Venezuela, país de sueño” (‘Land of Dreams’), seemed to be making solid progress after visits by Gianetti and Matxin in October. A few weeks ago, it seemed like the team was poised to happen and was only waiting on the final word from president Hugo Chavez.
“Now we are on standby,” Matxín said. “We are waiting for them to give us an answer. It’s frustrating because we don’t know anything.”
There were even rumors that Bob Stapleton, the ex-boss of the now-defunct HTC-Highroad team, also traveled to the South American country last month to test the waters with the Venezuelan government.
Highroad officials denied the reports, but the suggestion infuriated Gianetti. He could not be reached by telephone by VeloNews on Friday.
Gianetti and Fernández have been down this road before and have been able to pull something out of the hat, but this time could be more complicated because they’re not left with much time before facing final deadline Dec. 10 to secure professional continental status.
In 2008, in the wake of the Riccardo Ricco doping scandal that rocked that year’s Tour de France, title sponsor Saunier Duval made a quick exit from the team.
The squad managed to stitch together enough budget to keep the team afloat, first as Scott-American Beef for the remainder of the 2008 season, and then as Fuji-Servetto in 2009 and Footon-Servetto-Fuji in 2010.
The arrival of Geox, the first major Italian sponsor to enter cycling in years, seemed a salve for the team.
Almost immediately there were difficulties, however, and when Geox-TMC missed out on a WorldTour license for 2011, the team seemed to be teetering on the edge.
Overall victory in the Vuelta a España by Juanjo Cobo saved the season, but that wasn’t enough to convince Geox upper-brass to hang around.
Despite having 23 riders under contract, without a secure sponsor, management have given the team’s top riders the green light to look for contracts for next season.
“We are still working and looking at other options, but time is working against us,” Matxín continued. “We know the deadline is looming to be pro-continental. It has to happen fast if it’s going to happen.”
Scores of riders have already abandoned the team to secure their futures with other teams. Fabio Duarte and Mauricio Ardila are heading to the new Colombian team, Coldeportes, while Daniele Colli is signed to Team Type 1 while Xavier Florencio joined Katusha.
Denis Menchov is expected to jettison the team as well, with links to Katusha and Astana.
Other riders, such as David de la Fuente and Vuelta a España winner Juanjo Cobo, are waiting to see if Gianetti can pull a rabbit out of the hat in time to salvage the team for 2012.
Cobo told the Spanish newspaper El Diario Montañes on Friday that he’s facing the reality that he will have to find a new team.
“Things looked good with Venezuela, but now the situation is complicated,” Cobo said. “I hope to keep racing and if the team (Geox) cannot move forward, I will have to look at other options.”