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By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2003
Insurance company Liberty Seguros will succeed ONCE, as sponsor of one of Spain’s leading cycling teams, director Manolo Saiz said on Wednesday.
The sponsor, a division of the American insurance giant Liberty Mutual, has agreed to a five-year deal to finance the Spanish team.
“Our aim is to keep the backbone of riders that made up the team to date,” Saiz told reporters on Wednesday.
He explained that leading riders such as Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Isidro Nozal and Marcos Serrano had already signed up for the new team.
The news of the deal is a major boost to the sport in Spain and comes just a week after the regional government of the Balearic islands said it would take over from Spanish bank Banesto as the main sponsor of one of the country’s other leading teams.
Former ONCE team director Saiz said that although he had been negotiating with several other potential sponsors, he had opted for Liberty’s proposal because of the seriousness of the company’s commitment and the security the deal would provide for his riders.
ONCE announced in August that they would be withdrawing from the sport at the end of the season in order to focus their sponsorship program on Paralympic sport.
They have been once of Spain’s most successful teams in recent years, twice winning the team prize in the Tour de France, while their riders have also won two world time trial titles and claimed victory in the Tour of Spain on four occasions.
The team’s leading rider Joseba Beloki, who was runner-up to Lance Armstrong in the Tour in 2002 and third in the two previous editions, has not yet signed up for the new team, but Saiz said he hoped to persuade him to join.
No paycheck for Ullrich?
The Italian cycling team Bianchi is refusing to pay the salary of 2003 Tour de France runner-up Jan Ullrich, according to a report in Wednesday’s edition of Bildzeitung. The 29-year-old Olympic champion is contracted with Bianchi team until December 31 but his impending return to Germany’s Telekom team in January has angered Bianchi to the extent that payments to the German rider have been halted.
Telekom’s public unveiling of Ullrich on October 23 is believed to be the main reason behind the dispute.
Ullrich is said to have received the last pay packet of his 1.7-million-euro contract back in August.
Representatives for the German rider have refused to commment on the report.