Euskaltel-Euskadi, the third longest surviving professional team in existence, has 45 days to find a new sponsor or will disappear at the end of the 2013.
“There are various possibilities, but nothing is actually signed,” Mikel Astorkiza, an executive with Euskaltel, told Basque newspaper El Diario Vasco and other Basque media in a series of interviews yesterday evening at the squad’s team hotel on the Tour de France.
Euskaltel have been the main sponsors of the Basque team since 1997, which started as a self-funded, grassroots project named simply Euskadi funded purely by local fans and designed to raise the profile of the Basque Country’s riders in 1994.
This year after the Euskadi Foundation, the original owners, and the team went their separate ways, a 19 year self-imposed condition that all riders were either Basque or had spent their amateur career in Basque cycling teams disappeared, and a series of professionals were signed from as far a field as Greece, Germany and Russia. A new era seemed to beckon. Instead the team is now on the verge of extinction.
One of the key reasons behind the possible collapse of one of Spain’s two WorldTour teams is financial, and has its roots in Spain’s deep recession, which has seen the country plunged into economic difficulty since 2008. Spanish races and teams have slowly but relentlessly been rubbed off the map.
Euskaltel, a telecommunications company, have already spent 45 million euros on backing the team and they initially promised this January to sponsor the team for a further four years. However, when the 3.5 million euros promised by Basque public institutions as part of a nine million euro annual budget failed to come through -indirectly as a result of the austerity cuts- Euskaltel had to meet the shortfall for 2014, doubling its original annual investment.
Given the ongoing recession, coupled with the lack of new sponsors after a search in Spain and elsewhere, Euskaltel has decided that it makes more financial sense to end its backing completely. The search continues for a new sponsor but time is running painfully short.
Euskaltel-Euskadi is home to riders like Samuel Sanchez, the winner of the polka-dot climber's competition jersey at the 2011 Tour de France and climbers Igor Anton and Mikel Nieve, all of whom are under contract for next year at least. The team will continue racing until the end of the season come what may.
Should the team disappear, Spain -once a major powerhouse in cycling- will have just one WorldTour team: Movistar, and one Professional Continental squad: Caja Rural. And the Basque Country, traditionally considered the heartland of the sport in Spain, would be without its team.