Liberty Seguros will not be returning to cycling to sponsor a team. The insurer was set to sponsor a Portuguese-based squad in 2011 but has been prevented from doing so by U.S. parent company Liberty Mutual.
The decision was communicated in a statement on Liberty Seguros’ Portuguese website on Thursday, which explained that Liberty Mutual was not prepared to authorise direct involvement with professional cycling given the sport’s doping problems, particularly in light of recent controversies in Portugal and Spain.
Liberty Seguros was the title sponsor of the team managed by Manolo Saiz that was at the centre of the Operacion Puerto investigation before the 2006 Tour de France. Alberto Contador, Roberto Heras, Alexander Vinokourov and Joseba Beloki were among the riders on the squad. The company continued to sponsor a team in the Portuguese peloton until 2009, when its riders Nuno Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal and Hector Guerra all tested positive for EPO that August. The insurer was planning to back a team managed by Manuel Correia in 2011.
“I’m speechless. It’s a tragic situation because many people are involved,” Correia told Jornal Ciclismo. “Right now I’m worried about the riders who were due to be part of the project, because any one of them could easily have found a team. But they chose us, and at this stage it will not be easy to find an alternative.”
While Correia is attempting to find a replacement sponsor, he recognises that time is very much against him and he is wary of giving his riders false hope.
“I’ll try but I know it will be difficult and I don’t want to create false expectation,” Correia said. Ten riders were due to ride for the team in 2011: Antonio Amorim, Edgar Pinto, Fabio Silvestre, Filipe Cardoso, Jose Mendes, Marcus Cole, Ricardo Vilela, Rui Sousa, Sergio Sousa and Vitor Rodrigues.