With its team's future hanging in the balance, pending a new sponsorship deal, the Euskaltel-Euskadi team could be facing the loss of its number one rider, Samuel Sanchez, the defending Olympic champion and winner of the mountains classification in the 2011 Tour de France.
The team's managers Miguel Madariaga and Gorka Gerrikagoitia are scrambling to close a deal to keep the team alive, but admit they are doing so under the attack of rider agents they call "vultures" who are swooping in to try and tempt star riders away with more lucrative contracts.
One of those being courted is Sanchez, whose contract ends this year, and who admitted to Marca.com that he is entertaining several offers. "Right now I have a couple of firm offers on the table," Sanchez said.. "My desire, as I've said, is to continue with Euskaltel-Euskadi, but things are taking too long and yet we know nothing. And the offers have expiration dates."
Sanchez is of great worth to teams seeking to enter the WorldTour or remain there, as he holds ample UCI points as the fourth best rider in the WorldTour to date. His stage win and second place overall in the Volta a Catalunya and domination of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in addition to top 10 finishes in the Ardennes Classics also bode well for the rest of his season.
Sanchez said he is particularly bothered by the idea of leaving the team, which pits him - as the highest UCI point earner on the team - against the team's future in the WorldTour. The team barely made it into the sport's top tier this season, and without his points could drop to Professional Continental or even the Continental level for 2013.
After starting his career with Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2000 and sticking with the team through 13 straight seasons, Sanchez is reluctant to leave his Basque bretheren behind, but knows that time is running out to make a decision, and isn't happy that this kind of worry hits right during the build-up for the Tour de France.
"I do not want to give ultimatums or deadlines, but it would be desirable if we all had clear ideas before the Tour, knowing whether we have a team or not."