A top Colombian sports official says he hopes that the national-backed Pro Continental squad, Team Colombia, will not disappear completely and that, although it will not be in the peloton in 2016, the squad is only "on hold".
Andrés Botero has admitted that Government budget limitations have spelled curtains for Team Colombia in 2016, but it will, he hopes, return in 2017 with private backing.
The folding of the Colombian team comes hard on the heels of declarations from an anonymous former member of the team, claiming that riders had not been treated well by the European management, led by veteran sports director Claudio Corti. Corti has vigorously denied the accusations. On top of that, in 2015 Colombia did not take a single win, with a second place for Rodolfo Torres at Ermita de Alba in the Vuelta a España their most important result, together with a second place overall for Torres in the Tour de San Luis.
Botero, a top Colombian sports official and head of Coldeportes, the government-backed department responsible for the cycling team and other sports structures, spoke at a press conference recently where he denied both the charges and that the team had folded definitively.
"Colombia is a team that we have supported for four years," he said, according to elpais.com.co, "and it was already there when I started work at Coldeportes. Initially I didn't support it, because it felt like a lot of money, but I have gradually become more and more in favour of the squad."
Botero argued that the team did not garner sufficient public recognition in Colombia because he believed it represented a hugely successful PR concept for the country, something he was able to witness in person when he visited the Colombia team during the Vuelta a España last September.
However, he explained to elpais.com.co that spending for the Olympic Games in 2016 would eat into the Coldeportes budget across the board, and "one of the programs which had to end was Team Colombia".
"The 2016 budgets are decided, that's why we have to wait until 2017. That's why I'm saying the team is on hold, I hope that if I get private backing, we'll be able to continue with the project for 2017."
Botero added that he failed to comprehend the reasoning behind the protest for poor treatment, because "I went to see the team several times and they [the riders] always asked me to continue with it, that's why I don't understand it." He claimed that "the only thing I’ve received is calls from riders who are upset because they don't know where these protests are coming from."
Speaking to elespectador.com, Colombia Team manager Claudio Corti claimed that his role had been one of "trying to motivate the riders….it's easier to criticise than to make positive comments. What happened is that cycling in Europe is very different to cycling in Colombia. For the riders who come over it's not so easy to adapt - it's a big change.
"I think those who wanted to triumph ended up like Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) or Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team), riders who started in Team Colombia who ended up in WorldTour teams. Others lacked fighting spirit."