Tinkoff team's future '50-50' as Feltrin refuses to give up on sponsor search

Manager bemoans lack of clarity from UCI over the sport's structure in 2017 and beyond

Despite time running out, Stefano Feltrin is still holding out hope of finding a title sponsor for the Tinkoff team for next year.

The Italian general manager set the end of the Giro d'Italia as a provisional deadline to find a title sponsor for 2017, but has confirmed to Cyclingnews that he is still no closer and that the search goes on. The current team is sponsored by Oleg Tinkov but the Russian businessman announced at the tail-end of last year that he would end his funding this December.

"Unfortunately there's not a real update as we've not been able to secure anything," Feltrin told Cyclingnews.

"The Giro date was the goal and that's where we are but things are still open. The team is fully funded until the end of the year but I'm an optimist and would give us a 50 per cent chance.

"Maybe I'm a bad manager but we're the number one team and we've been top of the rankings for two months with the number one rider and yet we can't secure a title sponsor. That tells you a lot. It's a defeat for cycling."

Feltrin has met with several parties, including current bike suppliers Specialized, with a view to increasing their investment in the team. However, the bike manufacturer looks content to keep its associations with several teams in the WorldTour, rather than focus on one in particular.

"We met with them and it was a good time. I don't want to speak for them but it’s evident that their strategy is different to other bike manufactures," said Feltrin.

"They don't own a team and they've decided that their best option is to be the technical sponsor for many teams. That works for them so there's nothing new there. There's no indication of them changing."

It seems difficult to imagine – although not impossible given that a number of teams are funded in this manner – but Feltrin may have to wait for a knight in shining armour, and high levels of capital, in order to save his 27-rider squad.

"Saying that, it only takes one person to step in and save a team," he said. "The problem is that every year it grows more expensive and there are more uncertainties. Every day that passes it becomes more difficult to find that one person to invest that kind of money."

Lack of clarity from the UCI and an overdependence on sponsorship

Much of Feltrin's frustration is down to what he believes is a lack of organisation and clarity from the sport's governing body, the UCI, who have still not laid out concrete plans for the WorldTour licences in 2017.

Plans have been held up by power struggles and disagreements with the Tour de France owners, ASO. Feltrin, like his outgoing boss Tinkov, also lamented the current structure of sponsorship within the sport.

"At this point it’s late in the season and really questions should be asked of the UCI as to what’s happening in 2017," he said. 

"That's the number one issue that cycling has, and that the teams have. The business model isn't there and the weight on sponsorship is too much. It's unreasonable for a title sponsor to have to cover around 80 per cent of the team's budget.

"I think a lot really depends on the UCI and how quickly the plans for 2017 are made clear. We don't even know what budget to work with and what we can guarantee. As long as race organisers, the UCI and the teams fight, it's not going to happen. You go to a meeting and the first questions that are asked are about motors in bikes, places at the Tour de France, social incomes and rider development, and every day that passes we still don't know.

While Feltrin holds out hope, he has also been straight up with the riders on his team. Other teams have already circled around the two prized assets, Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, with the latter already heavily linked with Astana.

"There's nothing to tell the riders. We are where we are and it's been the same since November. The plan is to find a sponsor and the situation is clear. We've been open and honest with the riders," said Feltrin.

"With Peter, I know that he'll have no problem finding a team but really you'd have to talk to his agent."

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