Cyclingnews understands that US bike manufacturer Trek is set to take over the title sponsorship of the Radioshack-Leopard team in 2014, with Fabian Cancellara likely to stay with the team and Luca Guercilena continuing as team manager.
RadioShack confirmed it would ends its sponsorship of the team in March and the team's future has been in doubt after the effects of the Lance Armstrong scandal and Andy Schleck's injury-hit 2012 and difficult start to the 2013 season.
With rival bike brands such as Cannondale and Merida taking title sponsor positions with teams and Specialized working closely with Mark Cavendish, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador and their respective Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Astana and Saxo-Tinkoff teams, Trek have apparently decided to increase their direct sponsorship of professional cycling. It has a contract as bike sponsor and third name sponsor with the Luxembourg-registered team for this season, but is ready to invest several million dollars more to ensure control of the team.
The Wisconsin-based company obtained rapid growth and huge sales by sponsoring Lance Armstrong during the height of his career, but now needs the visibility offered by a WorldTour team and the success of Fabian Cancellara in the Classics to re-launch its sales.
Guercilena replaced Johan Bruyneel as team manager during the winter and has been working hard to rebuild the team. He also coaches Fabian Cancellara and the two are close. Long term sponsorship from Trek would help Guercilena secure Cancellara's services, perhaps until the end of the Swiss rider's career, and ends the hopes of the Swiss-funded IAM Cycling and BMC teams of enticing him away. Andy Schleck is also expected to stay with the team.
It seems the only problem delaying the deal is current team owner Flavio Becca. The Luxembourg-based businessman came into cycling to create the Leopard team with the Schlecks. However, he failed to find a title sponsor and has apparently grown tired of spending his own money to fund the team.
Becca owns the team's UCI WorldTour licence and is hoping to recoup his investment by selling it to Guercilena and Trek. The two sides are struggling to agree on a price. If Guercilena fails to secure the current WorldTour licence, the team would have to be rebuilt from scratch and secure new WorldTour status from the UCI.
Guercilena confirmed to Cyclingnews that talks on the team's future are underway and in a delicate phase, but refused to give more information.
When contacted by Cyclingnews, Trek issued a brief statement saying: "The future of the RadioShack Leopard team is in the hands of the current team owners. Trek is committed to racing at the highest level and we are currently assessing options for 2014. Trek cannot comment on behalf of Mr. Becca."
Becca did not answer calls from Cyclingnews or reply to text messages for information.