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Euskaltel-Euskadi riders, management express delight at team's survival

At the Hotel Santa Cruz high on the slopes of Sierra Nevada, the race headquarters for the Vuelta a España's stage 10 finish, riders rushed around getting showered and changed prior to heading to nearby Granada airport for a transfer north. But one team were taking their time about it all: with their future suddenly looking enormously brighter, the Euskaltel-Euskadi riders and management looked as if catching an airplane was the last thing on their minds.

"We're OK for next year?" rider Pablo Urtasun asked incredulously when Cyclingnews told him about the upcoming deal with Fernando Alonso, news which had broken during the stage. And it was only when a passing Euskaltel-Euskadi team soigneur confirmed the all-but-sealed deal that, with a huge grin, Urtasun conceded that this was the best piece of news the squad could possible receive.

"I've got to say I'm happy, it's great news, cycling needed this," Urtasun said. "The sport was going to be a bit desolate in Spain with just one WorldTour team in it."

"Now the team is going to keep going. It's a relief. There's been a real mixture of nerves, sadness and tension in the team in the last few weeks in particular, when it looked as if a lot of riders and families were all going to be on the dole and that was it."

The team will lose its Basque roots in part, perhaps, but as Urtasun says "the important thing is that it's going ahead. At least now we can forget this subject, just get on with racing at the Vuelta."

"It's huge news," Samuel Sanchez, surrounded by reporters, said outside the hotel, "thanks to Fernando we're going to continue and it's huge news."

Asked what his role had been in the negotiations with the Formula 1 star who, like Sanchez, is from Asturias and has been occasionally seen training with the 2008 Olympic champion - the 35-year-old was a little more guarded.

"I'm not here to talk about what I did, he is the brains behind the operation. He's shown he's a great champion when he's in his car and now he's shown he's a champion when he's not racing, too. We have to welcome him now to our great sport, and what he's done is something that a lot of fans will be grateful to him for. He's shown he's got a great heart."

Sanchez said the new team would have a "mid-to-long term life in the sport. And it's taken a huge weight off our minds. For cycling this is the big news - story of the year."

Although nobody is willing to reveal who the new sponsors will be, team manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano - standing between two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders at the squad car as the riders munched their way furiously through cold rice salads in plastic tubs - said "the important thing is that this is moving on."

"People are getting ahead of themselves, but now we've got an initial agreement that this is going ahead."

Asked which riders with contracts for 2014 and beyond would now be staying with Euskaltel-Euskadi, Gonzalez de Galdeano said "I'd imagine, all of them. What happened was this situation - not knowing the team's future - meant there was a very weird atmosphere in the team in the first few days of this race, in fact I'd say a pretty bad atmosphere.

"Now we're going to be able to consolidate things and move on again." But there was no indication, yet, what the new management structure would be like: "The deal was between Fernando [Alonso] and Euskaltel." The results, though, will be hugely beneficial for Spanish cycling as a whole.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.