The Caisse d'Epargne team has been in the peloton under various names since 1980 and has produced Tour de France champions Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado, but the team's future seems is now in serious doubt. The title sponsor French bank is ending its sponsorship this year and the team has so far not been able to find a replacement.
"We have leads but nothing's been signed. It's hard," Caisse d'Epargne team manager Francis Lafargue admitted to the Reuters news agency.
The Spanish-based team started under the name of Reynolds in 1980, and has been sponsored by Banesto and Iles Baleares, before the French bank took over in 2006. The bank announced in January that it would end its sponsorship.
"What with cycling's degraded image because of doping and the financial crisis, it's getting more and more difficult. The future is very uncertain," Lafargue said.
The team hoped to have two major cards to play in its search for a new sponsor: its captain Alejandro Valverde and the prospect of signing Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. However last month Valverde was given a two-year worldwide suspension by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for his involvement in the Operacion Puerto doping affair.
"We still believe that the decision was unjust but there is nothing we can do," said Lafargue. "It is hard for a team to be motivated on the Tour without a leader fighting for victory."
The team had hoped to have Contador on its 2011 squad, but recent indication are that he will re-sign with Team Astana.
The lack of a major name star could be the team's death blow. "Cycling is more and more popular in Spain as a leisure sport but not so much as a competitive sport. And in a period of crisis it's hard to compete with other sports like football, especially when Spain is in the World Cup final," said Lafargue.
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