On paper, Juan Manuel Garate is once again a professional cyclist after finally signing with Belkin last month. However, the Spaniard is in limbo as he still awaits a race programme.
“I am officially registered and Belkin rider,” he told Biciciclismo. “I am available and waiting for a program of training and competition. We have made progress, we have spoken, but the issue is not completed.”
Cyclingnews spoke to Belkin who confirmed that they are still yet to decide on Garate’s role within the team and he is not currently on any race roster.
Garate’s contract dealings with Belkin have been troublesome and protracted. He has been with the team since 2009, when it was Rabobank. His current contract ran out at the end of last season, but the 37-year-old had a verbal contract with the team for another year. However, it was revealed in February that he had reneged on it, citing personal reasons. Garate later sued Belkin for two year’s salary and the two went into mediation. However, Belkin won the case and Garate was forced to sign the original contract offered.
The long battle between the two has left him feeling tired, but he believes his reasons were just. "I'm the only one who has fought for this, I lost time, money and even health,” said Garate. “But I think it is something I must do for the sport and for the future. I don’t want be no Bosman.”
Bosman refers to the case of Belgian footballer Jean Marc-Bosman, who’s failed move to Dunkerque football team saw Liège refuse to release him and lower his contract. In Garate’s case, he was looking for €350,000, however Belkin are only offering him €150,000.
“I've been fighting alone since December, quietly, as I believe the subject requires, and I am with a Dutch lawyer. I do not ask anyone's help. I feel like Don Quixote against the windmills and the windmills here are very large (referring to the Spanish book where the lead character goes to fight windmills, mistaking them for Giants). I decided to step in front, alone, with all the consequences.”
Since the broken deal was made public, Garate has always denied that the reason behind refusing to sign was anything to do with money, but had kept quite on the real reason. In the interview with Biciciclismo he explains that it was down to his working rights and how riders are not looked on as employees.
“Employees are workers, but we no contract reflects us as such; we are seen as individuals, something that is unacceptable and illegal. It is a bad habit that must be corrected,” says Garate. “I have no unemployment coverage for professional contingencies. I have no health insurance card and therefore neither do my children. Yes we have the agreement for the top athletes, but only gives you medical coverage.”
Garate is one of the most experienced riders in the peloton with 26 grand tours under his belt. His biggest victory came in 2009 when he won atop the Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France. The current contract – which is a year-long one - could be his final as a professional, if he is unable to reach an agreement with the team it would be an ignominious way to end such a long career.