Manuela Fundación cycling director angered by Mitchelton-Scott turnaround

DUBAI UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FEBRUARY 26 Start Adam Yates of The United Kingdom and Team Mitchelton Scott Red Leader Jersey Tsgabu Grmay Gebremaryam of Ethiopia and Team Mitchelton Scott Jack Bauer of New Zealand and Team Mitchelton Scott Michael Hepburn of Australia and Team Mitchelton Scott Luka Mezgec of Slovenia and Team Mitchelton Scott Callum Scotson of Australia and Team Mitchelton Scott Team Presentation during the 6th UAE Tour 2020 Stage 4 a 173km stage from Zabeel Park to Dubai City Walk 419m UCIWT UAETour uaetour on February 26 2020 in Dubai United Arab Emirates Photo by Justin SetterfieldGetty Images
Mitchelton-Scott, seen here at the UAE Tour, will now not be sponsored by the Manuela Fundación (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The cycling director of the Manuela Fundación has reacted angrily to  the sudden decision by Mitchelton-Scott to cancel their mid-season deal for the team to be sponsored by the Spanish not-for-profit organisation from July 1 onwards.

The Australian team announced last Friday that it had reached an agreement with the Granada-based Manuela Fundación to sponsor the team.

But on Wednesday morning, in an interview with Ride Media, team owner Gerry Ryan began questioning the deal, adding that he remained owner and that the agreement had yet to be finalised.

While the Manuela Fundación insisted that the deal would still go ahead and that Ryan's comments would not affect it, on Thursday afternoon, GreenEDGE, the holding company for Mitchelton-Scott, issued a statement saying it "would not proceed" with the transfer.

Reacting to the abrupt U-turn, the Manuela Fundación U23 team director Manuel Calvente told Cyclingnews he was baffled and upset, as well as pointing out  some of the bizarre practical consequences of the last-minute change of heart.

"The team buses are in the workshop, stripped of their team colours and waiting for the new publicity and team stickers," Calvente told Cyclingnews. "We even received photos showing us how it was all going.

"But above all they've signed something. It's been signed since June 5 and it went public on June 12." 

Negotiations were conducted on behalf of the Manuela Fundación by Stefano Garzelli, the former Giro d'Italia winner and long-term Spanish resident, Calvente said. Mitchelton-Scott team manager Shayne Bannan had been set to visit Granada on Monday to continue discussions. 

Less than 24 hours ago, Spanish sports daily Marca published an interview with Garzelli where he insisted the deal "was 100 percent sorted," a financial transaction agreed on, and the team were now looking towards restarting the season in their new colours.

"They [Mitchelton-Scott] are the ones that brought out the communique announcing the transfer," Calvente said. "And it went out on their Twitter account as well." 

"But then" – on Wednesday in the Ride Media interview and with no advance warning, according to Calvente – "they started saying the team was still theirs and they were still looking for sponsors, when it's been signed that just the opposite was going to be true." 

He had no idea, he said, of how or when Mitchelton-Scott had told the Fundación they were not finally going ahead with the deal.

Mitchelton-Scott had been reportedly struggling financially earlier this year, and have slashed rider and staff wages by 70 per cent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calvente was scathing about the communique's insistence that the team would be paying their staff and riders in full from August – contrary to some media reports stating that the wage cuts would remain all season – asking, "If they didn't have the money to pay this month, how can they pay the next?"

As Calvente sees it, apart from the major disappointment of the deal falling through in this way, "we've come out looking like we're the bad ones in the film, when we've done nothing we hadn't agreed on. It'll seem like we'd been talking up the deal without a contract."

"After what had happened [on Wednesday], personally I wasn't sure if it was a good idea if we continued," Calvente continued. "They wanted to maintain the team structure, but I asked myself, how am I going to work with people like this?

"We're talking about significant quantities of money, not just €1,000. And we had accepted everything – the guys that were going to renew and who needed new contracts, the guys that weren't. The lot. We hadn't objected to anything. And now they come out with this."

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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.