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Euskaltel confirms team to fold at the end of the season as search for co-sponsor ends

No replacement sponsor found to plug shortfall of Basque institutions' cash; riders being released from contract...

Euskaltel-Euskadi has confirmed that in the absence of securing a co-sponsor, the UCI WorldTour team will fold at the end of the season, a victim of the ongoing financial crisis in Spain.

According to the Bilbao-based newspaper El Correo, the team’s staff were made aware of the withdrawal of support yesterday by the foundation that manages it, which had been set up by sponsor Euskaltel, the region's telephone operator.

That was confirmed by the team in a statement published on its website today in Spanish and Basque, which opened with the following bullet points:

- The entrance of a second sponsor, essential to ensure the sustainability of the cycling team, has not happened, making it impractical for the team to continue in 2014

- From this moment, Euskaltel is initiating an orderly shutdown and project management, including immediate negotiations on the release of team members

- Today is a sad day for Euskaltel, for the team, for current sponsors, for the fans and to all those who have supported this project. We regret that no company or entity has decided to back this team, the doyen of the cycling world's elite

- The company began searching for a new sponsor after becoming aware of the inability of the [Basque region’s] institutions to cover their share of the budget, both in our area and abroad, since Euskaltel alone can not support the project, which involves a minimum contribution of 7 million euros

- The team shall complete the 2013 sporting calendar.

The UCI is said by El Correo to have already been informed of the forthcoming disbandment of the team, which followed unsuccessful negotiations with potential sponsors from abroad.

The decision to pull the plug was reported by the newspaper to be partly due to enabling riders – who had wanted the situation resolved one way or another ahead of the Vuelta starting on Saturday – to find alternative employment ahead of the 2014 season.

Signatures of some of the team’s top riders, such as former Olympic champion and Tour de France mountains classification winner, Samuel Sanchez, as well as the likes of Mikel Nieve, Igor Anton, and the brothers Jon and Gorka Izagirre, are bound to be coveted by other teams.

Sadly, there has been a certain inevitability about the chain of events that has led to the team being wound up.

During the Tour de France in July, the team announced that its previous funding model was unsustainable as the regional and provincial governments that previously supported it were forced to cut their spending as a result of the financial crisis.

Euskaltel, whose sponsorship made up €3.5 million of the team’s €9 million budget this year, provided additional funding to try and meet the shortfall, but is unable to sustain that level of additional spending in the future, and the search for a foreign co-sponsor has proved fruitless.

News of the team’s demise has being met with sadness by fans and observers of the sport in both the Basque region – from where it exclusively recruited riders until last year – and beyond.

Partly that’s because of the unique character of an outfit so strongly associated with that area, which historically spans both sides of the border between France and Spain where the Pyrenees meet the Atlantic.

Founded in 1994 by the autonomous Spanish region’s government under the name Euskadi-Petronor – the first part of the name is ‘the Basque Country’ in that language, the oldest spoken in Europe – local telecommunications firm Euskaltel came on board as co-sponsor ahead of the 1998 season.

The disappearance of the team also deprives the sport of one of its most familiar sights over the past two decades – the orange jerseys it has worn since the outset, colours also sported by the wildly passionate fans who cram the ascents in the Pyrenees whenever the Tour de France or Vuelta visits the area.

Doubtless they will still do that – but without their ‘own’ team to cheer on, and those swathes of orange, it won’t be quite the same, and many will feel that the sport will be the poorer for it.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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