Rumours started circulating on Friday evening not long after publication of my little homage to Euskaltel-Euskadi on the VeloVoices website. The hope was that an as yet unnamed bank, but thought to be Santander, would step into the breach and #SaveourCarrots. Finally, the news broke mid-day yesterday that F1’s Fernando Alonso had reached agreement to acquire the squad. Twitter timelines everywhere were filled with joy and happiness. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch.
I had speculated on this possibility a few years ago and am now wondering whether or not it might set a trend. That is cycling fans who compete at the highest levels, in better remunerated and sponsored sports, leveraging their financial muscle for the good of another sport. Are some of the F1 pilots who live in Monaco and regularly ride with the resident pro cyclists also going to set up squads?
It’s an interesting business model and at a stroke Alonso has won himself a whole new set of fans around the globe, not just in the Basque country. The news certainly bucked up the boys in orange with three of them finishing in the top ten on yesterday’s monster stage in the Vuelta a Espana and being top squad on the day. I’m sure a few glasses were clinked over the dinner table after yesterday evening’s monster transfer and they’re probably still talking about it over breakfast on today’s rest day. While a number of the riders had been actively courted by other squads – whose aspirations have now been dented by the news – many plus the team staff were facing uncertainty and probable unemployment.
It’s also been a shot in the arm for other teams looking for sponsors. Even now team managers are probably scanning the Forbes list of the 50 highest paid sportsmen, of which Alonso is one, and checking whether any list cycling as an interest or hobby. It’s got to be worth a try!
The Euskaltel team, which moved away from it’s purely Basque or Basque developed origins this season, will probably stay relatively close to its Northern Spanish roots as it moves just along the coast to Asturias – home of both team leader Samu Sanchez and Alonso – as there’s a veritable hot bed of talent thanks to the support the sport enjoys at the grass roots level. Wisely, team management and indeed Samu himself have played this very close to their chests and even now are reluctant to go into too much detail. Frankly, they need to focus on the task in hand, amassing enough UCI points between now and the end of the season to justify remaining a WorldTour team.