MONTARGIS, France (Reuters) - The Spanish cycling team that discovered Tour de France champions Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado are in jeopardy as they have been unable to find sponsors for next season.
“We have leads but nothing’s been signed. It’s hard,” Caisse d’Epargne team manager Francis Lafargue told Reuters on Thursday.
French bank Caisse d’Epargne have been the squad’s sponsors since 2006 but they announced they would not renew their support next season and team director Eusebio Unzue has been looking for a replacement without success.
“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.
Caisse d’Epargne received a potentially fatal blow when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last month confirmed the two-year suspension of their leader Alejandro Valverde for his implication in the Puerto doping scandal.
“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.”
In Valverde’s absence, the team’s leading man on paper is former Paris-Nice winner Luis Leon Sanchez, an excellent rider for short stage races who has yet to prove himself on a big Tour.
“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.
Several riders, whose contracts expire at the end of the season, have been approached by other teams and Lafargue admitted he was not optimistic.
The team have been in cycling for 30 years, starting in 1980 as Reynolds, before becoming Banesto, Iles Baleares and Caisse d’Epargne.
They won the Tour with Indurain five times between 1991 and 1995 and with Pedro Delgado in 1988.