Fernando Alonso has confirmed that he has bought the Euskatel-Euskadi pro cycling team and will become its new chief.
The team is one of two teams which represent Spain in the sport and has been competing in cycling events like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta Espana for 20 years, with over 170 race victories, but was threatened with closure due to sponsor withdrawal. Alonso has guaranteed all contracts for two years, starting in 2014.
Alonso is a passionate bike rider, who covers more than 10,000km a year in training.
According to a statement on his website, “Apart from including this sport in his daily training routine, he (Alonso) has always felt a special passion for this particular world on two wheels.
“From an early age, the Spanish racing driver adopted the values transmitted by this sport; values which are an integral part of his personal and professional life philosophy and thanks to which he has been able to grow and reap success in his own sport.”
Alonso’s point of interest in the team is his friend and training partner Samuel Sanchez, 2008 Olympic champion, who comes from Alonso’s home town of Oviedo and who rides for the Basque team. However this represents a chance to do something wider for Spanish sport, to give a team which has always had a Basque heart a global reach.
The Ferrari driver came close to getting involved in pro-cycling a few years ago when another cyclist friend Alberto Contador was having problems sharing a team with Lance Armstrong. The Spanish pair discussed starting their own team but it came to nothing and then Contador was banned for two years.
Alonso is believed to have paid €6 million for the team, but the running costs will be the main thing. As Sanchez pointed out the team has 54 families depending on it for a living and the salaries of top riders are around €3-4 million a year.
Alonso will no doubt have a plan to use his profile and standing in the global sporting world to attract brands as sponsors. The obvious initial suggestion is Banco Santander, with whom he has long ties. It’s a difficult time for Spanish commerce, hence the problems for Euskatel-Euskadi, but Alonso wants to bring F1 levels of excellence to all areas from commercial to physical training to technical detail on the bikes.
The risk for Alonso, apart from the financial, is clearly with sporting integrity; should any of the riders be caught doping it would reflect badly on him, so he will no doubt insist on a zero tolerance policy, like the SKY team of Tour champions Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
“Enthusiasm, seriousness, sacrifice, evolution and transparency are the words on which this team will build its foundations,’ according to Alonso’s website. “Alonso is thrilled to be forming an active part in cycling and to be able to improve the image of this sport. Transparency and “zero tolerance” will therefore be the fundamental pillars on which the foundations will be laid for this exciting sports project.”