In a sport that is as financially unstable as cycling, teams come and go. Hell, sometimes they go before they ever even come into existence (remember Sony Ericsson?). Last Friday, team 4-72—Colombia announced that it was ceasing operations as a continental team. This after they were also unable to obtain a pro continental license due to lack of sponsorship. In the announcement, the team stated that they will continue as an amateur squad (it's worth noting that almost every single team in Colombia races at this level), and will look to race in a couple of races internationally.
So why is the news about the team ending worth mentioning? In part because 4-72—Colombia brought about riders like Nairo Quintana, Sergio Henao, Darwin Atapuma, Esteban Chaves, and Fabio Duarte. But more importantly, because the team revolutionized how Colombian cycling operates, including it's stance on doping. That stance is one they took not just to safeguard the team and its results, but also to ensure that its riders could get jobs riding in European teams that often asked for assurances regarding the rider's past through blood values and tests.
To understand the value and meaning this stance had, and to see how much it meant the team's riders (particularly in the context of Colombian cycling today), one has to simply read at the message below, from 4-72—Colombia rider Juan Pablo Villegas (winner of this year's Vuelta a Mexico) about the team ending. His message gives a clear picture regarding the state of Colombian cycling at large. American teams looking for reliable talent of a very high level, but have doubts about the veracity of Colombian cycling, should pay attention.
The Colombian website La Ruta Del Escarabajo interviewed Ignacio Velez (formerly the team's general manager, and now their financial advisor) about the team's demise. Below is a translation of that interview, published here with permission.
Tell us, what is the current situation with the team?
At this time, the team as given up the possibility of being a UCI continental squad for 2015. We are going to focus on finding new talent, and our riders will mostly be U23 for next season. Our calendar will mostly be in Colombia, with two or three international races.
How did you arrive to this situation? The press release mentions that some negotiations were ongoing, but in the end didn't pan out.
Correct. We were in conversations with a potential main sponsor, and everyone was in agreeance about the deal. The problem was the date by which the UCI wanted to receive all the paperwork (last friday), since our current sponsor—despite supporting us and wanting to continue that support—is unable to gather the funds by the date they were needed. At that moment, we decided it was best to gather the riders to let them know we would not be a continental team.
How did riders take the news?
Naturally, they were very sad, but I told them, "guys, this is not the nd of the world. We don't have the money, and time ran out" and we told them that they were free to go. Sadly, several of our riders are choosing to retire from the sport, than to go ride for teams that don't share our philosophy. Others have offers that they are looking into.
What about team staff?
We are calm. We have enough resources to finish out the year, and financially the team organization is well. Obviously, there's a great deal of sadness to see something we've worked so hard for end. But we will continue to look for strong talent.
You recently stated that Coldeportes [Colombia's government-backed sports agency] had not paid the team its sponsorship funds, and that you'd been left to pay out of your own pocket.
Yes, Coldeportes had agreed to pay us 300 million pesos [140,000 US dollars], but we found out that there was an active lobby from some to ensure that we didn't get that money. The team had to pay the riders, to I lent the team that money.
What reason did Coldeportes give for this happening?
To be honest with you, no one from Coldeportes is even answering the phone at this point, they won't even talk to us. I think they simply won't give us the money, and that's that. It's because of things that, that we started to look for sponsors in the private sector. That way, you can have a three year contract, but with the government, it's a yearly ordeal, and there are always delays.
Anyway, the team continues, and this is not the first time we've gone through something like this. In 2012, Coldeportes also failed to pay their sponsorship funds, and we also failed to be a continental team as a result. And even with that setback, we were second at the Tour de l'Avenir with Chamorro. It's sad to have to go down a category, but our heads are eld high, and our principles were never compromised.
Let's talk about your plan to find new talent.
In Colombia, there's an amazing wealth of talent, and there needs to be a team that can find and nurture that talent. I think that goal is easily within our abilities. We have the knowledge and logistics to do that, and bring about first rate riders.
On a different topic, how do you feel about how this matter as been handled by some in the media like Revista Mundo Ciclistico [Colombian cycling news website]?
To tell you the truth, I don't read the site. So I'm not worried about it. I've gotten calls from friends and journalists who were angry about the way that they speak about our team and our situation, but that doesn't concern me. I've always been a proponent of democratizing information and access to it, especially within the cycling media. So having diverse point of views out there will only show and highlight those who merely treat subjects with a slanted and partisan point of view.
To me, they've played a fundamental role in the problems within Colombian cycling. This further illustrates what I've always said. Colombian cycling is a shady affair, and this is not the fault of the riders.
Do you have a final word for your team's riders?
I would like to tell them that I'm extremely proud of the stand that they've taken on, in being committed to clean cycling. To me, this shows that the failures in the sport come about because the sport and its directors have failed. Because our team has been committed to racing clean, and have been for years. This shows was is possible through education.