Off-season is usually the most hectic season at Euskaltel's headquarters. This year is no different: the team might or might no be part of the WorldTour next year, the team may be heading into its last year of existence in 2012, the general manager is leaving, the team chief has allegedly stopped looking for new sponsors and the sponsor's president is - at the time being at least - reticent on the company's future involvement.
The first of these worries, the fight for a WorldTour-licence, is all the UCI's making and can hardly be blamed on the team. The latter four though are. According to team leaders, riders and sponsors, the team might be heading into its last year on the road with the current agreement with telecommunications company Euskaltel up at the end of next year. Experts on Basque and Spanish cycling aren't worried though.
"I'm pretty confident the team has got a future", Alain Laiseka, DEIA's expert cycling journalist and an authority on everything Spanish cycling, told Iban Mayo Blog. "Obviously I'm not 100% sure, but this team isn't like any other team. By that I mean that it's not only a commercial project; it's a national project. That makes it special and, maybe, immune to these kind of troubles. Miguel Madariaga said after Antón won in Bilbao (stage 19 of the recent Vuelta): 'this team should last forever'. I agree with him. How they'll operate after 2012 and under what conditions is the million dollar question. I can't answer it, but I do think they'll be around in 2013."
One would believe a guy like Alain Laiseka knows what he's talking about, having witnessed the team at close quarters for a number of years. Marca's Nacho Labarga seems to echo Laiseka's sentiments.
"Yeah, I think the team will keep on going", Labarga told this very site a few days ago. "It is complicated though, but if Euskaltel decide to pull out I expect another sponsor to come on board. With very limited resources, the team has done magnificently; it's punched above its weight the last few years. Euskaltel deserve a future".
The chances of another sponsor coming on board seem less realistic now in the wake of Madariaga's comments, but that doesn't seem to worry Unai Iraragorri of BiciCiclismo. The Basque journo seemed assured of the team's future.
"I don't know if Euskaltel will stay on as sponsor. But I'm nonetheless confident the whole project will exist for another few years."
Ardanza and his co-workers over at Euskaltel are likely to make a decision on their future involvement in the early months of 2012.