Basque Races At Risk (Updated)

After the excitement of seeing two of my favourite riders battle it out for the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the news that the two Basque WorldTour races might be at risk has put a rather large dent in my good mood. Yesterday, the news came out that the Basque government will not be able to honour its financial commitment to the organisers of the Vuelta al País Vasco and Clásica San Sebastián fully this year.

In a statement read out by Jaime Ugarte Arce, the President and General Coordinator of Organizaciones Ciclistas Euskadi, which runs the two races, it was announced that only 60% of the money the government had promised to the organisers could be paid this year. The 2012 Vuelta al País Vasco is set to be run, but with a collective contract for both races in place with broadcasters Eurovision and ETB, both races will be under threat if one cannot survive.

Ugarte said that they have been searching for potential sponsors to step in and save the races, but just yesterday one potential backer said no. He added that, with the uncertainty surrounding the immediate future of the races, the WorldTour status of the two races are also in jeopardy for 2013.

This news comes as a massive blow for Spanish cycling – the Euskal Bizikleta, Vuelta a La Rioja and Vuelta a Aragón fell by the wayside in 2009, with the Vuelta a Murcia and Vuelta a Castilla y León reducing the number of stages being run in recent years. The WorldTour Volta a Catalunya has also come under threat recently, being saved by local government.

The potential collapse of these WorldTour races does raise questions of the UCI. While the in-house organisers, GCP, are bringing new races in China into the WorldTour, and increased globalisation being mooted, there are definite question marks over whether the UCI should step in to help the 31-year old Clásica San Sebastián and the 88-year old Vuelta al País Vasco (only 51 editions have been run). There is a reserve fund run by the UCI – last year’s edition of the not-overly well-known GP Ouest-France was given a helping hand by the big bosses. Surely there is some money in the coffers to keep two important races like these going too?

The recent struggle to keep races going does seem to correlate somewhat with a decline in Spanish cycling in recent years – at least in terms of quantity, not quality. In 2006, there were fourteen Spanish cycling teams, with four at ProTour level, five Professional Continental teams, and five Continental teams. This year there are only six teams at all levels, with two at each level. Late last year, we saw the demise of Mauro Giannetti’s Geox-TMC team due to lack of sponsorship, with 2010 seeing Xacobeo-Galicia leaving the sport in the wake of the positive tests of Ezequiel Mosquera and David García Dapena. The long-running Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi’s future has also come under threat in recent weeks.

Racing aside, the immediate future isn’t looking too great for Spanish cycling, especially with the country’s economy in such a mess.

Update 26 February: Jaime Ugarte Arce has said that the budget shortfall the organisers are looking at is €150,000, and that their self-imposed deadline is March 5.

In an interview today with Diario Vasco, Ugarte outlined the costs involved in the race organisation. €1,050,000 is the total cost of organising the Vuelta al País Vasco, and the Clásica San Sebastián costs €425,000 – much higher than the Vuelta, in proportion. He also gave us the rather revelatory information that the organisation has to pay €700,000 to the UCI in order for the races to be a part of the WorldTour The organisers also pay 15% of the drug testing costs, around €30,000. €250,000 goes to pay for the accomodation of the WorldTour teams, with no mention of the lower level teams that are invited.

In the UCI rulebook, section 2.15.245, it is stated that the UCI can use their reserve fund: ‘to support a UCI ProTeam or the organiser of a UCI WorldTour event in the event of temporary difficulty.’ While it is not the ideal outcome for the organisers to take the UCI’s money, lets hope that On the final day of 2009, as reported in the UCI’s 2009 financial report, the reserve fund stood at €3,888,501. At the end of 2010, it stood at a somewhat diminished €3,053,549. Nevertheless, one would hope that the UCI are able to put their hand into their pocket to save these two great races if no sponsors are found.

With just over a week to go until the deadline to find funding, lets hope that someone steps forward to save the two races.

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