Geox-TMC: End of the road
Juan Jose Cobo wins, Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage 15
Local media reports say that one of Spain's top teams, Geox-TMC, has failed to find a sponsor for 2012 and will not be continuing next year.
The deadline for Professional Continental squads to hand in applications to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) for a 2012 licence to race has now passed, as has the week-long extension that the UCI granted Geox, effectively spelling curtains for a squad whose star riders are 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo and former Giro d'Italia and Vuelta winner Denis Menchov.
Geox's problems started when the sponsor, an Italian shoe manufacturer, unexpectedly announced more than a month after their Vuelta victory that they were pulling out.
The team's directors travelled to South America in a bid to bring the state of Venezuela on board and turn Geox into a Katusha or Astana-like project with national backing, but it proved fruitless after the country's president, Hugo Chavez, failed to give it his support.
Barring a last-minute solutation, around 60 team employees, riders, and back-up staff will now be forced to look for a job at a time where almost every team has its budget planned and fully locked up for next season - the worst point of the year.
The team will be remembered both for Cobo's win in the Vuelta, but also for their disastrous 2008 Tour de France when racing under the banner of Saunier Duval, when both Ricardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli tested positive for EPO and the squad was forced to pull out. Since then it has struggled on, but with scant sympathy from the Tour de France organisers and a mixed reception from fans outside Spain.
Based in the northerly region of Cantabria, Geox's disappearance coincides with the end of the key amateur team from the area, Cuevas-El Soplao and leaves the sponsorship of Spanish professional cycling in its worst state in four decades.
The country now has just two WorldTour teams - Movistar and Euskaltel-Euskadi - and one Pro Continental squad, Andalucia. Several of Spain's star riders - Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) ride for foreign teams.
Given the lack of home berths, the exodus seems certain to continue in the future. Although one Geox star, 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, has now retired, Cobo - after renewing with Geox for 2012 and 2013 for a rumoured 750,000 euros a year - will almost certainly have to sign for a foreign squad, whilst long-standing Spanish resident Denis Menchov is 99 per cent certain to race with Katusha in 2012.
The reasons for such a seemingly irreversible decline in sponsorship in Spain vary from the country's bleak economic situation to the slew of doping stories which have surrounded the sport in the country in recent years.
Today [Wednesday], there was yet another one on offer after Bernard Hinault said he partly believed former tennis player Yannick Noah's comments to French newspaper Le Monde about his suspicions of doping in Spanish sport. Noah's comments were not just directed at cycling, and Hinault's were about Spanish sport in general, but the story ended up in the cycling pages of almost every Spanish daily paper all the same.