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by Shane Stokes
May 10, 2016
Photography by Gian Mattia D'Alberto / lapresse, Cor Vos
Five months after Team Colombia stopped, riders left short of salaries will finally be paid in the coming weeks. They have been chasing overdue wages for many months, with long-running issues putting many under difficult financial circumstances in 2015 and the first few months of this year.
A source who has been assisting riders in the matter indicated recently to CyclingTips that progress has been made. On Monday he confirmed that riders had been told that they would receive the money before the end of May.
Separately, one of those who competed for the team indicated that the UCI had said the matter would be settled as soon as possible.
The UCI has told the rider that it has received the bank guarantee required by all squads when registering teams. It stated that this money will be paid out before the end of the month.
The Colombian-sponsored, Italian-managed squad was beset by salary delays in the past. Further reports of such delays cropped up last autumn, although the riders were reluctant to speak out.
In October the end of the squad was announced in a statement. Team manager Claudio Corti appeared to blame the prime sponsor, Colombia’s Sports Ministry Coldeportes for not committing to the funding needed to allow it to continue.
However others highlighted what they saw as failings in the project, and with his management. A lengthy article in El Tiempo [translated here by La Ruta del Escarabajo] was heavily critical of Corti. It blamed him for poor organisation and said that the backers of the team put too much trust in the Italian.
Over its four years in the peloton the squad competed in two editions of the Giro d’Italia, one Vuelta a España, four Il Lombardia races, two each of Milan-San Remo and Tirreno-Adriatico and one Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
It helped the career progression of Esteban Chaves, Darwin Atapuma and Jarlison Pantano. However it also didn’t have the success it had been aiming for, perhaps due in part to reports that the riders were demoralised with how the squad was run.
In four seasons, the team clocked up just 11 wins, and fell short of its goal of riding the Tour de France.
When announcing the end of the team, Corti said a Tour ride was not far away. However it is hard to verify that claim.
The team told CyclingTips last autumn that the salary delays would be rectified.
“When it comes to governmental funds, delays in delivery are part of the business,” a team spokesman said then. “I can tell you that the team is waiting for a payment from Coldeportes, that is reported and expected to be coming in short time.
“After the payment is sealed, the team will be able to regularly settle everything until the end of the year.”
This proved not to be the case.
In January the El Tiempo newspaper suggested that team employees were owed six months’ salary. The UCI said then that one rider had lodged a complaint over the matter and that others had made enquiries as to what could be done.
Formal applications for help were then lodged with the UCI prior to the March 1 deadline, with the riders requesting that the bank guarantee be used to pay the money due.
Under UCI regulation 2.16.024, Pro Continental squads must deposit “a quarter of all the gross sums to be paid by the professional continental team to the riders and persons contracted for the operation of the team during the registration year plus the amount of CHF 15,000.”
It is unclear if this amount will be enough to cover what is owed.
Anti-doping advocate Ignacio Velez is the former manager of the Colombian Manzana-Postobon team, which previously was known as 4-72 – Colombia. He helped the early careers of a number of riders including Nairo Quintana, Esteban Chaves and Fabio Duarte.
Velez has played a role in helping the Team Colombia riders get paid.
“I was aware of the delay as the news leaked to social media,” he told CyclingTips recently. “I was approached by one of the riders who needed legal support, and I put him in contact with a lawyer in Europe who has been helping him and other riders as well.
“I was told by one of these riders that he was owned five months salary, which is a lot. I heard other riders are owned fewer months, but do not know the details.”
He said that the rider he had been approached by was disappointed by the whole matter. “This was not only because of the delays in payments, but also about the whole experience and in particular the way he was treated.”
He added that he didn’t know if the bank guarantee will cover the full amount owed.
It remains to be seen if there will be any fallout for Corti and the rest of the team’s management.
In the short term, the former sponsors will be the most affected.
“Apparently the guarantee was signed by Coldeportes,” Velez said. “In this case, the bank will replicate against Coldeportes, and that’s where things will get messy due legal regulations on government entities.”
As for the riders, many of them have secured teams for the current season, but at a lower level. They will be left with a bitter taste due to the way the project unravelled and how they were treated.