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Chief among these is who owns the team, and who owns the team’s license. And in this, there seemed to be some clarity – for all of about 12 hours.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Ride Media, Mitchelton-Scott’s long-time owner and benefactor Gerry Ryan appeared to clear the waters. “It’s an Australian-registered team,” insisted Ryan, also saying that “there’s certainly no ownership changes at this stage.” But while at face value that seems to settle matters, it’s worth noting that Ryan didn’t expressly deny the possibility of a future shift – just that “I own the team”.
Responding to Ryan’s comments, however, Manuela Fundacíon has made it clear that they believe there is an entirely different reality at play.
In an interview with Spanish wire service EFE on Wednesday European time, the Spanish foundation’s sports director Emilio Rodriguez expressed surprise at Ryan’s remarks.
“It leaves me frozen, because they are not right,” Rodríguez said. “An agreement was signed on June 5 and it needs to be complied with. They will know why they say that, but we agreed to join with GreenEdge from that day on.
“We came in to be the owners, not simply a sponsor.”
Licenses and ownership
At the core of this difference of opinion seem to be the question of who owns the team’s license, and who owns the team itself – slightly different things. As per UCI rule 188.8.131.52, the handover of a license would require a thorough review by the UCI License Commission. Ryan’s remarks, and a lack of announcement from the UCI, demonstrate that hasn’t happened.
Rodríguez, meanwhile, has now offered confirmation that Manuela Fundacíon intends to be the license holder from 2021. “It was agreed that we were now the owners, and that as of January 1, 2021 we would also take over the team’s license once the season ended on December 31 and once the regulatory procedures and audits with the UCI had been completed,” Rodríguez told EFE.
“We acquired the holding company on June 5, but since there were so many bureaucratic steps, we agreed to put up the money until the end of the season, and that’s what we’re doing. Since June 5, I am in control [ed – of the team, sans license] . It’s another thing about the license [ed – i.e. that will come next year].”
Mitchelton-Scott has appeared to be in some financial difficulties due to the ongoing global situation, and on Tuesday, CyclingTips confirmed from multiple sources that all riders and staff are currently being paid just 30% of their regular salaries, with the arrangement apparently set to stay in place for the remainder of the season – and that’s despite the team’s new sponsor and a planned resumption of racing.
It’s already been reported that Manuela Fundacíon had planned to join the WorldTour in 2021, but shuffled their commitment forward by more than six months.
Now, in Rodríguez’s interview with EFE, it has been claimed that this was as a measure to help “save” the team in its time of need. “We came on to save the team because they were not going to race due to a lack of money – but we came with our conditions, with our logo and jersey,” Rodríguez said. “We are already working to prepare for the season. We hope to be in Burgos on July 28 [ed – at the Tour of Burgos] with the new image.”
While Manuela Fundacíon seems clear on its place in the picture – even if most outside observers aren’t all that clear on Manuela Fundacíon itself – Ryan’s comments to Ride Media appear to have unsettled what appears to be an already fragile equilibrium between the two parties.
Of the surprise announcement, Ryan said that “the release probably went a bit early, as Shayne [Bannan, the general manager of the team] is in Spain next week trying to finalise the sponsorship and other opportunities.” Ryan noted that the team was still searching for further investment from sponsors with “a couple of joint things together with some other sponsors that we’re trying to lock in for next year”. Of the team’s touted move to a Spanish service course, meanwhile, Ryan said “I think that one of [their] junior people spoke to the media about potential opportunities they’d like to see: a training base in Spain …”
This last point may have influenced Rodríguez’s somewhat feisty remarks, as the Manuela Fundacíon’s sporting director is the “junior person” referred to by Ryan.
So where does that leave us?
Gerry Ryan claims that he still has ownership of the team and license. And that may technically still be true, if you take it at face value and don’t ask any further questions about who is actually calling the shots now. The comments do, however, appear to be something of an obfuscation given Manuela Fundacíon’s belief that they have a signed agreement to take charge for the remainder of whatever this bizarre season of racing looks like, and have stated their objective to complete a transfer of ownership for the 2021 season.
The Manuela Fundacíon, meanwhile – despite leaving a few more breadcrumbs over the past few days – is still somewhat of an unknown quantity.
One thing’s for sure: with GreenEdge’s manager Shayne Bannan due in Spain next week, and Ryan then set to meet representatives of Manuela Fundacíon for the first time via video conference, there’ll be plenty to talk about.