“The UCI should implement rules to protect sponsors who bet on more formative projects, not so focused on sporting success”

The departures of Juan Pedro López and Michel Ries to Trek Segafredo, Stefano Oldani to Lotto-Soudal, or also that of junior Carlos Rodríguez, to Team Ineos, underline once again the great formative work that is being done from the sports structures of the Alberto Contador Foundation. Four names promoted to the WorldTour, the highest category cyclist, who join an increasingly long list of already professional riders among which are, among others, the Balearic Enric Mas, the Aragonese Fernando Barceló, the Valencian Joan Bou or the Manchego Isaac Canton.

A growing list that focuses on a job that started with the launch of the junior team in 2013. We spoke with Fran Contador (Madrid, 1979), general manager of the Foundation’s teams and one of the three mainstays of the sports project sponsored by the Foundation that bears his brother’s name.

In 2020 no less than four riders will make the leap from the sports structures of the Kometa Cycling Team. A number that invites to the satisfaction…

Of course it’s an interesting figure that we like very much. And that is greater if we take into account that Enric Mas also competes in the WorldTour or that several cyclists who have passed through our ranks are also going to compete in what has been until now the professional continental category as well as in the continental. And that satisfaction is even greater because we can also find in the organizational chart of other structures people who have been working with us. I think of Pello Olaberria, for example, who raced with us, was a professional and in the last two years has been one of the soigneurs of the continental project. But just as we like to see these fruits, we also have clear that on the one hand we are not conformist and there is still a lot of work ahead and, on the other, we continue working so that this jump to the WorldTour can be in our own structure.

These jumps are recurrent issues at the media level. This season has been speculated in various moments with the jump of the team to the professional continental category and even has outlined that pretension that you indicate to achieve the WorldTour.

Yes, it has been like that and especially on the occasion of the start of the Giro d’Italia 2020 there was a lot of talk. We are very honest with this subject, we have not fed any rumours and we have always said the same thing when we have been asked: we continue working, there is nothing closed, it is a possibility that is there and we continue working to turn it into reality. Were there any interests? Yes, but we have to talk, assess, lay solid foundations and not lose sight of the time involved in the gestation of a team or the management of procedures. We are very clear that the steps must be taken firmly. It makes no sense to jump from one category to another without a future. Going up to the professional continental category is a dream and we are excited, we do not take it as a pressure. Taking the leap to retrace in one or two years, from my point of view, is not the right way to go. Step by step. Pedal by pedal.

Was it therefore a line of work focused exclusively on the Professional Continental category?

It is the next step to our current category, the most natural evolution. It would not be bad at all to give it. The WorldTour? It is another dream, it would be the culmination of all the work that we have been developing in the Foundation for almost a decade. On some occasions we have pointed out my brother Alberto, Ivan Basso or myself that we feel ready to make the leap to the WorldTour if this opportunity presents itself. But today we still think about adding stages in the framework of this comprehensive project linked to cycling that we have in the Alberto Contador Foundation.

The world of cycling, however, incorporates for this new season a series of changes that can generate different assessments in this regard…

Yes, the issue of invitations to races changes, or rather worsens for teams in the professional continental category. The WorldTour becomes an even more closed category. We’ll see how it evolves next year and its consequences in the following years. Sponsors must be pampered. We are not in a sport where sponsorship is abundant, or at least not where it is easily achieved, even if the sporting performance is very good. The case of Murias is a worrying example. A team that has done sensational and could not follow for lack of support … The International Cycling Union should keep these things very much in mind. Personally I think that a closed league is a mistake. And I also think that the UCI should implement rules to protect sponsors who bet on more formative projects, not so focused on sporting success. Because we run the risk that teams of the highest category, with their economic potential, take advantage of these structures and squeeze them. And in the end they close.

In this sense, how do you evaluate Carlos Rodríguez’s departure for Team Ineos?

Personally, I’m very happy for him, because he’s a wonderful kid, with great quality and a very promising future. I admire his commitment and the clarity he has regarding not dropping out of school. I don’t say anything new if I regret his departure. I would have liked him to continue to be linked to the Alberto Contador Foundation, to have continued to take steps in his career with us. But we’re not in the WorldTour and we’re not Team Ineos. We are ourselves. It’s what I pointed out earlier with respect to economic potential. I believe that, with a view to the future, the International Cycling Union should seriously consider the suitability of establishing some guidelines, some rules of the game, which in similar cases or at certain ages protect these training projects and even give them stability to continue working. Some economic clause, for example, aimed exclusively at youth squads, schools… Some kind of right to education. And it should be considered because in the last two years we have seen how very young runners, young or almost young, jump into professionalism. And I don’t know if this trend will continue, but I’m sure it will continue. I’m not going to say that we should stop measuring the heights of competition socks, but at least diversify the priorities. In the end, what is at stake is the future of this beautiful sport.

In 2020 Xstra comes as a very important sponsor of the team and the squad is reinforced with seven new faces…

We are facing a very exciting season. John Rasmussen believes in cycling, it’s a world he knows very well, at the time he launched the Danish squad Memory Card and his vocation is always to start long-term projects. At Xstra they are very committed to the global vision of the Alberto Contador Foundation’s project, which goes beyond the competition itself. The same goes for Kometa. Giacomo Pedranzini has a very enriching philosophy, he is much more than a businessman. Counting on his support is a blessing for all the facilities he gives us and for all his trust. He values very much the work, effort and commitment of a team that this coming year incorporates a lot of talent. There are seven cyclists with a lot of future. Of course always without losing sight of the support of many other sponsors such as Gobik, Uvet, Skoda, Valtellina …

Would you highlight a name among the seven new faces?

To point out this or that one in cold would be very unfair and wouldn’t be considered with the six riders who keep on and who will surely take a great step forward in their races, but if you allow me I would like to value two riders because they embody the work we seek to do with the base: Sergio García and Alejandro Ropero. Both have passed through the Campus in Zaragoza, which sponsors the restaurant chain La Mafia se sienta a la mesa, both have competed in the junior team and have also passed through the U23 structure. Personally it is something that excites me. Juan Pedro López, one of the signings of the Trek-Segafredo, has become this year the first cyclist to reach the WorldTour after passing through the Selection Campus. He has evolved as a person and as a sportsman with us, consuming stages, training. And it is the culmination of a very sincere commitment to create an integral project linked to cycling with which, in some way, we can give back something of the much that this sport has given both Alberto and me or our family. At the end of the day, we dream of the leap in category, but what moves us is to continue training people through cycling with the idea that they can also become professionals.

(automatic translation, sorry for mistakes)