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A report in the morning's L'Equipe newspaper confirmed the desperate plight of team manager Giancarlo Ferretti, who is facing the collapse of his team if he doesn't find a title sponsor to take over from Italian concrete manufacturer Fassa Bortolo in the next week. Meanwhile, the team's prize asset, Alessandro Petacchi, is apparently already weighing up an array of offers from the richest teams in the peloton, including Discovery Channel, T-Mobile and Phonak.
Ferretti revealed to L'Equipe that as long ago as last winter he had come so close to signing a deal with the French bank, Caisse d'Epargne, that he already had a prototype jersey adorned with the firm's name and colour scheme. He then spoke of his horror at seeing the Caisse d'Epargne logo on the Illes Balears team jersey several weeks after the company's representatives - "dishonourable, childish people" Ferretti says now - broke off negotiations with no explanation.
The veteran Italian boss's focus then switched to a Dutch-based multinational rumoured to be electrical goods giant Philips. Former Rabobank boss Jan Raas was apparently willing to act as an intermediary in the deal, but that avenue, too, quickly became a blind alley. Dutch sources indicate that Raas and Ferretti stopped communicating around two months ago.
Panasonic, the sponsor of a major team until 1992, and the Orange mobile phone network have also been mooted as potential saviours. On Sunday, however, Fassa Bortolo team spokesman Andra Agostini said that team administrator Angelo Simeoni was still frantically working behind the scenes to secure Ferretti's and his riders' future. "We have given ourselves one more week before we make a decision. After that, the riders are free to go where they want," Ferretti said yesterday.
While Juan Antonio Flecha seems bound for Rabobank and Kim Kirchen is being courted by Liquigas, Petacchi has almost limitless options. Domina Vacanze, Liquigas and Lampre-Caffita all fit in with his preference to stay in Italy, but each presents its own drawbacks. Liquigas and Lampre-Caffita are both eager to sign the reigning Milan-San Remo champion but not the four lead-out men who Petacchi is determined to bring with him.
Domina Vacanze, on the other hand, is willing to completely overhaul its team and budget to accommodate Petacchi plus entourage, but the rider remains unconvinced by the sponsor and its staff. So poorly have Domina performed this season that there is also a remote possibility that their ProTour licence could be under threat at the end of the season.
This leaves a long queue of foreign sponsors apparently headed by Phonak and T-Mobile, who are about to part company with Erik Zabel. Discovery Channel also have the financial means to lure Petacchi, but may not be able to overcome his concerns about the team's major tour bias. Stay logged on to procycling.com for the latest news as it breaks this week.
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