Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria is reportedly leaving Quick-Step Floors a year early to help ease the team’s budget woes.
Gaviria picked up two stage wins and a day in the yellow jersey in his debut Tour de France in summer.
Quick-Step, cycling’s number one team with 69 wins this year, has been unsuccessful in finding a new sponsor to help with its current budget.
Gaviria takes a large part of that with an estimated €2 million salary.
The 24-year-old brought the team nine of their 69 wins so far this 2018 season.
Quick-Step has more wins than Team Sky in second with 41.
Unlike Sky with €39.1 million (£34.5million) budget, Quick-Step runs on an estimated €18 million (or £15.9m).
Team boss Patrick Lefevere said without new sponsors, he needs to clear some space to keep running the team at a high level.
He already has Italian sprinter Elia Viviani, this year winning four stages in the Giro d’Italia and three in the Tour de France – 19 victories in total. And he can count on young sprinters like Fabio Jakobsen and Alvaro Hodeg.
Gaviria carries the potential to win some of the big one-day races like Milan-San Remo and the World Championship.
He already came close in those but crashes held him back.
Enric Mas, the 23-year-old who finished second to Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) in the Vuelta a España, could also be let go early, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Any deal to end a contract early and team transfer must pass through the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA), which could be the final hurdle.
If Gaviria joins UAE, he will add to a roster with sprinter Alexander Kristoff and general classification riders Dan Martin and Fabio Aru.
Quick-Step Floors told Cycling Weekly “no comment” when asked about the Gaviria deal.
The 2018 Quick-Step roster also includes star riders Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert, Julian Alaphilippe, Bob Jungles and Yves Lampaert.
Terpstra, winner of this year’s Tour of Flanders, is leaving after eight years to join Direct Energie in 2019.
Lefevere has been forced to let go others in the past too, like Marcel Kittel and Dan Martin, to keep costs down.
“It always hurts,” Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad in August about not being able to keep all of his top riders.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a chest to draw out the money I would like, otherwise I would be the boss of Team Sky and not of Quick-Step.”
Belgian flooring company Quick-Step is committed through 2021 and money also comes from team owner Zdenek Bakala. However, Lefevere wants a sponsor to ease their burdens.
“Quick-Step will stay for at least another three years, but they would prefer to become a second sponsor. I do not have that main sponsor yet.”