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Geox gears up for Giro d’Italia assault

Geox-TMC is trying to make the best of a bad situation in the wake of last week’s stunning news that it was not invited to participate in the 2011 Tour de France.

Geox sport director Joxean Fernández Matxin tells VeloNews that the team will turn its attention to the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, bringing its top stars Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre in an all-out bid to win the season’s other grand tours.

“We’ll bring all of our firepower to the Giro and ride to win,” Matxin said. “Of course, we have to be prudent and wait to be invited. These things are not in our hands, but I can guarantee that the Giro team will be our strongest riders.”

Geox-TMC was dealt a devastating blow last week when Tour organizers invited French teams to fill the four wild-card slots available behind the automatic placement guaranteed to the 18 ProTeam squads.

Matxin said the team was dismayed because it believes it’s one of the strongest in the peloton for grand tours, with 2008 Tour winner Sastre and last year’s podium man Menchov headlining the Spanish-based, Italian-sponsored team.

“It was a tough decision for us to take, because we think we deserve to be in the Tour,” Matxin continued. “Just looking at the quality of riders, we have a strong team, with Sastre, Menchov, Cobo, de la Fuente, Valls, Blanco and Duarte. There are not more than three teams with a strong lineup for the grand tours than us. Maybe only Liquigas and Leopard are stronger, because Saxo Bank without Contador, if he doesn’t race, will be another team altogether.”

The Tour snub capped weeks of behind-the-scenes turmoil as team manager Mauro Gianetti fended off suggestions that the team bungled its ProTeam license bid. Despite boasting one of the strongest grand tour lineups, at least on paper, the team missed out on one of the valued 18 ProTeam licenses that guaranteed a place in all the season’s major races.

It’s no small irony that Riccardo Riccò — who nearly sunk the Gianetti-Matxin team when he tested positive for CERA in the 2008 Tour  as part of Saunier Duval — will likely be back in the 2011 Tour because his Vacansoleil team received a ProTeam license.

Title sponsor Saunier Duval walked away after Riccò and Leonardo Piepoli each tested positive, leaving Gianetti and Matxin scrambling to patch together small, low-budget teams in 2009 and 2010. They rode the Tour and the other major races with out-gunned teams, last year with Footon-Servetto, because it still held one of the coveted ProTour licenses.

“It’s a shame we’re not going to the Tour, especially when you look at the teams we had the past few years compared to this one, which is a world-class outfit,” Matxin continued. “We’ve grown accustomed to solving problems and we had two very difficult years to get this important sponsor (Geox). It’s certainly not best news to offer to a sponsor. All we can do is demonstrate our value on the road.”

Matxin expressed regret that the wild-card invitations came so early this season because he is convinced the team will be a protagonist in all of its major events. The question remains which events the team will ride.

He’s also convinced there’s no bad blood with Tour organizers, citing the team’s invitations to race at the tours of Qatar and Oman next month.

“They (ASO) had a strong commitment to the French teams. Last year they received a lot of criticism when they left Saur-Sojasun out, so I know they were under a lot of pressure to pick French teams,” he said. “We lost the battle when we didn’t get the ProTeam license.”

Matxin is hopeful the Giro will deliver an invitation. Zomegnan suggested to VeloNews in an interview last week that the team is among the favorites for one of confirmed four wild-card bids for the Italian tour.

Geox-TMC was not among 20 teams revealed last week that will race Tirreno-Adriatico in mid-March, but Matxin said he’s not too worried about that — at least not yet.

“We were invited to Eroica and San Remo, but we’re not invited to Tirreno. It’s more of the same story — 18 teams are guaranteed and they have to invite Italian teams,” he said. “Acqua e Sapone last year won with Garzelli, and Farnese (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) is loaded with Italian riders. They only invited 20 teams (to Tirreno), so we’re hopeful there might be some room for us to race.”

Matxin is hoping the team can find more than a few open doors throughout the season.

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