PLAYAS DE ORIHUELA, Spain (VN) — HTC-Highroad promises to ride its last grand tour with its collective head held high.
Sport director Jens Zemke told VeloNews that the team would ride out its final season on pride despite the devastating news that it will fold at the end of the 2011 season after an unsuccessful sponsor hunt.
“Everyone is over the shock (of the team’s demise). Almost every rider has signed a contract for next year with new teams. Everyone is here to race. Everyone is acting like true professionals,” Zemke said. “We are all doing our jobs. Highroad was like a big family. Until December 31, we will continue acting like one, then everyone will go on their own way.”
For the Vuelta, he says the team’s nine starters are staying focused on the business of racing their bikes and not dwelling on the unexpected end to cycling’s most successful men’s squad.
“It makes no sense to be sad now,” Zemke continued. “It was a good combination of people, from the staff to the directors to the riders. That the team falls apart, we cannot change that now. We can all look forward to new challenges, but first we will finish this season with the same racing attitude we always have had.”
Without a new sponsor, other teams have been quick to pick up those promising riders. Zemke said all but “two or three riders” have secured their futures with other teams.
Zemke said the only regret for those inside the Highroad management structure is losing a strong base of young riders who were supposed to lay the foundation for the team’s future.
“What’s sad is that we had the foundation for a great team,” he said. “All these guys are young, like (John) Degenkolb, Tony Martin, Tejay (Van Garderen). (Mark) Cavendish is only 26. Those guys are going to be winning for a long time. Unfortunately, it will not be in a Highroad jersey.”
Cavendish, winner of last year’s points jersey, headlines HTC-Highroad in its final grand tour. The team rode to third in the team time trial Saturday in what was a good start for the squad.
“Above all, we are here to win stages,” he said. “We have a lot of sprinters, with Cavendish, (Matt) Goss, Degenkolb and (Leigh) Howard. They will all get their chances. The other riders will be free to attack. We have Martin and (Bert) Grabsch for the time trial and (Martin) Velits and (Kanstantsin) Sivtsov for the GC.”
Duggan still in hunt for Liquigas extension
Timothy Duggan is still in the hunt for an extension with Liquigas-Cannondale for next season.
Officials from the Italian squad told VeloNews that Duggan, set to race Colorado’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge this week, could earn himself a spot in next year’s squad with some strong end-of-season results.
“We have five or six spots left on the team and Duggan is one that we are considering,” Liquigas spokesman Paolo Barbieri told VeloNews. “We are waiting to see some results from some riders. It’s still an open game at this moment.”
Duggan joined Liquigas on a one-year contract for this season while Ted King joined in a two-year deal as the Italian squad looked to expand its roster to include North American riders with the arrival of co-sponsor Cannondale.
King is already assured of a spot with the squad next year. Barbieri said the team is also looking at “other American riders” to keep the team’s North American profile.
Pablo Lastras (Movistar), who crashed within the last 3km, is awarded the same time as the winner.
Robert Wagner (Leopard-Trek) was fined 50CHF for “comportement incorrect.”
GC: Daniele Bennati takes over from Leopard-Trek teammate Jakob Fuglsang, with four Leopard-Trek riders tied on time.
Mountains: Paul Martens (Rabobank) won the Vuelta’s first mountain jersey after riding over the day’s lone climb as part of a four-man breakaway.
Points: Christopher Sutton (Sky) takes 25 points with the win to claim jersey.
Combined: Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia-Caja Granada) takes the lead.
Teams: Leopard-Trek, 4 seconds ahead of Liquigas-Cannondale.
Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) pulled out with a stomach bug; 197 riders remain in the Vuelta.
Temperatures around 32C, with clear skies and east, northeast breezes of about 10kph.