Oscar Sevilla was all smiles at the start of Wednesday’s second stage at the Tour of Valencia in what’s his first race back in action after being kicked out ahead of the Tour de France last July.
Sevilla, now 30, was among nine riders not allowed to start the 2006 Tour after his named appeared on the infamous Operación Puerto list. Like all riders implicated in the scandal, Sevilla never received any official bans or sanctions, but that didn’t stop his T-Mobile team from letting him go last year.
Sevilla has since penned a deal to join Spanish continental team Relax-GAM for the 2007 season and Valencia marks his first race in the new team colors. For the popular “El Niño,” Sevilla is looking forward to racing his bike again.
“I am looking forward to being a cyclist again,” Sevilla said before Wednesday’s start in Calpe. “This whole business has touched many of us, but there’s nothing there and that’s finally becoming clear to everyone.”
Relax-GAM has shown no hesitation about signing Puerto-implicated riders and has also signed deals with Francisco Mancebo (ex-Ag2r) and Angel Vicioso (ex-Liberty Seguros).
“The team has given me a chance to be a racer again and I am thankful for that,” he said. “A lot of riders have paid an unfair price in all this business. I just want to look ahead to racing my bike again.”
Sevilla said his primary goal will be regaining race fitness in the coming weeks and then make a run at the Vuelta a España. He finished second overall in 2002 to Aitor González in the bitter intra-squad rivalry at Kelme.
“The idea is to make a short peak this spring at such races as Asturias and Cataluyna take a little break and then really make a strong run at the Vuelta,” he said. “We think we have a strong team to win stages and for the overall with Mancebo.”
Sevilla also lamented the retirement announcement from ex-T-Mobile teammate Jan Ullrich on Monday.
“Ullrich was a victim,” Sevilla told Spanish radio. “It’s sad, looking at his characteristics as a person and his capacity. It’s too bad that he’s retiring, but the time had arrived and you have to applaud him and respect him. As a sporting figure, you can only admire him.”
Illes Balears ending sponsorship
Spain’s regional government Illes Balears has cited demands from the UCI as the reason behind its decision to end its sponsorship of the ProTour team.
“The demands of the UCI and the main sponsor have made it difficult to continue the agreement,” the regional government said in a statement on its Web site (www.caib.es) on Wednesday.
The governing body – which controls Spain’s Balearic Islands – “thanked everyone involved in the sponsorship” deal that began when it stepped up to save the Banesto legacy moving forward into the 2004 season.
French financial institution Caisse d’Epargne stepped up last year as co-sponsor and is expected to take over as the title sponsor.
T-Mobile optimistic for Belgian semi-classics
T-Mobile is hoping for some success this weekend in the season’s first serious racing in northern Europe as the Belgian calendar revs up with Het Volk on Saturday and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday.
The German outfit will be counting on Andreas Klier as well as seasoned Dutch veteran Servais Knaven and newcomer Bernard Eisel to carry the team colors.
“These races are an important indicator of what kind of shape the riders are in, and what they need to work on to get into absolute peak condition,” said T-Mobile sports director Allan Peiper, on the team’s web page. “These three could make all the difference on Saturday.”T-Mobile for Het VolkEric Baumann (26/Germany)Lorenzo Bernucci (27/Italy)Markus Burghardt (23/Germany)Bernhard Eisel (26/Austria)Bert Grabsch (31/Germany)Roger Hammond (33/Great Britain)Andreas Klier (31/Germany)Servais Knaven (35/Netherlands)T-Mobile for Kuurne-Brussels-KuurneEric Baumann (26/Germany)Lorenzo Bernucci (27/Italy)Markus Burghardt (23/Germany)Bert Grabsch (31/Germany)Roger Hammond (33/Great Britain)Greg Henderson (30/New Zealand)Andreas Klier (31)Frantisek Rabon (23/Czech R.)
Bettini wins Velo d’Or
Paolo Bettini will receive the Velo d’Or prize Friday as the best cyclist of the 2006 season as voted by an international panel for French cycling magazine Velo.
“This is a prestigious award that I’ve been close to winning before,” Bettini said in a team release. “This award represents to the cycling world what the Golden Ball does for football. I am delighted to have won it.”
Bettini, accompanied by his wife Monica, will fly to Paris on Friday morning and will be presented with his award at 4 p.m. at the Velo magazine headquarters.