By Andrew Hood
Basque-backed Euskaltel-Euskadi is trying to turn the page on a season of potentially fatal doping scandals that plagued the team during 2009.
High-profile doping positives involving Iñigo Landaluze and Tour de France stage-winner Markel Astarloza nearly scuttled the team, but backers are supporting the team’s efforts to refurbish the squad with younger riders.
“We have a new project focused on young riders,” said Miguel Madariaga, manager of Euskaltel-Euskadi, during a team press event this week in Spain’s Basque Country. “We are committed to a new future for the team, with young riders with a lot of potential.”
Centerpiece to the new-look Euskadi team — the trademark orange jerseys won’t be going away — is the arrival of some of the biggest homegrown talent in the past few years.
U23 world champion Romain Sicard, only the second French rider in the team’s history, and the homecoming of promising Basque talent Beñat Intxausti, signed this week from Fuji-Servetto, close the team’s 24-rider roster for 2010.
Despite the talk of renewal, only six new riders will don the distinctive orange jersey next season. The meat of the squad remains intact, with the departures of five riders, among them Astarloza and Landaluze.
That hasn’t stopped the Basque government, which is one of the main sponsors of the unique, Basque-only team, from leaving itself an out. As part of continued 1 million euro commitment to the team’s total 6.5 million euro budget, the government has included a clause in the sponsorship contract that would end the deal if more doping cases pop up.
Reports in Basque Country media also point to an early exodus of title sponsor Euskaltel – the regional telephone operator – if there’s another doping case.
Euskaltel-Euskadi for 2010:
From this year’s squad: Igor Antón, Javier Aramendia, Jorge Azanza, Sergio de Lis, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, Aitor Galdos, Aitor Hernández, Iñaki Isasi, Egoi Martínez, Mikel Nieve, Juanjo Oroz, Alan Pérez, Rubén Pérez, Samuel Sánchez, Amets Txurruka, Pablo Urtasun, Iván Velasco, Gorka Verdugo
New: Jonathan Castroviejo, Miguel Mínguez, Daniel Sesma and Romain Sicard (Orbea), Beñat Intxausti (Fuji-Servetto), Gorka Izagirre (Contentpolis-AMPO)
Leaving: Josu Agirre, Mikel Astarloza, Markel Irizar, Andoni Lafuente e Iñigo Landaluze