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Vuelta winner will join Liberty Seguros
By VeloNews Interactive, with wire services
The U.S. Postal team has confirmed that Vuelta a España champion Roberto Heras is set to leave the squad to join up with Manolo Saiz’s Liberty Seguros team.
Heras played a key role in Lance Armstrong’s last two successfulattempts at winning the Tour de France and his departure couldbe a blow to the American’s bid to earn another Tour win in 2004.
The Postal team confirmed that the 29-year-old Heras reportedly will sign with former ONCE team manager Saiz, who has recently taken over the newly-formed Liberty Seguros squad. Saiz has been aggressively recruiting in recent weeks and has failed to sign both Alejandro Valverde and Joseba Beloki.
Saiz was Beloki’s manager on the ONCE team, but the Spanish star recently opted to sign with the French La Boulangere team.
Heras is considered to be capable of mounting his own challenge at theTour and the move would complicate Armstrong’s chances of winning an unprecedented sixth Tour.
While U.S. Postal officials concede that they would not like to see Heras leave, the Spaniard only has another year left on his contract, meaning that they would likely prefer to take advantage of any buyout clause before Heras leaves for free at the end of next season.
Liberty has reortedly offered Heras a three-year contract with a seasonal salary of at least 1.2 million euros, according to reports in the Spanish media this week.
Heras still had a year of his contract left to run and Liberty will have to pay U.S. Postal a sum put at 1.6 million euros to get their man.
U.S. Postal manager Johan Bruyneel was philosophical when speaking with Spain’s AS newspaper.
“Nobody is irreplaceable but we wouldn’t like to lose him,” Bruyneel noted, “but sometimes these things happen.”
“A few days ago Heras’s lawyer told us that he wanted to leave the team,” Bruyneel told the Reuters news service. “Apparently he has received an offer of a three-year contract to lead another team. We aren’t happy with the situation, but if Roberto wants to leave there is nothing we can do to stop him.”
Heras joined Armstrong’s U.S. Postal team for the 2001 season. The American team aggressively recruited the man from Bejar after his victory in the 2000 Vuelta. Postal, too, was forced to buy out a remaining year on the Spaniard’s contract with Kelme. The Spaniard’s move to the American team was frowned upon in certain quarters as it is generally believed that Heras had sacrificed his own aspirations for more money.
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