By Andrew Hood
Francisco Mancebo is packing his bags and heading to Switzerland, all part of a larger strategy to make a move for the Tour de France podium.
The hard-working Mancebo will rent an apartment in Geneva to be closer to the headquarters of his new Ag2r team. Mancebo – who left Illes Balears to join the French team after finishing fourth in last year’s Tour — hopes the move will accelerate his push toward the Tour podium.
“It’s going to be a year of changes,” Mancebo told the Spanish daily Marca. “I feel good with the change. After so many years I needed a motivation to continue training and do things well. I don’t regret anything.”
Mancebo was one of the highest-profiled changes for the 2006 season, leaving his longtime home at the Spanish team to join the upstart French team with an offer reportedly worth more than $1.5 million a year.
“It’s a small team, but with motivation to grow,” he said. “I’d be a fool to say that the money didn’t influence the decision. It was an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
Ag2r – which recently earned ProTour status for the 2006 season – sweetened the pot by confirming Mancebo as the sole team leader for the Tour as well as allowing him to bring along a few key teammates.
Mancebo said the Tour will be his primary goal for the season, followed by a run at the Vuelta a España.
Now all he has to do is learn French and get used to eating lunch at noon as opposed to much later in the afternoon-Spanish style. Illes Balears to race in dual jerseys
Illes Balears will be wearing two different jerseys in the 2006 season to make way for new title sponsor Caisse d’Epargne.
The team will race in the Illes Balears jersey in Spain as well as in the German and Polish tours, but wear the Caisse d’Epargne kit in all other races.
It’s part of the team’s strategy to smooth the transition between the two title sponsors. Illes Balears – funded by the tourism board of Spain’s Balearic Islands – is paying 40 percent of this year’s budget while Caisse d’Epargne, a French savings bank, is picking up the rest of the tab.
Illes Balears is set to leave the team at the end of the 2006 season, but has an option to continue as co-sponsor if it wants to.
The team’s duality is expected to manifest itself even in its team presentation, with one in Spain and another in France.
Angelo Furlan – a former BMX rider who can put down a fast sprint – will ride for Colombia-Selle Italia for the upcoming season. A winner of a stage in the Vuelta a España in 2002 and the Coppa Bernocchi in 2004, rode Domina Vacanze in 2005. Furlan is hoping to have an injury-free season after suffering through two painful years after a hard fall in the Etoile des Besseges in 2003. … After losing the services of top rider Josep Jufré to Davitamon-Lotto, Spanish continental team Relax-Fuenlabrada has added two riders to its 2006 roster. Jesús Hernández will join the team from Liberty Seguros-Würth while José Rafael Martines comes from a Portuguese team. With these additions, the Spanish team has closed its lineup for the 2006 season.