By Andrew Hood
Kelme-Costa Blanca and Angel Casero reached a verbal agreement Wednesday for the 2001 Vuelta a España champion to join the Spanish green team for a one-year contract.
News broke during Wednesday’s 2004 Vuelta presentation in Madrid, and Casero seemed relieved to get the deal done after finding few options for a contract next season after the collapse of his former employer at Team Bianchi.
“We got it done this morning, and I have a verbal agreement with (Kelme team manager Pepe) Quiles, and the only thing left is to sign the papers,” Casero said. “I’m happy, and I look forward to getting back to the races, and I will be motivated to win.”
Casero has suffered through health problems and poor form since winning the 2001 Vuelta, but the 31-year-old said the Tour and the Vuelta will be his top goals for the upcoming season.
Meanwhile, Kelme’s breakout star Alejandro Valverde confirmed he’s set to sign a renegotiated contract that will give the runner-up world champion more money and more freedom through the 2007 season.
“I signed a deal during the Vuelta, but the team has agreed to reconsider the conditions,” Valverde said. “We should have something signed this week.”
UCI pressures Kelme on back pay
Kelme is under pressure from the UCI to pay back salaries and present a cash deposit to cover a percentage of riders’ salaries for the 2004 season or face possible expulsion from cycling’s Division I, the Spanish daily MARCA reported Thursday.
On Saturday, the UCI is set to release the official list of the 30 teams that will race Division I for the upcoming season. If the team can’t get its papers in order by the weekend, it could face D-2 status for the upcoming season and risk its place in the Tour de France. Johnson in Spain to meet teammates
Newly signed Saunier Duval rider Tim Johnson will be in Spain through the weekend to press the flesh with his new teammates. While he wasn’t at Wednesday’s Vuelta presentation, Saunier Duval director Joxean Fernandez Matxin said Johnson will be back in January for another team training camp.
“Right now we’re fitting bikes, jerseys, taking pictures, meeting with the riders to decide racing schedules,” Matxin said. “He’s excited to be here, and we’re happy to have signed him. We tried to get Freddy (Rodriguez), but we got Tim instead, so we’re pleased to have him on board.”
Ferrari trial held up
The trial of controversial sports doctor Michele Ferrari has been delayed for four months after his lawyers asked for additional expert reports, Reuters reported.
The Italian is being tried in Bologna on allegations of illegally administering illegal drugs to leading cyclists. Ferrari, who has in the past worked with five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, denies the charges.
Judge Maurizio Passarini has said the trial, now entering its final phase, will resume on April 20 next year. Ferrari told the court in earlier hearings that his help for athletes was based on “alternative strategies such as diet and training.” Ferrari was quoted in the report: “I never prescribed or administered doping, including legal drugs intended to improve performances. In addition to the physical damages it causes to athletes … (it) leads them to believe that the others go faster because they take forbidden substances.”
Illes Balears-Banesto unveils jersey
The refitted Illes Balears-Banesto team showed off its new jersey for the 2004 season when it will fight in the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España and the World Cup series.
“The idea in the first year is split our objectives among the Tour, the Vuelta and the spring classics, which are very important to the Balearic government,” said sport director Eusebio Unzue. “We had a good year last year, but we didn’t get a podium in one of the grand tours. We think we have the riders to do it this year.”
The team, which takes over where iBanesto.com left off, will include 11 riders from the 2003 lineup and nine new riders. The team has decided to skip the Giro d’Italia and send Francesco Mancebo and Denis Menchov as team leaders for the Tour and Unai Osa for the Vuelta.
The team also took pains to sign as many of the Balearic pros that were available, including Joan Horrach, Toni Tauler, Vicens Reynés and Toni Colom. They also signed sprinters Isaac Galvez and Steffen Radochla.
“The main new thing for us is the presence of sprinters, which we’ve never had before, and now we have two. We signed them both to get attention in Europe, above all else in Germany,” Unzue said.
Unzue said the team has a budget of 6 million euros per year but couldn’t offer the salaries demanded by such riders as Joseba Beloki and Jan Ullrich. The team will also change its name to Illes Balears-Grupo Santander when it races in central Europe.
Illes Balears-Banesto for 2004: José Luis Arrieta, Daniel Becke, Antonio Colom, Isaac Gálvez, Chente García, Iván Gutiérrez, Joan Horrach, Vladimir Karpets, Pablo Lastras, José Antonio López, Francisco Mancebo, Denis Menchov, David Navas, Aitor Osa, Unai Osa, Mikel Pradera, Steffen Radochla, Vicente Reynés, Antonio Tauler and Xabier Zandio.
Popovych to start season at Liguria
Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych will make his season debut at the Giro della Liguria Feb 12-14, La Gazzetta dello Sport reported. Third overall in the 2003 Giro d’Italia, the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago rider will train with teammates in January in Tuscany.
LA wins another SI awardFive-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was chosen 2003 Athlete of the Year by readers of Sports Illustrated for Kids. Armstrong, who will be trying for a record-breaking sixth straight Tour title in 2004, received 8,599 first-place votes. “I am extremely thrilled,” Armstrong said in the magazine’s January issue. “It means a lot to me that it was voted on by kids.” Armstrong was followed in the vote by Albert Pujols, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Michael Vick and Roger Clemens.