By Andrew Hood
Rudy Pevenage, the veteran Belgian director who helped steer Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich to back-to-back Tour de France victories in the 1990s, is back in the good graces of T-Mobile and will officially rejoin the team as one of four sport directors for the 2006 season.
Pevenage had a falling out with former T-Mobile manager Walter Godefroot three years ago and left to lead Team Coast, which dissolved in the midst of the 2003 season. He continued to work with Ullrich upon his return to T-Mobile in 2004, but only as an advisor and wasn’t allowed to officially travel with team staff during races.
The delicate situation was eventually remedied by the retirement of Godefroot and the promotion of new team manager, Olaf Ludwig. Pevenage will join Brian Holm, Frans van Looy and Valerio Piva as T-Mobile’s sport directors for the upcoming season.
“I am happy about how things worked out. It is the ideal solution for all parties. Jan benefits from it and so do the team. We all share the same goals,” Pevenage said on t-mobile-team.com. “The time passed quickly. I always knew that I would work for a team again at some stage. I have kept myself up to speed, and through my work as a TV pundit for ARD, I have managed to follow cycling very closely.”
Pevenage will work directly with Ullrich in his quest to win another Tour crown. With Lance Armstrong’s recent retirement, Ullrich enters the 2006 season as the top Tour favorite.
Pevenage will follow Ullrich to South Africa later this month and then work with a core group of riders identified to race the Tour. Already on that short list are a half-dozen riders.
“There is already a core group of about five or six riders with Andreas Klöden leading the charge,” he said. “New recruits like Eddy Mazzoleni, Michael Rogers and Serhiy Honchar will also be part of this. However, this group is liable to change right up to the start of the Tour.”
Pevenage said Ullrich is mulling a start in either the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de Suisse ahead of the Tour and will start his racing season in March, most likely at the Tour of Murcia.
Pais Vasco gets an extra day
The Vuelta a Pais Vasco – considered the most important Spanish stage race behind the Vuelta a España – will get an extra day to make room for its traditional finish.
The Tour of the Basque Country will move from five to six days through 2008, but will return to its five-day format in 2009. Race organizers petitioned the UCI to add an extra day because new rules that don’t allow split-stages in ProTour events.
The race typically concluded with two sectors, with a road stage and a time trial held on the final day. That tradition came under fire last month when Giro d’Italia organizers announced its intention to conclude the 2006 edition with a split-stage.
The UCI quickly reminded Giro officials that two-sector stages aren’t allowed under ProTour rules. Giro officials, however, have stuck to their guns, insisting that the race doesn’t even have a ProTour license.
No Vuelta for Valverde
Spanish phenomenon Alejandro Valverde won’t race the 2006 Vuelta a España. Instead, he will make a run at the spring classics and the Tour de France podium.
“His objectives will be the spring classics and the Tour,” Illes Balears sport director Eusebio Unzué told the Spanish daily AS. “Alejandro’s preparation will focus on these two peaks of form. To race the Vuelta would require a third. Unless he doesn’t finish the Tour, it’s almost impossible to race the Vuelta as well.”
The team – to be called Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears in 2006 – doesn’t want to put too much pressure on Valverde. He’s been called the best Spanish rider in a generation and has earned such nicknames as El Imbatido (the unbeaten one) and Balaverde (the green bullet).
“Last year he went too hard and didn’t arrive fresh to the spring classics,” Unzué continued. “This time we don’t want him shooting for a victory until Milan-San Remo, which will be his first objective. Then we have the other classics in late April and it would be stupendous if he could win one of them.”
With such expectations, the team doesn’t want to make any wild predictions about Valverde, either. He won a Tour stage ahead of eventual winner Lance Armstrong at Courchevel, but later abandoned with a knee injury.
“It would be easy for me to say Valverde can win the Tour. It’s not that I don’t doubt him, but Alejandro has only disputed one half of one Tour,” Unzué said. “There are riders like Basso, Vinokourov and Ullrich who have the advantage of experience. I can’t pressure him too much.”
For the other grand tours, Unzué said he could expect Oscar Pereiro and Vladimir Karpets to carry the torch in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España.
Hints on Vuelta route
The route for the 2006 Vuelta a España won’t be announced until later this month, but leaks are already finding their way into the Spanish media.
According to a report in the Diario Vasco, the Vuelta route will push into the northwest region of Galicia for the first time in many years. Stages could include a climbing time trial at the Soplao caves near Unquera in northern Spain as well as a summit finish at Monte San Lorenzo near the fearsome Angliru climb.