By Andrew Hood
Troubled star Marco Pantani could ride for Manolo Saiz’s new Stayer team next season, according to a report in the Spanish daily AS.
Manuela Ronchi, Pantani’s manager and contact who helped line up Stayer to take over for departing lead sponsor ONCE, said there’s an “open door” for the Pirate to ride on next season. There’s even talk of Pantani becoming a sport director for the new team, but Ronchi insisted Pantani’s racing days aren’t over yet.
“Knowing Marco, before he wants to become a sport director, he’d like to race for a team that’s not counting on the Tour organizers to make it into the Tour,” Ronchi said. “He still feels like a racer and here he will have an open door. There’s a high percentage he’ll come back to race.”
Pantani’s been dogged by demons since he was ejected from the 1999 Giro d’Italia with high hematocrit levels. He returned to the 2000 Tour de France to win two stages, but abandoned in the Alps and hasn’t returned to cycling’s most important race since then. Pantani is reportedly up to 10 to 15 kilos overweight and has hinted he’ll retire.
The fate of the Stayer team, meanwhile, is still up in the air. ONCE sport director Manolo Saiz insists he has the new sponsor lined up, but has yet to officially announce the team or sign major riders such as Joseba Beloki and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.
Celestino to remain with Saeco
Team Saeco issued a statement this week denying reports that Mirko Celestino is leaving the Italian squad. “Without commenting on the decision to publish ‘transfer rumors’ without first asking confirmation from the team and going against the team’s official announcements, we ask the media who have published the unfounded news of Mirko Celestino joining another team to make a rectification because Celestino has a contract with Saeco for the 2004 season,” a team statement said.
The team reported earlier this month that in addition to five new riders — Gabriele Balducci, Evgeni Petrov, Goradz Stangelj, Eddy Mazzoleni and Sylvester Szmyd – Celestino would be staying in the red colors of Saeco.
Saeco also released a list of confirmed riders for the 2004 season: Back from 2003: Simoni, Di Luca, Celestino, Pieri, Commesso, Glomser, Bertagnolli, Bucciero, Cunego, Fornaciari, Fuentes, Ludewig, Sabaliauskas, Spezialetti and Tonti; new riders: Mazzoleni, Petrov, Balducci, Stangelj and Szmyd.
CSC extends with Hoffman, signs Guidi, Peron wins season finale
More news out of Team CSC as the team announced it is extending the contract for one year with 33-year-old Dutch classics rider Tristan Hoffman and penned a deal with Italian all-rounder Fabrizio Guidi for the 2004 season.
“Tristan has proven his value on several occasions this year and he has been a good man for the team, especially in the latter half of the season where he has shown lots of determination,” said team boss Bjarne Riis. “That fact has not gone unnoticed. I still believe that he can be a valuable rider in the classics due to his vast experience.”
The team also signed up Guidi, a winner in stages in the Vuelta and the Giro.
In other news, Andrea Peron won an individual time trial Sunday to wrap up the 2003 season with a victory. The former Motorola racer was fastest in the 33km time trial between Florence and Pistoia.
“I have had a good year and I am very happy to be able to end it with a victory,” said Peron, who’s already set to continue with Team CSC. “My form has been very good this past month and I had a good feeling that I might be able to win today. I was very motivated and also had an impact on my performance.” Baleares closing in on final roster
The new Baleares-Banesto team is closing in on its final roster but still hopes to sign a few German riders, according to reports in the Spanish daily AS. Eleven riders from iBanesto.com have signed on with the new team to join seven riders coming over from other teams.
Riders continuing from Banesto are: Francisco Mancebo, Denis Menchov, Iván Gutiérrez, Aitor and Unai Osa, Xabier Zandio, Pablo Lastras, Chente García Acosta, José Antonio López Gil, José Luis Arrieta and Vladimir Karpets. New riders include Toni Tauler and Isaac Gálvez (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Joan Llaneras and Miquel Alzamora (track racers); David Navas and Toni Colom (Relax-Fuenlabrada) and Joan Horrach (Milaneza).
Kelme loses 10 to other teams
Kelme, meanwhile, has been the big loser in the Spanish rider lottery this fall, losing star Oscar Sevilla among 10 riders that have gone on to greener pastures. Riders leaving Kelme this year for new teams include Sevilla, Quique Gutiérrez, Nacho Gutiérrez, Toni Tauler, Isaac Gálvez, Jesús Manzano, Julián Usano, Roberto Lozano, Jordi Riera and Alexis Rodríguez.
The team has already reported that rising star Alejandro Valverde will be forced to start the Tour de France as the team looks to sign another star to lead the 2004 season. Relax could fuse with Belgian sponsor
The Spanish Division II team Relax-Fuenlabrada could be joining forces with Belgian sponsor Bodysol to form a new Division II team next season, according to a report in the Spanish cycling weekly Meta 2Mil.
According to the report, sport director Maximino Pérez will leave the team to make room for Jesús Suárez Cueva, an associate of Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere.