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Tuesday’s EuroFile: Liquigas signs Bennati; DiLuca lands a gig

Italy’s Liquigas is turning its back on defending Giro d’Italia champ Danilo Di Luca and will rebuild the team for 2008 with a youth movement that includes seven new riders. With Di Luca’s contract not extended following a tumultuous season (see below), the Italian ProTour team will refocus its efforts with the arrival of classics/sprinter Daniele Bennati, Enrico Franzoi and five other younger riders. Di Luca won the Giro and Lìege-Bastogne-Liège, but saw what looked like a lock on his second ProTour title in three years when he was banned for three months by Italian officials for links to

By Andrew Hood

Bennati has had a string of impressive wins in grand tours this year.

Bennati has had a string of impressive wins in grand tours this year.

Photo: Agence France Presse

Italy’s Liquigas is turning its back on defending Giro d’Italia champ Danilo Di Luca and will rebuild the team for 2008 with a youth movement that includes seven new riders.

With Di Luca’s contract not extended following a tumultuous season (see below), the Italian ProTour team will refocus its efforts with the arrival of classics/sprinter Daniele Bennati, Enrico Franzoi and five other younger riders.

Di Luca won the Giro and Lìege-Bastogne-Liège, but saw what looked like a lock on his second ProTour title in three years when he was banned for three months by Italian officials for links to controversial doctor Carlo Santuccione.

Liquigas was keen to drop Di Luca’s heavy contractual demands and his accompanying baggage and decided to part ways with its marquee rider to bring on some new names. Other departures include Magnus Backstedt (to Slipstream), Patrick Calcagni, Luca Paolini and Alessandro Spezialetti.

With Bennati, the team brings a solid grand tour and classics bet. Bennati enjoyed a breakthrough 2007 campaign, with two victories in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España as well as the points jersey in the Vuelta. Franzoi is a promising cyclocross rider while Italians Claudio Corioni, Alberto Curtolo, Valerio Agnoli, Ivan Santaromita and Polish riders Maciej Bodnar are all under 25.

The team hopes to build on its 38 wins in 2007 with 15 different riders and second place in the team’s ProTour rankings behind Team CSC.

Filippo Pozzato will carry the team’s classics program while promising riders such as Roman Kreuziger and Vicenzo Nibali will see more responsibilities next year.

Spanish veteran Manuel “Triki” Beltrán will also be back, saying he will likely be back at the Tour and Vuelta, where he finished ninth overall and took second in the stage to Granada.

The team is scheduled to meet next week for pre-season planning at an Italian spa before hitting a team training camp in December in Spain.

> Liquigas for 2008Michael Albasini (SUI) Manuel Beltran (SPA) Leonardo Bertagnolli (ITA) Kjell Carlstrom (FIN) Dario Cataldo (ITA) Francesco Chicchi (ITA) Mauro Da Dalto (ITA) Murilo Fischer (BRA) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Aliaksandr Kuchynski (BLR) Vladimir Miholjevic (CRO) Matej Mugerli (SLO) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Andrea Noé (ITA) Franco Pellizotti (ITA) Roberto Petito (ITA) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Manuel Quinziato (ITA) Guido Trenti (ITA) Alessandro Vanotti (ITA) Charles Wegelius (GBR) Frederik Willems (BEL); New for next season: Valerio Agnoli (ITA) Daniele Bennati (ITA) Maciej Bodnar (POL) Claudio Corioni (ITA) Alberto Curtolo (ITA) Enrico Franzoi (ITA) Ivan Santaromita (ITA)
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Di Luca confirmed with LPR
Winning the Giro/Liège double in 2007 wasn’t enough to secure Danilo Di Luca a million-dollar contract.

Dogged by suspicion after being banned for three months for links to controversial doctor Carlo Santuccione, Di Luca was viewed as too hot for ProTour teams to touch.

Dropped by Liquigas, where he rode for three seasons and saw his best results of his career, Di Luca will ride next year for Italian continental team LPR.

The news comes following the arrival of two-time Giro champ Paolo Savoldelli to the Italian outfit.

Mayo ‘B’ sample this week
Iban Mayo’s fate should be sealed this week as the result of his controversial “B” sample is expected to be released by officials at the Chatenay-Malabry lab in France as soon as Wednesday.

A negative would me the Basque climber would be free to continue racing and return to his slot at the Saunier Duval-Prodir team while a positive would likely result in a two-year racing ban and perhaps the end of his once-promising career.

The Spanish rider is facing allegations he used the banned blood booster EPO during this year’s Tour de France after testing positive in a urine test taken during the Tour’s final rest day ahead of the Pyrénées.

Mayo denies all charges and looked to be in the clear when follow-up “B” samples came back as non-conclusive in tests carried out in Belgium.

The UCI, however, pressed for additional tests at a different lab than the Ghent facility, choosing the Chatenay-Malabry, the same lab that conducted the tests that led to Floyd Landis being stripped of his 2006 Tour victory.

That decision to break protocol and force additional tests has Spanish cycling officials broiling in anger.

According to Spanish cycling federation president Eugenio Bermudez, Mayo’s case is already closed.

“The case was closed by the lab in Ghent (Belgium). There was a result of the second test as non-conclusive, which the Ghent lab ruled as negative,” Bermudez told AFP. “If the new test by Chatenay-Malabry is positive, we will not recognize the result and it could come down to a legal conflict.”

Out-of-work Osa unhappy with Puerto, UCI
Alejandro Valverde continues to face allegations that he’s involved in the Operación Puerto doping scandal, but at least he’s been able to cash a check.

Scores of Spanish riders are out of work for alleged links to the doping scandal and several have been forced into retirement because teams are too scared to sign potentially dodgy riders who could keep them out of important races and events.

One of those is former Tour of the Basque Country winner Aitor Osa, who was part of the Liberty Seguros team, hasn’t raced since the cover was blown on the alleged blood doping ring in May 2006.

Despite never being sanctioned or officially linked to controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, Osa couldn’t find a team and has official retired from competition.

“I have nothing to do with the world of cycling now,” he said in an interview with El Dario Vasco. “I couldn’t find a team to sign me because they were following the recommendations of the UCI. I’ve never had any sanctions. But what’s interesting is that I have to keep registering my whereabouts. The last time I did it was in September. I don’t have a team or a racing license, but I have to send them where I will be for the next three months, with phone numbers, contacts … it’s a real mess! And they’ve also threatened me if I don’t do it, they will sanction me.”

Osa also blasted UCI president Pat McQuaid on the handling of the Puerto case.

“(McQuaid) is not managing things well. He’s hurting cycling. If a rider tests positive, then later is negative in the counter-analysis and he doesn’t like it, he tries to get them sanctioned by making them do more tests,” Osa said, alluding to the pending EPO case of Iban Mayo. “That to me is unbelievable.”

McQuaid, meanwhile, continues to push efforts to open the Puerto records and force sanctions against implicated riders.