By Andrew Hood
Continental teams Ceramica Panaria-Navigare and Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni each nabbed wild-card bids to ride alongside 20 ProTour teams for the upcoming Giro d’Italia, race organizers announced this week.
Panaria made a splash two years ago when Italian up-and-comer Emanuele Sella, then a 23-year-old neo-pro, won a stage early in the 2004 Giro. Last year, Selle Italia was a major force, scoring stage-wins with Jose Rujano and Ivan Parra as well as a surprising third-place podium overall for Rujano.
The two continental teams will battle against the established favorites, with scores of top guns eyeing victory in the Giro as their top season goal. Other Tour de France favorites, such as Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), Ivan Basso (CSC) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Liberty Seguros), are also expected to line-up for the mountainous 89th edition of the Giro.
The 3,553km Giro opens May 6 with a 6.2km individual time trial in Seraing, Belgium, and closes with a controversial double-stage in Milan on May 28, with a morning 11km time trial from Canto to Ghisallo and afternoon 116km road stage with the traditional finish in Milan.
So far, race organizers have brushed off efforts by the UCI and the racers’ union to force them to ditch the double-stage finale.
Teams for the 89th Giro d’Italia (May 6-28):
Ag2r Prevoyance (Fra), Bouygues Telecom (Fra), Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears (Spa), Ceramica Panaria-Navigare (Ita), Cofidis (Fra), Credit Agricole (Fra), Davitamon-Lotto (Bel), Discovery Channel (USA), Euskaltel-Euskadi (Spa), Francaise des Jeux (Fra), Gerolsteiner (Ger), Lampre Fondital (Ita), Liberty Seguros- Würth (Spa), Liquigas (Ita), Phonak (Swi), Quick Step-Innergetic (Bel), Rabobank (Ned), Saunier Duval-Prodir (Spa), Selle Italia-Serramenti Diquigiovanni (Col), Team CSC (Den), Team Milram (Ita) and T-Mobile (Ger).
Pevenage: Ullrich ‘on schedule’
T-Mobile sport director Rudy Pevenage said Tour de France contender Jan Ullrich is “on schedule” with his preparations following a three-week training camp in South Africa.
Pevenage said warm South African sun helped Ullrich during the intense training camp, where he was joined by teammates Andreas Klöden, Matthias Kessler and Giuseppe Guerini.
“Everything is going to plan for Jan,” Pevenage said on T-Mobile’s web site. “He clearly increased his training load compared to Mallorca. Sometimes I even had to hold back Jan a little in his enthusiasm. He was visibly motivated by the good weather.”
The team is still undecided on Ullrich’s 2006 racing debut. T-Mobile will not be participating in the Tour of Murcia later this week, one of Ullrich’s preferred early season races.
Pevenage, however, sounded optimistic about the 1997 Tour champion’s progress. Training camps in December and January were dedicated to building “basic stamina” while the African camp looked to “building up strength.”
“We are on schedule. Jan’s form is getting better day by day,” he concluded.
Stephens, Carbayeda getting used to life as sport directors
Neil Stephens and Xabier Carbayeda are both new sport directors getting used to their respective new roles at this week’s Tour of Murcia (March 1-5).
Stephens, who made his official debut at the Clásica de Almería, will take the seat behind the wheel of the team car for Liberty Seguros- Würth while Carbayeda will debut as sport director at Euskaltel-Euskadi.
“The hardest part is being away from home,” Stephens told the Spanish daily El Diario Vasco. “I know (Alexandre) Vinokourov well enough before he arrived to the team, when I was a representative for Oakley. We understand each other in French or English, but it’s better if he speaks Spanish.”
Stephens, a former pro who raced on Saiz’s former ONCE team, will continue working with the Australian cycling federation during the world championships and Olympic Games. Stephens will also be one of the team’s sport directors during the Tour of the Basque Country and the Giro d’Italia.
Carbayeda, meanwhile, makes the switch from logistics to sport director for the orange-clad Basques. He’s already been working as a sport director at other races this season, but Murcia will mark the first race when he’ll be completely in charge.
“This is a big opportunity for me, but I also realize I will have to confront people,” he said. “I’ve had to totally change the chip.”
Both teams will be also lining up with their respective team leaders, with Vinokourov showing off the Liberty Seguros jersey and Iban Mayo making his season debut for Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Other big names for the Spanish race include 2004 winner Alejando Valverde (Illes Balears) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
The Spanish contingent will be well-representated, with Illes Balears, Liberty, Euskaltel, Comunitat Valenciana, Relax-GAM, Andalucía-Paul Versan, Kaiku and 3 Molinos Resort-Murcia Turística.
Foreign teams include Lampre, Cerámica Panaria, Discovery Channel, Unibet.com, Gerolsteiner and Rabobank.
26th Tour of Murcia (March 1-5)
Stage 1, March 1: Murcia to Las Torres de Cotillas, 162.2km
Stage 2, March 2: Alcantarilla to Alhama de Murcia, 172.4 km
Stage 3, March 3: Jumilla-Jumilla, 21.6km (ITT)
Stage 4, March 4: Caravaca de La Cruz to Collado Bermejo, 148.6km
Stage 5, March 5: Murcia-Murcia, 138.7km
Wild cards for País Vasco
Spanish teams Kaiku and Relax-GAM have been selected as wild-card teams to race alongside the 20 ProTour teams for the upcoming Vuelta al País Vasco (April 3-8), race organizers announced.
Both teams will race in the Clásica San Sebastián in August, organized by the same group.