By Andrew Hood
Liberty Seguros is trying to put its best foot forward following the devastating news last week that Roberto Heras tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO.
While Heras can expect an all-but-certain racing ban and the humiliation of having his 2005 Vuelta a España victory stripped away, the Spanish team is scrambling to limit the damage as it looks ahead to next season.
Team manager Manolo Saiz has taken his fair share of flack, with some calling for his scalp in an avalanche of recriminations. Heras tested positive for EPO on the penultimate stage en route to winning the 2005 Vuelta.
Speaking to the Spanish sports daily Marca, Saiz said he stands by Heras’s claims of innocence.
“I continue to trust his word,” Saiz said. “I cannot believe that in the situation he was in, with the Vuelta in the bag, that he would throw it all away.”
Saiz sounded ambivalent as he pondered the future without star rider Heras. Alexandre Vinokourov has penned a high-profile deal to join the team and Saiz said the team wouldn’t be looking for a rider to take Heras’s place.
“We have a strong team and this year we will continue to fight to be with the best, but we cannot deny that the loss of Heras is very important,” Saiz said. “We are not going to sign anyone to replace him.”
In light of the bad news, the entire team – with the exception of Australian riders Aaron Kemps and Allan Davis – will convene for a early-season training camp in the middle of December to regroup.
“I have a clear conscience,” Saiz continued. “There’s no need to look for the guilty. What’s happening is the fruition of the acceleration of a sport that lives to give more spectacle every day as the scientific world continues to advance. It’s creating a parallel economy to sport and a conflict of interests that is hurting cycling.”
CSC ready to rumble
Team CSC will get down and dirty next week for its annual pre-season get together highlighted by its famous survival training camp.
Riders and staff will go through the ringer in a series of team-building exercises that Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis introduced a few seasons ago. The team will also conduct meetings, introduce new riders and staff as well as set the schedule for the upcoming season. “Our first camp is extremely important. This is where we lay the foundation for our work together over the coming season,” said Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis on the team’s web page. “We have a lot of new guys on the team, who all need to get to know the rest of the team and become fully integrated. We have had great success with this way of doing things in recent years.”
More than 70 riders, sport directors, mechanics and other staff members will meet at Danparcs Rønbjerg in northern Denmark for the pre-season meeting.
Corti to take over Barloworld
Claudio Corti, a veteran Italian sports director who’s helped run such teams as Saeco and Lampre-Caffita, is set to take over the helm at Team Barloworld.
Corti enters the picture after a breakdown in negotiations between team sponsor, Barloworld, and the team’s current management company, Euro Cycling Promotions. Company officials announced in a statement they decided to run the team themselves and have hired Corti to run the show.
“Barloworld is totally committed to the new team and will ensure that the team has the best possible management structure and infrastructure to support it as it goes forward into another exciting year of cycling,” said Chris Fisher, head of corporate marketing at Barloworld.
Corti will have complete control of the team and will select additional riders and staff to round out the lineup for the 2006 season. The team finished fourth in the continental team rankings in 2005.
McEwen takes kudos Down Under
Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen took top honors after winning the 2005 Australian Cyclist of the Year award this weekend.
McEwen, 33, won 23 races in 2005, including three stages of the Tour de France, three stages of the Giro d’Italia and the Australian national title.
“This is a huge honor and I have a lot of people to thank – everyone that’s been involved since the start of my career, and also my teammates on the Davitamon-Lotto squad,” McEwen said. “I’m glad I got this award tonight, because there’s so much talent coming through, my days are definitely numbered. I’d just like to thank everybody that’s been involved along the way and keep up the fantastic work – let’s stay on top.”