By Andrew Hood
Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo wants nothing less than the podium at next year’s Tour de France with the recent news that his new Ag2r-Prévoyance team is assured of a spot in the UCI’s ProTour.
The French team earned a four-year ProTour license earlier this week to take over the spot vacated by Fassa Bortolo. With starts assured in all the major races, Mancebo sounds confident as he prepares for the coming season.
“Every year I’ve been able to inch a little higher and my goal this year will be to climb on the Tour podium,” Mancebo told the Spanish daily AS. “On paper the race looks very open and exciting, and it will decide who will be the successor to (Lance) Armstrong.”
Mancebo will lead the French team in both the Tour and the Vuelta a España. In 2005, the ever-steady Mancebo finished fourth in both the Tour and Vuelta, but can expect to be bumped up to third place with the imminent disqualification of winner Roberto Heras.
The hard-working Madrileño – who won’t start his season until the Criterium International in late March with eyes on hitting his form in July – left his longtime home at Illes Balears to join Ag2r.
Without the ProTour status, the French continental team could have counted on a Tour invite, but the Vuelta would have been more complicated because race organizers were more likely to invite Spanish teams.
“I had my doubts, because there were talking about leaving it at 19 ProTour teams,” said a relieved Mancebo. “I thought that Ag2r wouldn’t have problems getting into the Tour, but the Vuelta would have been more difficult.”
Those doubts are now erased with the ProTour license. Whether the grand tours will remain part of the ProTour remains to be seen, however, as differences between the UCI and the major stage-races continues to remain unresolved.
The addition of Mancebo and popular French rider Christophe Moreau helped tipped the balance for Ag2r, which has been in the peloton since 1992 when it previously raced under the Chazal and Casino names. The team has also increased its budget to about $8 million for the 2006 season.
“One of my qualities is never to doubt. My tenacity paid off,” Ag2r director Vincent Lavenu told L’Equipe. “Last year, we couldn’t obtain a license, but we continued by building something solid. This is a formidable reward.”
The team also announced the addition of two new riders on one-year contracts to bring the team’s lineup up to 27 for the 2006 season. Joining the team are Hubert Dupont, 25, is a climber who turned pro this season with RAGT Semences, and Renaud Dion, 27, an all-rounder who turned pro with RAGT Semences in 2004.
Ag2r-Prévoyance for 2006
José Luis ARRIETA (ESP) ; Mikel ASTARLOZA (ESP) ; Sylvain CALZATI (FRA) ; Iñigo CHAURREAU (ESP) ; Philip DEIGNAN (IRL) ; Cyril DESSEL (FRA) ; Renaud Dion (FRA) ; Samuel DUMOULIN (FRA) ; Hubert DUPONT (FRA) ; John GADRET (FRA) ; Simon GERRANS (AUS) ; Stéphane GOUBERT (FRA) ; Yuriy KRIVTSOV (UKR) ; Julien LOUBET (FRA) ; Francisco MANCEBO (ESP) ; Laurent MANGEL (FRA) ; Lloyd MONDORY (FRA) ; Christophe MOREAU (FRA) ; Carl NAIBO (FRA) ; David NAVAS (ESP) ; Jean-Patrick NAZON (FRA) ; Erki PUTSEP (EST) ; Christophe RIBLON (FRA) ; Mark SCANLON (IRL) ; Ludovic TURPIN (FRA) ; Aliaksandr USAU (BIEL) ; Tomas VAITKUS (LIT)
Basso doesn’t discount Giro start
Ivan Basso hasn’t completely counted out racing the 2006 Giro d’Italia.
Basso fell short of his goal of winning the 2005 Giro after falling sick on the grueling stage over the Stelvio climb. He later bounced back to win two Giro stages and then went on to finish second in the Tour.
“I never said I wouldn’t race the Giro,” Basso told Tutto Bici. “We’ll decide my racing program next week when we meet in Denmark. The Giro appeals to me. The course is hard and fascinating. I want to reflect on it before deciding and I will discuss it with (team manager Bjarne) Riis. It won’t be easy to renounce the Giro.”
Earlier in his career, Basso regularly skipped the Giro to race the Tour because his former team, Fassa Bortolo, always had top stars for the Italian tour, but no one to ride for GC in France.
Since joining Team CSC two years ago, Basso continued his focus on the Tour and finished third in the 2004 and second this year. In 2005, however, he decided to race the Giro and Tour with eyes on the podium in both races.
Boonen wins Velo d’Or
Prolific Belgian star Tom Boonen snagged one of cycling’s top honors Tuesday when he won the Velo d’Or prize awarded by the French cycling magazine Velo.
Boonen pulled off victories in the Tour of Flanders-Paris-Roubaix double before winning the world title in September in Madrid. The Quick Step-Innergetic rider takes over the prize from Lance Armstrong, who won the past two editions.
At 25, Boonen is the first Belgian rider to win the prize since Johan Museeuw won in 1996, the same year the Lion of Flanders won the world title in Lugano.
The winner is voted by top cycling journalists in Europe. Boonen won with 84 points, with Armstrong taking second with 65 points and ProTour winner Danilo Di Luca with 49.
Two see jail time in Pantani case
Two men accused of helping Marco Pantani obtain cocaine on the day of his death have been sentenced to prison in Italy.
The Italian wires reported that Fabio Miradossa, accused of giving the cocaine to Pantani, was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison while drug dealer Ciro Venerus was sentenced to three years and 10 months. A third man, Alfonso Gherardo Ramirez Queva, accused of selling cocaine to Pantani in late 2003, received a sentence of one year and 11 months.
Pantani was found dead alone in a hotel in Rimini, Italy, on February 14, 2004, of an apparent overdose of cocaine.
Spain wants to pardon whistleblowers
Spanish authorities are mulling a new law that would pardon athletes convicted of doping charges if they help investigators to reveal the sources on how they acquired and used the banned performance-enhancing products.
Jaime Lissavetzky, Spain’s sport minister, said the government is considering new rules to encourage whistle-blowers to come forward.
“If an athlete tells all he knows he could receive a reduction and including an exoneration of their sanction,” Lissavetzky told the Spanish wire service EFE. “If someone knows who administered the substances, they can say it.”
The idea comes in light of the recent doping scandal of Vuelta a España champion Roberto Heras, who tested positive for EPO en route to winning this year’s Vuelta. Lissavetzky said he’s discussed the idea with the Spanish cycling federation as well as the organizers of the Vuelta.
“It’s been very hard, but the athlete is not the only one guilty,” Lissavetzky said.
The debate comes as the Spanish government is considering a tough new anti-doping law that would put Spain on par with federal laws already on the books in Italy and France.