By Andrew Hood
Jason McCartney isn’t done with Europe yet. The 34-year-old Iowan has penned a two-year deal with Team CSC that will keep him on cycling’s biggest stages through the 2009 season.
The contract news comes after a successful fall campaign that saw McCartney win a stage at the Vuelta a España in a dramatic attacking victory that finally put his name in the headlines after working diligently in the background for others.
The victory came just in time as Discovery Channel was folding at the end of this season and riders were scrambling to find jobs.
McCartney was linked to a move to the new-look Slipstream/Chipotle team, but opted for an offer from Team CSC. The team announced McCartney’s imminent arrival in a press release Wednesday.
“I’ve always been drawn to Team CSC’s way of doing things and everyone in the peloton is aware that it’s an extremely well organized team. I’m very much a team player myself and look forward to becoming a part of Team CSC,” McCartney said in a team statement. “It’s a very international team and I think I’ll fit in well with my future colleagues. As far as my role on the team goes, I first of all see myself as being able to help in the stage races and at the same time maybe make some results of my own if the opportunity should come along.”
McCartney made the leap from the domestic peloton to the European stage after his successful 2004 season. He signed on with Discovery Channel in 2005 and quickly made a spot for himself on the team as a hard worker.
He finished all three grand tour starts in Europe (Giro 2005-06; Vuelta 2007) and claimed third on the podium this year at the Tour of California. A loyal worker, McCartney took advantage of the time trials to show his strengths, posting consistent top 10 results in TT races in Europe.
“I love working for others. I’m happy being a domestique, but I like to take chances for myself when I can,” McCartney told VeloNews earlier this year. “The problem at Discovery is that we usually have a big GC leader at every race we go to, so I don’t get very many chances to even get into breakaways.”
McCartney’s arrival at Team CSC helps ensure an American presence on the international squad following the departures of Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde to Slipstream. Veteran Bobby Julich is expected to stay with Team CSC for the 2008 season.
Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis said he had his eye on McCartney for some time now.
”Jason’s profile fits perfectly with the team. He has a lot of experience as a rider and he’ll be a major asset to us in the big stage races. He’s already impressed with his results this year and it’s no big secret that we’ve had our eye on him for quite some time now,” Riis said. “Apart from being an all-round rider he also has a personality, which would fit in really well with the rest of the team. We consider a number of different factors when recruiting and in Jason’s case I think it’s safe to say we’ve made the right decision on all levels.”
Sáiz contemplates return
Manolo Sáiz, the disgraced former manager of the ONCE and Liberty Seguros teams, hinted he might return to cycling if the time is right. In an interview with Spanish radio, the 48-year-old says he’s content watching cycling from the sidelines for the time being.
“I am in a parenthesis in my life. I am dedicating myself to other businesses, but some day I would like to return to cycling and I will do it with the same strength as before,” Sáiz told Radio MARCA.
Sáiz was among five people arrested in May 2006 by Spanish authorities as part of the Operación Puerto doping investigation.
Spanish courts closed the case and Sáiz was never charged with any crimes, but the UCI is appealing the decision to reopen the investigation and push for racing bans for implicated riders.
In the wake of the sensationalistic Puerto headlines, Liberty Seguros immediately ended its multi-million-dollar sponsorship with Sáiz. Astana, however, stepped up to take over the team as title sponsor for the remainder of the 2006 season, only to later force out Sáiz and his management team in favor of Marc Biver.
Astana has since cut ties with Biver and hired former Discovery Channel sport director Johan Bruyneel, a former pupil of Sáiz during his ONCE racing years.
Sáiz, meanwhile, has been working as a hotel owner and patiently waiting on the sidelines. There were already rumors earlier this year that Sáiz was poised to find a new sponsor and try to make a comeback.
He might find a cold reception, at least among his peers and UCI officials.
The sport has been bitterly divided over the Puerto legacy and several riders have been forced into retirement simply by having their names linked to Puerto and the alleged blood doping ring organized by controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Others, such as Ivan Basso, Jorg Jaksche and Michele Scarponi, have admitted doping practices and are currently serving racing bans.
In the meantime, Sáiz is keeping his lips zipped on advice from his attorneys.
“They are not telling the truth as it really is and I hope some day they will make a hearing with me and everyone can know the truth,” he said. “Right now I prefer to remain silent because the case is in the hands of my attorneys.”
Vasseur poised to take over riders’ group
Recently retired French rider Cedric Vasseur is poised to take over as the riders’ representative for the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA).
He’s the sole candidate to replace Francesco Moser, who’s led the council of professional riders since 1999. The group is set to meet Friday ahead of Saturday’s Giro di Lombardia to formalize the takeover.
Vasseur, 37, retired at the end of this season and will provide a fresh voice for the riders’ union as the sport faces divisions over doping and power struggles between the major race organizations and the UCI.