The highly inclement snow and freezing conditions may have stopped the Euskaltel team launch, but pr
PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM Although heavy snow and freezing conditions in the Basque Country at the end of last week led to the postponement of the Euskaltel team’s presentation, procycling did manage to get together with three of the team’s principal characters at the Euskadi federation’s base near Bilbao to discuss their hopes for the coming season. Team boss Miguel Madariaga said that he felt that with better luck Euskaltel should have a good year after last season’s disappointments at the Tour, when neither of his team leaders, Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, finished. “We’ll do the same preparation for the Tour we had last year and hope that we don’t have the bad luck,” said Madariaga. “Last year Mayo fell heavily on the pav and Zubeldia had problems with tendonitis in his knee. We had good preparation, but then lost our leaders, it was all just a question of bad luck.” Directeur sportif Julian Gorospe backed up Madariaga’s feelings, but admitted that Mayo is almost certain to make a major adjustment to his pre-Tour preparation by opting to ride the Tour of Catalonia rather than the Dauphin Libr, which he won in fine fashion last season. “The Dauphin is an extremely hard race on almost every day,” said Gorospe, “whereas Catalonia is a bit easier and just has a couple of tough mountain stages in Andorra.” Although both Madariaga and Gorospe denied that Mayo had peaked too early with his form last season, this major change to the flamboyant climber’s programme is significant. Like last year, Mayo will lead Euskaltel at the Tour with Zubeldia, although Zubeldia is set to take a new route into the race by leading the Basque outfit at the Giro d’Italia in May in conjunction with Samuel Sanchez. New signing Aitor Gonzalez is set to be given the team’s full backing at the Vuelta in August/September. Madariaga said he felt that the 2002 Vuelta winner had lost morale during his two-year spell with Fassa Bortolo. “All the team supported Alessandro Petacchi and that didn’t work well for Aitor. He has fitted in well with us, though, he looks very solid and I’m sure he can help us at the Vuelta,” said Madariaga, who said Gonzalez is unlikely to ride the Tour. Interestingly, Madariaga and Gorospe were split on the question of whether Lance Armstrong will ride the Tour. Madariaga believes that he will because that is the race that offers the most prestige during the season, while Gorospe believes that the Texan will end his Tour run at six without defeat. Gorospe acknowledged that the introduction of the ProTour will give Euskaltel’s many young riders the chance to show their true colours. “They will have to,” he said laughing. “There are lots of races where we will have to ride hard.” He also admitted he was looking forwards to a first visit as a directeur sportif to the Giro. “I rode there once with Banesto in 1991, supporting Pedro Delgado [15th that year], when Franco Chiocchioli won the race. I didn’t ride that well, but I can remember some of the climbs such as Sestriere and the San Pellegrino. Though we won’t be going to check out the other major climbs before the race.” One of Gorospe’s picks for the Giro is team veteran Roberto Laiseka, now 35 but still hoping that he’s got another couple of seasons at the top level ahead of him. He confessed his only knowledge of racing in Italy to this point has been at Milan-San Remo, but that is soon set to change as he is pencilled in for Tirreno-Adriatico as well as the Giro. “I’ve never ridden the Giro before but I’m really looking forward to it. For the moment I am not planning on riding the Tour, but I’m not totally putting it aside. For now, my main aim for the end of the season is the Vuelta. I’ve ridden it 11 times in succession and I would like to go back there again and see what I can do,” said Laiseka.