Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Team Saxo Bank presentation: ”We will have a different focus in 2012”

New logo, new faces, new objectives but the same values. Team Saxo Bank presented today their team for 2012 in Copenhagen with a smiling and laughing Alberto Contador as front figure. From the moment he stepped on the stage, applauded by the audience, Contador was smiling and cracking jokes – a totally different scenario from just a week ago when he was defending himself against the doping charges in CAS.

So what’s new? Well all of you who followed my live tweets (and thanks for that!) already knows about the new logo, which I personally think looks good. Glad to see the eagle back in center again. In the beginning of his welcome speech Bjarne Riis put a lot of effort into explaining that the team would have some new objectives next year. Supposedly it’s not just about Alberto Contador winning the Tour. “We will have a different focus in 2012. We have a young Polish guy (Majka I guess) who we will see how far we can take in the Giro and then we want to build a lead out train for JJ. Haedo”, Bjarne Riis said.

Alberto Contador & Bjarne Riis
The different objectives also reflects in the activities for the up-coming training camp in Israel. “It will be a different program this time”, Riis continues. “We will stay there (in Israel) for two weeks where we will build a cycling school for kids with 2 classes. One Jewish and one Arabic. The plan is that the whole team (riders, managers, staff etc.) will be building this school within 2 days. Later on we will have a Criterium in the heart of Jerusalem. I have convinced the mayor and the police director to close down the center of Jerusalem so I’m really looking forward to seeing that”.

Personally I’m very excited about new idea about building a lead out train around Juan José Haedo. An idea that not even Haedo himself knew about for sure until today. “Actually I heard about it at the same time as you did. We have talked about it, but I didn’t know for sure until Bjarne said it at the presentation”, Haedo confesses and continues; “But of course I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new challenge for me, a step forward in my career. It gives me more confidence but we will have to practice a lot in order to take on the big teams. It’s going to be very interesting”.

Takashi Miyazawa
Another guy I’m looking forward to seeing in 2012 is newcomer Takashi Miyazawa. The Japanese puncheur knows that he is there to help his teammates but he is also a very aggressive type of rider who can both attack and sprint. So don’t be surprised to see him in the front when he gets the chance. You can follow Miyazawa on twitter at @Bravotakashi and I hope my mission on making him tweet in English and Italian will succeed! So far it has only been in Japanese… “Because I’m very famous back in Japan, but now I will try to be more international”, Miyazawa tells.

Biggest Danish name on the team this year is once again Chris Anker Sørensen, whose primary goal next year is “to win races”. As he explains: “I didn’t win anything this year and the Tour didn’t work out as we had hoped for either, so I really hope 2012 will be better. It would be amazing for me to take Alberto all the way to the Tour win on Champs-Élysées but of course I also want to win my own races. This year Christopher Froome ended 2nd in the Vuelta and he is rider on my level, so I just have to be ready to take the chance when it’s there”.

Well, that’s basically it for the team presentation. No breaking news or anything near that, but without a doubt a lot of hope for 2012 and for the training camp in Israel. Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pat McQuaid or Plexico Burrews?

Less than a week after the Contador CAS hearing, UCI president Pat McQuaid now confirms to Cyclingnews that his organization is close to open a handful of anti-doping cases based on information from the biologic passport.

My question is then; "Why is Pat McQuaid telling this now?". In a time when cycling once again is struggling with cases against its top riders, how can it possible be a good idea to say that there are more cases coming, without being able to name any implicated riders? Instead of focusing on the next season, suddenly everybody and their neigh bough now starts to think “who are those riders?”, “I’m sure it’s him, he was just too good this year” etc. etc.

I may be blind here, but please Pat McQuaid; explain to me why you are leaking this information now and not just stay quiet until the cases are opened? It sure seems like UCI is shooting their own feet here…

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dice the sentence

There is something seriously wrong with the cycling system and I doubt many will argue with that fact. Alexander Kolobnev seems likely to slip through with a small fine, Alex Rasmussen and Jeannie Longo go free despite 3 missed anti-doping tests while the Ezequiel Mosquera and Alberto Contador cases drag out. Everybody knows how long the Contador case has been going for now and apparently the UCI didn’t even send their case against Mosquera to the Spanish federation until the end of April even though his positive test occurred during the Vuelta in September.

How come it has to take this long to determine if a rider is guilty or not and why are the end results so far from each other? Sometimes it really looks like the cycling organs deciding these things just end up throwing dices to decide…

I wouldn’t be surprised if the UCI, WADA and all the national federations have this site on the top of the bookmark list.

The system needs to get fixed - same rules for everybody, ya!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

EXCLUSIVE - New sponsor just around the corner for Gianetti and Matxin

Gianetti & Matxin in Venezuela...
Mauro Gianetti and Josean Fernández Matxin have been working very hard to secure a new sponsor deal since GEOX announced the end of their sponsorship a month ago. Right now they have 2 “concrete deals” to choose between.

Last week Gianetti and Matxin went to Venezuela in order to set up a deal with the Venezuelan government, more specifically the tourism board, under the name of “Venezuela - País de sueño”. The two stayed in South America for three days where they managed put together a pretty good plan. Very much like Katusha and Astana the idea is to set up a big national cycling project, bankrolled by the Hugo Chavez government enrolling the pro.-team (what’s left of Team GEOX), a track team, mountain bike etc. etc. “A very interesting project”, as Mauro Gianetti describes it. All there is left now is for President Hugo Chavez to green light to the project.

Should the Venezuelan project fall apart, Mauro Gianetti has yet another Ace up his sleeve.

“We have two concrete deals right now. One of them is the one with the Venezuelan government, the other one is more a regular one with a big international company as the main sponsor”, Mauro Gianetti tells me. “We have not signed anything yet, but we hope to close the deal very soon. It could be any day now. For me it doesn’t matter which deal we end up taking. The Venezuelan one is a very interesting project with the government and the other one is with a good, serious company that we know very well. We will see”.

No matter what deal Mauro Gianetti and and Josean Fernández Matxin end up taking, the leader of the team next year will still be Vuelta España winner Juanjo Cobo who, not like Menchov, Duarte, Felline, Ardila etc., has chosen to stay with the team in this difficult time. Also Rafael Valls and David de la Fuente are expected to stay.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Most interesting signings for 2012

I’m sorry I’ve been M.I.A. for a while now, but I had some personal things to sort out. Anyway now I’m back and I think it’s time to take a look at the transfer-window and see which teams made the best deals for 2012.

It’s easy to point out BMC’s aggressive strategy (BuyMoreCaptains) with riders like Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd, Marco Pinotti and Tejay Van Garderen signing on for 2012, but instead of that I rather want to look at some of the scoops for next year.

Manuel Belletti
First of all, we have Ag2r. Despite having promising French sprinters like Lloyd Mondory and Anthony Ravard, team boss Vincent Lavenu still felt the need to grab three new fast guys. French veteran Jimmy Casper, Italian up-and-coming Manuel Belletti and Russian 12-wins-so-far-this-season Boris Shiplevski. The name to remember here is of course Manuel Belletti. He has been stuck in the Italian calendar for some years now and I’m really looking forward to see what he can do in the big races, especially in the Grand Tours where he doesn’t have to share the sprinter-role with Sacha Modolo anymore. Look out for Belletti, he will be taking home many podium places in 2012! Great transfer!

Angel Vicioso
What seemed like a Russian revolution in the Tour this year, has now been changed quite a bit at Team Katusha. A lot of new, international personalities are now to find at the team, who once again managed to sign some very interesting riders! It would be too easy to say Oscar Freire, so instead let’s focus on another Spaniard, Angel Vicioso. Together with Freire, he will be a key player in the one-day-races, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he snatched a win in of the spring classics. Great transfer!

Next up is Lampre. On one hand it seems like they want to back Alessandro Petacchi even more than this season with lead-out signings like Viganò, Paolini and Ongarato, but on the other hand they have also signed two of my favorite younguns in, future GC star, Mattia Cattaneo and Davide Cimolai who is planned to take over from Petacchi when he can’t win anymore, probably already this year. Two young Italians with huge potential  good transfers!

Giovanni Visconti
Without BMC, I would say Movistar has been making the best deals for next year. Youngsters like Castroviejo, Herrada, Quintana together with already established Karpets and Visconti, well that's just impressive. Especially Giovanni Visconti who I think finally will get his big break through on the international scene, meaning winning big races – not “just” those on the Italian calendar (no offense). And by the way, don’t forget Movistar also gets Alejandro Valverde back in 2012. Outstanding transfers!

Astana has also been quite aggressive, signing Brajkovic, Seeldrayers, Bozic etc for 2012. It’s no secret that I've already pointed out Janez Brajkovic as one of my top candidates for the Giro d’Italia next year, but let’s look at another new name at the Kazakh team instead. Francesco Gavazzi. Gavazzi has been riding in the shadows at Lampre his whole career and even though he has been able to shine a few times, like when he won a stage in the Vuelta España this year, I expect him to show his full potential in 2012. Gavazzi is a rider who should be named among the candidates for races like Milano-San Remo and Amstel Gold Race and without any other hilly sprinters at Astana, I think Gavazzi will turn out to be a really important signing for Team Vinokourov. Great transfer!

Mark Renshaw
With Oscar Freire and Graeme Brown leaving Rabobank, Matti Brechel focusing on the classics and Theo Bos far from consistent I think new-signing Mark Renshaw could be quite a scoop. Renshaw has been the world’s best lead out man for a while now but has also always delivered when given the chance. Mark Cavendish was upset to see his best man leave, and it will be very interesting to see the two going on head-2-head (get it…) in the mass sprints next year. Great transfer!

Last team for now is Team Sky. Everybody expected Mark Cavendish to sign on and of course he did just that. Cavendish is a guarantee for victories and that is exactly what Team Sky needs. Therefore Cavendish is the most important transfer of the season, no doubt. Still I would like to focus on little less known Salvatore Puccio. The young Italian won the U-23 version of Ronde van Vlaanderen this year and is a rider much like his hero Oscar Freire. Puccio is still very young and has a lot to learn, but I think we will already see some of his enormous talent next year. Great transfer!

Well that’s it for now. These are the signings I see as the most interesting for 2012. Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree.

For my view on Team Saxo Bank’s transfer situation please read my piece “Explanation - Why Saxo Bank hasn’t signed a new star to help Contador” by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Explanation - Why Saxo Bank haven't signed a new star to help Contador

Contador really needs a strong climber - but who?
As everybody who read my interview with Jesus Hernandez knows, Alberto Contador really wants one more strong climber to help him in the mountains next year. Many could argue that Jesus Hernandez himself or team mate Dani Navarro should be that rider, but as shown during the 2011-season, that’s just not the case. And when Richie Porte decided to leave the team together with Gustav Larsson, it seemed clear Bjarne Riis had to get some reinforcements.

So far the newcomers who can help in the uphill sections are the two Portuguese riders, Bruno Pires and Sergio Paulinho. Even though they are both solid climbers, they are nowhere near the level requested by Contador. So how about a rider like Juanjo Cobo who has just won the Vuelta España and right now is without a team for next year after GEOX had pulled the plug on their sponsor deal or the other former GEOX-captain Denis Menchov? Well, the answer is simple: Riis has neither the money nor the desire to do so.

Let me explain:

First of all, it’s a common mistake to think that just because Saxo Bank boss Lars Seier Christensen said the Danish bank is willing to pump more money into the team if they come up with the right name, Bjarne Riis has a blank check waiting for him. “There is a clause in the contract saying that we will release more money for the team if Bjarne finds the right rider”, it was said at the press conference back in July this year.

Therefore, the real question is, what exactly does “the right rider” mean? Does it mean Bjarne Riis can just pick any available rider on the market and then turn to Saxo Bank for extra money? Or does it mean that if Riis manages to find the rider he is looking for Saxo Bank will help out with the salary? I back the latter…

Riis wanted Hushovd to join Contador
Think about it. During this year’s Tour de France, Bjarne Riis made no effort in hiding how interested he was in signing Thor Hushovd for 2012. Normally, the team may not have the necessary means but with Saxo Bank’s additional financial support this may change. Unfortunately for Riis, the BMC team had a lot more capital to operate with and Hushovd therefore chose to sign with them instead.

In fact it seems like Thor Hushovd wasn’t the only one Riis was chasing. At the 2012 Tour presentation he said: “There have been some riders I would have liked to sign, but financial problems and other stuff got in the way”.

It’s understandable that Bjarne Riis doesn’t have the same capital as a team like BMC but if Saxo Bank really was ready to pump more money into the team in order to get another ‘name’ on the roster, how can it be that a rider like Juanjo Cobo (who signed a €800.000 contract with GEOX just before the sponsor left) isn’t an option? Well, remember what I said about desire?... the same applies for Denis Menchov. Rumor has it he requests €1.80 million a year - not exactly desirable taking into account Saxo Bank already pays Alberto Contador around €5,00 million a year.

I talked with Team Saxo Bank’s press officer Anders Damgaard about it but unfortunately he couldn’t elaborate further since “that specific deal between the cycling team and Saxo Bank is confidential”.

Martin remains an opponent for Contador
Still it doesn’t take a genius to see that if Saxo Bank was willing to pay for the right rider, and Bjarne Riis has been chasing specific riders since July, well then the Dane’s mission hasn’t really been very successful, has it?

Tony Martin is another rider Bjarne Riis had hoped to get on the team with the extra bag of money from Saxo Bank but, like Hushovd, Martin decided elsewise.

So to answer the headline’s question, ‘why hasn’t Saxo Bank signed a new star to help Contador’. There are three reasons:

1. The extra money from Saxo Bank isn't just for 'any rider'.
2. Bjarne Riis hasn’t managed to close the deal with the riders he wanted to use the extra money for.
3. No ‘desirable’ riders are left on the market.