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Sanchez and Sicard Underpin Euskaltel Plans
By Christopher Fauske
Date: 9/22/2009
Sanchez and Sicard Underpin Euskaltel Plans

Sanchez and Sicard Underpin Euskaltel Plans
Vuelta runner-up and Tour de l'Avenir winner highlight team’s 2010 plans

As team founder Miguel Madariaga steps aside from day to day involvement in Basque team Euskaltel Euskadi, current technical secretary and soon-to-be manager Igor González de Galdeano is moving from a focus on the just concluded Vuelta a Espana and the Tour de l'Avenir to establish a theme for 2010.

Samuel Sanchez finished second in the Vuelta, 55 seconds behind winner Alejandro Valverde, and is currently in Switzerland, representing Spain in the UCI World Championships, alongside his close friend Valverde. His team, meanwhile, has completed the transfer of rising star Romain Sicard, who clinched this year’s Tour de l'Avenir by one second from American rider Tejay Van Gaderen, from the continental Basque squad Orbea to the main team of the Fundación Ciclista Euskadi.

Sicard will be just the second rider on the squad from the French Basque country, following in the footsteps of Thierry Elissalde who rode with the team from 1994-5.

Romain Sicard.

Photo © 2009 Fundación Ciclista Euskadi

De Galdeano, speaking after the Vuelta, noted that “we have limitations, but we've matured. The Navacerrada stage when the team took the reins is the best evidence of that." The team is “tough" and "combative," and while there are no excuses being made for Sanchez’s second place (a spot that de Galdeano himself secured in 1999 [second to Jan Ullrich]), the question lingers of what might have happened had Sanchez not had that tough day early in the second week.

The 2009 Tour of Spain Podium: Samuel Sanchez, Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans.

Photo © 2009 Fotoreporter Sirotti

Sanchez’s second place is the highest position for the team on any of the Grand Tours, but de Galdeano is already stressing that the foundation’s interest is not just in winning races, and that "we must renew the template. We must provide opportunities for young people. That is the philosophy of this project." That the team has been able to sign Sicard, retain Koldo Fernandez, and, last year, re-sign Sanchez after his gold medal in the Olympics, is evidence of the appeal of the team to riders, but, as de Galdeano notes “the Basque nursery is not what it was,” and riders such as Beñat Intxausti (Fuji-Servetto) and Juan Manual Gárate (Rabobank) have made it to the pro tour without going through the foundation’s ranks.

In keeping with his theme of securing the team’s philosophical base, de Galdeano is quoted on the team’s website saying that “it's fair to say that Euskaltel Euskadi, competing, unlike any other team, with a particular philosophy, has managed to convey the values of a people coping with adversity through honesty and fair effort to overcome the challenges in a tour in which every day we have been able to demonstrate that this group continues to mature and improve.

"The results were not a matter of luck but were the fruit of labor, dedication, and sacrifice.“

As the season winds down and the foundation examines its budget for next year significant challenges remain. Not least is the status of Mikel Astarloza’s doping violations. The rider and, crucially, team continue to be adamant in expressing confidence in his innocence, and that team support potentially risks losing sponsors already reeling from an economic meltdown in the Basque country.

Ironically, Valverde’s victory in the Vuelta is also a potential complicating factor as his own appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the way Italian authorities have handled their investigation of his connections with Operación Puerto could conceivably open the door to a UCI ban on him, rather than an Italian-only one, and that would be a further blow to an already weakened Spanish cycling reputation.

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