For the iBanesto.com team, the shadow of Miguel Indurain still looms, and as Armstrong prepares to attempt to tie Big Mig's record of 5 consecutive Tour de France victories, Jose Miguel Echavarri's team has not since returned to GC glory, though their development program has turned out talent that you simply can't deny, beginning with Indurain, and including riders like Delgado, Olano, Jose Maria Jimenez and Angel Casero.
The great strength of iBanesto.com in recent years has often been its climbers, and this time around is no exception. The team is led this year by mountain goat Francisco Mancebo. Mancebo has a strong record in the Tour, with top honors in the Best Young Rider competition in 2000, and a strong 7th place finish in the GC in 2002. On his best day, Mancebo can climb with the big dogs. In 2001, when Armstrong gave the field a long last look goodbye on Alpe d'Huez, Mancebo held on for 6th place. This season, he won the Classique des Alpes, and the Vuelta Castilla y Leon. Mancebo is also better than your average pixie climber when it comes to the time trial and should be able to limit his losses. Mancebo will be looking for a respectable GC showing.
Right along with him will be iBanesto's other climbing prodigy, Juan Miguel Mercado, who won stage 6 of the Dauphine last month - the tough stage up Galibier, and finished in the top ten of the GC there. Mercado is weaker against the clock, but he's an exceptional climber, who will provide good support for Mancebo in the mountains, or could ride for a stage win, or the King of the Mountains jersey.
Mancebo and Mercado will have solid support in the climbs from a team stocked with strong climbers, including Denis Menchov, Juan Antonio Flecha, Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta, and Pablo Lastras. Russian Evgeni Petrov is strong in the time trial.
iBanesto.com for the 2003 Tour de France
Juan Miguel Mercado
Juan Antonio Flecha
Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta