The Swiss Phonak team, which
had off-season trouble because of Tyler Hamilton and
Santiago Perez and only received the ProTour licence at
the end of January, is looking forward to the Giro d’Italia, the first Grand
Tour under ProTour conditions.
With Uros Murn (Slo), Daniel
Schnider (Swi) and Tadey Valjavec (Slo) only three
riders from Phonak’s Giro Team 2004 remain. While team leaders Floyd Landis
(USA), Oscar Pereiro (Spa) and Alexandre Moos (Swi) are preparing for the Tour
de France and do not start in this years Giro, the team line-up for the Giro
d’Italia will be completed by Swiss riders Aurelien Clerc, Gregory Rast, Daniel
Schnider, Johann Tschopp, Sascha Urweider and Steve Zampieri, Uros Murn from
Slovenia and Ignatio Gutierrez Cataluna from Spain.
Like last year, the team
management named Slovenian stages race specialist Tadej Valjavec, who
finished the Giro one year ago 9th overall, their leader. This year the team
management and Valjavec himself hope to repeat this success and finish in the
top ten. But because of the ProTour, the Giro peloton
will be the strongest in years, so a place between 9
and 12 could be realistic.
Valjavec’s form seems to be
quite good. The stage-race specialist started the season with the Trofeo Soller
in Spain where he finished 16th followed by a 13th place at Haut Var, placed
29th in the overall ranking at Paris-Nice and some
unspectacular performances in the Fléche Wallone and Liége-Bastogne-Liége.
His last warm-up for the Giro d’Italia was the Tour de Romandie where he could
show his great talent in the mountains, finishing 10th in the overall ranking.
In this form he could be a big surprise in the Giro. We will see.
In the mountains, Valjavec
will be supported by climber Steve Zampieri. The 27 year old Suisse finished
last year's Giro 19th overall for his former team Vini
Caldirola. With a 12th place in the overall ranking in the Tour de Suisse and
10th overall ranking in the Tour de Romandie Zampieri showed again his good
qualities as a climber.
His present shape is a big
unknown. In his previous starts this season in the Tour of Qatar, Milano -
Torino, Tirreno-Adriatico, Critérium Internatonal and Vuelta Ciclista al Pais
Vasco, he could not satisfy his team management completely. In the Tour de
Romandie, his last race before the Giro, he showed a slightly improving
condition, finishing 36th overall.
Another good climber in the
Phonak squad is the Swiss talent Johann Tschopp. The 22 year old Tschopp,
who faces his first Grand Tour, shall collect some experience during the Giro on
the one hand, but on the other hand he should support Valjavec in the mountains
as good as he can.
Tschopp’s preparation was
quite good including a 15th place at Milano-Torino, a strong Critérium
International and a tolerable Liége-Bastogne-Liége. His last race just before
the Giro was the Tour de Romandie where he supported his team captains Pereiro,
Botero and Moos very well.
Sascha Urweider will
ride his first Grand Tour too. The 24 year old Swiss signed with the Phonak team
last November after riding the 2004 season for GS 3 team Saeco-Romer`s
Wetzikon. Similar to Tschopp, Urweider shall collect some experience and support
the Phonak-train in the final kilometres, bringing the
sprinters Clerc and Rast in good positions.
His races for Phonak were
entirely satisfactory this year, highlighted by a 57th place overall in the Tour
of Qatar and a 65th place overall in the Tour de Georgia. Furthermore he
competed in Haut Var, Omloop Het Volk, Critérium International and the Three
Days of De Panne, but could finish none of them.
The only Spanish rider in
this year's Phonak Giro squad is Ignacio Gutierrez Cataluna. The 27 year
old helper signed with Phonak for the 2005 season after riding the last season
for the Spanish Elite 2 team Caja Castilla la Mancha. But the Giro is not
completely strange to Gutierrez. In 2003, when he rode for the Spanish Kelme
team, he finished the Giro, his only Grand Tour up to now, 39th overall. His job
in this year's Giro will be helping his team captains
and especially to be part of some breakaway groups.
To get himself in shape,
Gutierrez rode the Challenge Illes Balears, the Trofeo Luis Puig, Milano-Torino,
Critérium International, Tour of Flanders and the Setmana Catalana, where he
finished the first stage in 7th place.
For the bunch sprints the
management nominated Aurélien Clerc. The sprinter who signed with Phonak
for this season after riding for the Belgium Quick Step team through
the 2004 season shall try to sprint on the podium in some bunch sprint finishes.
Because of the participation of Mr. Unbeatable Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa
Bortolo) and Australia's quickest sprinter Robbie
McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), his chances for a stage
victory are very small.
In preparation for the Giro,
Clerc competed in the Tour of Qatar where he finished the opening stage 4th,
Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Critérium
Internationl, Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and last but not least the Tour de
Georgia, where he had two top 10 places including a
3rd place on the final stage. But on balance, his season so far is fair to
Despite not having a chance
to win a bunch sprint, Clerc gets a leadout man in Swiss Champion Gregory
Rast, who will bring him in the right
position and help him in the final kilometer. The 25 year old Rast competed in a
lot of races this season so far. His biggest success this season was a 15th
place at Gent-Wevelgem, followed by a 7th place at the Stausee Rundfahrt and an
11th place at the Tour de Berne, and a 28th place
overall in the Three Days of De Panne. His further races, acting as helper in
Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders
and Paris-Roubaix, were rather inconspicuous.
With Daniel Schnider,
a rider returns to action after an injury break. The prologue specialist, who
finished last year's Giro 45th overall, had to cancel
almost his whole spring season due to breathing
problems. After an operation the 31 year old Swiss seems to be back in full
shape in time and wants especially ride a good prologue. In his first race after
the operation Schnider finished 32nd at the Tour de Berne.
The Phonak line-up is
completed by Slovenian rider Uros Murn. The 30 year old Slovenian
national champion, who finished last year's Giro
in 92nd overall, has a very impressive season so far
and could spring for a surprise. Probably Murn will have some liberties and does
not have to work for his leader Valjavec all the time. We will often see him in
breakaways and he will have good chances to succeed out of a breakaway group
because he is in a good shape, has no problems in the medium mountains and is a
This season so far he showed
his qualities, finishing 6th in Omloop Het Volk and winning the opening stage of
the Setmana Catalana in a bunch sprint without pure sprinters. Furthermore he
finished 23rd in the Amstel Gold Race, 16th in Haut Var, 36th in the Tour of
Flanders and competing well in the ProTour races Paris - Roubaix, Gent -
Wevelgem and the Fléche Wallone.
Chances of Success
Because of the ProTour and
the strong peloton, the chances of success are small. Valjavec could reach a
position between 9 and 15 in the overall ranking and in the bunch sprints
Aurélien Clerc is able get some Top 5 positions. Furthermore Daniel Schnider
will ride a good prologue. After not winning a stage in the last year's
Giro, the chances for a stage victory this year are not that good too. Only Uros
Murn could win a stage out of a breakaway or a small group. Or will we see the
great coming-out of Tadej Valjavec?
Aurélien Clerc (Swi)
Ignatio Gutierrez Cataluna (Spa)
Uros Murn (Slo)
Gregory Rast (Swi)
Daniel Schnider (Swi)
Johann Tschopp (Swi)
Sascha Urweider (Swi)
Tadej Valjavec (Slo)
Steve Zampieri (Swi)
Racing leadership: René Savary