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Giro Teams - Team Phonak
By Staff
Date: 5/4/2005
Giro Teams - Team Phonak

By Chris Adameitz

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.

Riders, Form and Successes

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 middling.

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 good sprinter.

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?

Team Line-Up

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

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