The year to date has been far from sunny for Domina Vacanze, the Italian holiday company. They have been rooted in the nether regions of the ProTour since Paris-Nice and now find themselves entrenched in a battle to avoid the last spot in that competition with Euskaltel and Francaise des Jeux, both of whom have better options for the Tour de France. In the season-defining competition, they still remain winless. Nonetheless, even at the start of the campaign, it was clear that things were going to be tough for the squad, which is effectively last year’s De Nardi team dolled up with one or two bigger names; they simply can’t compete with the might of teams like T-Mobile and Discovery Channel, which ooze quality from every pore.
Domina Vacanze have given a lot to ask of themselves in this year’s Tour de France: every team sponsor wants a stage win or good overall performance to ensure exposure in cycling’s most well-known event worldwide. Still, it’s difficult to see where either will come from with a roster which already looks ordinary at best, even when excepting the fact that several riders must be weary from one of the hardest Giri for years. Even on all-hands-on-deck mode there, in what was their most important race of the season, they were unspectacular. Frankly, a stage victory would be a big surprise, bearing in mind the distinctly mediocre team Domina Vacanze have sent here.Put bluntly, this looks to be the weakest team in this year’s race – Domina Vacanze have come to cycling’s most prestigious event with a young and inexperienced core. They will either be eaten up and spat out by the bigger guns or they will manage, against the odds, to hold their own in the hostile three-week warzone that is the Tour de France.
The team is relying heavily on Serhiy Honchar here for a good performance; he is their only big name here. A top twenty finish in Paris is possible but it is asking a lot. In addition to having raced the Giro - finishing sixth - fatigue is harder to overcome with age and at 35, the Ukrainian isn’t getting any younger. Despite having lost a bit of power in recent years, he should still be a top-ten candidate for the time-trials - which remain his main discipline - churning that huge gear. In the mountains, he will always be limiting losses to the sprightly mountain goats.
A couple of years ago, Angelo Furlan was being touted as the next Cipollini after several fine performances in Vuelta sprints, ultimately culminating in two last-week stage victories. However, since then, he hasn’t come close to that form with just one win and two Giro stage third places in nearly three years. More worryingly for the Tour, he has looked particularly out of touch in the sprints this season. While the twenty-eight year old is potentially capable of good things, the best he can hope for is a top-five in the sprints and, at the moment, even that looks past him.
Another rider blessed with a good turn of speed in the finishing straight is veteran Alessandro Bertolini, easily the old man of the Domina Vacanze team with eleven years of experience in the professional leagues to count on. Not too leaden in the mountains either, don’t rule this man out if he gets in “the” (likely) break of the first week or in a transition stage.
The only German on the team is Jorg Ludewig, who jumped ship last year after many years with Saeco. While big and imposing, the man from Steinhageln is a solid climber, and has raced the last two Tours, finishing in the top sixty on both occasions. Ludewig will be looking to get in the attacks while still arriving in Paris with a respectable overall position.
Alessandro Vanotti was the reserve choice for the Tour team, but when Paolo Valoti was confirmed as unfit to ride, the young Italian had to step in for his second Grand Tour of the season. This could result in an early retirement or team will at least be rewarded with some exposure, as the second year pro is a very combative rider. After making the break in the sixteenth stage of the Giro and finishing third, he showed some class but one feels he will do very well just to finish, especially after some gruelling racing for three weeks in his national tour.
The other Alessandro – Cortinovis - joined from Lampre this year, and is a solid domestique. While he has collected a lot of big-race experience, this will be his very first Tour.
The Kazakh contingent in the top rung of professional cycling seems to grow with every passing year, and Maxim Iglinskiy is testament to the country’s escalating involvement in world cycling. Still only 24, he spent three years with the national team and (the first ever) Kazakh squad Capec, collecting victories and good results in countries such as the Dominican Republic, China, Greece and Chile. However, it was a promising Tour de l’Avenir, with two second places on stages contributing to fifth overall, which brought him to the attention of Domina Vacanze. While finding it hard to adjust to ProTour life, Iglinskiy is a solid sprinter and climber, and could be the team’s surprise perfomer. Still, as yet another rider in his first Grand Tour, it will be a learning experience.
Who was the last Uzbek to ride the Tour? The answer is Djamoldine Abdoujaparov, the head-down, suicidal sprinter, known as the “Tashkent Express”, best-known for his kamikaze finish. Well, it’s been the best part of ten years, but the next is along – Rafael Nuritdinov. Of course, hopefully he won’t cause as many/any crashes as his countryman. After just a couple of years with De Nardi, from which this ProTour team has its roots, this is a sink-or-swim moment for the Asian in his very first Grand Tour – the best he can do is offer support to the other riders.
Neo-pro Andriy Grivko arguably cemented his Tour ticket with victory in the Ukranian national time-trial. As a fellow Ukrainian and a good time-trialist, he could well be Honchar’s protégé. Having won the Giro delle Regioni and the U23 Giro di Toscana in his last year as an amateur, the twenty-one year old has a lot of climbing potential but reaching the Champs Elysees will be his goal. As an August 1983 birth, he may well be the youngest rider in the Tour de France this year.
Domina Vacanze for the Tour
Alessandro Bertolini (Ita), 33
Alessandro Cortinovis (Ita), 27
Angelo Furlan (Ita), 28
Andriy Grivko (Ukr), 21
Serhiy Honchar (Ukr), 35
Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz), 24
Jorg Ludewig (Ger), 29
Rafael Nuritdinov (Uzb), 28
Alessandro Vanotti (Ita), 24