News feature, January 29, 2006
Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens ready to win in 2006
Held this week at an elegant hotel in Milan, Italy, Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens presented a formidable line-up for 2006, where two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni was the star of the show. Tim Maloney, European Editor in Milano, reports.
Saunier Duval finished up 2005 ranked seventh in the ProTour teams classification, courtesy of a big win in the Clasica San Sebastian, but their 22 second places told the tale of a team searching for a big breakthrough.
Team sponsor Saunier Duval, which produces home heating and cooling systems, is part of the Vaillant Group, a €1.9 billion group that is a leader in heating and cooling technology. With new signing Gilberto Simoni, Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens will certainly be contenders in the upcoming Giro d'Italia, where last year's runner-up is a contender for a third win.
With a slick event professionally conducted by RAI-TV cycling commentators Alessandro Fabretti and Davide Cassani, the 28-rider team (without Koldo Gil, who missed his flight) met media, sponsors and friends. After playing second fiddle the last few years to wunderkind Damiano Cunego, it seems Simoni is genuinely glad to be reunited with his former Lampre team diesse Pietro Algeri, who previously guided the tough Trentino climber to victory at the 2001 Giro.
"Yes, I was second last year in the Giro and it was disappointing at the time, but in the end, it's not that big of a deal," said Simoni. "This is a good team with lots of young riders. It will be a tough Giro with the start in Belgium and then all the climbs are concentrated in the last week."
Cassani then asked Gibo how he felt about the possibility of becoming the Giro's oldest ever winner at 34 years and 9 months; the hard mountain man laughed off any suggestion of aging, saying, "Changing teams is a big motivation for me and working with Pietro Algeri is good, too." Simoni will now head to Majorca for the Challenge races, then to the USA for wind tunnel testing on a new TT bike before participating in the inaugural Tour of California.
Although he's still suspended from competition until late June for confessing to EPO use, 28 year-old Scot David Millar came off contrite and sober when he answered Fabretti's question about what his experience had been like over the last few years.
"I have a responsibility toward cycling to come back to the sport better than I was before, with a good, clear voice to give merit to this beautiful sport," said Millar. "It was very hard for me. I lost everything. I made mistakes and I've paid for them. But I am really convinced that [one] can win at the highest level of this sport without using drugs." Millar then paid homage to his new team, explaining that "I'm very lucky this team is so welcoming. They've given me a second chance, which is something very rare these days."
Another new member of the 2006 edition of Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens is Brazilian sprinter Luciano Pagliarini. The gregarious South American told Cyclingnews that "so far, the vibe on this team is great and I'm very glad to have my good friend Matteo Algeri as my director. And although I didn't have a win last year, I had a lot of good placings. So this year I want to start winning again."
Staying in the same hemisphere, but heading north of the equator, we come to Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens' North American contingent. Canadian Charles Dionne has finally found his way to the big time and it will be interesting to see how the fast, talented Quebecois fares at the max level. Big Aaron Olson has also moved up a few levels from his last team Jelly Belly and the powerful Californian clearly has the physique to make it in the pro ranks as a tempo monster up front.
One key initiative promoted by Saunier Duval-Prodir Pens team manager Mauro Gianetti is that in 2006, the riders will be official ambassadors for human rights, representing the Youth For Human Rights International organisation.
According to their mission statement, their purpose is "To teach youth around the globe about Human Rights, thus helping them to become valuable advocates for the promotion of tolerance and peace." After a showing of YHRI's emotional video "UNITED", Gianetti explained the team's initiative to support YHRI, with each rider owning a cap with one of the 30 human rights inscribed on it."