News feature, January 30, 2006
Garzelli, Paolini and Backstedt ready to race, too
Landing the overall title in the inaugural ProTour series was 2005's biggest achievement for the Liquigas-Bianchi team. For 2006, the top Italian squad is aiming for more victories in Classics and Tours as well as series success, as the riders explained at the team's launch in Milano. European Editor Tim Maloney reports.
On a cold winter Saturday night with Milano covered in a rare white blanket of snow, there was a warm welcome for the second season of the Liquigas-Bianchi squad inside The Blue Note, Italy's top jazz vanue. With Italian TV host Federica Panigucci and Liquigas-Bianchi press chief Gabriele Sola as the hosts with the most, the Liquigas-Bianchi team revealed its new squad for 2006.
Kicking off the festivities was a brief speech by Liquigas boss, Dr. Paolo Del Lago. Known as a true cycling fan, Del Lago was very positive when he talked about the inaugural year for the team. "Yes, last year was a big season, with a lot of key moments; not just the wins and emotion from that, but also other moments...like on the Colle delle Finestre in the Giro d'Italia. For me, the most important moment was when we were following the stage, and as we began climbing the mountain, I looked up and saw the many tens of thousands of people who were waiting days and days to see the riders for just ten minutes and I realized how beautiful our sport is. That was a special moment for me."
Del Lago finished by congratulating Danilo DiLuca on his ProTour win and said, "our team is not just about winning, but also how you win. So I have to thank all the riders and staff people for their efforts in 2005 and especially Roberto Amadio, who managed to pull a real team together in the first year."
Liquigas-Bianchi general manager Roberto Amadio will direct 28 riders from 8 different countries, featuring 10 new riders, including 4 neo-pros, in total a group of 54 riders and staff. He will be supported by four direttori sportivo; Stefano Zanatta, Dario Mariuzzo, Mario Scirea and new man Mario Chiesa. The likeable, easygoing Amadio said of his 2006 campaign, "This year, we've planned a different type of season because with the ProTour we needed some strong new riders. So we've added quality to the team this season and expecct to have some big results."
Although Federica Panigucci tried to get Danilo DiLuca to demonstrate his musical talents as a singer and drummer on-stage at the Blue Note, the ProTour winner stuck to cycling. DiLuca paid homage to his team for his victory, saying "a lot of this was up to the help of my teammates and the great team support I had so I have to thank the entire Liquigas-Bianchi team."
DiLuca's primary goal for the 2006 season is the Giro d'Italia, where he was a surprising fourth overall in 2005. "Yes, I'm going to try to win the Giro," explained DiLuca, "even if it will be really hard with so many climbing stages in a row, but in any case, I'm preparing for it. The Giro looks to be even harder and more spectacular this year, so there should be even more time between the riders at the finish. There is no one stage that stands out; to win, you have to be very consistent, all race long. And I don't think I'll miss the classics that much; in any case, I'll still ride them but not to win. It will be nice to start with the #1 dossard."
Another 2006 season goal of DiLuca's is the World Championship road race in Salzburg, Austria. "It's well after the Giro so I can recover, plus the course is good for me. So we'll see." DiLuca will also have the valuable help from his good friend and training partner Alessandro Spezialetti, who joins Liquigas-Bianchi from Lampre. "I'm happy to be here and I know Danilo well; we always train together so I'm glad to help him anyway I can to win the Giro," said Spezialetti.
Liquigas-Bianchi's number two stage racer is the classy 2000 Giro winner Stefano Garzelli. Recently a new father of baby Marco (who Garzelli said is an excellent sleeper), Garzelli is Liquigas-Bianchi's main man for the Tour de France this season. After nine years in a row, 2006 is the first year Garzelli won't do the Giro, but he admitted, "sure, I would rather do the Giro, even if it it's a little exaggerated as to how hard it is. The Tour isn't that hard, but you have to do well in all the time trials. The Tour is not really suited for my characteristics as a rider but I'm going to give it my best shot."
Speedy classics rider Luca Paolini is a newcomer to Liquigas-Bianchi from Quick.Step, where he was known as the right-hand man for Paolo Bettini. Speaking of his transition, Paolini said, "Well, the roads divided this season; it was a new choice for me. I really had good years with Bettini and learned a lot, but now I want to take my own road. So now I'm looking for some big wins this season; I really like the Tour Of Flanders and that is a major goal for me."
Another classic, Paris-Roubaix is clearly the season goal for 2004 winner, Magnus Backstedt. The statuesque Swede told the assembled audience, "I really like Paris-Roubaix and it's a lot of fun for me... it's the big objective of my season. Last year I made a few mistakes at the end of the race but hope to improve again this year." Backstedt told Cyclingnews that he was currently testing a new aluminium frame from Bianchi. "We worked on a lot and it's almost perfect for me," he said. And Maggy also left the door open for another try at the Derny World Hour Record at season end.
Sporting an elegant grey suit instead of his Maglia Tricolore, speedy young Italian champion Enrico Gasparotto is on the comeback trail. "Yes, I had mono at the end of last season but now it's gone," he said. "So everything is back to normal and I've already started training and hope to be in good form later this spring." Gasparotto's teammate Franco Pellizzoti explained that he was ambitious for 2006, saying, "well, I just had too many second places for me last season; yes, I had two wins but this year I want to win a lot more." And Dario Cioni echoed Pellizzoti's ambition. "When I came to this team, I wanted to confirm my great season in 2004, but it didn't happen, said Cioni."So I'm more determined than ever to show what I can do this season."
They may not win much, but experienced riders like Andrea Noe', Marco Milesi, Nicola Loda, Dario Andriotto and newcomer Stefano Zanini make up a solid foundation that Liquigas-Bianchi can always count on. We joked with oldsters Milesi (36) and Zanini (37), while Noe', nicknamed "brontolo" (complainer) moaned in the backround. "Yeah, but it's okay since I complained all last year as usual and it went well, so I'll keep it up!" This comment drew a big laugh from honorary Italian, British rider Charly Wegelius, who later refused to show off his Lombard dialect to Signora Panigucci.
Liquigas-Bianchi has rounded out the 2006 squad with powerful Manuel Quinziato from Saunier-Duval and four neo-pros, including talented Czech Roman Kreuziger and 19 years old Eros Capecchi, who recently impressed at the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under.
With Liquigas-Bianchi's team presentation over, the riders will start their own training plans. Danilo Di Luca, Stefano Garzelli, Patrick "Beautiful" Calcagni, Matej Mugerli, Alessandro Spezialetti and Stefano Zanini have left Italy to train at altitude in Toluca, Mexico as in 2006, while diesse Stefano Zanatta will head to the Challenge de Mallorca with Magnus Backstedt, Michael Albasini, Kjell Carlström, Dario Cioni, Nicola Loda, Vladimir Miholjevich, Marco Milesi, Vincenzo Nibali, Luca Paolini, Franco Pellizotti and Manuel Quinziato. The rest of the Liquigas-Bianchi riders will have a training camp in Cecina Mare from February 1-9.