Rabo banking on Ardila

Tour de Romandie news feature, April 26, 2005 Rabobank's team manager for the Tour de Romandie, Adri...

Tour de Romandie news feature, April 26, 2005

Rabobank's team manager for the Tour de Romandie, Adri Van Houwelingen, told Cyclingnews he was in a particularly curious mood about one of his riders on the opening day of the Tour de Romandie in Geneva.

That rider was Mauricio Ardila, who joined Rabobank from Davitamon-Lotto at the end of last season. However, it's not his transfer from a Belgian to Dutch team that makes Van Houwelingen inquisitive - it's the fact that the 27 year-old Colombian had yet to race for Rabobank until yesterday, and was due to start the Giro d'Italia in an outright leadership role less than two weeks from now.

For a team to let a new rider not race a single day a fortnight before his main event seems unusual. However, Van Houwelingen cited that Ardila followed a similar build-up before last year's Tour of Italy, where he came away with three top-five finishes on some of the most difficult stages and took on a dual-leadership role with Wim Van Huffel.

"We already decided in December to do it this way, and he did almost the same way last year. He started in Niedersachsen [Rundfahrt] and immediately afterwards, he did Romandie and then the Giro, but at the end of the Giro, it was pretty hard [for him]. So we decided to scratch Niedersachsen and start here. He did some races in Colombia, among them the national championship, but this is his first race in Europe.

"Actually," Van Houwelingen went on to qualify, "the first race for the team."

Still, it's going to take time for the team and their riders to get to know Ardila, which is one reason why he's here in Switzerland. But as he demonstrated last season, Ardila, like team-mate Oscar Freire, has the uncanny ability to bring himself to top form with very little racing.

"Yes, we saw that last year when we were interested in him. When he came over [from Colombia] to Europe last year to race, he won the last stage in Niedersachsen - so if he can win the last stage here too, that's okay with us!" chuckled Van Houwelingen. "But after the Giro [last year], he went back to Colombia, came back for the Vuelta and performed well again [Ardila finished ninth overall - ed.], so we've tried to copy [his race program], more or less.

"He's the only one here who's going to participate at the Giro d'Italia," added Van Houwelingen. "He arrived from Colombia last week and yes, we're very curious about his form. He'll be our main man in the Giro for the classification. Michael Rasmussen is also going to the Giro, but he's more using the Giro to prepare for the Tour de France."

Asked how last year's Tour de France mountain man is doing, who has so far been very quiet all season, Van Houwelingen admitted Rasmussen's had a recent change of heart over the last few weeks. "Well, he decided a few weeks ago to do the Giro as preparation for the Tour de France. Before, he planned to do the race here and the Dauphiné, but then he said he's done the Giro before as preparation and it went well, so why change."

With a number of riders including Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and now Michael Rasmussen doing both the Tours of Italy and France in one year, it was interesting to get the Rabobank directeur-sportif's opinion on whether he believes it works or not. Van Houwelingen said it 'should' be possible, but it depends on one's objectives and race condition.

"I really think that if you want to do a good classification in the Giro and you have to struggle hard every day, then afterwards you want to do a good classification in the Tour, it's too hard. In previous years, we've seen all the GC riders for the Giro drop off or out in the Tour," he said.

For someone who hadn't put on his racing shoes in Europe till yesterday, Ardila performed surprisingly well, finishing 12 seconds behind winner Paolo Savoldelli to earn himself 32nd place. As for the rest of the week, it's a case of 'wait and see'; for the rest of the team, Van Houwelingen was optimistic.

"Well, they could perform well tomorrow [Stage 1] and for the rest of the stages. The second stage is very tough in the final and a lot of riders will lose time, but that will possibly create some opportunities for the stage on Friday which is an uphill finish; maybe some riders who have lost some time can go in a breakaway," he said.

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