News feature, January 29, 2006
Saunier Duval finished 2005 ranked seventh in the ProTour and a big win in Classika 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 euro conglomerate that is a leader in heating and cooling technology. And with new signing Gilberto Simoni, Saunier Duval-Prodir will certainly be contenders in this year's Giro d'Italia, where the 2005 runner-up is a contender for another win. At the team's presentation, held this week in Milano, Italy, two-time Giro d'Italia winner Simoni was the star of the show.
With proceedings conducted by RAI-TV's cycling commentators Alessandro Fabretti and Davide Cassani, the 28-rider team (minus Koldo Gil, who missed his flight) met media, sponsors and friends. After being upstaged somewhat by wunderkind Damiano Cunego in recent years, it seems two-time Giro champion Simoni is genuinely glad to be reunited with his former Lampre team directeur sportif Pietro Algeri, who previously guided the tough Trentino climber to Giro victory in 2001.
"Yes, I was second in the Giro last year and it was disappointing at the time, but in the end, it's not that big of a deal," explained 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," he added. When asked 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 and to participate in the Tour of California.
Although still suspended from competition until late June following a four-year racing ban for EPO use, 28 year old Scottish rider David Millar appeared contrite and serious when answering 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 compliment 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."
It was then time for Saunier Duval-Prodir's 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 upper reaches of the sport. Big Aaron Olson has also moved up a few levels from former 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's team manager Mauro Gianetti is that in 2006, riders will be official ambassadors for human rights, representing the Youth for Human Rights International organisation. The organisation's 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 teams initiative to support YHRI and each Saunier Duval-Prodir rider will have a cap with one of the 30 human rights inscribed on it.