By Shane Stokes
With their scheduled start of the season at the Tour of Qatar now just two weeks away, the Astana squad are having a final tune-up at their training camp on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Friday was the official media day and members of the print, TV and photo press made their way to the rendezvous at the team hotel near Montuiri in order to meet the riders.
Although the squad won the Vuelta a España just over three months ago, management were keen to stress that this is a completely new squad. In recent weeks they were granted a ProTour license by the UCI and with previous Liberty Seguros team owner Manolo Saiz losing his own, riders such as Vuelta winner Alexandre Vinokourov and third-placed Andrej Kashechkin were officially free of their previous contracts.
They were joined today by several new riders, including double Giro winner Paolo Savoldelli and double Tour podium place-getter Andreas Klöden. Both expressed their satisfaction with things thus far, as did General Manager Marc Biver.
"Generally, so far, it is going pretty well," the Luxembourger told Cyclingnews. "Especially if we look back to November 2, when we hadn't anything set up. No bikes, no equipment, no cars - actually, nothing except some offices. But a few months later we can proudly show that the structure has been set up in a very, very short time."
"I must be thankful to all the people who have invested so much time in the organisation. I remember when I asked Walter Godefroot to be the consultant of the team for this year, he told me that he wasn't sure that we would be able to set up as structure in such a short time. So it is quite a satisfaction, now!"
Biver previously worked as the general manager of IMG Switzerland and helped run the Tour de Suisse for several years. In addition, the IMG post saw him act as manager to a number of big name riders, including Tony Rominger and Vinokourov. When the latter was trying to set up a new team, he suggested Biver for the position and after a trip to Kazakhstan to meet the Prime Minister and sponsors there, things became official.
Biver said that the team has several goals for the season, but that July is the overriding target. "Obviously the big goal is the Tour de France because the Tour is what gives cycling such a high popularity. But the first objective that we have in the season is certainly Liège-Bastogne-Liège with Kashechkin and Kessler. The Tour of Romandy is also a goal, and obviously the Giro d'Italia with Savoldelli is something we will try to do well in. Even if we think it is going to be difficult for him to win. Then all the effort and energy is going to be put into the Tour de France, where Vinokourov and Klöden will be joint leaders."
More from the Astana training camp will appear soon on Cyclingnews. For the full roster and transfer information, visit our 2007 teams database.