By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Rock Racing's owner Michael Ball spoke with reporters on Friday about his team's eleventh hour inclusion into the Tour de Georgia, which begins Monday. Ball said that while it was unfortunate to be racing as a replacement for Saunier Duval-Scott, he is happy that the team – specifically his riders Santiago Botero, Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla – will be given the opportunity to race.
"The intention was for [Botero, Hamilton and Sevilla] to compete in the Tour of California, and I feel very confident that these guys will do it," Ball said about his full team racing. "I'm so excited to finally find out how these guys compete. I think they have a fantastic opportunity to win some stages and to win this race. If Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer come over I think it would be a mano-a-mano with Sevilla and Botero."
The inclusion in the Tour de Georgia was offered during a court hearing regarding an injunction that Rock Racing had filed against Medalist Sports and the Tour de Georgia Foundation, co-organizers of the race, for what Rock said was a breach of a verbal agreement made between the parties during the Tour of California to include the team in the race. Ball said that all litigation had been dropped following the offer of the race to have Rock replace Saunier Duval-Scott.
Cyclingnews spoke with Rock Racing's attorney in Georgia Michael Weinstock, who said that the hearing was mostly spent ironing out details about Rock & Republic becoming a sponsor of the Tour de Georgia. Ball said that the sponsorship was not in any way a condition by Medalist for racing. "I know it could appear that way," Ball said. "There are no other conditions... they asked if we can conduct ourselves in a way that doesn't freak [Medalist] out! They are not used to the Hollywood style."
Ball continued saying that the team will not have the same "entourage" that it did in California. "Will there be the entourage that we had in Tour of California? No. Will there be a camera crew, yes, I am documenting this whole thing." He also added that there will be no special podium girls due to the fact that it takes weeks of casting to pull that off.
Questions were also asked about Ball's choice to include on the roster the three riders with alleged connections to Operación Puerto, as well as American Kayle Leogrande, who has accusations surrounding alleged drug use from last year from former team staff. "I don't want to get into the questionable past, there are a lot of guys in the peloton with a questionable past. [The peloton] is cleaner today and will continue to be cleaner. You just can't vilify these guys for what may or may not happed in the past."
Changing from preparing for one race to another in less than a week is a tough task, both for riders and staff, but Ball said his team is funded to be able to split squads, with another team racing at Sea Otter this weekend. "We set our goals for the year and continued training," he said. "We are using the preparation from one race to get to the next." He also added that the team is racing stage races in Colombia and Mexico in the coming weeks. "I hope the Medalists of the world understand what we are doing."