Bigger and better in 2006 - and with a very different jersey - Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears is shaping up to be a solid contender for the grand tours this season. Tim Maloney reports from Paris, France.
At a deluxe Parisian hotel just a stone's throw from ground zero for luxury and chic, le Place Vendome, the 2006 edition of Team Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears was presented formally to the media on Monday, January 23. Formerly known as Illes Balears, now second sponsor Caisse d'Epargne has stepped up its commitment to the squad directed by team general manager José Miguel Echavarri and thus Caisse d'Epargne will be a title sponsor for five seasons through 2010, currently the longest term contract in pro cycling.
Mr. Charles Milhaud, a member of the board of directors of the giant French savings bank, explained that his organization had been involved with many different sponsoring activities, including the Coupe de France football series, but were attracted to cycling because "the teams are identified themselves by the name of the title sponsor, something that we find is a very efficient way to communicate."
Starting his 26th year of team management, José Miguel Echavarri is clearly pleased to once again have a large, powerful sponsor behind his organization for the future, as he did for many years with the Banesto team. Echavarri and his right hand man Francis Lafargue understand how to work with a major sponsor like Caisse d'Epargne as well as his mission of winning bike races. "I am happy to say that we have the pleasure and honour to have a team for our riders once again. But it's not important which riders win, but how they win. And we are happy to work with Caisse d'Epargne because they are a sponsor that respects this sense of sporting ethics." And clearly Caisse d'Epargne wants a winning team, as they have opened up their wallet for 2006, hiring not only some good young French riders, but bringing on board top guns like Oscar Pereiro, Tino Zaballa and making sure superstar Alejandro Valverde is surrounded by the right mix of riders on the 28 rider team.