By Gregor Brown
Team Barloworld will focus on the team time trial in its first camp from February 2 to 11 in Tuscany, Italy. Team Manager Claudio Corti noted the advantages of the discipline in the early season and the first Grand Tour of the year, the Giro d'Italia.
"There is one to start off the Tour Méditerranéen and then it is important for the various team time trials during the season. We have Britons Geraint Tomas and Steve Cummings both are very strong in the time trial then Robert Hunter and Mauricio Soler are also good."
The Tour Méditerranéen, February 10 to 15, features a 30-kilometre time trial on the second day of racing. It is slightly longer than the opening day of the Giro d'Italia. The Italian Grand Tour, May 9 to 31, features a 20.5-kilometre team time trial on the shores of Venice. Barloworld finished fifth behind America's Slipstream-Chipotle team in the event in last year's Giro d'Italia.
"We want to do well right away at Méditerranéen. There is the time trial and the mountain stage to Mount Faron, a chance for Soler, even if it is a short climb early in the season. ... [The Giro] is an important objective for us and we need to prepare, hoping we get the invitation."
The team is ready to start the 2009 season. Corti reported that all the bikes and clothing are ready and the team could race immediately, if needed. Its first race is not until February 7 at the GP Etruschi.
The team members are taking advantage of their home countries for training leading up to the first camp. Hunter, John-Lee Augustyn and Chris Froome are training in South Africa. The winner of the 2007 Tour de France mountains competition, Soler, is riding four to five hours a day in his native Colombia.
"Mauricio is taking advantage of the warm climate in Colombia. He's working hard... . He's hardly stopped riding during the winter since he was off the bike last summer because of his injuries," said Corti. Much is expected of Soler as he tries to return to the success of 2007 when he won the climber's jerseys at the Tour de France.
The team has 16 members for 2009. The only new signing is new professional, Italian Michele Merlo.
"He won 10 races last year. He is a sprinter, so there are chances for him to do well in the sprints, whereas climbers like Froome or Augustin need time to develop," said Corti.