By Monika Prell
The team Euskaltel-Euskadi announced this week a 22-man team for 2009. The Basque squad will retain Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, and signed just two new riders: Mikel Nieve from the feeder team Orbea Oreka and Pablo Urtasun, who rode the last two years for the Portuguese team Liberty Seguros.
The team will lose six members, most importantly one of its stage race contenders, Haimar Zubeldia, who will join Astana. Antton Luengo will retire from cycling for personal reasons,which kept him off the bike for five months. Lander Aperribay will take a job in the commercial department of Euskaltel's clothing apparel-supplier Etxe-Ondo and is also holding spinning-classes at two different gyms. Beñat Albizuri, Jon Bru and Dioni Galparsoro are the other three riders who did not prolong their contracts, but they are looking for a team to join. Bru and Galparsoro are hoping that Oscar Guerrero, their former sports director at Kaiku, will be able to find a sponsor to build a new team.
That leaves twenty riders who will stay in the team: Josu Agirre, Igor Antón, Javier Aramendia, Mikel Astarloza, Jorge Azanza, Koldo Fernández de Larrea, Aitor Galdos, Aitor Hernández, Markel Irizar, Iñaki Isasi, Andoni Lafuente, Iñigo Landaluze, Egoi Martínez, Juanjo Oroz, Alan Pérez, Rubén Pérez, Samuel Sánchez, Amets Txurruka, Ivan Velasco and Gorka Verdugo.
Even if the prolongation of Sánchez' contract caused some financial problems and some rumours existed about a possible departure of the Olympic champion for the team Cervélo, the team's direction and the Asturian came to an agreement that was acceptable for both parties, and Sánchez will stay with the Basque team until at least 2010.
There are also some changes in the staff. Directeur sportif Jon Odriozola will leave, while Igor González de Galdeano, until now the technical secretary, and Gorka Gerrikagoitia will be the primary directors, joined by Xabier Carbayeda, Josu Larzabal and Alex Díaz.
According to Diario Vasco, the team won't participate in the 2009 Tour Down Under, Giro d'Italia, Tour de Pologne and Deutschland Tour, as with only 22 riders, a full ProTour calendar is difficult to fulfil.