By Monika Prell
Eusebio Unzué, sport director of the Spanish team Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, has already announced the squad's roster for the 2007 Tour de France. According to Spanish newspaper AS, the management chose the same team as for the Tour last year, with Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro as leaders. Fellow Spaniards David Arroyo, José Vicente García Acosta and Xabier Zandio, the Russian Vladimir Karpets and the French Florent Brard and Nicolas Portal will make up the strong helper's team for the two.
David Arroyo finished 21st in the general classification of the 2006 Tour de France. José Vicente García Acosta has already won a Tour stage in 2000 and is always good for an attack. Xabier Zandio finished the 2005 Tour as 22nd, and Vladimir Karpets was best young rider in 2004. Florent Brard, winner of the 2006 French road championships, and Nicolas Portal are good allrounders.
Unzué is very happy with his team: "Last year, we only could count on Valverde for three stages. Now, all will have more experience," he commented his choice. After Valverde crashed out of the Tour on stage three with a broken collarbone, the team supported Pereiro in his quest to keep the Yellow Jersey from Floyd Landis - he may still get it back.
However, due to the tragic death of Isaac Gálvez at the Gent Sixday in November last year, one spot on the Tour roster has remained vacant. Three candidates are struggling for the opportunity to participate: José Iván Gutiérrez, Fran Pérez and Luis León Sánchez, the new signing for Caisse d'Epargne.
The overall winner of the ProTour, Valverde will start his season in Mallorca on February 11 before competing the Vuelta a Murcia and the spring classics: Milano-San Remo, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. After the Tour de Romandie, he will have a break and then participate at the Dauphiné Libéré.
Pereiro will start his season at the Vuelta a Castilla y León, and continue his preparation for the Tour by riding the Tour de Romandie, la Volta a Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré.