By Shane Stokes
Irish professional Philip Deignan has had a good first impression with his new squad, the Cervélo Test Team, and is looking forward to racing in its colours in 2009. He met with his new team-mates earlier this month at their initial camp in Locarno, Switzerland.
"It went very well it was only three days long but the whole team got to know each other very well and there was a really good atmosphere," he told Cyclingnews this week. "We also had lots of meetings with sponsors and the equipment providers, talking to them about what sort of equipment we are going to be using and what the benefits are."
Deignan has competed with AG2R since turning professional in 2005 and has had some good performances in that time. He was tenth, twelfth and sixteenth on mountain stages of last year's Vuelta a España and expected to step up a level this season. However he never really hit top form, with eighth on stage three of the Deutschland Tour and 25th overall among the best results he achieved.
The 25-year-old believes that over-training heading into the season may have been a factor. He consequently took a good break of five weeks from the bike this time round and is now building up for what he hopes will be a season that fully confirms his climbing talent.
Providing he reaches top form, he could make his Tour de France debut riding for defending champion Carlos Sastre. The Spaniard will lead the new Cervélo team and will be one of the favourites for the 2009 race. "Carlos is really friendly and laid back," said Deignan, speaking of his first impressions of the former CSC rider. "There are no airs or graces about him, he is a very down to earth guy.
"It will be amazing to ride with someone like him. There are [Thor] Hushovd and a lot of other big riders in the team, too, so I am sure I will learn a lot from them and hopefully get a chance to help them win big races."
The young Irishman is facing a good block of racing in the first half of the season. After attending the team training camp and launch in Portugal in January he will head to the Tour de Langkawi, then return to Europe to ride the GP di Chiasso, GP di Lugano, Paris-Nice, the Vuelta Castilla y Leon plus the Tour du Pays Basques. He will then do the three hilly spring Classics, namely Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, before lining out in the Giro d'Italia for the second year in succession.
"It is a pretty full-on programme for the start of the year. The team also asked me how I would feel about doing two Grand Tours," he said, referring to the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. "I told them that they need to be realistic, see how things go. It is hard to do two Grand Tours in a row, so we will see closer to the time. But obviously it would be great to do both."