By Monika Prell
Igor González de Galdeano, who will head into his third season in 2008 as part of the management of Euskaltel - Euskadi, was spending time with the team in a training camp in Derio (Bizkaia) when he spoke to Gara about the team's accomplishments and objectives.
González de Galdeano said he was happy with the changes the team made in 2007 when it adopted the philosophy of emphasizing team work over individual accomplishments. "I think that it was good. Really, it went better than we hoped. Personally, I believe that the change was important. There were many new riders, but they integrated themselves very fast. Everybody understood the schema. Sure, sometimes, the team got on the wrong track, but in general they did a very good work," said the former professional racer.
In 2008, the team will ride with 26 racers after having fired seven of them for "very strict sporting" reasons. Three new riders also come to the team, Javier Aramendia and Josu Agirre (both from Orbea - Oreka) and Egoi Martínez (Discovery Channel), with the latter being the team's most important signing.
Of Martínez, González de Galdeano said he expects the rider "to take victories for and add to the stability of the team in important races like the Tour de France." He continued, "Our team is very young. We need [his] experience."
Another result of the squad's downsizing of the squad is that the team will contest fewer races. "We will eliminate races in Portugal, the Giro di Trentino and the Giro d'Oro in Italy and a Spanish one, perhaps La Rioja. It depends on the progression of the season. We surely won't split the team in three groups, as we did this year in two occasions."
The team will contest the Giro d'Italia, even though it is no longer a ProTour race although its participation in the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California are still to be determined.
"The first objective will be the Vuelta al País Vasco. [Mikel] Astarloza and [Igor] Antón will be the leaders of the team that will dispute this race." There was a little surprise when González de Galdeano announced that "Astarloza and [Haimar] Zubeldia will be the leaders of the squad for the Tour de France" and that Igor Antón "perhaps won't ride the Tour de France. We will ask a bit more of him. Step by step he will receive more responsibilities. Above of all, we are hoping he will be good in the Vuelta al País Vasco."
González de Galdeano hopes to give Euskaltel - Euskadi a stronger start to the season than usual. "We will plan the season differently and intend to race shorter cycles with a break before every cycle. Ten riders will have to be in a good form at the beginning [of the season], amongst them Haimar Zubeldia, Amets Txurruka, Rubén Pérez, Aitor Galdos and Iván Velasco."
For Zubeldia, in particular, this season differ from last year. "This year we will try to make the beginning of the season brilliant for him, but as always, the Tour de France is his biggest objective. At the beginning of the calendar, there are some races that should work for him."
One of the team's problems is the upcoming end of its contract with Samuel Sánchez. The Asturian's contract is expected to expire at the end of 2008 and negotiations are now stalled. Whether he will stay on "is a complicated question. The sponsors have to engage and we need their bank guarantee. It's not that easy. Samuel always stayed 'for a bit less'. He is content and he even says that he would like to end his career with this team. But it's also sure that we won't pour our money down the drain. The team wants Samuel to stay, of course, but he has to understand our limitations. It's possible that he won't be with us in 2009."
However, for 2008, Sánchez, the team's most successful rider from 2007, will continue to wear the orange jersey. His specific program will be determined depending on whether he rides in the Olympic Games. "If he rides them, we will re-consider his participation in the Tour de France and perhaps also the Vuelta a España. We will decide after the participants for the Olympic Games are announced," promised González de Galdeano.