The Spanish Liberty Seguros team was launched in Madrid yesterday as team manager directeur Manolo Saiz presented the 28 riders under his charge this year. This will be "a year of great challenges" said Saiz, confirming that Alexandre Vinokourov would lead the team that was expected to have two top-flight riders until Roberto Heras was suspended for two years for testing positive to EPO at last year's Vuelta.
Vinokourov and the team have a simple objective for 2006: to win the Tour de France. "2006 promises to be particularly exciting for several reasons, but the first of them is, undoubtedly, because it will be the first year in many without Lance Armstrong in the international peloton."
Armstrong's absence means that contenders for the 2006 Tour have been queuing up for months to stake their claim, and now it's Liberty's turn.
"We are very pleased to be able to boast Alexander Vinokourov on our team, one of the few leaders of the professional pack who is never forgotten among the favourites to triumph in the Tour de France," said Saiz. "Vinokourov comes to Liberty Seguros-Würth with the ambition to fulfill the dream of the entire team, rise to the highest step of the podium in Paris, and to do this we shall work as and from the very first day."
However, Saiz was keen to stress that the team does not have a one-eyed focus on the Tour. "The French tour is just one of our objectives," he said. "We have formed a group of riders with several young cyclists who this year will be that much closer to their sporting maturity and in whom we have placed our hopes to make a great leap for the entire squad. The average age of the team is just 26 years old and as many as 15 riders are 25 or under, indicating their great potential for improvement."
Those riders, Saiz hopes, will allow the team to recover from the Heras affair. "Last season ended with a terrible shock for us with the Roberto Heras case, two months after the Vuelta a España," said Saiz. "The winter was tough for the team, but I believe that Liberty Seguros-Würth knew how to bounce back, above all, we have renewed our commitment to cycling and fair play in sport. Throughout this season our priority shall also be to recuperate the affection and our standing with our fans giving our all on the road, as already demonstrated in the Tour Down Under, where Allan Davis, Carlos Barredo and Luis León Sánchez mapped out the course to be followed."
Four young riders from the Würth-Liberty Seguros development squad have stepped up to the ProTour team this year, Jose Antonio Redondo, Eladio Sánchez, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Carlos Abellán.
"We have a great team," said Saiz. "We have veterans with the wisdom and experience of Beloki, Etxebarria, Serrano and Aitor Osa; riders at full maturity such as Jaksche, Vicioso, Unai Osa or Nozal; others who are just one step away from confirming their full potential, such as Scarponi or Kashechkin; Contador, Davis and Luis León, who may well do the same again and, in short, a whole group of promising young riders making great strides, such as Barredo, De Kort, Kemps or Paulinho. They, and all of those I have not named, form part of an enviable group of 28 riders ready and prepared to fight on all fronts with real guarantees of success."