By Tim Maloney, European Editor
With its first year concluded, Liquigas-Bianchi finished its team training camp in Salsomaggiore Terme with good vibes from 2005 and high hopes for 2006. With the overall winner of the inagural 2005 ProTour competition, Danilo Di Luca, just back from a relaxing vacation, all eyes at Liquigas-Bianchi turned to 2006, where Di Luca will focus on the Giro d'Italia and his teammate Stefano Garzelli will shoot for success in the Tour De France.
Di Luca had a breakthrough season in 2005, with six wins including Amstel Gold Race and Fleche Wallonne, two stage wins in the Giro d'Italia, five days in the maglia rosa and fourth overall. Di Luca will be the main man at Liquigas-Bianchi for '06 and explained, "It's the first time I've ever been a leader; it never happened at Saeco. I realized it right away because of all the attention on me...and after what I've achieved this season, I'm happy with that."
As Liquigas-Bianchi leader, Di Luca is now looking more closely at the details it takes to win. "Now I have to find the best in every way to win. Like the time trial bike; that's where there can be a lot of (time) difference. Look at Basso: this year he became a real beast. Pretty soon, Bianchi will give me a new carbon fibre time trial frame and I'll set it up on the Padova Velodrome with my coach Sandro Callari to know which way is best."
Last year, Di Luca built his early season form via a three week high-altitude training camp in Toluca, Mexico at 2800m altitude and will repeat this program in 2006 from January 29 to late February, along with teammates Stefano Garzelli, Patrick Calcagni, old warhorse Stefano "Zaza" Zanini and training partner Ale Spezialetti, who has come over to Liquigas-Bianchi from Lampre. "I'll bring three bikes with me to Mexico, including my new time trial bike," said Di Luca. "My preparation this winter will be like last year's, but the difference will be that I'll be more relaxed in my build-up to the Giro d'Italia and will only be competitive at Liege-Bastogne-Liege."
Di Luca's Liquigas-Bianchi for the Giro will be strong; with Cioni, Spezialetti, Pellizotti and the experienced Noe', who will start his 13th Giro d'Italia, but no Garzelli. "I'm sorry to miss the Giro d'Italia after the last nine years, but in any case, Danilo is a sure thing," Garzelli explained in Salsomaggiore Terme. "I've always wanted to focus one season just on the the Tour De France and this is my chance." At 32 years old, Garzelli is still a very talented rider who could be a factor in next season's grand boucle.
A new arrival from Quick.Step is Luca Paolini, who will be Liquigas-Bianchi's top rider for the classics. The powerful rider from Lake Como is psyched-up to make his mark away from his former captain Paolo Bettini. "I like being back on an all-Italian team," he said. "Here I'm finding a great organization where I can fullfill my ambitions for next season. I'll start my season at the Tour Down Under in January so I'm in great shape for Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-San Remo."
On the injury list at Liquigas-Bianchi's get together in Salsomaggiore Terme was Franco Pellizotti, who crashed in training last week and showed up with his right arm in a cast. Not present was Italian champion Enrico Gasparotto, who recently contracted mononucleosis and will be out of action for two months. "Better to have this happen now than in the middle of the season", Gasparotto said after learning of his diagnosis before the Liquigas-Bianchi camp.