By Monika Prell
The Basque Sports Federation celebrated its "First Gala of the Basque sports" in the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao on Thursday, and cycling was honored once more thanks to Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez. However, the Euskaltel - Euskadi rider missed the ceremony because he was away participating in his team's training camp in Calpe. Instead team manager Miguel Madariaga appeared to accept the award on behalf of Sánchez.
"Our objectives for 2009 are to improve our results," said Madariaga to Cyclingnews. "We had a very good season in 2008, but we lacked a big Tour win and we will try to for this goal in 2009. Our best riders, Samuel [Sánchez] and Igor Antón, have recuperated fully from their injuries, but I also have to comment about how some of our young riders surprised me positively in the Tour Down Under."
Madariaga is happy with how the training camp has been going. "It is very good. We are working hard. Here [in the Basque country], we were not able to train because of the bad weather [cold, rain and a cyclone], so we decided to escape. There, on the eastern coast of Spain, we are lucky. The weather is great and everything is going well."
On Friday, the team checked out some of the mountains that will be included in the upcoming Vuelta a España, like the Alto de Aitana, which will benefit Sánchez
"He is preparing well. He can do a great Vuelta a España and a good World Championship," said Madariaga of Sánchez. "We decided that he will compete in the Vuelta a España to win, so he won't participate at the Tour de France." Instead, Igor Antón and Mikel Astarloza will show their skills as team leaders in the French Grand Tour.
The team will sit out the Giro d'Italia. "We don't have a team to race all three big Tours due to a small budget," said Madariaga, "and instead of doing a bad Giro, I prefer to concentrate on the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España."
Asked if he would have liked to have signed more riders, Madariaga said, "It's always a question of money, and with the little budget we have, we are not able to sign many riders," however he conceded, "[It's] a dream of mine...if I had the money - I would sign Alberto Contador. It would be possible, because even if he is not Basque, he rode as an amateur for the team Iberdrola, from San Sebastián. But this will stay a dream."