Caisse d’Epargne team manager Eusebio Unzue and Telefonica general secretary Luis Abril launched the new-look Movistar team during the second rest day of the Vuelta a España in Peñafiel. Abril is also a former director of Banesto and he insisted that history played a big role in the Spanish telecommunication company’s commitment to sponsor Unzue’s team.
“This project has involved a lot of people and friendship has been an important factor in sealing a deal,” said Unzue, while Abril was adamant that “the human aspect is essential in this partnership.”
“I know everyone in this team since the Banesto years,” he explained. The squad was originally known as Reynolds until the Spanish bank he used to run took over in 1990. That same team successively became Iles Balears and Caisse d’Epargne but the French bank announced in January that its current sponsorship deal would not be renewed.
“The continuity of the structure, the philosophy of the team and the confidence we have in Eusebio Unzue have prevailed,” Abril said. “It took a long time for the decision to be made,” he added, partly in explanation as to why the biggest Spanish team was unable to secure the services of Alberto Contador, who ultimately opted for Saxo Bank-Sungard.
While the future of the team was still uncertain, Luis Leon Sanchez signed with Rabobank and the French riders went to different teams from their country: Mathieu Perget to Ag2r-La Mondiale, Mathieu Drujon to BigMat-Auber 93, Arnaud Coyot to Saur-Sojasun and Arnold Jeannesson to FDJ, while Christophe Moreau decided to retire.
Alongside twenty riders from the current Caisse d’Epargne team, Unzue has recruited Xavier Tondo (Cervélo) and Beñat Intxausti (Euskaltel). He is also close to an agreement with Paris-Brussel winner Francisco Ventoso (Camiooro). The roster of Movistar will be comprised of 25 riders. “We’re considering the possibility of creating a second team that would be Movistar America,” he said. “It would be a continental team with headquarters in Colombia and 15 promising riders from all the countries of South America where Movistar has commercial interests. It would be a feeder team for the Movistar Pro Tour team. This has to be decided soon.”
Abril added that the budget allocated by Telefonica also has to be determined by the end of this year. The commitment of the sponsor is based on a three-year term, although he said that their plan is to have a lengthy relationship, “like at the time of Banesto.”
Abril also maintained that Telefonica would “not put any pressure on the team to have a big leader like Miguel Indurain anytime soon.” However, Unzue’s intentions are clear: “We hope to have Alejandro Valverde back in the team in 2012 and the year after, Alberto Contador will be out of contract again.”
“With Caisse d’Epargne, we focused on the ProTour calendar and participated in as many French races as we could but with Movistar, we’ll still give priority to the ProTour calendar and do the Spanish races.” It’s once again a Spanish affair then, like in the Banesto years, although Frenchman Yvon Ledanois will remain one of the directeurs sportifs and Telefonica has 280 million clients in 26 different countries, seven of them in Europe.