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Shake-up at WorldTour squad to involve riders, staff and philosophy
The Lampre team will have Merida as a second sponsor and bike supplier in 2013 but the arrival of the hugely influential Taiwan bike manufactuer marks just the start of a major shake up that will go on to key changes in the riders, staff and philosophy of the Italian team.
Lampre won just seven races during the 2012 season, none of them at WorldTour level, and held the pink jersey for a day at the Giro d'Italia thanks to Adriano Malori. Alessandro Petacchi won three stages at the Bayern-Rundfahrt, Damiano Cunego won a stage at the Giro del Trentino and Diego Ulissi won two stages at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and a minor Italian race.
The team has been hit by a series of doping investigations in recent years: Many of the riders and staff are implicated in the Mantova case for their links to a pharmacist near the town, while Michele Scarponi is currently suspended by the team while Italian anti-doping investigators study his links to Dr Michele Ferrari.
Team manager Giuseppe Saronni is still remembered for his rivalry with Francesco Moser and his late attack that won him the world title in Goodwood in 1982. He is very close to the Galbusera family that owns the Lampre laminated steel business and who has backed the team since 1992.
Saronni said he would step back from managing the team when the Mantova doping erupted and he appointed Roberto Damiani as senior directeur sportif. However, Damiani is set to leave the team when his contract ends in December after struggling to get on with key riders.
The arrival of Merida has helped secure the team's future but has forced Saronni to act.
"The changes are only partly down to the results of this year. We realised some time ago that we needed to make major changes and arrival of Merida has been a key factor in it all," Saronni told Cyclingnews, speaking for the first time about the details of the structure changes underway at the team.
"We've realised that to do things right, we need the right skills. I'm not saying that the people who were at the team until now weren't good enough, but we've got to grow and improve. In the WorldTour you got compete with bigger teams in the world. If we want to compete against them we've got develop, too."
Do the right thing
Saronni is one of 32 people facing trial for his involvement in the Mantova doping investigation. In 2013, Lampre could also be without Scarponi in next year's Giro d'Italia if he is banned for working with Dr. Ferrari.
"What has happened in cycling the last few weeks has only convinced us even more that we're making the right decision," Saronni said.
"Half of Italy is involved in some trial one way or another and I'm convinced that we'll be proved to be right. Scarponi's case is different because when he visited Dr Ferrari he wasn't even part of our team, but we'll be hit by the consequences and it's damaging. But we've got internal rules and they've been and will be applied to the letter. We're already thinking of the long-term future, we're building a team for 2014 and beyond."
Angelo Zomegnan - the former chief cycling reporter at Gazzetta dello Sport and director of the Giro d'Italia - has joined the team as a Senior Advisor. He will help boost the team's communications and boost the team's importance on the global stage.
Details of other changes and the names of new staff at Lampre will be announced in the next few weeks.
"We're going to announce some important changes in the staff structure, regarding the coaching and race staff soon. We're trying to give the riders the best possible support so they can focus on racing and winning," he told Cyclingnews.
"I can't and won't go into details of what happened with Damiani but I'm disappointed by what has happened because I wanted him in the team and to give him an important role. Even I can't understand why the riders and the whole team haven't been able to work with him. I'm really sorry about it but there are other good technical staff out there who can help us resolve our problems.
"I can't reveal everything but there will be some big changes ahead. The project is for 3+ years. We're only at the start and people will understand what we're doing when we announce key details.
"We're going to grow as a team and I think it's great news at such a difficult time for cycling, especially in Italy. It's a new challenge for us. We've got to work hard and prove that there's a major change underway. As a sport, we won't have a future unless we change. We're enthusiastic and motivated. We hope it all comes off."
Key changes in the team line-up
Saronni has changed the rider line-up at Lampre for 2013, adding Filippo Pozzato and sprinter Roberto Ferrari but dropping a number of older riders. More new signings are expected for 2014 but next season will decide the future of young riders such as Diego Ulissi and of long-time Lampre captain Damiano Cunego.
"We want to get back to developing young riders and helping them win. We've lost sight of that work in recent years," Saronni explained.
"We've got talented riders like Diego Ulissi and Adriano Malori but we hope to help some others emerge in the next few years. We signed Pozzato because we've always been lacking a leader for the Classics. I think it's a great opportunity for us and for him to re-launch his career and race at a WorldTour level. He's talented but the Classics are never easy to win, they're a lottery. We're taking a bet on Pozzato but we think it's worth it.
"We've extended Cunego's contract but he's not the'Little Prince' anymore. He's also got to understand what kind of rider he wants to be and what races he wants to win. It's an important year for him and for us."