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By Tim Maloney, European Editor With the official UCI date for team transfers coming next week on...
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
With the official UCI date for team transfers coming next week on September 1, there is a lot of action happening already. Although the deal isn't signed yet, Domina Vacanze team boss Gianluigi Stanga has been negotiating with Erik Zabel to come to his team in 2006 and bring along a major sponsor. Stanga recently visited Bremen, the headquarters of German dairy products giant Nordmilch, who will likely come along with Zabel and his current T-Mobile teammate Jan Schaffrath. Nordmilch is already a co-sponsor of Team Wiesenhof under their Mirlam milk and cheese brand.
So Zabel will join Ale-Jet Petacchi at the Domina Vacanze-Mirlam squad in '06, and the Italian super-sprinter can count on the support of Marco Velo, Alberto Ongarato, Fabio Sacchi and possibly Stefano Zanini for his leadout train. Look for other changes at the Italian squad in '06, as Stanga has already advised a dozen riders, including recent Coppa Bernocchi winner Paolo Valoti, that their contracts won't be renewed for 2006. This may clear the way for other German riders from Team Wiesenhof, which is set to fold at the end of 2005, to join Zabel.
Although Erik Zabel and Alexandre Vinokourov will head elsewhere in '06, T-Mobile have inked agreements with Ukrainian powerhouse Serguei Gonchar and Italian Eddy Mazzoleni likely to play key support roles for Jan Ullrich along with Giuseppe "Turbo" Guerini, who has signed a one year contract extension for 2006. Gonchar was talking to Lampre about coming on board to support Cunego in '06, while Mazzoleni had previously agreed to stay with Lampre next season to support Damiano Cunego, but the temptingly rich offers from the German formation convinced both the Ukrainian and Italian otherwise.
T-Mobile have already signed deals with emerging talents Patrik Sinkewitz and World TT champ Michael Rogers, both from Quick.Step while old pro Rolf Aldag and Ullrich's key support rider Tobias Steinhauser will retire at year's end, but both will continue to work within the T-Mobile team structure. Other riders who are reportedly close to signing with T-Mobile are Spanish rider Koldo Gil (Liberty Seguros), Fassa Bortolo's Kim Kirchen, Phonak's Tadej Valjavec and 2003 World Champion Igor Astarloa.
Although Quick.Step will lose Rogers and Sinkewitz, it looks certain now that 34 year old Italian Gilberto Simoni will leave Lampre to ride for the Belgian team in 2006. Quick.Step wants Simoni as leader for the Giro d'Italia, where he's on the podium six times in the last seven years, including two wins (2001-2003). Simoni will have riders like Spanish champ Juanma Garate (Saunier Duval) as support, while Quick.Step has added Dutch sprinter Steve De Jongh, emerging 23 year old Belgian talent Kevin Van Impe and Italian Matteo Tosatto, who will join ex-Fassa Bortolo teammate Guido Trenti.
2005 Giro d'Italia revelation, Colombian mountain mini-me Jose Rujano will also join Quick.Step next season, but only after he rides the Giro for current team Colombia-Selle Italia, which will also see the departure of their other Giro revelation Ivan Parra, who has a three year offer from Cofidis on the table. But Colombia-Selle Italia team boss Gianni Savio has a few more climbing cards up his sleeve from the Colombian cordillera: 23 year old Walter Pedraza, Colombian national champion and 27 year old Alex Giraldo will join Savio's formation in 2006.
Liquigas-Bianchi has convinced former European U23 TT champ Manu Quinziato to return to Italy from Spanish squad Saunier Duval for the 2006 season, and has also signed some up and coming riders from the Czech Republic and Italy. 23 year old Martin Mares, winner of the Tour of Qinghai Lake in China will join the Italian formation next season, as will 19 year old Czech, World Jr. TT champ Roman Kreuziger and talented young Italian Eros Capecchi. 22 year old Claudio Corioni who has had a successful neo-pro season with Fassa Bortolo with one win and four second places will move to Lampre next year, which will probably be named Lampre-Valsir with the probable arrival of Brescia building products firm Valsir as second sponsor.