By Susan Westemeyer, Antonio J. Salmerón and Anthony Tan
Did T-Mobile try to steal ProTour champion Alejandro Valverde away from Caisse d'Epargné, as the Spanish team claims?
Last Sunday, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported T-Mobile team manager Bob Stapleton had negotiated a deal with Caisse d'Epargné to buy out his contract, and that Valverde was expected to sign on the dotted line.
Allegedly offering Valverde three million Euros, most likely his annual salary, Valverde's personal manager Francisco Sánchez Sabater told the paper it was high enough "to wipe all the moral barriers away". However, when contacted by Cyclingnews, T-Mobile deny having any discussion with Valverde since December last year, labelling the rumours as "total nonsense".
"Last year, the team management drafted a list of interesting riders, and we tried to talk with everyone on this list to see if there could be a general fit with our team and its philosophy. A third party informed us of interest from Valverde in joining the T-Mobile Team," explained T-Mobile press officer Stefan Wagner.
"So Bob and Rolf met him in early December in Murcia for the first and only time. They had a discussion with him for a couple of hours to see if there could be a general fit with our team, and more specifically with the team philosophy and our commitment to clean and fair sport. After this meeting, there was a follow-up phone call a few days later and we sent him a proposal with several conditions."
These conditions included DNA testing, a cash-back clause, routine medical checks and blood volume testing - but also confirmation that Valverde has had no contact with Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of Operación Puerto, nor links to the aforementioned investigation. "We haven't heard anything from him or his manager since this phone call. At no time was there direct contact with his team," stated Wagner.
Caisse d'Epargné aren't so sure, issuing a harshly worded press release that denounced the story published in De Telegraaf and the behaviour of T-Mobile.
"We wish to report the fact that the way of acting [...] is an obvious violation of the elementary ethical principles and regulations, which establish the obligations of the UCI ProTour Teams. This behaviour will give rise, immediately, to the denunciation of the facts to the competent authorities of the UCI so that they undertake the necessary actions," read the team statement.
Yesterday, Caisse d'Epargné-Illes Balears team manager Eusebio Unzúe travelled to Murcia with the firm intention of keeping Valverde and renewing his contract beyond the 2007 season. His team manager Francisco Sánchez Sabater told Cyclingnews "a reasonable delay of 48 hours has requested from us to consult with Caisse d'Epargné, and the intention seems to equal or better the T-Mobile offer".
With T-Mobile dismissing the current transfer rumours as heresay, and Caisse d'Epargné having no intention of letting their star rider go, Caisse d'Epargné is more than likely where Alejandro Valverde will stay.