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2009 SUMMARY: What would have been a decent, if hardly stellar, campaign featuring six victories and lots of high-profile near misses was completely undermined by the positive tests of Iñigo Landaluze and, most controversially, Mikel Astarloza. The latter’s EPO positive was recorded in late June, just weeks before he took the team’s biggest victory of the year at the Tour. Luckily for González de Galdeano, his Basque sponsors stood by him when the hammer dropped. It was a frustrating year for Samuel Sánchez too. He placed second in Lombardy and the Vuelta, where an untimely crash scuppered his hopes for first place.
LOOKING FORWARD: Bizarrely, the primarily Basque team will be looking to two riders not from the Basque Country – or not from the Spanish part of it anyway – for success this year. Sánchez says he’ll return to the Tour and focus on races that help him build up to that. Meanwhile, Romain Sicard, who hails from the French Basque Country, adds an intriguing flavour as the U23 World Road Race
champion and Tour de l’Avenir winner. Even at just 21, he looked at home against the pros in 2009. Of the rest, the pick are sprinter Koldo Fernández and climber Igor Antón but both need a convincing big win.
THE LINE-UP: The two suspect riders aside, the only notable departure is Markel Irizar to RadioShack. Like Armstrong , Irizar has been successfully treated for testicular cancer. However, Romain Sicard and Jonathan Castroviejo look to be useful signings, having come up through Euskaltel’s feeder team, Orbea. Also note the change of manager as Miguel Madariaga steps aside to hand full control to Igor González de Galdeano.
One of Igor González de Galdeano’s first acts as Euskaltel team manager was to sign his elder brother, Alvaro, from Orbea as a directeur sportif. Koldo Fernández is a close friend and training partner of Rabobank’s Pedro Horrillo. In 2006, Jonathan Castroviejo and Beñat Intxausti were team-mates at the Seguros Bilbao amateur team.
ONE TO WATCH: Sicard was the first to cross the finish-line at the U23 Worlds in 2009. Coming on the back of a victory against the pros in the Subida al Naranco and an impressive success in the Tour de l’Avenir, that win marked him out as a major talent. His Worlds win earned him an invite to the Tour presentation but that race may not be on his agenda in ‘10. L’Avenir is his longest stage race so far and he’s yet to race over 200km, so he’ll be looking to compete in Paris-Nice and similar events.