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2009 SUMMARY: At first glance, 2009 was another great season for the Franco-Spanish team, who amassed 23 victories and earned themselves second place in the rankings. But a cloud hangs over Alejandro Valverde’s wins, including his hard-fought Vuelta success, because of his alleged link to the 2006 Operación Puerto blood doping scandal. If he’s proven guilty, it could result in those wins being stripped away. Valverde felt the sting a bit this year too, when Italian anti-doping sanctions sidelined him from the Tour. The team still put in a good showing, though, and Luis León Sánchez bagged a stage there, adding to his Tour of the Med and Paris-Nice titles. Indeed, his ride in the latter was the only one that put Alberto Contador into difficulties all year.
LOOKING AHEAD: The only change of focus for the team in 2010 will see Valverde primed for another shot at the Tour title. Unzue reckons he’s reined in the aggression that makes Valverde formidable but apt to run out of major tour staying power. In addition, some
key domestiques have been impressively replaced. With Valverde held back early in the year, expect Sánchez to perform well.
THE LINE-UP: The two key losses are Daniel Moreno and Joaquím Rodríguez, who were Valverde’s stalwart domestiques in the mountains at the Vuelta and shepherded him to victory there. Still, there looks to be plenty of cover among the riders Unzue has brought in. Juan Mauricio Soler was the 2007 Tour’s King of the Mountains, Juan José Cobo is strong in the same terrain and Marzio Bruseghin should fit neatly back into the set-up where he spent four seasons early on in his career.
ONE TO WATCH: Christophe Moreau was tempted away from retirement by the prospect of riding a final Tour de France for a top-level team. He’ll be 39 when the Tour rolls around but still stands out as one of France’s best and most popular riders. You have to wonder if he’s been signed for the potential aid he can offer Valverde at the Tour or as a sop to the team’s French sponsor, though.