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Contador and Basso invest in the long term at upscaled Eolo-Kometa

Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador
Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador (Image credit: Bsttini Photo)

The Eolo-Kometa Pro Team got together in Oliva in south-east Spain this week, in both a throwback to the sport’s pre-COVID-19 days and a starting point in others.

Normally at this time of year professional cycling teams flock to south-eastern Spain to hold training camps in the winter sunshine and step up their preparation for the upcoming season. 

There’s a chunk of Mediterranean coastline, running roughly 200 kilometres from Alicante through Benidorm up to Calpe, which is particularly popular with teams in December, as they pull together new riders and old and lay the foundations for the new year. Morning training rides are followed by presentations by new sponsors, testing new equipment, clothing fittings and official photographs.

But this year, after cycling’s calendar was blown off-course by the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these training camps have been postponed to January or reduced to just a few days indoors.

The team itself is eye-catching in several ways. For one thing Eolo-Kometa is the latest evolution of the Continental squad that has been run three years under the auspices of the Alberto Contador Foundation. For another, Eolo-Kometa is run jointly by Ivan Basso, together with Contador and his brother Fran.

The triumvirate of two Contadors plus Basso at the head of a cycling project is anything but new. Basso has been a key collaborator with the Contador Foundation in Pinto for many years now, he explains to Cyclingnews, and before that he and Contador “we were both rivals and teammates,” most recently in Saxo Bank, Basso’s last squad before the double Giro d’Italia winner retired in 2015.

“That has allowed us to forge a strong relationship, one that’s grown and gained in depth over the years,” Basso says. 

“I’ve been in charge of overseeing the Foundation’s projects at the levels that follow on from the U23 team,” like the Continental squad, which started in 2018. “So we developed that squad to the point where now we’re moving it up to the ProTeam category.” 

The team will use Contador's recently launch Aurum bikes. Although the Foundation, the U23 team and Juniors are all staying put in Contador’s hometown of Pinto, the ProTeam will be based in Busto Arsizio, near Malpensa airport, in northern Italy, where telecommunications company Eolo have their base.

The team will be registered in Italy for 2021. As Basso sees it, the change was only to be expected. 

“Over the last few years, I’ve always felt as if I were more Spanish and Alberto has felt as if he were more Italian, it’s been a mix,” Basso says, half-joking, half serious. “But now, both the main sponsors are Italian, and more Italian sponsors will be coming on board in the future.”

“So there is a very big Italian influence. That’s why we have a lot of Italian riders, too.”

“But that doesn’t mean we’re ignoring any other countries, and we remain very strongly linked to the U23 team and the Junior teams in Spain. Both are also hugely important and with that in mind, we’ve also developed a project in Italy to connect the Foundation with the junior categories there.”

Giving riders a chance to flourish

The links between the different squads are clear in plenty of other ways. The training camp at the Oliva Nova Beach And Golf Resort Hotel includes the 20 riders of Eolo-Kometa, staff and management, and also all the staff from the Junior and Under-23 teams.

Seven of the 20 Eolo-Kometa riders come from the previous Kometa-Xstra Continental team: the Italian Alessandro Fancellu, Portugal’s Daniel Viegas, Hungarians Márton Dina and Erik Fetter and the Spaniards Alejandro Ropero, Sergio García, and Diego Pablo Sevilla. 

Five of these – Fancellu, Viegas, Ropero, García and Sevilla – were at one point or another in a lower-level team of the Alberto Contador Foundation, and in the case of Ropero and García, they first joined the Foundation through the ‘Selection Campus’ event, where new riders for the Foundation's Junior squad are selected.

For 2021, Basso has signed a hefty contingent of Italian riders with no Foundation connections at all. They include 36-year-old Francesco Gavazzi and 35-year-old Manuel Belletti, seasoned all-rounders with Vuelta a España, Giro d’Italia and Itzulia stage wins in their collective palmares, as well as – in Gavazzi’s case – a considerable number of Grand Tours under his belt.

Others like Vini Zabù’s Luca Wackermann, nearly ten years their junior, took his team’s most important victory in the Tour de Limousin in 2020, while UAE Team Emirates rider Edward Ravasi is the one direct signing from a 2020 WorldTour team. British riders Mark Christian and John Archibald are also part of the 13 new arrivals.

It’s notable that there is no big-name signing present in the 2021 Eolo-Kometa line-up. Rumours that Fabio Aru might be joining the squad this autumn never had much substance. 

“Maybe the big name is actually already in the team but will only emerge in the coming months. But anyway, the key name right now is the one on the jersey: Team Eolo-Kometa,” Basso argues.

“We’re starting a team with a variety of veterans, riders in the middle of their career, and some young ones. The sponsor hasn’t asked us for an incredible series of results from the get-go, they want to create a project which has a chance of flourishing in the mid-to-long term. So that means we’ll have to be patient.”

Sean Yates and Stefan Zanatta as directeurs sportifs

Sean Yates during his tenure at Tinkoff-Saxo.

Sean Yates during his tenure at Tinkoff-Saxo. (Image credit: Getty Images)

One sign of how much emphasis Basso and the Contador are placing on the longer-term goals of Eolo-Kometa is evident from their choice of new directeur sportif: Sean Yates and Stefano Zanatta. 

The Briton and Italian both have massive experience in all levels of professional racing. A former Tour de France leader and hugely respected team worker in his day, Yates then worked alongside Contador and Basso in Saxo-Bank, Discovery and (in Basso’s case) CSC. He went to to Team Sky only to leave due to health reasons.

Zanatta, with Bardiani CSF Faizanè last year, was also a  part of Liquigas management during Basso’s time with the Italian WorldTour squad. He is also credited with the discovery of Peter Sagan, which can only bode well. 

“Sean will have a very important role as a technical coordinator, and together he and Stefano will help the directors of the younger generation like [Continental team director]  Jesús Hernandez. We have a great staff,” Basso says with pride.

“It’s a new team, so we felt it was very important to get together this December, even if a number of squads aren’t doing that right now because of the pandemic,” Yates tells Cyclingnews as the second day of the training camp in Oliva draws to a close.

“We wanted to implement our strategies and beliefs and philosophies from the get-go, make everyone aware that we are one team and to get to know one another as well. Plus we can do the physical testing and so forth, protocols that aren’t required in the Continental categories. We didn’t want to wait until January to do that, although it did have its challenges getting us all down here.”

Then there will be some training rides, as well as other meetings, Yates confirms. But at the moment, and particularly  given the ongoing  uncertainty of the 2021 cycling calendar, the way the riders are split into different groups for training is not for different race programs but merely to make the groups more manageable when the riders hit the roads around Oliva.

“It’s a learning curve, there’s a big increase of staff and logistics, everything is upscaled,” Yates says. 

“Not to the level of a WorldTour team, but we’ll try to do what the WorldTour teams do on a lesser budget, maximising every avenue be it physical or economical.”

“There are areas where you can do a lot without having a massive budget, it’s about having the right protocols, like correct feeding protocols, and so on. It’s not so complicated, it’s more about getting your heads together.”

The links with the Under-23 and Junior team will remain intact through the season, Yates says. In fact, the idea is that some of the Under-23 staff will work with the ProTeam during the season and vice versa, transferring knowledge and correct practice up and down through the different squads.

Come January and a second week-long training camp in Oliva, the aim is for the team's 2021 infrastructure to be up and running, and with a calendar more firmly in place, race programs will be settled on too. 

A provisional race plan is in place but as is ever the lot with any squad outside the WorldTour, where teams are invited to races rather than have automatic place, it is the organisers who will be calling the shots.

As Yates points out, it’s deeply encouraging for the sport that even in such harsh and wildly unpredictable economic times, sponsors are coming into cycling. This and good results will in turn lead to invitations to prestigious races, perhaps even a place at the 2021 Giro d’Italia.

First though, the goal is to get ready for 2021.

“Ivan, Fran and Alberto have been working extremely hard on securing sponsors and a few times they were pretty close but the pen never hit the paper up to now. And for me personally, it’s not a situation I thought I’d be in four years after finishing with Tinkoff. But you never know what’s round the corner. It’s exciting,” Yates concludes.