After two years of doping-related trauma and exile from major races under the Saunier Duval and then Fuji-Servetto names, the management at what is set to be the Footon-Servetto team is hoping that a change of focus to younger riders will bring about a change of fortune and image. Last week, the Swiss-backed, Spanish-registered team was registered at ProTour level and is now intends to rebuild its credibility on the road.
Only four of last season’s 24 riders have been retained by the squad managed by Mauro Gianetti and Joxean Fernández Matxin, who admits that they are working with a substantially reduced budget. "There was a lot of skepticism about the team… But cycling is like life. There are good moments when you are up and offers when you are down. The 2009 season was difficult, complicated, but we’re still here," Matxin told El Diario Vasco.
Speaking about Riccardo Riccò’s positive test for CERA when riding for Saunier Duval at the 2008 Tour, Matxin said: "The lack of consideration, the ambition of one rider set us on a downward spiral that almost finished us off, but we’ve survived."
Survival has meant the release recognised riders such as Vuelta stage winner Juan José Cobo and David De La Fuente and the recruitment of a host of new names. Many of the new riders are untested at the top level, including Briton Tom Faiers.
"If you don’t have a lot of money you don’t have a lot of choice. You either go for young riders or veterans who are coming back. Mauro Gianetti and I prefer to return to our roots and go for young riders. If some of them manage to step forwards then it brings huge satisfaction," Matxin continued.
Asked for the riders he expects to put the team on the competitive map this season, Matxin nominated Italian Eros Capecchi, Spain’s Arkaitz Durán, Austrian Markus Eibegger and Dane Martin Pedersen, winner of the 2006 Tour of Britain.
"Some of them are not well known but we will see in time. They are going to have the unique opportunity to be in the best races in the world alongside the best riders. We’ve always got four speedy sprinters: [Manuel] Cardoso, [Felix] Celis, [Enrique] Mata and [Michele] Merlo."
What races Footon-Servetto will line up in next season remains unclear. As in 2009, the team is unlikely to get invites to races on the historical calendar. But Matxin says that he hopes to reach agreement with some race organisers. "We’re in a season of transition, thinking about the future," he acknowledges. "We are not among the best teams and we have to be conscious of where we are."
In terms of budget, Matxin ranks Footon as "the 21st-ranked team in the world". He admits that they have approached Basque company AMPO via a third party about the possibility of becoming involved in the set-up following the breakdown of their relationship with Contentpolis. Matxin said they’ve yet to receive a reply.
As well as a high rider turnover, Matxin also points up a complete change in the team’s medical staff and philosophy. "We’ve taken the decision to use no kind of recuperative aid that is not taken orally. That is to say that we will not use syringes for the administration of products that are permitted. We want to change a lot of things."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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