Giro bodes well for Phonak, says Rihs

Phonak rider José Enriqué Gutierrez's second place in the Giro d'Italia was a pleasant but "not inexplicable" surprise that may help secure the team's future as Phonak looks to hand over to a new sponsor in 2006 - and Victor Hugo Peña's ninth place won't hurt either.

On the team's website, team owner Andy Rihs said, "In the run-up to the Giro d'Italia I'd expected one of our riders in the top ten and had hoped for a stage win," but to have two riders in the top ten was unexpected.

Gutierrez in particular was the revelation of the Giro. "I thought highly of him as a time trial rider and had often seen him on mountains," said Rihs. "But I hadn't believed he had such a strong will that he was capable of surviving the mountains so well. For me his achievement isn't completely inexplicable. But he is the surprise of the Giro d'Italia. Up to now José Enriqué Gutierrez had distinguished himself as a good helper. On the Giro d'Italia he had the opportunity for the first time to take the leader's role himself. He realised his qualities - with a great team behind him - in an ideal way. This achievement shows that we have a team that can seize its opportunity even when it competes without its top members. That is very encouraging for new feats with the Tour de France in mind."

The Tour is now Phonak's main target and after Floyd Landis' run of victories earlier in the year, the American is one of the favourites, putting plenty of pressure on the team. "The team has created this pressure itself," said Rihs. "Floyd Landis doesn't enter the tour just to take any old place in the overall rankings. The Phonak Cycling Team is entering to win the Tour de France. The successes so far make this easier: they support healthy self-confidence, the team knows what it's capable of. We've got everything we need to win races: good time trial specialists, good mountain specialists, people who can take care of speed on the flat."

Phonak's high visibility in the Giro d'Italia has helped in ongoing negotiations with a potential new sponsor. "This television presence also supports us in contract negotiations with the new potential main sponsor iShares," said Rihs. "The year as a whole has gone very well. We've won three important tours in the Tour of California, the Tour de Georgia and Paris-Nice. We were decisively better than the forecasters had expected."

Rihs believes his team is in a good position to move to a new sponsor. "We have an established team, where the members have got to know each other over several years, we're well organised," he said. "But the fact that the team has a future will also facilitate the contractual negotiations with individual riders. Good riders want to have a future. We can offer this to them."

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