By Kirsten Robbins in California, USA
After a series of discussions and press conferences on the eve of the Tour of California prologue regarding AEG Sports' decision to exclude three riders from the team, Michael Ball spoke with Cyclingnews about his team's decision to start the five riders eligible to compete in the eight-day event.
The black and lime green team was provided with its start times for the prologue beginning with Doug Ollerenshaw, Michael Creed, Victor Hugo Peña, Freddie Rodriguez and Mario Cipollini. However, the team will be without its core riders Tyler Hamilton, Santiago Botero and Oscar Sevilla.
Ball had announced in an earlier press conference that he would stand by his team and defend his riders at the expense of AEG Sports' decision to only start five riders. However, Ball told Cyclingnews in a later interview that he had the opportunity to sit down with his team and discuss the issues at hand concluding with the decision to start the five riders eligible to compete. "I stood by my team like I said I would," said Ball referring to the team meeting.
"We had a discussion and then we made a decision together," continued Ball. "I'm the owner of the team, but I'm also a part of the team and I listened to what my riders' thoughts were on the subject. We laid out the pros and the cons of starting tomorrow and decided to start the race with the five riders we have. It was a difficult meeting, but we all gave our personal input and opinions, and to be honest it was really touching."
Ball acknowledged that his team was eager to compete in the Tour of California even if they fell short handed with out the three core riders who might have been capable of accomplishing a result in the race overall. "Our prospects for the GC have been neutered by AEG Sports, and Sevilla, Hamilton and Botero are disappointed that they cannot compete this week because this is a great race for them," said Ball. "But they will be here to support their team-mates on every race day, pushing our brand, signing autographs and meeting with the public."
According to Ball, his relationship with AEG has been severed and he will move on to focus on the team's goal of performing well at the Tour de Georgia held in April. "I will honour my obligation to pay my part for the event because I am a good business man," said Ball regarding his intention to fund future cycling events across America. "There are other races, promoters and organisations that we will focus on. Maybe we will create our own races one day, which is something I would like to do, and treat the riders with respect and dignity that they deserve. Everyone makes mistakes and bad choices, and some cyclists do that because they only have a small window of opportunity to make the most out of the sport. I believe in giving them second chances."
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