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Unzue targets Contador for Movistar

The news that Telefónica is set to re-enter cycling as a major sponsor in 2011 has provided a huge boost for Spain’s pro cycling scene. By stepping in with their Movistar mobile phone network to replace Caisse d’Epargne, the Spanish telecommunications giant has not only saved the longest-standing pro outfit in the sport, but has raised the prospect of a new national super-team developing comprising many of Spain’s biggest talents, including Alberto Contador.

Team manager Eusebio Unzue, who has been with the squad since the Pedro Delgado and Miguel Induráin years, has said that his first goal for the new team will be signing up many of the riders on Caisse d’Epargne’s current roster. “We hope that next year we will be able to count on the nucleus of what has been this season’s Caisse d’Epargne team, with David Arroyo and, probably, Luis León Sánchez, and in 2012 we will have Alejandro Valverde with us again,” Unzue told El País.

He added: “Of course it is still my goal to sign Alberto Contador. This year our sponsorship deal came too late as Contador had already committed himself to Bjarne Riis, but in 2013 he will be free again.”

The budget for the Movistar team will be around six million euros, which is a drop in the ocean for Telefónica, which recently announced profits of almost four billion euros. Some of that budget has already been earmarked for the signing of Euskaltel’s Beñat Intxausti and Quick Step’s Branislau Samoilau.

El País reports that high-level political influence was brought to bear on Telefónica as Unzue sought backers for his team. Spanish minister of sport Jaime Lissavetzky and Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition PP party, are both believed to have contacted Telefónica president César Alierta. Another key figure believed to have been involved in sealing the deal is Telefónica secretary-general Luis Abril, who back in 1993 pushed for Banesto’s sponsorship of Unzue’s team to continue after the Banco de España had intervened in Banesto’s banking affairs.

Telefónica does have its own history in cycling. Back in the 1990s, the company used professional cycling to promote both its own brand and that of Movistar via sponsorship of the Vuelta a España.

Meanwhile, two other riders that Unzue has already worked with and may have on his radar in the future have been reunited at Katusha. Omega Pharma’s Dani Moreno has joined the Russian team at the request of Tour de France stage-winner Joaquim Rodríguez.

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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).