Skil-Shimano hopes to ride two Grand Tours, wildcard competition stiff
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Skil-Shimano hopes to ride two Grand Tours, wildcard competition stiff

by Nick Mulder at 2:14 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
The Pro-Continental formation Skil-Shimano has set its sights on riding the Italian classics and a second Grand Tour in 2010. The Dutch team hopes to score a ride at the first Italian classic of the year, Milan-SanRemo, and again take part in the Giro di Lombardia to close out the season.
“If they invite us to their races then we will enthusiastically say yes,” explained team manager Iwan Spekenbrink to Wieler Magazine. After a successful debut in the Tour de France last summer the team thinks a return to le Grand Boucle and a second Grand Tour isn’t entirely unlikely.

Director Sportif Rudi Kemna expects his team to have a good shot at riding the Vuelta a Espana. Skil-Shimano estimates their chances to be so high that they have even added the Spanish Tour to their preliminary race schedule. “The organizers really respect our work ethic and our style of racing,” said the ex-professional who now leads the team.

For 2010 Skil-Shimano has failed to sign any big names, their biggest signing being former under-23 world time trial champion Dominique Cornu. The Belgian left Quick Step to become team captain for the smaller stage races such as the Tour of Belgium where he finished third overall this year. However, the Dutch team was forced to wave a goodbye to two of their French riders, Jonathan Hivert and Cyril Lemoine, and that could hurt their chances of being selected for the Tour de France.
Skil-Shimano hopes to expand their race program and has made an investment in several talented young riders including Norwegians Frederik Wilmann and Frenchman Alexandre Geniez. “We want to keep improving our race calendar which means raising the benchmark by a little each year,” said Spekenbrink.

Skil-Shimano may be hopeful for wild card invitations, but with the increased competition from several new teams such as Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack team and Britain’s Team Sky, the likelihood has decreased. Even with the Tour de France hinting towards an increase in the number of teams to twenty-two, the battle for the final eight wild cards will be fierce.

There are 14 teams that are already selected according to a 2008 agreement between the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) and the International Cycling Union (UCI). However, Footon-Servetto and Euskaltel Euskadi, which are part of the 14 team-list, both have question marks surrounding their participation. Footon-Servetto, the successor of the Saunier Duval team, was not welcomed to this year's Tour due to doping positives from the 2008 Tour involving their riders Riccardo Riccó and Leonardo Piepoli. Also tarnished with a Tour doping scandal is the Basque Euskaltel Euskadi, whose rider Mikel Astarloza won the 16th stage of this year’s Tour de France and later tested positive for EPO. While Euskaltel Euskadi has recently announced an internal anti-doping program, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the ASO overlook both teams for a 2010 start.

The current list teams includes that should have a Tour start are Quick Step, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Française des Jeux, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, AG2R-La Mondiale, Milram, Team Columbia-HTC, Astana, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rabobank, Liquigas and Team Saxo Bank. Lampre is has not yet received its ProTour license, but their participation should be allowed because of the UCI agreement similar to Cofidis and Bbox Bouygues Telecom.

This means the remaining teams will have to battle it out for final eight sports: ProTour teams Garmin-Slipstream, Team Sky, Katusha, RadioShack, as well as professional continental teams Cervélo TestTeam, BMC, Saur-Sojasun, Skil-Shimano and Vacansoleil.

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