Martinelli: Astana's Tour de France team will be strong
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Martinelli: Astana's Tour de France team will be strong

by Neil Browne at 6:49 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France

Alberto ContadorAlberto Contador has had a strong early season going two for two with victories at the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice. Both wins were in one-week races and, even though he was able to come out on top, the Spaniard's Astana team left many doubting as to whether they will be his Achilles' heel come July at the Tour de France.

“There is no doubt that Astana isn't the same team as last season, nor is it the highest ranked in the ProTour, but the team has Contador, ” team director Giuseppe Martinelli pointed out.

Contador defended his team during Paris-Nice insisting that the live television coverage did not start until the end of the stage, which meant all the hard work put in by his Astana team at the front of the peloton wasn't shown to the public. However, during stage five he was isolated on the final climb, which by many was viewed as a sign of a weakness in the team. Martinelli justified the absence of his riders in those crucial kilometers adding, "No team can work from Sunday to Sunday. It is impossible to answer that many attacks.”

With the Tour de France just a few months away the Italian is well aware that he needs to send an experienced and strong Astana team. Lance Armstrong's new RadioShack team gutted Astana's lineup for the 2009 Tour, with only Contador remaining with the Kazakh squad. Martinelli isn't concerned, and believes there are several riders on the team capable of  helping Contador to his third Tour de France victory: “[Josep] Jufre , [Alexandre] Vinokourov, and [Paolo] Tiralongo were all absent at Paris-Nice. They will have their say [at the Tour de France].”

Spanish rider Josep Jufre finished the Vuelta a Murcia in fifth place overall and wore the leader's jersey on stage three. Italian Paolo Tiralongo had been Damiano Cunego’s faithful lieutenant for the past four years, and is expected to provide support for Contador in the mountains. Vinokourov has shown he can ride at a high level, with solid performances in last year's Vuelta a España, Giro dell'Emilia and the Giro di Lombardia, and a fifth place overall at the Tour of the Mediterranean last month. Whether organizers will welcome him back to the race is another question.

While the majority of Astana's victories have been shouldered by Contador, other riders on the team have also made it to the top step of the podium. Earlier this month Maxim Iglinskiy, a former Kazakh national champion, won the Montepaschi Strade - Eroica Toscana in Italy. Enrico Gasparotto escaped to win stage five of Tirreno-Adriatico at the same time Contador took stage four and the leader's jersey in Paris-Nice.

Following his Paris-Nice victory Contador changed his race schedule, skipping both the Volta a Catalunya and the Vuelta al País Vasco, and adding the Critérium International, a race he considers less strenuous for both himself and his team.

"From now on we will have a more relaxed attitude at Astana. When Alberto wants to win the team will help, but we know what the big goal is for the season and we will arrive with a strong team,” concluded Martinelli.

While RadioShack's Johan Bruyneel is considered to be one of the top directors in the sport, Martinelli should be given some credit having won the Giro d’Italia with four different riders; Marco Pantani, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego. In 1998 the Italian won both the Giro and the Tour de France with Pantani.


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