Americans Ted King and Tim Duggan look assured of a shot at grand tour this season with Liquigas, but Franco Pellizotti will not be welcomed back to the team despite being cleared of his controversial ban for alleged abnormalities in his biological passport profile.
Liquigas boss Roberto Amadio told VeloNews that new arrivals King and Duggan are both in the running for spots in the nine-man squads for the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España this season.
“Both are riders of good qualities; we are impressed with what we’ve seen so far of them and we expect a lot from them this season,” Amadio told VeloNews. “Duggan is good in the mountains and King is a rouleur. They both bring a big ambition to help them team when they can. Perhaps we will see them in the Tour or Vuelta this year.”
Amadio and the other Liquigas sport directors got their close-up first look at the Americans at the team’s training camp last month on Sardegna. The riders are heading back to the island for another training camp with the other Liquigas riders who are not racing this week at the Tour de San Luis or the Tour Down Under.
Making the Tour squad will be a challenge for both riders, but Amadio suggested they’re both up to the task.
“They have been impressive so far,” Amadio said. “Like any rider, they must prove they are ready. Right now they are on the long list of riders for the Tour and Vuelta.”
Of the two, only King can count on any experience in grand tours. King finished both the two Giri d’Italia he started with Cervelo while Duggan has never raced a grand tour in six years with Garmin.
Amadio discounted a shot at the Giro d’Italia, saying that he expected both riders to represent team colors during the Tour of California in May.
Liquigas will surely see a heated battle within the team to make the Tour Nine. Ivan Basso has already stated that making a run at the Tour is his top season goal and will want a deep and balanced squad to back him up.
Amadio said that Nibali likely will not ride the Tour, saying that he would be the team captain at the Giro and then likely reload for a return to the Vuelta as defending champion.
Riders such as Sylvester Szmyd, Alessandro Vanotti and Valerio Agnoli are all but assured of spots on the Tour as they are men that Basso can count on. The loss of riders such as Roman Kreuziger and Robert Kiserlovski (to Astana), however, will open up some space for King and Duggan in the hunt for grand tour spots.
No return for Pellizotti
Amadio also confirmed to VeloNews that Pellizotti would not be returning to Liquigas next season.
Pellizotti was sidelined just before the start of the 2010 Giro for abnormal readings in his biological passport, and Nibali was called in as a final-hour replacement, who went on to win a stage and finish third overall.
Pellizotti, winner of the best climber’s jersey in the 2009 Tour, was later cleared by Italian authorities in October for what they called a lack of clear evidence of doping. Pellizotti has since hinted that he would sue the UCI for damages while the UCI has countered that it will challenge the Italian ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Amadio insisted that the Italian isn’t coming back to Liquigas not because of his baggage, but rather his ambition.
“He won’t be coming back with us. He can find a team where he can be a big leader,” Amadio said. “Here, we have Basso and with Nibali improving every year, we’re spoken for when it comes to a big captain. He has ambitions of his own that he can find on other teams.”
Amadio, however, said he continues to support the biological passport as an important tool for monitoring and catching dopers.
“What happened to him last year was unfortunate and reflects a problem in the system. The price he paid was too high, but the biological passport is essential,” Amadio continued. “It’s going in a good direction, we need to learn how to apply it and we’ll more improvements in its implementation and application, but the biological passport is very important and we continue to back it.”