The Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project, which the UCI revealed yesterday tops the new ‘sporting hierarchy” standings of 42 professional teams, has announced its latest three riders, Stefan Denifl, Will Clarke, and Brice Feillu, but there’s still no official confirmation of the signing of Fabian Cancellara, widely expected to follow the Schleck brothers and other former Team Saxo Bank colleagues to the new outfit, isn’t among them.
While Stuart O’Grady, whose signing was announced on Monday, falls very much at the experienced end of the spectrum, the latest trio of riders to join the fledgling outfit reflect its focus on young talent, and team manager Kim Andersen said, “we have really big expectations for these riders.”
The best known of the trio is the 25-year-old Feillu, who won Stage 7 of the 2009 Tour de France to Andorra Arcalis while riding for Agritubel, but missed out on this year’s race after his current team Vacansoleil failed to secure a wild card entry despite the Grand Depart being held in its home country, The Netherlands.
“I know several of the guys who have signed and they are fantastic colleagues which made it an easy choice to join them on this team,” said Feillu. “I’m not entirely sure about my personal objectives for the coming season, but I really want to be effective at putting myself in the service of the team.”
“Brice has already proved himself to be an exceptional climber, and those types of riders are hard to find,” commented Andersen. “I think we can help him become an even better racer for the big climbs in the Grand Tours, and he is strong enough to make many invaluable contributions to the team’s Grand Tour ambitions.”
Denifl, 23 years of age and from Austria, arrives from the defunct Cervélo TestTeam. “Stefan is very talented and many people already expect a lot of him,” said Andersen. “I know he is a good young rider and will fit well into the team; we will be excited to see how he develops.”
“I like the fact that it is a brand new team and I, as a young rider, can grow up along with the team in the next years,” added Denifl. “I have started off well, but I still have to learn and improve myself. I want to do my job as a helper in the team as well as I can. There are so many good riders with a lot of experience, I only can profit and learn from them.”
Clarke, aged 25, who spent the second half of the 2010 season as a stagiaire at AG2R-La Mondiale, revealed that his compatriot O’Grady had played a key role in his recruitment.
“I had been racing in Belgium and then stayed with a friend in Monaco where I met Stuart O’Grady,” he explained. “I think O’Grady really helped me and pushed for me to win a spot on the team. To work with people like him and the other guys in the squad will be a huge learning opportunity for me.”
While Feillu and Denifl are likely to support team leaders Andy and Frank Schleck in their Grand Tour campaigns, Clarke is seen as a rider who can prove an asset to the team in the Classics.
“Will is a big Aussie with a huge engine,” said Andersen. “He caught my eye racing in Belgium this spring, winning kermesse races left and right. That’s no easy feat, so we will obviously look to develop his skills for the Classics.”
The three latest signings mean that 17 cyclists are now confirmed to be riding for the team next season. Besides the Schleck brothers, others joining the new outfit are Daniele Bennati, Jakob Fuglsang, Linus Gerdemann, Dominic Klemme, Maxime Monfort, Giacomo Nizzolo, Stuart O’Grady, Bruno Pires, Davide Viganò, Jens Voigt, Fabian Wegmann and Wouter Weylandt.
In remarks published yesterday in the Spanish newspaper Diario Vasco, Cancellara, who this year won Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders plus the prologue and individual time trial in the Tour de France, as well as the World Time Trial Championship for an unprecedented fourth time, dropped the clearest hint yet that he would be reuniting with Team Saxo Bank colleahgues the Schleck brothers.
“With the arrival of Alberto Contador many things will change in the team,” he explained, although of course there is also the small matter of the Spaniard’s failed test for clenbuterol to be resolved.
“I cannot waste a year adapting, losing my equilibrium,” he continued. “I’ve learnt much with Bjarne Riis, but I prefer to take a gamble on an environment I know at all levels. There’s money, business and transfer dealings in cycling, but those alone don’t win races. With Saxo Bank we had some great times, and I want to continue that with this group of people,” he concluded, those “people” presumably being the other former Saxo Bank riders and staff now signed up by the Luxembourg team.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.