One of Spain?s most popular pros, Oscar Sevilla, has signed a one-year contract with professional continental team Relax-Gam. Following his second place overall in the Tour of Spain 2001, Sevilla?s more recent claim to fame came last June when he was kicked out of T-Mobile alongside Jan Ullrich just hours before the 2006 Tour because of their suspected implication in Operacion Puerto.
Teamless – like Ullrich – for the last six months, Sevilla was apparently in tears when he finally signed a 120,000 euro deal with Relax – worth less than a fifth of what he was paid at T-Mobile. Beset with injuries in the last few eyars, ?He said that now he show what he was really capable of doing on a bike.? a witness of the final negotiations commented.
Apart from Sevilla, Relax-Gam?s 2007 line-up includes several other riders unable to find places in ProTour teams because of the Ethics Code which – in theory – prevents anybody potentially involved in a doping scandal, such as Puerto, from racing in cycling?s top league.
Francisco Mancebo, Spanish sprinter Angel Vicioso and Giro 2000 prologue winner Jan Hruska – all of them linked to Puerto – have all signed with Relax-Gam. Another signing, Santi? Perez, has just completed a two-year ban for blood doping in the 2004 Vuelta, which he finished second. Just like Tinkoff in Italy – who have signed Tyler Hamilton and Danilo Hondo, the Spanish team apparently believe in giving riders a second chance.
Formerly famous for getting their riders in dodgy breaks, the Continental Pro squad are said to be aiming much higher in 2007: their main objective with this new wave of signings is to win the Vuelta next September. At the same time the Relax management are going to introduce an ?Ethics Code?, similar in spirit if not in terms of financial outlay to that of CSC and T-Mobile and are going to make riders sign a letter in which they promise to hand over their DNA if necessary.
But Sevilla cannot put Puerto behind him just yet: on March 5th, he will have to declare at a court in Albacete if he had links in the past with the notorious doctor at the centre of Puerto, Eufemiano Fuentes.