Despite a win yesterday at the Vuelta a España, Spain's longest running team Caisse d'Epargne is struggling along. It lost last year's Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde to a doping suspension mid-season, suffered to find a replacement sponsor and, yesterday, received the news that its top rider, Luis León Sánchez will join Dutch team Rabobank.
Sánchez officially informed the team with a press release. He wrote, "I want to begin a new stage in my career."
Besides three stages at the Tour de France, Sánchez brought Caisse d'Epargne an impressive list of wins since joining for the 2007 season. He won three stages at Paris-Nice and won the overall classification last year, the Tour of Majorca, the Tour Méditerranéen, the Circuit de la Sarthe and at the end of July, the Clásica San Sebastián one-day race.
Fortunately for team Caisse d'Epargne's boss, Eusebio Unzué, Sánchez only officially announced his departure yesterday. It allowed Unzué to secure telecommunications company Movistar last month for €6 million in 2011.
Since last year, Unzué had struggled to find a replacement sponsor for French bank Caisse d'Epargne and to keep active the team that began in 1980. Since then, it has won the Tour de France seven times with Pedro Delgado, Miguel Indurain (five times), Oscar Pereiro.
Spain's Valverde won the three-week long Vuelta a España last year and looked to be the team's next hope for a Tour de France win. The sport's justice system, however, finally caught up with him for his involvement in the 2006 blood doping investigation, Operación Puerto. He is serving a ban that will not allow him to race until 2012.
With Valverde suspended, Sánchez is by far Caisse's best rider and will be missed next year.
"Sánchez is an extremely talented rider who suits us," said Rabobank's sports director, Erik Breukink. "He is a strong stage race and Grand Tour rider, and can both sprint and time trial."
Rabobank is also strengthening its one-day classics team, adding Dane Matti Breschel from Saxo Bank and likely Spaniard Carlos Barredo from Quick Step. Sprinter Theo Bos will also join from Cervélo TestTeam.
Russian Denis Menchov won the Vuelta a España twice since joining Rabobank in 2005 and is currently competing for his third title. He will free up some of Rabobank's budget as the Vuelta will be one of his last races with the team. Next year, he joins Mauro Gianetti's Geox.
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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