Here are the Top-5 teams in Pavé’s Top-5 teams of 2010. Share your comments below and thanks for reading!
#5 – BMC
The new-and-improved BMC is the first of 2 Professional Continental teams in the Top-5, proof that a Pro Tour license isn’t the only key to success. Jim Ochowicz must have had quite a bit of fun signing the likes of Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, Karsten Kroon, George Hincapie, and—just when we all thought the roster was complete—the newly-crowned World Champion, Cadel Evans. While they’re shy to admit it, the signing of Evans gave BMC the final piece they needed to most likely earn an invite to the 2010 Tour.
Regardless, the team is wise to take nothing for granted, planning the first half of its season around the classics and the Giro. Between them, BMC’s new men have all scored top-10 results in all major classics. Burghardt’s a threat in Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders; Hincapie in Ghent, Flanders, and Roubaix; Ballan in Flanders and Roubaix; Kroon in Amstel; and of course, Evans in the Ardennes. If BMC plans wisely, they could certainly prove to be one of the sport’s most dominant teams from March through April.
After the Ardennes, the focus shifts to the Giro, where Cadel Evans will make another attempt at scoring a win in a Grand Tour. The Giro is a fitting choice, as it’s the place where Cadel first burst onto the Grand Tour scene with Mapei in 2002. He held the Pink Jersey for a day before cracking to finish 14th overall behind Paolo Salvodelli. Evans returns this year, hoping to shrug-off the bad luck he’s displayed in past Grand Tour attempts. While Cuddles is a bit temperamental, I think his Worlds win could be the beginning of a new phase in his career, perhaps instilling the confidence he seems to have lacked in years past. Who knows, maybe he wins the Giro, and then goes to the Tour relaxed and riding high.
The knock against BMC is chemistry. Only Burghardt and Hincapie raced together last season; otherwise everyone comes from a team in which he was more or less an undisputed leader. Will Ballan defer to Hincapie in Roubaix? Will Kroon defer to Evans in Amstel? If everyone peaks at the same time, these are questions that will need to be answered—and not on the road.
Man of the Hour: Cadel Evans won Worlds last year, a victory that moved him from a place on someone’s Hot Seat, to BMC’s Man of the Hour. Hopefully Cadel uses the win as stepping-stone to bigger things. Liege? The Giro? The Tour?
On the Hot Seat: George Hincapie’s running out of time for what would certainly be a career-topping win in Paris-Roubaix. He’s 37, and luckily Roubaix’s one race where age is less of a factor—especially since George’s age comes with the benefit of many years of experience on the pavé. With Burghardt and Ballan at his side, BMC has a team of Quick Step’s caliber, the one thing George has lacked in his past attempts. Clearly, this is George’s best chance yet.
Up-and-Comer: BMC’s perhaps the most up-and-coming squad in the entire sport—hopefully they’ll win enough to justify the distinction.
Best Pick-up: The signings of Evans, Hincapie, and Ballan received more press, but Marcus Burghardt might actually win the most races for BMC, possibly beginning this Saturday in the Omloop.
Biggest Loss: As a squad relatively new to the sport’s upper echelon, BMC’s gained more than it’s lost. We’ll have to revisit this one next year.
#4 – Liquigas
Liquigas has perhaps the youngest and deepest Grand Tour squad in the sport, led by the Four Horsemen of the Green-pocalypse (yes, I made that up myself): Ivan Basso, Franco Pellizotti, Roman Kreuziger, and Vincenzo Nibali. In a way, Liquigas finds itself in a siutution akin to BMC in that its only problem will be sorting-out who’s leading the team in which races. Luckily for them, I have some suggestions:
1. Roman Kreuziger began to show himself as a talented one-day rider in the second half of 2009, nearly winning the Clasica San Sebastien and a stage in the Vuelta. If I were Roberto Amadio, I’d set Roman’s sights on the Ardennes, a goal only a week or two earlier than the Tour of Romandy—a race he won last year. Then I’d send him to the Giro as co-captain with Pellizotti. Maybe he takes the line at the Tour, but otherwise he races the Vuelta and Lombardy.
2. Ivan Basso’s best days might be behind him; now he’s best served as a super-domestique, perhaps riding for one of the other three. I’d have him peak for the Tour, but with the understanding that he’s not the leader—he’ll be there to ride for Vincezo Nibali, a rider whose Tour prospects are headed in a direction opposite his.
3. As for Pellizotti, he’s a talented climber, but not a leader for a Grand Tour. Time trialing is a big weakness, and his best results have come on days when he’s played more the role of the joker than the ace. Like he did in 2009, I’d send Pellizotti to both the Giro and the Tour. In the Giro, he and Kreuziger would be formidable duo. In the Tour, he’s free to hunt for stages in support of Nibali, and perhaps another polka-dot jersey.
4. As for Nibali, it’s all or nothing in this year’s Tour. He showed the potential last year; now he needs to continue to progress. It’s shaping-up to be a difficult field, but with luck Nibali might finish in the first five.
That said, let’s not forget the rest of the squad. Manuel Quinziato and Alexander Kuschynski performed well in the cobbled classics last year; they head into 2010 looking to improve on those results. Daniele Bennati and Francesco Chicchi have both started their seasons with wins; they’ll be hunting for stage wins in the Giro and Tour, with Bennati an outside favorite in some of the flatter classics.
All in all, Liquigas is perhaps one of the most underrated teams in the sport. If their talented youngsters continue to progress, that won’t be the case for long.
Man of the Hour: Italy’s abuzz with talk about Nibali’s 7th-place finish in last year’s Tour. He did just enough to contend both in the mountains and in time trials. This year he’ll need to show considerable improvement in at least one discipline to advance a spot or two in the GC.
On the Hot Seat: Ivan Basso had a respectable return to the sport, including solid rides in the Giro and Vuelta. Unfortunately, his inability to capitalize on his team leadership in Spain leaves many wondering if he wouldn’t be better-off with a different set of goals.
Up-and-Comer: Peter Sagan’s only 19, but he’s already turned the head of Lance Armstrong following a week of aggressive riding in Australia. Sagan’s one of the riders I’ll be following in Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as he’s an accomplished single-day racer with a background in cyclocross. It might be too soon to tell if he’s got the goods to be a successful pro—but he’s certainly off to an auspicious start.
Best Pick-up: Liquigas had a rather quiet off-season, reinforcing its roster with a handful of neo-pros and some younger riders from other teams. One interesting note: Liquigas seems to be fond of riders from former Eastern Bloc nations, with 7 riders on the roster from Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
Biggest Loss: Considering the talent Liquigas was able to retain, it’s tough to say they truly “lost” anything from 2009 to 2010. In fact, with some exceptions, most of the final 5 teams in the rankings suffered few big losses—perhaps a reason why they find themselves at the top of the heap.
#3 – HTC-Columbia
Then again, maybe I spoke too soon, as HTC suffered several key losses after a fantastic 2009 season. Marcus Burghardt, George Hincapie, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Thomas Lokvist, and Kim Kirchen all left for other teams—taking the bulk of HTC’s wins from 2008 and 2009 with them.
But all is not lost, as two of the sport’s fastest talents remain with HTC: Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel. Between the two of them, Cavendish and Greipel won 13 stages in the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta. This year, Greipel’s already off to a fantastic start, having won several races. Cavendish on the other hand, has been sick; that could hurt his repeat bid in San Remo.
As for the rest of the team, it’s still quite impressive. Tony Martin performed well during the Tour’s first half last year; he’ll return this season hoping to build on that experience. He can climb and time trial, and could quietly become someone Germany might once again be proud of. He’ll be supported by one of the peloton’s most underrated support riders, Maxime Monfort.
For the Classics, HTC might have found a future champion in Matthew Goss, a rider who showed serious potential with Saxo Bank last year. He’s joined by two other one-day talents, Martin and Peter Velits formerly of Milram. These three could form the nucleus of a talented classics squad for years to come.
All in all, while seemingly depleted, HTC’s roster is chock full of potential—especially if the younger riders begin to flourish as they step from the shadows of their former teammates.
Man of the Hour: Simply put, Mark Cavendish is a superstar. But I have a hunch Greipel will win more races and is perhaps more versatile. I wonder if the squad will prove big enough for both.
On the Hot Seat: Michael Rogers just won the Ruta del Sol, but that only adds fuel to the fire as his Grand Tour potential has been touted for years with little to show for it. Can he finally break through?
Up-and-Comer: Tony Martin’s a good pick, but I want to mention the winner of the 2009 Giro’s 8th stage, Konstantin Siutsou. Siutsou’s been on my radar since he won the “Queen” stage and overall title at the Tour of Georgia in 2008. A talented climber and time trialist, Sioutsou finished the race last year 16th overall. Will he continue to progress?
Best Pick-up: Aside from the riders pulled from other teams, Bob Stapleton also did a terrific job of pulling talent from the U23 ranks including Belgium’s Jan Ghyselinck, Australia’s Leigh Howard, and Tejay Van Garderen from the USA. Once these riders develop, more wins will come for HTC.
Biggest Loss: Boassen Hagen would have won many races; but Hincapie would have helped win even more. It means a lot when Cavendish himself expresses his appreciation for all that Hincapie did.
#2 – Cervélo Test Team
Another Professional Continental team occupies the 2nd spot in our ranking as Cervélo Test Team hopes to build on its terrific first year in the sport. While HTC might be deeper, Cervélo has a better chance of winning big races, led mainly by Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd, and Carlos Sastre. Basing such a lofty ranking on 3 riders is indeed a bit risky, but these men are worthy of such high expectations.
Haussler was the revelation of last year’s spring classics, finishing 2nd in both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders. While these results were impressive, Haussler’s presence seemed to elevate Thor Hushovd, who had one his better springs with a win in Het Nieuwsblad and 3rd-places in both San Remo and Paris-Roubaix. He and Haussler complement one another well; Haussler’s attacks allow Hushovd to follow wheels, offering him a free ride to the finish should his teammate get caught. Right now, they’re both a bit under the weather, but look for them to peak in time for their favorite cobbled events. As long as they continue to work well together, they’ll be top favorites.
After the classics, it’s Carlos Sastre’s time to shine as the Grand Tour season begins. Last year, Sastre experimented, using the Giro to prepare for the defense of his 2008 Tour de France title. While the experiment didn’t help him in France, he won 2 summit finishes in Italy on his way to placing 4th overall. This year he’s focusing a bit more on the Giro as a result; perhaps he can add a pink jersey to the yellow one he earned two years ago.
In July, all three men will head to the Tour with Hushovd hoping for another green jersey, Sastre another yellow one, and Haussler for more stages. While yellow might be tough—the competition’s just too strong for Sastre—a green jersey and several stages are well within the realm of possibility.
All in all, we’ll know the success of Cervelo’s 2010 campaign by August 1st. A classic or two plus a successful Giro and Tour will be more than enough to justify their status as one of the top 2 or 3 teams in the world.
Man of the Hour: Thor Hushovd had an impressive season in 2009, even though his late-race fall kept him from winning at Roubaix. This year he heads into the season more motivated than ever—will he bring a pavé trophy home to Norway?
On the Hot Seat: Carlos Sastre’s 34, an age many consider to be the beginning of the end—of a Grand Tour rider’s peak, that is. This year might be the last in which he’ll be considered a legitimate contender for an overall title—unless his performances dictates otherwise.
Up-and-Comer: Haussler’s an old story, but he’s an up-and-comer because he’s still on the way up. There’s an incredibly high ceiling for his talent—and we have yet to see him reach it.
Best Pick-up: Cervélo spent surprisingly little money upgrading it’s roster, signing only 5 riders including a 31-year-old, a 34-year-old, and a former track rider. All in all, that’s little to get excited about. Their biggest pick-up might just be SRAM, a component company still willing to throw heaps of cash at elite teams. Did you notice the switch Cervélo made from Dura Ace’s 7900 levers to 7800 levers last year? They weren’t completely compatible with the team’s Rotor cranksets. SRAM’s components offer no such compatibility issues, and likely came with a much bigger check.
Biggest Loss: Cervélo had no chance to retain Simon Gerrans after leaving him home during the 2009 Tour. They’ll miss him in the Ardennes and the Grand Tours—especially if the others fail to find success.
#1 – Saxo Bank
And last, but certainly not least, Saxo Bank earns the title as Pavé’s #1 Team for 2010. With several riders capable of winning multiple classics, stage races, and Grand Tours, there’s really no better choice.
Skipping over Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico—races Saxo certainly has riders capable of winning—we’ll begin with Milan-San Remo and the cobbled classics where Fabian Cancellara seeks revenge following a less-than-stellar spring in 2009. Spartacus has won San Remo and Roubaix, with the latter a race he would like to win again. The schedule change also favors Saxo’s Swiss superstar, with Ghent-Wevelgem’s earlier date a perfect opportunity for such a powerful rider. Cancellara should have Baden Cooke and Frank Hoj to lean-on for support, with Cooke possibly missing the first weekend to attend the Criterium International—a race another Saxo rider, Jens Voigt, has come to own over the past several years.
Then the Ardennes arrive, the scene of Andy Schleck’s breakthrough win in last year’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Then all eyes turn to July, the scene of what will certainly be yet another showdown between Schleck and Alberto Contador—a duel we should get used to. Saxo heads to the race with perhaps the deepest team. Andy will have the support of the team’s best, with Cancellara, Voigt, Frank Schleck, and Gustav Erik Larsson more than capable of controlling the race for their young leader.
Like Cervélo, by this point in the summer we’ll likely be able to judge the overall success of the team’s season as the majority of its riders will have ridden through their season goals—except maybe Cancellara, who proved last year that he can be a contender in any month.
All in all, even after losing a talented a man or two, Bjarne Riis comes into 2010 with the strongest and deepest team in the world—and he’ll need all the help he can get if he hopes to attract a new title sponsor for 2011.
Man of the Hour: Cancellara’s the man of hour at Saxo Bank, both literally and figuratively. Look for him to win races from March through October in a variety of disciplines—and at 28, his best years might still be ahead of him.
On the Hot Seat: Andy Schleck’s on the Hot Seat for no other reason than the fact that he’s the #1 challenger to Contador’s Tour supremacy. By the end of July we’ll know if Andy’s able to handle the pressure.
Up-and-Comer: Jacob Fuglsang’s the next of Saxo Bank’s talented riders to get a chance in the Tour. He’s way down on the depth chart behind the Schleck’s, but he should at least get a taste for the event in. Maybe he can ride well enough to earn a chance somewhere else?
Best Pick-up: Baden Cooke might not be the best of Saxo Bank’s pick-ups, but he’s certainly the most interesting. Bjarne Riis has a talent for resuscitating the careers of wayward souls—I wonder if he’ll prove able to help Baden return to prominence.
Biggest Loss: You mean aside from their title sponsor, right?
And there you have it—the first annual Pavé Team-By-Team Season Preview. Let the debates begin!
Thanks for reading–come back tomorrow for our preview of Belgium’s Opening Weekend. And look for us at NAHBS. The Pavé hat will be a dead giveaway…