Sky Professional Cycling Team
Halfway through its first season of existence, Team Sky has already achieved one of its goals just by earning an invitation to the Tour de France. That said, despite the presence of last yearâ€™s fourth-place finisher, Bradley Wiggins, Sky might find success in the race itself a bit harder to find. Why? Because you canâ€™t buy chemistry.
Starting from scratch this past summer, Team Sky brought together riders from 15 different programs to form its roster for 2010. It looks easy on paper, but building a strong and successful team takes more than just plucking the best riders and putting them in a race togetherâ€”it takes time for the riders and staff to develop the chemistry that comes after years of racing and working with one another.
This is why Sky enjoyed so much success early in the season, but less so as the year progressed. The team won several races at a time when everyone was busy reacquainting themselves with their teams. But as the established formations quickly settled into patterns and roles established in prior years, Team Sky was still feeling-itself-out so to speak, something that might have led to a decline in results. Of course, an injury to one of the teamâ€™s best riders didnâ€™t help.
That said, I think tempered expectations might be best for the team in its first year at the Tour de France. A stage win or two is realistic, but a dominating performanceâ€”and more importantly, a top-5 ride for Wiggoâ€”might be a bit out of reach.
Wiggins could struggle during a difficult final week in a Tour where time trialing takes a backseat to major climbing. Heâ€™ll perform well on the pavÃ©, but when the road turns uphill, I wonder which of his teammates will be the main man to guide him through the mountains. All in all, expect at least stage win from Team Skyâ€”especially if Edvald Boasson Hagen returns to his 2009 form.
Man of the Hour: Wiggins comes to the Tour hoping to improve upon his fourth-place ride last year. Wiggins was one of the true all-rounders of last yearâ€™s race, a rider able to climb and time trial with the favorites. That said, he wonâ€™t have the element of surprise working in his favor this year; heâ€™ll be racing as a contender and will be given less of a leash as a result.
On the Hot Seat: Edvald Boasson Hagen must be feeling some pressure to deliver on the tremendous potential he displayed last season. After missing much of the spring with an injury, he seems back on track following a win in the final stage of the DauphinÃ©. A talented time trialist, Hagen could take a win as early as Saturdayâ€™s Prologue.
Up-and-Comer: Geraint Thomas scored four consecutive top-10 finishes in the first four stages of the DauphinÃ© before winning the British road championship. Now he gets to show-off his new jersey in the Tour.
Just Happy to Be There: Michael Barryâ€™s been a professional since 1999 and is riding his first Tour de France this season. â€œHappy to Thereâ€ is a bit of an understatement.
Feeling Left Out: Kurt Asle Arvesen has ridden 5 Tours and has one stage win on his rÃ©sumÃ©. Dario Cioni is a talented climber and an experienced grand tour rider as well. Matthew Hayman knows how to control a peloton when gaps need to be closed and breaks need catching. For a team with GC aspirations, I canâ€™t help but feel that these men would have been better choices than some of the riders selected.
At some point, possibly as early as this yearâ€™s Team Tour de France, HTC-Columbia might have to decide whether itâ€™s a sprint team or a GC team. Last year, the question had an easy answer: ride for Cavendish and let the young GC riders get a taste for the Tour. This year however, with both Michael Rogers and Tony Martin looking as if they have serious chances for top-10 results, HTC might be forced to reconsider its strategy.
First, letâ€™s talk about Cavendish. Equalling last yearâ€™s six stage wins looks to be a tall order this year. For one, heâ€™s lacking a bit of the fitness and speed he possessed last season at this time. Dental issues, poor form, and crashes have derailed his chances to find a rhythmâ€”his wins have been few and far between. Worse still, Cavendish now seems to have attracted the ire of the majority of the peloton following his antics at the end of Stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse. Irregular sprinting, spitting, and a generally bad attitude will ensure that Cavendish gets no favors this year. Add to this the continued progression of Tyler Farrar and the rejuvenation of Thor Hushovd, and Cavendish might have more competition than he was used to in 2009â€”especially with Garmin now able to provide a lead-out much more on par with HTCâ€™s. Overall, while a shut-out might be a bit unrealistic, I think 2-3 stage wins for Cavendish is a better estimate.
On the GC side of things, Michael Rogers and Tony Martin lead HTCâ€™s charge, supported by super-domestique Maxime Monfort and climber Konstantin Siutsou. Rogers has been enjoying quite a renaissance after several seasons that fell short of expectations. As for Martin, he held the white jersey for a while in last yearâ€™s race before suffering too much in the mountains. The same happened in this yearâ€™s Tour de Suisse, where Martin held the yellow jersey before losing it on the big stage to La Punt. Rogers is clearly the more polished of the two right now, but Martin might be more talented. Iâ€™m eager to see how both performâ€”and to what degree HTC saves them in the first week.
In the end, the best thing HTC-Columbia has going for it is depth. If things go pear-shaped for Cavendish and/or the GC men, there are plenty of riders capable of picking-up the slack and taking some stage wins. While we might not see a repeat of last yearâ€™s Tour de Cavendish, with this team, another impressive performance is certainly possible.
Man of the Hour: Michael Rogers has been enjoying a terrific season with wins in the Ruta del Sol and Tour of California as well as podium spots in the Criterium International and Tour of Romandie. The Tour de France will be the Australianâ€™s first grand tour of 2010â€”will the results continue?
On the Hot Seat: I feel like I wrote this last year, but Mark Cavendish needs to let his legs do more of the talking. After his two-fingered salute at the Tour of Romandie, there was a distinct sense at the Tour of California that team management had reprimanded the Manxman, given the subdued nature of his interaction with the media. After his Swiss antics, it can be assumed another lecture was delivered. But was it heard?
Up-and-Comer: Tony Martinâ€™s still only 25â€”he has at least another year or two before heâ€™s at his peak. One of the worldâ€™s finest time trialists, Martin needs to show some progression in the high mountains before we can begin heralding him as a true grand tour contender. I expected more from him in the Tour de Suisse, a race he was leading until the serious climbing began. This yearâ€™s Tour will be a terrific test of just how far the German has come.
Just Happy to Be There: Adam Hansen squeaked into HTCâ€™s Tour selection with a win in Hollandâ€™s Ster Elektrotoer. Itâ€™s been a banner year for Australians, look for Hansen in the early stages of Cavendishâ€™s lead-outs as well as some breakaways later in the race.
Feeling Left Out: At this point, Andre Greipel might as well list himself on eBay. His Tour snub was a clear reflection of HTCâ€™s intentions not to make a strong effort to sign the German this off-season. Yes, he underwhelmed at the Giroâ€”winning only one stageâ€”but he hasnâ€™t exactly been overshadowed by Cavendish either. Look-out 2011!
Itâ€™s not good when your teamâ€™s GC rider is Vladimir Karpetsâ€”but thatâ€™s okay with Katusha, a team built more for stage wins than overall success.
Sergei Ivanov, Alexandr Kolobnev, and Jose Joaquin Rodriguez are Katushaâ€™s best ridersâ€”look for them to come to the fore as early as Mondayâ€”Ivanov and Kolobnev impressed in the Ardennes races and could certainly win Stage 2 on similar terrain. Even though Rodriguez finished seventh in last yearâ€™s Vuelta, he is a more likely candidate for stage wins in France.
On flatter days, the team will back Robbie McEwen in field sprints, hoping the aging Australian can find a bit of the speed that saw him win 12 Tour stages between 2002 and 2007. At 38, McEwenâ€™s another sprinter whose fastest days might have passedâ€”but anythingâ€™s possible. Robbie should be especially motivated to take Stage 1 in Brussels as itâ€™s not too far from Brakel, his adopted home. Do you think McEwen and Petacchi can give us a little flashback to 2003?
As for Karpets, he finished 13th in the 2004 Tour de France, taking the white jersey as Best Young Rider for Caisse dâ€™Epargne. Last year the Russian ended the Tour in 12th-place as Katushaâ€™s best-placed rider. This year, look for Karpets to follow the favorites in the mountains, using his above-average time trialing skills to pick-up places here and there. At best, Karpets can hope to beat-out Rabobankâ€™s Denis Menchov for the best GC placing by a Russian. But if he were a legitimate contender for the podium, we would have seen more from him by now.
Man of the Hour: Alexandr Kolobnev was perhaps the most aggressive rider of the Ardennes classics, failing to take the big win he so valiantly sought. A Tour stage would be nice consolation for the new Russian champion.
On the Hot Seat: McEwen might be a candidate, but heâ€™s at a point when less seems to be expected from him. On the other hand, Vladimir Karpets is 29 and in the â€œprimeâ€ of his career. If he fails to produce a top-10 result in France this year, it might be time to re-evaluate his goals, perhaps shifting focus from grand tours to shorter stage races (in which heâ€™s performed well in the past).
Up-and-Comer: Katushaâ€™s bringing a relatively veteran squad to this yearâ€™s Tour de Franceâ€”except for 23-year-old Alexandre Pliuschkin. The 3-time defending Moldavian national champion, this will be the youngsterâ€™s first chance to show-off his nationâ€™s colors in the Tour. With an impressive rÃ©sumÃ© including medals in various junior and U23 world championship events and a win in the 2007 U23 Tour of Flanders, it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first Tour. Is Pliuschkin the next Roman Kreuziger?
Just Happy to Be There: Robbie McEwen missed last yearâ€™s Tour with an injuryâ€”heâ€™s got to be thrilled just to be riding this year.
Feeling Left Out: He certainly wasnâ€™t â€œleft outâ€, but letâ€™s keep Kim Kirchen in our thoughts anyway.
I have a good feeling about Milram in this yearâ€™s Tour de Franceâ€”and by that I mean they might win a stage (it would be their first). Niki Terpstra and Christian Knees won their national championships (Holland and Germany), perhaps giving the team a bit of confidence heading into the Tour.
Looking down the rest of the teamâ€™s roster, itâ€™s not an all together a bad picture. Gerald Ciolekâ€™s the teamâ€™s sprinterâ€”he seems to struggle against the worldâ€™s fastest guys, but gets closer and closer each year. Knees, Terpstra, and Fabian Wegmann can handle themselves in breakawaysâ€”Wegmann has just missed on more than one occasion. And last but not least, Linus Gerdemann carries the teamâ€™s GC hopes. Heâ€™s certainly not the best rider to carry the teamâ€™s entire burden, but heâ€™s more than serviceable and could certainly slip into the yellow jersey should he find the right breakaway during the first week.
Man of the Hour: Linus Gerdemann has been Germanyâ€™s GC-hopeful since he took a stage and the yellow jersey for a few days in the 2007 Tour. But looking over his rÃ©sumÃ©, thereâ€™s nothing to indicate that heâ€™s a man for the grand tours. He finished 16th in this yearâ€™s Giro; but for a rider who always seems to suffer from at least catastrophic day, stage wins might be a more realistic goal.
On the Hot Seat: General Manager Gerry Van Gerwen has not yet received a commitment from Milram for next season. With several Pro Tour squads searching for title sponsors, now is not a good time to be a mediocre squad with a market severely damaged by the sportâ€™s various doping scandals. Van Gerwenâ€™s men need immediate results if he is to have any chance of securing his programâ€™s future.
Up-and-Comer: Hereâ€™s the thing about Gerald Ciolek that many people forgetâ€”heâ€™s only 23! He seems to be a man of near-misses in the Tour, but with time to develop, a win should arrive at some point. I could also see Ciolek becoming more of an all-rounder at some point in his career, forgoing field sprints for small groups and breakaways.
Just Happy to Be There: Roger Kluge made a name for himself on the track before switching primarily to the road. He makes his Tour debut in his first season in the Pro Tour. If he can avoid being overwhelmed by the Tour circus, heâ€™ll be a valuable asset to Ciolek on flatter days.
Feeling Left Out: Markus Fothen made a name for himself in the 2006 Tour by wearing the white jersey for about two weeks. After two seasons of decent results, the 28-year-old seems to have disappeared from the map. This year, heâ€™s on the outside looking in at Milramâ€™s Tour de France squad.
Team Radio Shack
They say that sometimes in cycling, the best rider doesnâ€™t always win. In the case of Team Radio Shack and the 2010 Tour de France, it might ultimately be said that the best team doesnâ€™t always eitherâ€”especially when they donâ€™t have the best rider.
From top to bottom, Radio Shack brings the most experienced and talented squad to Rotterdam led by none other than 7-time Tour-winner, Lance Armstrong. In what he claims will be his last Tour de France, Lance has assembled the finest riders, staff, management, and material the sport might have ever seen. But will it be enough to overcome the Texanâ€™s age and the riders looking to exploit it? I donâ€™t think so.
Donâ€™t get me wrong: Iâ€™m not trying to be pessimistic, nor am I taking advantage of an opportunity to be a Lance-hater. I just donâ€™t think he has enough left in the tank to overcome the likes of Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and several of the other contenders in this yearâ€™s race.
But that shouldnâ€™t stop us from admiring the team Armstrong has assembledâ€”itâ€™s quite impressive. Andreas Kloden has two second-places and sixth-place on his Tour record, while Levi Leipheimer has four top-10 finishes including third-place in 2007. Either man would be a team leader on another squad. Then thereâ€™s Janez Brajkovic, a real star in the making who won this yearâ€™s DauphinÃ© in a fashion eerily similar to how Lance and Contador won their major stage races. Chris Hornerâ€™s also in the Tour de France this year following his omission in 2009, while Yaroslav Popovych, a veteran from Lanceâ€™s late Tour victories and a rider who once finished third in the Giro, rides as well.
Dmitri Murayev, Sergio Paulinho, and Greg Rast round out the squad, three talented domestiques who will be expected to drive the peloton in the service of their more illustrious teammates.
But never forget, this is primarily Lanceâ€™s teamâ€”even if Johan Bruyneel directs it. While a win might be out of his reach, Lance is certainly capable of another podium spot by virtue of his cunning and determined style of racing. Look for his team to work a bit harder to get him a final stage win as well, especially if he appears to have fallen out of contention.
And as far as the rest of his time in France is concerned, pay attention to whom Lance spends his time chatting with in the peloton as they might just become the new leader of The Shack in 2011, the year Lance seeks to win his first Tour de Franceâ€”as a team manager, that is.
Man of the Hour: Lanceâ€”even if his team doesnâ€™t give press conferences.
On the Hot Seat: Lost in the hubbub over Big Tex has been the slow, subtle decline of Levi Leipheimer. Levi is 36, several years past his best years as a rider. Racing in Lanceâ€™s shadow has obscured the fact that the California native hasnâ€™t won an individual race since last yearâ€™s ATOC. Levi needs a good showing in France to prove he still has what it takes to win.
Up-and-Comer: Janez Brajkovic rides his first Tour after years of waiting in the wings. The 26-year-old Slovenian could be the future of what is a relatively â€œoldâ€ team. If he can climb and time trial like he did in Juneâ€™s DauphinÃ©, he could turn out to be The Shackâ€™s best riderâ€”now.
Happy to be There: Chris Horner was a disappointing absentee from last yearâ€™s Tour after team politics kept him off the roster. Like Lance, Chris is 38 and nearing the end of his careerâ€”although you wouldnâ€™t know it given his recent results. Hereâ€™s hoping he gets at least one chance to ride for a stage win in this yearâ€™s raceâ€”thereâ€™s perhaps not a more deserving rider.
Feeling Left Out: Geert Steegmans might be a bit miffed about missing this yearâ€™s Tour de France since it passes through Belgium. Steegmans won a Belgian Tour stage in 2007 and perhaps was looking to do so again. But despite his ambitions, itâ€™s hard to Steegmans having a spot on team already leaving Tour veterans Jose Luis Rubiera and Tomas Vaitkus at home as well.
Team Saxo Bank
Last but not least, we have Team Saxo Bank, a squad whoâ€™s been in the press quite a bit latelyâ€”and for the wrong reasons.
When Saxo Bank announced that is was ending its sponsorship at the end of 2010, everyone assumed that Bjarne Riis would pull yet another rabbit from his hatâ€”and probably right before the Tour. For a while it appeared that this would indeed be the case, with current co-sponsor Sun Guard stepping-up to become the new title sponsor. However, as recently as todayâ€™s press conference, there were no announcements coming from Riisâ€”only promises that his team would continue.
To make matters worse, (former) members of Riisâ€™ staff have decided to take matters into their own hands to create a new Pro Tour team for Luxembourgâ€”rumored to be sponsored by French supermarket chain, Auchan. Of course, you canâ€™t talk about Saxo Bank and Luxembourg without at least mentioning Andy and Frank Schleckâ€”theyâ€™re rumored to be involved too, but this canâ€™t be confirmed as they are currently under contract.
Clearly, thereâ€™s something rotten in the state of Denmark. (Been waiting all week to write that!)
But moving on, thereâ€™s a little matter of the Tour de France at hand, a race Saxo Bank has a very good shot of winning.
Andy Schleck (the younger of the two brothers) finished second in last yearâ€™s Tour and seems to be the only riderâ€”based upon last yearâ€™s performances at leastâ€”with a realistic shot at overcoming Alberto Contador. Next to Contador, heâ€™s perhaps the most electric climber in the race, but needs to improve considerably against the clock in order to strike some serious fear in his Spanish rival.
As for Frank, heâ€™s taken fifth-place in both of the last two editions, earning a stage win last year as well. An even lesser time trialist than his brother, Frank turned heads when he came from behind to win this yearâ€™s Tour de Suisseâ€”in a time trial, no less.
In order to defeat Contador in this yearâ€™s race, Andy and Frank will need to go on the offensive early, exposing Contador and his team to a constant wave of attacks. The rest of Saxoâ€™s squad is much deeper and more adept at controllingâ€”and stringing-outâ€”a race than Astana, something theyâ€™ll need to exploit. And should Saxo Bank and Radio Shack choose to work in tandem, it could mean lights-out for Alberto.
Look for Saxo Bank to go on the offensive as early as Stage 3, using Stuart Oâ€™Grady, Fabian Cancellara, and their 3 Paris-Roubaix titles to apply some serious pressure to the softer squads on the pavÃ©. On other transitional days, Jens Voigt, Matti Breschel, and Nicki Sorensen can apply the heat, while Jacob Fuglsang and Chris Anker Sorensen can turn the screws when the race heads to the mountains.
Thatâ€™s a lot of metaphors. (Must be the Shakespeare.)
In the end, it will take nothing short of a full team effort to topple Contador and Astana in this yearâ€™s Tour de France. But the question remains: will Saxo Bank have a team by the end of it?
Man of the Hour: Andy Schleck is the #1 threat to Contadorâ€™s throne. Better still, heâ€™s only 25â€”this rivalryâ€™s just getting started.
On the Hot Seat: It seems as if every other year Bjarne Riis is on the hot seat to find a new sponsor for his team. This season, things look particularly perilous, as members of his staff have left to form their own program. Riis needs a new sponsorâ€”and fastâ€”if he wants to keep the core of this yearâ€™s team intact.
Up-and-Comer: Jacob Fuglsang gets his first shot at the Tour following a third-place finish in last monthâ€™s Tour de Suisse. The Daneâ€™s already received interest from other squads, making him one of several riders waiting to hear what Riis has or hasnâ€™t found for 2011.
Happy to Be There: Following his scary crash on the descent of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard in Stage 16 of last yearâ€™s race, Jens Voigt is just happy to be riding this yearâ€™s Tour. But as we all know, â€œjust ridingâ€ is not a phrase Jens knows very well.
Feeling Left Out: Gustav Erik Larsson did just about everything that was asked of him prior to this yearâ€™s Tour de France, but in the end it just wasnâ€™t enough to earn an invitation. The lack of a TTT in this yearâ€™s race was likely the biggest detriment to his chances, as he would have been a major asset to his team in the event of its inclusion.
That’s it for now–come back tomorrow for list of questions we hope to see answered during this year’s Tour. And look for the launch of our new site Saturday!