#14(tie) – BMC Racing Team (Preview Ranking: #5) & Cervélo Test Team (Preview Ranking: #2)
What We Said (BMC):
The new-and-improved BMC Racing Team is the first of two 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 subsequent 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 his best chance yet.
Up-and-Comer: BMC’s perhaps the most up-and-coming squad in the 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.
What We Said (Cervélo):
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 of his better springs with a win in Het Nieuwsblad and third-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 Cervélo’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 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 dictate 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 its 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 others fail to find success.
What We Saw:
As for BMC, they hit the podium a meager 24 times this year, winning only 4 races. That’s a hard statistic to believe considering how it seemed as if Cadel Evans was at the front of just about race he entered. While the team came far from justifying it’s high preseason ranking (#5), it did pretty well for itself, taking Fleche Wallonne, a stage at the Giro, and wearing both the pink and yellow jerseys. It wasn’t what they had expected, but for their first season in the sport’s upper echelon, it wasn’t quite so bad.
On the other hand, 2010 was a disappointment for the Cervélo Test Team—even before the team’s late summer announcement of the program’s demise and subsequent merger with Garmin. On paper, the team hit the podium 44 times in 2010—a number far worse than what we might have expected from the team I ranked as the #2 team in the world back in February. Worse still, of those podium visits, 8 of them came thanks to Daniel Teklehaimont’s domination at the Tour of Rwanda two weeks ago—as a stagiare for the team during the latter part of the season, the wins get credited to CTT.
There were some bright spots though. Thor Hushovd took stages at the Tour and the Vuelta before winning the World Championship in Australia. Xavi Tondo won stages in Paris-Nice and Catalunya early in the year and then competed for a podium spot at the Vuelta in autumn. And Theo Bos, the converted track superstar, won races for the team—all field sprints.
Most Valuable Rider: Without Thor Hushovd and Cadel Evans, neither team would have made the list. With stage wins in all three grand tours, a classic, and a World Title between them, it’s easy to see why.
Biggest Disappointment: With Heinrich Haussler, Thor Hushovd, Roger Hammond, George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, and Marcus Burghardt, its easy to see why most picked these two squads to be two of the best in this spring’s cobbled classics. Of them all, Hushovd and Hammond did the best, scoring top-5 places in Paris-Roubaix. Haussler’s injury kept last year’s spring revelation out of the mix, while Ballan seemed to be on vacation (literally and figuratively) much of the spring. And Hincapie? I’d like to believe in George, but I just don’t think it’s possible anymore.
Biggest Surprise: All season, it was generally assumed that Taylor Phinney would sign a long-term contract with Team Radio Shack. Then after the Tour, rumors began to spread that market for the talented, young American was a lot more “open” than once thought. For a two-time winner of the U23 Paris-Roubaix and possible field sprint contender, hindsight makes Phinney’s reasons for choosing BMC all the more clear: a chance to learn from Hincapie; a roster generally free of any sprint competition; and of course, Jim Ochowicz.
So that’s it for #14. Come back tomorrow to see who’s next on the list.
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