#11 – Team Radio Shack (Preview Ranking: #14)
What We Said:
Some will say I ranked this squad too low. But look at the facts—the team is built for one thing and one thing only: Lance Armstrong. Geert Steegmans was signed to give the team at least somewhat of a presence in the classics, but he’s already proven to be too fragile to be counted upon. Levi Leipheimer will win the Tour of California and maybe fare well in the Dauphiné and Vuelta and Andreas Kloden gets the Tour of Romandie and the Tour de Suisse. But those options aside, this team is built entirely around improving Lance’s chances to win an 8th Tour.
Unfortunately, his chances don’t look very good—at least on paper. For one, Lance is old. Yes, he finished 3rd last year after several years off the bike. But whatever he gains this year from having another year of racing under his belt, he loses by virtue of being another year older. Worse, while he’s maturing, so are his main competitors. But they’re approaching 30, the peak of most grand tour cyclists’ careers. So while Lance inches further and further away from his best years, his main challengers grow nearer and nearer to theirs. That’s not good. So, while most of 2010 might be a fun trip down memory lane for Lance, Bruyneel, and their boys, July might not prove to be the kind of trip they were expecting.
Man of the Hour: Is there really any doubt? Radio Shack’s season hinges entirely upon the success of Lance Armstrong. All eyes are on him in every race he enters.
On the Hot Seat: I could say Lance, but he’s known for not letting pressure get to him. Instead, I’ll say Geert Steegmans. It was only 2-years ago when everyone thought Steegmans was the next greatest Belgian field sprinter/classics rider. Then came his move to Katusha, and it all went downhill from there. Steegmans seems a bit fragile to me—he’s already been all-but-ruled-out of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad—and he seems to struggle when things don’t develop exactly as he was expecting. That said, he’s now riding for one of the most organized and best-directed teams in the sport—he’s running out of excuses.
Up-and-Comer: This one’s tougher to call as many of Radio Shack’s signings were relatively unknown before signing with Radio Shack, of course. Ivan Rovny finished 3rd in last year’s GP Isbergues, a hard man’s race at a time of year when the best one-day riders in northern Europe are gearing-up for Worlds. I’ll be watching him closely this spring.
Best Pick-Up: Sébastien Rosseler has already rewarded the faith shown by Bruyneel with a stage win in the Volta Algarve. I’m curious to see how he fares without Steegmans in the Omloop. He’s a powerful rider and he benefitted from several years at Quick Step. He could turnout to be one of this weekend’s biggest surprises.
Biggest Loss: The Shack’s a new team; we’ll have to save this one for next year.
What We Saw:
Radio Shack is a hard team to rank. On first thought, one might find little reason to rank them at all following a lackluster Tour de France—by Lance’s standards at least. Yet, while they won only 15 races this year, several of those wins were of high quality—including two of the toughest one-week stage races in the world. Let’s take a look.
Radio Shack’s season began in January at the Tour Down Under—the team’s first chance to show-off for the public. Unfortunately, the best they could muster was a second-place for Geert Steegmans in Stage 1—but let’s face it, this was Lance’s show anyway. The squad took its first win a few weeks later at the Volta Algarve in Portugal when Sebastian Rosseler won Stage 4 to go with a third-place finish in the ITT on Stage 5. Levi Leipheimer and Tiago Machado also performed well, with Machado finishing third overall—unfortunately for The Shack, two spots behind race-winner and arch-nemesis Alberto Contador.
A week later in Sardinia, Chris Horner started his impressive run, taking second on the queen stage and second-place overall behind Liquigas’ Roman Kreuziger. At the Criterium International, Tiago Machado impressed once more, finishing second to Pierrick Fedrigo on the queen stage and third overall.
Back in Belgium, Radio Shack did its best to compensate for the absence of Geert Steegmans (who suffered several injuries following a crash in Algarve). Rosseler’s heroics once again put the team on the top step of the podium, this time in the Brabantse Pijl semi-classic. Meanwhile in Spain—and more importantly—Chris Horner won what many consider to be one of the most difficult races in the world: the Vuelta Pais Vasco. Horner would go on to finish 7th, 8th, and 10th at Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the Amstel Gold Race.
But let’s face it, Radio Shack didn’t join the sport to win races in Portugal, Sardinia, and Belgium—they came to win the Tour de France. The team’s preparations began in earnest at the Tour of California, where Johan Bruyneel brought almost the entire Tour roster to help deliver Leipheimer his fourth overall victory. But something funny happened on the way to Thousand Oaks. HTC-Columbia and Garmin-Transitions came focused on seizing control of what has become America’s most prestigious event, with Michael Rogers and David Zabriskie both able to follow—and drop—Leipheimer at strategic moments. By the end of the week, Leipheimer would finish third, his teammate Chris Horner just behind him.
But even more worrisome for Radio Shack was the situation surrounding Lance Armstrong. First, a media swarm ensued following Floyd Landis’ now infamous allegations of widespread doping within the US Postal Squad (all of under the watchful eye of Big Tex). Then, less than 24-hours later, Lance crashed heavily during Stage 5, ending the Texan’s race prematurely—perhaps mercifully. Lance would return soon though, using the Tour of Luxembourg to try and make-up for lost time. He finished third, once again rekindling the hopes of those dreaming of one more Tour challenge from their hero.
At June’s Criterium du Dauphiné, Radio Shack seemed to have a found hero though, as the Slovenian Janez Brajkovic took a resounding overall victory—beating Alberto Contador in the ITT and tenaciously clinging to the Spaniard’s wheel in the mountains. Brajkovic’s Tour ticket was secured following a Haimar Zubeldia crash, and once again it looked as if Bruyneel would have the deepest team in the race come July.
You know the rest of the story. Sergio Paulinho won a stage, Horner finished 10th overall, and Radio Shack won the Team Classification. But all in all, with Lance limping home in 23rd, it wasn’t the three weeks many had expected.
The rest of the season saw more or less a hodge-podge of mixed results. Radio Shack was uninvited to the Vuelta, denying riders like Brajkovic, Leipheimer, and Zubeldia a chance to end their seasons on a high note. (Zubeldia settled for the win at the Tour de l’Ain instead.) On paper, Taylor Phinney was the team’s most successful rider after September 1st—the stagiare won a stage at the Tour de l’Avenir, the USPRO ITT Championship, and a U23 World ITT Title before announcing he was signing with BMC.
Overall, Radio Shack enjoyed a season many teams would be happy to have had. But for a high-profile squad with bigger fish to fry, are they?
Most Valuable Rider: Chris Horner had one heck of a year, winning Pais Vasco, scoring top-10’s in Amstel, Fleche, and Liege, and finishing tenth overall in Paris at the Tour de France. I’ll spare you the “like a fine wine” simile, but at 39-years and counting, Horner shows no signs of slowing down.
Biggest Disappointment: When Radio Shack signed Geert Steegmans, I saw it as a savvy move aimed at rejuvenating the career of one of the sport’s most talented, yet inconsistent riders. Unfortunately, Steegmans failed to deliver on the faith Bruyneel and Dirk Demol placed in him. His third-place in October’s Paris-Tours left many—including myself—asking, “where was that all season?”
Biggest Surprise: I never expected Armstrong to win this year’s Tour de France. But I did expect him to contend. To all the Brett Favre fans looking for a supportive shoulder to cry on: find a cyclist, they’ve already been there.
And that’s it for the first ten teams in our 2010 Team-By-Team Season Review. Come back next week for our first look at the Top-10!
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