2010 Team-By-Team Season Review: #5

Fotoreporter Sirotti

#5 – Rabobank (Preview Ranking: #9)

What We Said:

Rabobank’s another risky team to place in the top-10 as their performances often fall short of their expectations given the level of talent they have on the squad.  Rabobank’s success hinges upon the seasons of four men in two major departments: the classics with Lars Boom and Nick Nuyens; and the grand tours with Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink.

In the classics, Nuyens needs a good result to remind us all that he has the talent to be one of the best one-day riders in Belgium.  He looked good early last spring, but for some reason never pulled it together.  This year he’ll have Lars Boom at his side.  The former World Cyclocross Champion’s switch to the road will be one of the more interesting sub-plots of the 2010 spring.  He’s found much success in the past on the road with Rabobank; let’s see how he fares on the pavé.  If one of these men can win a major race in April, it will be good news for the Orange.  If it’s Boom, even better, as the Dutch will finally have a Classics rider to get excited about.

In the grand tours, all hopes lie on Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink.  Menchov’s inconsistency is his tragic flaw.  Last season, he followed a fantastic win in the Giro with a forgettable performance in the Tour.  Despite that, it’s interesting to note the lack of respect he seems to be getting both in Holland and abroad considering he’s won 3 grand tours.  Clearly, all eyes at Rabobank are on Gesink; he’s super talented, particularly when the road goes up, and he’s Dutch. If he can keep the rubber side down and not succumb to the pressure of the Tour, he could do quite well.  A top-5 result is certainly within his reach. I can’t wait for the Tour’s next rendezvous with Alpe d’Huez as I’m sure Gesink will whip the legions of orange-clad fans into a real frenzy.

Man of the Hour: Some might call him an up-and-comer, but after his fantastic Vuelta last year, Robert Gesink’s the Man of the Hour in the Netherlands.

On the Hot Seat: Denis Menchov needs top performances in back-to-back grand tours to finally earn the credit he deserves.  The question for Menchov this year is whether or not he should return to the Giro to defend his title.  I think he should do it.  It’s a winnable race for him, and then he can head to the Tour in support of Gesink while taking advantage of an opportunity to ride for himself if one arises.

Up-and-Comer: Lars Boom is turning into a more than respectable road racer—now he gets to take his first stab at the classics.  Along with Gesink, Holland’s future looks bright.

Best Pick-Up: Rabobank’s a team not known for making waves on the transfer market; the majority of their new talent comes from their in-house Continental team.  This year, two riders make the jump, Steven Kruijswijk and Dennis Van Winden.

Biggest Loss: Too bad Rabobank couldn’t retain Tejay Van Garderen; he looks to have the makings of a star.

What We Saw:

Thanks to Oscar Freire’s wins in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Tours, Denis Menchov’s third-place finish in this year’s Tour de France, and Robert Gesink’s general consistency, Rabobank gains four places from its preseason ranking.

Oscar Freire was one of the world’s best riders from February to the beginning of April, winning six races in less than two weeks including a stage in Majorca, two stages at the Ruta del Sol, two stages at Tour of the Basque Country, and of course, his third Milan-San Remo.  For a rider who’s quickly becoming the “Boy Who Cried Retirement”, it was a terrific start to the season.

But from there, things went a bit pear-shaped as Freire spent a few anonymous months struggling just to visit the podium.  He failed to contend in Ghent-Wevelgem and was unable to win stages at the Tour de Suisse, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta Espana—races in which he’s traditionally performed well.  Luckily, patience and hard work paid-off for the Spanish veteran; while he failed to take another world title (he finished sixth in Australia), he did manage to win his first Paris-Tours—a race that fits his resume well.  All in all, while a grand tour stage or two would have been nice, a year with two classic victories and seven wins is not by a bad season by any means.

As for Menchov, the Russian started only 11 races in 2010—clearly, a top finish in the Tour de France was his one and only goal.  Luckily, he delivered, finishing third overall—the highest finisher on a team that also ended the race with Robert Gesink in sixth.  After the Tour, Menchov rode the Vuelta, albeit halfheartedly.  (His best result was second-place in the Stage 17 ITT.)  After courting offers from several teams, he’s headed to Team Geox for 2011.

But while Freire won two classics and Menchov finished better in the Tour de France, one could easily make the argument that Gesink a better season than both of them.  He started the year with two top-10 results at the Med Tour before finishing fifth overall in Tirrreno-Adriatico.  An eighth-place finish in Pais Vasco preceded a top-25 result in the Amstel Gold Race followed by top-15 results in both Ardennes classics (but considering Gesink’s talent, better results were expected).  After some time away from racing to train for the Tour, Gesink went to Switzerland—his final build-up race before July.  After winning the race’s queen stage to La Punt, he looked certain to take the overall victory before a total collapse in the final stage’s ITT sent him hurtling down the GC—he ended the race in fifth.

Then came Gesink’s sixth-place in the Tour, a result made all the more impressive when one considers that he was technically riding in the service of Menchov.  Consistently riding with the leaders, the young Dutchman finished in the first ten on several key mountain stages—it’s easy to see why Rabobank felt comfortable letting Menchov depart for other pastures.

After the Tour, Gesink finished seventh in the Classica San Sebastian then skipped the Vuelta to prepare for the autumn classics. The time paid-off: he went to Canada, where he finished third in the new GP Montreal Pro Tour event and won the GP Quebec two days later.  Back in Europe, he successfully defended his title in Italy’s prestigious Giro dell-Emilia and looked to be one of the 2 or 3 best contenders for the Tour of Lombardy.  Were it not for a tragic accident that ultimately led to the death of his father, Gesink might have added a monument to an already impressive season tally.

Overall, 2010 was a good year for Rabobank.  And with a young core bolstered by the acquisitions of talented riders such as Luis-Leon Sanchez and Matti Breschel, the team’s winning trend looks to continue.

Most Valuable Rider: Robert Gesink was Rabobanks’ best and most consistent rider in 2010.  For a Dutch team, holding-on to native talent is a must—especially when it’s capable of contending in the Tour de France.  And by the way, the Tour goes up Alpe d’Huez next summer.

Biggest Disappointment: Belgium’s Nick Nuyens was supposed to lead Rabobank in the cobbled classics this year—his second with Rabobank.  Unfortunately, crashes and bad luck derailed his plans.  Will his transfer to Saxo Bank breath new life into his career?

Biggest Surprise: Lars Boom won only two races in 2010, the Prologue at Paris-Nice and the GP Jef Scherens in Belgium.  For someone so talented, it was a bit of a surprise that he didn’t more races.  That said, he’s young and still progressing—maybe 2011 will bring his first major victory?

That’s it for #5 in our countdown of the top-20 teams of 2010.  Look for more tomorrow!

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About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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