2011 Team-By-Team Season Preview – Number 18

Fotoreporter Sirotti

#18 – Team Saxo Bank & Geox-TMC (tie)

A year ago it would have been hard to believe that we would be mentioning Saxo Bank and the team that was Footon-Servetto in the same breath—and in the bottom quarter of our Season Preview.  Unfortunately, professional cycling is a fickle, “what have you done for me lately?” sport, and both Bjarne Riis and Mauro Gianetti—the general managers of these two hard luck organizations—can’t seem to get a break.

Let’s start with Bjarne Riis.  By the end of last April, it appeared as if Saxo Bank had all the makings of a dynasty.  Fabian Cancellara won Flanders and Roubaix, Frank Schleck and Andy Schleck were on track to challenge for victory in the Tour de France, and everyone seemed happy.  But by the start of the Tour in July, it was clear an exodus was afoot, with the announcement of Bryan Nygaard’s Luxembourg Cycling Project.  It didn’t help that Riis—once again—was struggling to fill the holes in his own budget.

The Schlecks, Cancellara, Breschel, Voigt, O’Grady, and Fuglsang are just a few of the names to have left the Danish squad; they have been replaced by Nick Nuyens—the team’s new captain in the cobbled classics—and Alberto Contador.  At the time, Contador’s transfer seemd a savvy move, effectively responding to the Schlecks’ snub by signing the rider who defeated Andy in the last two Tours de France.  It took most of his budget to do it, but Riis appeared to have protected Saxo Bank’s relevance.  But now, with at least a one-year suspension looming for Contador, Riis seems lost again, with little to do other than offer public support for his newest star.

As for Nick Nuyens, a change of scenery might do him well, but Saxo Bank’s roster for the classic falls far short of the competition.  Should the Belgian rise to prominence once again, he’ll have to do it largely on his own.  Nicki Sorensen’s an underrated talent for sure, but don’t expect to see 5 or 6 Saxo Bank riders spread across the front of the field at this year’s Ronde or Paris-Roubaix.

For Mauro Gianetti and Geox-TMC, things haven’t been much better. Rejected by the UCI’s ProTeam decision-makers, Geox was not invited to the Tour, leaving the Giro and the Vuelta as the team’s best chances for big time glory—but those invitations are not safe bets at this point.  Denis Menchov is already rumored to be looking for safer pastures, while Carlos Sastre has to be wondering how he found himself in such a dismal situation.

But then again, all bets are off once the racing begins and should they find themselves in the Giro—a race largely dominated by Menchov and Sastre as recently as 2009—Geox could surprise us all.

Man of the Hour: Ironically, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Denis Menchov spend time riding for both of these teams this season.  He claims he’s staying put with Geox, but should the team prove unable to earn an invitation to the Giro d’Italia and/or the Vuelta a Espana, look for Menchov to jump ship midstream for a guaranteed Grand Tour ride with Saxo Bank.

On the Hot Seat: If I were Alberto Contador, I’d take the suspension and start training for the Vuelta.  He’ll do more damage to his reputation by fighting his positive; if he cooperates he stands a chance of having his suspension begun retroactively, getting him back on his bike by the end of this season.  And don’t forget Nick Nuyens—the 2005 winner of the Omloop has underwhelmed of late.

Up-and-Comer: Richie Porte turned heads with a top-10 result in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, but I think his late-summer results are more indicative of his talent.  Let’s see what he does this year in races such as Paris-Nice, Romandie, and the Dauphiné before we permanently stick him with the “future Grand Tour Contender” label.

Best Pick-Up: Brian Vandborg comes to Saxo Bank from Liquigas. A talented rouleur, the Dane should help the team in the classics and the Tour, offering much needed support and depth to a roster severely depleted by off-season transfers.

Biggest Loss: This is probably the greatest no-brainer in the history of no-brainers: Andy and Frank Schleck, Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady, Matti Breschel, Jakob Fuglsang, and Jens Voigt are just a few of the riders who left Saxo Bank in 2010.  Could it be any worse?

That’s it for #18—look for #17 later today.

And share your comments below.

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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