#18 â€“ 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 breathâ€”and in the bottom quarter of our Season Preview.Â Unfortunately, professional cycling is a fickle, â€œwhat have you done for me lately?â€ sport, and both Bjarne Riis and Mauro Gianettiâ€”the general managers of these two hard luck organizationsâ€”canâ€™t seem to get a break.
Letâ€™s start with Bjarne Riis.Â By the end of last April, it appeared as if Saxo Bank had all the makings of a dynasty.Â 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.Â But by the start of the Tour in July, it was clear an exodus was afoot, with the announcement of Bryan Nygaardâ€™s Luxembourg Cycling Project.Â It didnâ€™t help that Riisâ€”once againâ€”was struggling to fill the holes in his own budget.
The Schlecks, Cancellara, Breschel, Voigt, Oâ€™Grady, and Fuglsang are just a few of the names to have left the Danish squad; they have been replaced by Nick Nuyensâ€”the teamâ€™s new captain in the cobbled classicsâ€”and Alberto Contador.Â At the time, Contadorâ€™s transfer seemd a savvy move, effectively responding to the Schlecksâ€™ snub by signing the rider who defeated Andy in the last two Tours de France.Â It took most of his budget to do it, but Riis appeared to have protected Saxo Bankâ€™s relevance.Â 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 Bankâ€™s roster for the classic falls far short of the competition.Â Should the Belgian rise to prominence once again, heâ€™ll have to do it largely on his own.Â 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 havenâ€™t been much better. Rejected by the UCIâ€™s ProTeam decision-makers, Geox was not invited to the Tour, leaving the Giro and the Vuelta as the teamâ€™s best chances for big time gloryâ€”but those invitations are not safe bets at this point.Â 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 Giroâ€”a race largely dominated by Menchov and Sastre as recently as 2009â€”Geox could surprise us all.
Man of the Hour: Ironically, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised to see Denis Menchov spend time riding for both of these teams this season.Â He claims heâ€™s staying put with Geox, but should the team prove unable to earn an invitation to the Giro dâ€™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, Iâ€™d take the suspension and start training for the Vuelta.Â Heâ€™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.Â And donâ€™t forget Nick Nuyensâ€”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 dâ€™Italia, but I think his late-summer results are more indicative of his talent.Â Letâ€™s see what he does this year in races such as Paris-Nice, Romandie, and the DauphinÃ© before we permanently stick him with the â€œfuture Grand Tour Contenderâ€ 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 Oâ€™Grady, Matti Breschel, Jakob Fuglsang, and Jens Voigt are just a few of the riders who left Saxo Bank in 2010.Â Could it be any worse?
Thatâ€™s it for #18â€”look for #17 later today.
And share your comments below.