#16 – Team Radio Shack
It’s an understatement to say that 2010 didn’t quite go as planned for Team Radio Shack. But the fact remains: crashes, sickness, a lack of race invitations, and poor performances from two of the team’s three veterans have put the team on thin ice heading into 2011. For many—myself included—the end of Radio Shack’s sponsorship seems imminent by the end of the season.
That said, riders from two of cycling’s “fringe” countries give Team Radio Shack reason for optimism in 2011, especially if they can build on their best results from 2010. Slovenia’s Janez Brajkovic won last year’s Criterium du Dauphiné with a potent mix of time trialing and climbing, defeating Alberto Contador in the race’s long ITT, and then staying with the Spaniard in the high Alps to protect his victory. A last-minute call-up to the Tour, Brajkovic underwhelmed—but that was to be expected considering he spent most of the first week working for Armstrong. This year he’ll be one of the squad’s protected riders in just about any stage race he enters—and he’s still only 27.
But Portugal’s Tiago Machado is two years younger than his Slovenian teammate and perhaps more talented too. He turned heads last year with top-10 performances in last year’s Volta ao Algarve, Criterium International, Circuit de la Sarthe, Tour de Romandie, Tour of Austria, Vuelta Castilla y Leon, and the Tour of Poland. Another climber/time trialist, he and Brajkovic could be two of the season’s most impressive Grand Tour dark horses.
As for the rest of the squad, Chris Horner enjoyed his most successful international season as a pro in 2010, winning the Tour of the Basque Country and finishing inside the top-10 at the Ardennes classics and most impressively, the Tour de France. At 39, the American continues to defy his age—but for how long?
Overall, the success of Radio Shack’s 2011 season will rest largely on whether or not the squad can guarantee its existence for another few years. If the team fails to make Radio Shack feel as if its investment was justified, they might all be looking elsewhere for 2012.
Man of the Hour: Janez Brajkovic’s win in last year’s Dauphiné was one of the most impressive performances of 2010—and a sure sign that the Slovenian is poised for big things. This year, without a clear leader at Radio Shack, he’ll get a chance to test his true Grand Tour potential—most likely in France, but possibly in the Giro or Vuelta. With a new contract a distinct possibility for 2012, it’s Jani’s ideal time to shine.
On the Hot Seat: At 37, Levi Leipheimer is nearing the end of his international career. Last year he failed to win a single race outside of the United States, and was clearly a step below his former self in at “home” race, the Amgen Tour of California. Barring a Grand Tour miracle, look for Levi to be the biggest commodity on this upcoming off-season’s domestic transfer market.
Up-and-Comer: At only 25 and possessing a sought-after mix of climbing and time trialing ability, Tiago Machado was one of the riders most hurt by Radio Shack’s omission from last year’s Vuelta. He should get his chance this year to show us all what he can do in a 3-week race.
Best Pick-Up: Ben King stole the show in September’s US National Road Race Championship, escaping first with a group and then alone to add a professional national championship to the U23 title he earned earlier in the summer. The chance to ride with veterans such as Armstrong, Horner, Kloden, and Bruyneel must have been tough to pass-up—let’s just hope he doesn’t regret it by the end of the season.
Biggest Loss: Now matter how you feel about him as a person, it’s hard to deny that Lance Armstrong was the glue that held Radio Shack together—both on and off the road. At least year’s Tour de France, the team seemed lost once the American was out of contention. Yes, Chris Horner finished in the top-10 overall, but the squad seemed to be more of a group of individuals riding for themselves than a team riding for a shared goal. Trek’s support of the Schlecks and Leopard hints at the company’s quickly changing heart, and Radio Shack’s lack of a major off-season signing indicates the team’s days are numbered. With the pending retirement of the sport’s biggest personality—especially for American fans—it’s easy to see why Radio Shack’s fortunes mirror its controversial champion’s.
That’s it for #16—come back soon for #15. And share your comments below.