Each year, Pavé previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport. Here’s #8.
#8 – BMC Racing Team
Like many of the teams new to the sport’s upper echelon, BMC underwhelmed in 2010. That said, while the team’s 2010 results didn’t necessarily indicate it, BMC is building its program the right way, by signing young talented riders and giving them with the veteran support and tutelage they need to develop into successful professionals.
Cadel Evans leads the way for BMC in 2011, placing all of his eggs in the Tour de France’s basket. In 2010, Evans won Fleche Wallonne and a stage at the Giro before wearing the yellow jersey for a day at the Tour. An unfortunate crash and subsequent injury derailed his overall aspirations, but the experience has clearly motivated the Australian to try and win the event this year. On one hand, one can’t blame Evans for trying—especially with a chance that Alberto Contador won’t start. But on the other hand, Evans has been down the Grand Tour road before and has come up short on every occasion. In short, there’s little reason to believe Evans is capable of anything more than a place just inside the Tour’s top-5—but that and a stage win would be a fantastic result for the team.
Evans’ renewed Tour-focus means he has pared down his schedule this spring in attempt to arrive at the Tour rested and fresh. Among the races Evans plans to skip is Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a head-scratching decision considering his affinity for the Ardennes. As it stands now, Tirreno, Catalunya, Amstel, Fleche Wallonne, Romandie, and other week-long stage races will form the bulk of the Australian’s pre-Tour program, with the Vuelta bringing his season to a close. The best-case scenario has Evans winning Romandie, a stage and a top-5 finish at the Tour, and a stage and spot on the podium at the Vuelta. Anything less might send the Australian back to classics and shorter stage races for 2012, a decision that’s probably better for him.
As for the rest of the squad, BMC’s contingent for the Spring Classics is once again one of the most impressive in the sport, with George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan, Marcus Burghardt, and Karsten Kroon being joined by the talented Italian, Manuel Quinziato, the rejuvenated Belgian, Greg Van Avermaet, and 2-time U23 Roubaix-winner, Taylor Phinney. That said, while on paper BMC has the makings of one of the deepest squads of the spring, if Ballan, Hincapie, and co. don’t perform, they risk being forever known as one of the finest groups of classic also-rans ever assembled. Burghardt (27) and Van Avermaet (25) might be the team’s best bets at this point; look to see them contend as early next weekend’s Omloop.
Aside from the Classics and the Tour 2011 will be a case of catch-as-catch-can for BMC, as the team attempts to surpass last year’s 4-win season. But with another year under their belts, a deep roster, and several intriguing additions, that should be easy.
Man of the Hour: I don’t think it’s the best decision for him and the team, but Cadel Evans is targeting the 2011 Tour de France. That said, I see the 2011 event shaping-up to be as wide open as 2008, when a 30+, long-time bridesmaid named Carlos Sastre won the race with a daring attack on Alpe d’Huez. In other words: anything can happen.
On the Hot Seat: Alessandro Ballan was one of the most disappointing riders of 2010, forcing many to wonder if the rumors of his drug use might have been true (in that he used them earlier in his career when he was actually winning races). Ballan’s not even the best classics rider in Italy anymore—a title he seemed certain to hold for several years after winning Flanders in 2007 and Worlds in 2008. He needs a turnaround—and fast.
Up-and-Comer: BMC nabbed two of the five best U23 riders of that past two seasons when they signed Belgian Yannick Eijssen. A talented climber, Eijssen won a stage and the overall at the prestigious Ronde de l’Isard and a mountain stage at the Tour de l’Avenir in addition to several strong rides in Belgium and abroad. In 2009, he rode as a stagiare with Lotto—I wonder if they regret not signing him then.
Best Pick-Up: Taylor Phinney’s destination was one of the most talked-about stories this past summer—especially after it became clear that a contract with Radio Shack was not a forgone conclusion. While there’s an urge to rush him into the world’s best races, I think the first goal has to be getting his knee fixed.
Biggest Loss: BMC lost only four riders this off-season (two to retirement and two to destinations unknown)—so none!
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