Each year, PavÃ© previews the upcoming road season with a countdown of the top-20 teams in the sport. Last week, we entered the top-5 with Garmin-CervÃ©lo, Rabobank, and Liquigas-Cannondale. Hereâ€™s #2.
#2 – HTC-High Road
Heading into 2010, many of us were unsure as to just how well HTC-Columbia would perform following the losses of talented stars such as Edvald Boasson Hagen and George Hincapie. But after a season in which HTCâ€™s new recruitsâ€”and a couple of reliable stand-bysâ€”handled the slack (and then some), itâ€™s no wonder Bob Stapleton is smiling heading into 2011.
And with a roster brimming with talent from A to V, itâ€™s easy to see why:
A is for Albasini: Michael Albasini typifies the riders that form the core of HTC: smart, reliable, and always good for a win or two. Heâ€™s not the flashiest, and heâ€™s certainly not the most well-known. But in week long, hilly stage races, heâ€™s always a safe bet for a stage victory. Cavendish canâ€™t win 62 races by himselfâ€”riders like Albasini are what make HTC the deepest team in the sport.
C is for Cavendish: Mark Cavendish enjoyed another stellar season in 2010, even after a start that had many wondering if karma had caught-up to the Manxman. After five individual stage wins at the Tour and another three at the Vuelta, Cavendish and the team will come to the Tour de France in 2011 hoping to win Cav the green jersey that has eluded him so far. Heâ€™s also riding the Giro and the Vueltaâ€”multiple stage wins in all three tours are a distinct possibility. Then of course, thereâ€™s a flat course waiting at Worlds in Copenhagen, where it will be interesting to see how Cav fares without his HTC lead-out.
E if for Eisel: A popular rider within the peloton, many were pleased to see Bernhard Eisel take a well-deserved win in last seasonâ€™s Ghent-Wevelgem. A critical piece of HTCâ€™s lead-out train and cobbled classics squad, Eiselâ€™s win underscored the depth of the squadâ€”on any given day, any one of the teamâ€™s riders has the talent to take an important win.
G is for Goss: The progression of Matthew Goss was one of the main reasons why HTC could afford to let Andre Greipel depart after last season. At 24-years-old, the Australian sprinter has also shown potential in difficult one-days racesâ€”look for him to be HTCâ€™s best man in the cobbled classics as well as Australiaâ€™s captain at Worlds in Copenhagen, possibly giving the Aussies their second rainbow jersey in three years. A stage-winner in last yearâ€™s Giro as well as the winner of the Pro Tour event in Plouay, France, Goss could be one of this seasonâ€™s biggest revelations. And who knows, if he performs well enough, he might give Stapleton reason to pause before re-signing Cavendish to what will likely be an expensive contract extension.
M is for Martin: Tony Martinâ€™s long been one of the sportâ€™s most up-and-coming Tour contendersâ€”especially since wearing the white jersey for 12 days in the 2009 Tour de France. One of the worldâ€™s best time trialists, Martinâ€™s weakness has always been his climbing, something he appears to have improved after winning last monthâ€™s Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. He heads to Paris-Nice as a top contender for the title this weekend, and from there will look to continue his fine season with a win at the Tour de Suisse and a top placing in the Tour de France. And heâ€™s only 25.
P is for Pinotti: If youâ€™re putting together a Fantasy Squad for this yearâ€™s Tour of Italy, go ahead and pick-up Marco Pinotti. Always good for a top-10 placing and sometimes a stage win in his home tour, the Italianâ€™s one of HTCâ€™s most consistent, yet under-the-radar performersâ€”and similar to Albasini in his value to the team.
V is for Van Garderen: Tejay Van Garderen performed well in his first Pro Tour seasonâ€”his best result by far was his third-place in Juneâ€™s Criterium du DauphinÃ©, confirmation of the Americanâ€™s grand tour potential. 2011 is off to a flying start as well as Van Garderen finished second to teammate Tony Martin in Algarve. Now heâ€™ll join Martin at Paris-Nice before heading to Spain, the Ardennes, and the Tour of California (where heâ€™ll be a top favorite). Atop-25 finisher in last yearâ€™s Vuelta, Van Garderen will likely return to the race this yearâ€”perhaps with a chance for a top-10 finish.
V is for Velits: Peter and Martin Velits left Team Milram for HTC at the end of the 2009 season, a quiet move overshadowed by other transfers. But after Peter won the time trial and finished third at the Vuelta last September, itâ€™s safe to say any anonymity has officially worn-off for the Slovakian. The best part: Velits was originally known for his one-day exploitsâ€”he won the U23 World Championship in 2007 and should be a contender in classics such as Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Is the best yet to come for the 26-year-old?
Overall, the average age of HTCâ€™s five biggest starsâ€”Cavendish, Goss, Martin, Van Garderen, and Peter Velitsâ€”is 24.5-years-old. Clearly, the best is yet to come for what is quickly becoming the sportâ€™s model for success.
Man of the Hour: Itâ€™s hard to choose between Tony Martin and Matthew Goss as both will be given equal opportunities this season to become superstarsâ€”Martin in stage races (the most important of which is the Tour de France) and Goss in one-day events (especially the Classics and Worlds).
On the Hot Seat: Peter Velits earned HTC its first place on a grand tour podium at least yearâ€™s Vuelta. Now he needs to prove his third-place finish was more than just a one-race wonder.
Up-and-Comer: John Degenkolb won Stage 2 at the Volta ao Algarve in February, defeating Tyler Farrar, Michael Matthews, and Philippe Gilbert to take his first win as a professional. The runner-up in last yearâ€™s U23 World Championship, the German joins Rabobankâ€™s Matthews at the head of a new class of field sprintersâ€”and his 12th-place finish in last weekendâ€™s Omloop indicates heâ€™s a future classics star as well.
Best Pick-Up: For a while it seemed as if Scottâ€™s heart just wasnâ€™t into supplying bikes to a program as large and as deep as HTCâ€™s. With a squad that big and talented, one expected more innovationâ€”and publicityâ€”from their bike sponsor. Enter Specialized, a brand more than happy to use its athletes as its primary testing ground. Enjoy your Shiv, Tonyâ€”and your Roubaix, Bernie.
Biggest Loss: Â Andre Greipel won over 20 races for HTC in 2010â€”about one third of the teamâ€™s total. Whether or not his transfer to Omega Pharma-Lotto will prove heâ€™s overrated, Greipelâ€™s wins will be missed.
And thatâ€™s it for #2â€”look for #1 soon!
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