Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010 Pro Tour Team Preview: G-S

Please forgive the unavoidable delay since my last preview of Pro Tour teams A-F. It seems that the graphic and disturbing nature of the new Footon-Servetto kit has caused the FCC to consider charging the team and the UCI with Cycling-Related Crimes Against Humanity, and now journalists who have referenced them publicly are being interrogated. I had three guys in suits and sunglasses banging on my door the other day, asking me if I knew anything about the new kit design, its possible effect on school children and general notions of public decency. They then confiscated my computer for nearly a week and I just now got it back. Strangely, all references of the team have been deleted from my hard drive.

In addition to the Footon-Servetto delay, I was planning on giving the UCI a chance to kick off the vacation dust and make some changes to its website. But...as of January 11, 2010, our leaders in Switzerland still have not gotten around to updating the Pro Tour pages to include Lampre-Fondital among the public list of licensed teams. Therefore, I guess they missed the bus, and Damiano "Fresh Prince" Cunego will have to bear the brunt of the UCI giving me extra time to think of new Carlton and Jazzy Jeff jokes.

Please find the G-S teams listed below. Again, this content is based on the UCI website so it may or may not be accurate. And again, the T's are going to be ridiculous because of the inexplicable use of "Team" as a first name. Whatever.

Garmin-Slipstream (USA)*

*Please note that the team is not yet recognized as Garmin-Transitions on the UCI website. Again...on January 11, 2010 the correct sponsor name is not listed. Sweet.

Anyway, now that brooding Brit Bradley Wiggins (aka Wiggie Smalls) has followed the pounds to Team Sky (although you wouldn't know it from the UCI lists) the team will be able to focus on helping Americans Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie and Tom Danielson in stage races throughout the season. Additonally, the emergence of Irishman Dan Martin will give Jonathan Vaughters and Matt "Lt. Jonathan Kendrick" White viable GC options in almost any kind of event throughout the year. In a strange way, I feel like each of these guys has a lot prove this year, either to confirm that they deserve the recognition or to finally make the leap to the next level. The effect of resident Mad Scientist Allen Lim's defection to RadioShack will also be interesting to watch as the season progresses.

One of the biggest hurdles to success in 2010 will be trying to solve the Cavendish Conundrum for Tyler "Farrah Fawcett" Farrar in the sprints. I don't know if the big man from Washington will be able to close the gap to the Teen Wolf of Man but it would be nice if we finally got around to consistently pronouncing his name correctly. It's hard enough to finish second a hundred times in a season, let's at least make sure to get the guy's name right as we describe his frustrating near-misses. Okay Phil and Paul?

All in all, I see Team Sky's cherrypicking of Pro Tour talent as the best thing that could have happened to Garmin-Transitions in 2010. With the diminished Columbia train, not to mention the removal of Wiggie Smalls and his snotty aloofness (seriously, why call out Armstrong and tick off most of your primary competition in the off-season?), I see the Argyle Armada being a more focused crew who will be better prepared to fight with Cavendish and support VDV, DZ and Tommy D in the stage races. My hunch is that 2010 will be the most successful year in the history of this team. I would also like a job with them...but I swear that has nothing to do with my prediction.

Liquigas-Doimo (ITA)

It sounds weird but...Liquigas is freaking stacked. I really don't know how else to say it. A quick glance at the roster shows names like Bennati, Chicchi, Kreuziger, Nibali, Pellizotti, and Basso, not to mention a bunch of other intensely greased up and cologned Italian dudes. I can't point to much hope for the Spring Classics (even though Quinziato stepped up last year) but Kermit the Frog's favorite team looks pretty decent in both the sprints and the GC for 2010. As Italian cycling slowly fades in to the past, the Gas Face crew is keeping the torch lit for a little while.

Perhaps the most intriguing component of the lime green gang is the established rivalry amongst Franco "Soul Glow" Pellizotti, Roman "Holiday" Kreuziger, Vincenzo "Nibbles" Nibali, and Ivan "The Terrible" Basso. As far as I can tell, none of these guys really like each other and they all seem to be equally good and flawed at the same time. It's like they stocked up on a bunch of cats who probably can't win a Grand Tour but will certainly be fighting each other for spots in the Top 10. I don't know if this is a strategic benefit or not but the drama in 2010 could be Astana-esque.

My only other thought is that they really, really need to do something about those kits. Enough is enough. It's time to leave the 1989 Kawasaki theme in the closet, where it belongs. With that many narcissistic Italians on the team, you would think they'd have switched to something a little cooler by now.

Omega Pharma-Lotto (BEL)

Having lost Cadel Evans almost immediately after winning the World Championship, the Omega Pharma-Lotto team basically gets no reward for years of near-misses by the snippy Australian. Without placing blame on anyone, I wonder how many times in recent history a new World Champ has bolted for a team that, at least on the surface, is in an inferior league. BMC may be stronger than OP-Lotto on paper, but the fact remains that a Pro Tour team lost the rainbow jersey to a Pro Continental team that has virtually no guaranteed starts in the biggest Pro Tour events. One could argue that Evans' salary is probably less than the cost of entry into the Pro Tour, and yet his presence guarantees BMC entry into the best Pro Tour events. So...why are these other teams spending millions of dollars to get a UCI Pro Tour license again? Good grief, I think my head is going to explode.

Anyway, Leif Hoste will probably finish second in excrutiating fashion during some big races this Spring but at least he won't be crashing with Johan Van Summeren anymore. That's a good thing, I guess. Now he can just crash and lose on his own.

Philippe Gilbert will probably continue to win late-season races while the rest of the field except Cunego and Sammy Sanchez are recovering from the Spring Classics, Giro and the Tour. I know it puts some pressure on, but seriously, why wouldn't you just target late-season events like the Vuelta and Lombardy with the understanding that half of the best guys in the world are basically on vacation or getting ready for the off-season? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like more guys target the Spring and Summer than the Fall. After numerous dismal starts, maybe Gilbert and Omega-Pharma Lotto are just good at playing the odds. It sure worked in 2009.

Quick Step (BEL)

Barring yet another cocaine bust, Quick Step seems like they are fading from the spotlight, not to mention the ranks of the power teams. With the exception of Tom Boonen, the biggest name on this team is the Patrick LeFevere (or Lefevre..or LeFavre) who is essentially a prototype of the typically arrogant and self-serving Belgian director. How many times has LeFevere been involved in disputes with riders over the last few years? Honestly, I don't even know...but I'm pretty sure it's more than any other Pro Tour figurehead. Sadly, it is turning out that Quick Step represents the old guard of Belgian "Goombah" mentality more than any other organization, and they had better hope the Spring turns out well or else it's going to be ugly in 2010.

If I could bet my entire life savings on something, I would (maybe) put everything on the odds that Quick Step does NOT win either Flanders or Roubaix in 2010. After so many years of dominance, this feels like the year that it all falls apart for the historically successful Belgian team. Sorry Tomeke, but I can't envision good fortune for your team, let alone for anyone who wears socks that combine the World Championship stripes and the Autobot logo (see above photo). Seriously, that is totally unacceptable. You only missed the "Transformer's Are Cool" bus by about 20 years there Big Guy. Besides, everyone knows that the Decepticons were way better than the Autobots. Come on, Bumblebee or Sound Wave? No contest.

Rabobank (NED)

Does anyone really root for Denis Menchov? Honestly, I don't know. Has there been anyone in the history of professional cycling who has won as many Grand Tours and gets less credit or publicity? Again, I can't think of anyone who has been more successful and less popular. Is it just a function of sucking in the Tour? Really? By results alone, he is one of the best riders in the last 20 years but you'd be hard pressed to get anyone to mention the guy's name in the same sentence as Pantani or Ullrich, or even Basso. Arguably, only Armstrong and Indurain have been more successful since 1990, so it must be the fact that he crashes so much, thus allowing slow, fat journalists to fool themsleves into thinking that he's not that good.

It would be nice to see Oscar Freire win something again but we really need to get Robert Gesink some help. He seems to be following the Menchov formula of being exceptionally strong but strangely prone to decking it at the worst possible time. It's not even like he crashes in groups or anything, he just flies off the road for no reason. I am beginning to wonder if the Rabobank team is cursed, after watching Rasmussen, Menchov, Horillo, Flecha and now Gensink flailing across the road and into the bushes so many times. I know that Flecha has gone to Sky but he was another example of a guy who just couldn't manage to stay on his Rabobank team bike. Maybe if they change their boring kits, they will have better luck. Wishful thinking...

Saxo Bank (DEN)

As usual, the Saxo Bank empire is built on the combined "Hard Man" foundation of Bjarne Riis, Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara. I always laugh when I think of bike racers fighting but honestly, are there three other dudes in the sport who you think could take The Bald Eagle, Chuck Norris and Tony Montana in a street fight? I don't think so. But I would pay just about anything for the Pay Per View if someone wants to set up a tag-team match in the Octagon.

This actually brings up another question: Is hitting the deck at 40 miles per hour more painful than getting punched in the face or kicked in the ribs?
Although I have never been punched in the face (yet) or kicked in the ribs (yet) I would have to assume that crashing on a bike is WAY worse. If some tatooed donkey clocks me in the jaw, I figure I fall down and curl up like a child while someone comes over, stops the fight and takes the other idiot off to jail for a few hours. But you can't take the easy way out in bike racing; bad things are going to happen if you crash at any speed and they are probably more gruesome and painful than taking a fist in the mouth. Therefore...I think Jens Voigt will beat up Kimbo Slice and will win the MMA title in a few months. Then he will win the Criterium International while wearing the championship belt around his waist...just to show that he can.

Interestingly, the Schleck Brothers (aka Schlecks N Effect) are going to probably get more media attention than anyone else on the team in 2010. For some reason, people think that Andy can beat Contador (which he can't) and that somehow the siblings are strengthened by each other (which they aren't). After all, if the 2009 stage to Ventoux was any example, there is nothing to be gained by Frank having anything more than a Lieutenant role in the GC of any Grand Tour. The bottom line is that unless they can do a "Face Off" style surgery that allows Fabian Cancellara to time trial for Andy, the Saxo Bank crew will not get to the top step of the Tour any time soon. Sorry Luxembourg.

With that said, Bjarne's Army will again challenge for the title of the best team in the world, after having given up that claim to Columbia and Astana for the past few years. Especially with recent news that Saxo Bank will be pulling its sponsorship at the end of 2010, you can bet that B. Riis will have everyone's feet firmly in the flames all year.

Stay tuned for the 2010 Pro Tour Preview: T-Z coming soon...


Sebastian said...

Reading your team run-down made me realize how many powerful (at least on paper) teams there actualy are outside the ProTour, or the World Calendar, or whatever it is now: Cervelo, Radio Shack, Sky, BMC, Skil-Shimano . . . All of these seem far worthier of a Tour invitation than Euskatel, or Milram, or FDJeux, or that team whose outfit is now so deeply offensive that its name cannot be mentioned in polite society. Anyway, I wonder if this development reflects the fact that the World Calendar system is too slow to respond to the way teams change, grow, diminish, form etc. Or if it actually represents an exodus from the World Calendar / Protour system -- a desire by top teams and riders to operate outside those strictures (for whatever reason).

Anonymous said...

I inclination not agree on it. I think precise post. Particularly the designation attracted me to be familiar with the unscathed story.

CaliRado Cyclist said...

I think you're on to something Sebastian. Ever since ASO started deciding who they would or would not invite to their races, and the UCI just let them refuse dues-paying Pro Tour teams, the whole system basically fell apart. The main reason they went with the different licenses was to guarantee Pro Tour team sponsors that their jerseys would be in the biggest, best races.

But now that everything with the UCI is so sketchy and flimsy, there is really no concrete reason to go Pro Tour when you can just hire individual riders (like Evans, Sastre, Hincapie, Hushovd, etc) and bank on wild card bids as a Continental team without having to pay Pro Tour dues.

As with many business models these days, the trend seems to be more autonomy and more creative organizational structures. Cervelo really paved the way with that last year. The old models don't work anymore, whether it is a "real" business or a bike racing team.

And yes..the UCI is obviously a little slow on the draw. Yeah...