At the beginning of the season, each member of the VeloVoices team selected one ProTeam to follow for the duration of 2012. Here’s an update on how each squad is progressing as the peloton starts to move out of tune-up mode and into the first slug of major races for this year: the spring Classics and Paris-Nice.
WorldTour ranking: Equal-12th, 0 pts (as of February 23rd). Note, however, that there has only been one WorldTour event so far: January’s Tour Down Under. There are six upcoming in March alone.
- Tour Down Under: Martin Kohler – 15th overall.
- Tour of Qatar: Adam Blythe – 10th overall, 2nd in stage 1.
- Tour of Oman: Martin Kohler – 6th in stage 4. Klaas Lodewyck – Combativity prize.
- Volta ao Algarve: Tejay van Garderen – 7th overall, 4th in stage 5. Greg Van Avermaet – 2nd in stage 1.
The boys in black and red have been hither and yon in January and February, starting with the Tour Down Under. Here their highest-placed rider was Martin Kohler at 15th, and they finished seventh in the team classification. Then it was on to the desert, with Adam Blythe riding well and placing 10th in the Tour of Qatar, including a second place on the opening stage. If he hadn’t punctured at the end of stage four, he might have contested the sprint with Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
The Tour of Oman was another solid performance by the team, as a BMC rider figured in the breakaways in five out of the six stages. Klaas Lodewyck was the tour’s most aggressive rider and Michael Schar was the highest-placed BMC rider at 16th in the GC.
The Volta ao Algarve gaveth and it taketh away. Tejay van Garderen clocked in just 14 seconds off the number one spot in the final stage time trial, coming in fourth on the stage and ending up with an overall placement of seventh. However in stage three Steve Cummings crashed out early on, fracturing his pelvis.
The Haut Var had the God of Thunder and the King of Belgium competing. Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert stated they weren’t in it for the win – unless, as Gilbert said, “it didn’t cost any energy” and then, sure, I’ll cross the line first! Gilbert eventually finished 16th in the field.
Cadel Evans will start this season in earnest defending his title at Tirreno-Adriatico from the March 7th. This weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will see Hushovd, Gilbert and Taylor Phinney on those cobbles and climbs in preparation for the Tour of Flanders, E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, while Blythe, Danilo Wyss and Lodewyck will ride Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Get those bones used to shakin’ on those cobbles, guys, the spring Classics season is here!
WorldTour ranking: Equal-12th, 0 pts (as of February 23rd)
- Tour Down Under: Gorka Izagirre – 40th overall.
- Vuelta a Andalucia: Igor Anton – 15th overall, 9th in stage 4. Mikel Astarloza – 16th overall. Samuel Sanchez – 3rd in stage 4, 9th in stage 2.
As befits a World Tour team with a small budget, the team is trying to expend its resources wisely. They took part in the Tour Down Under and its preceding criterium race but were unable to match last year’s 12th placing for Gorka Izagirre – one of two brothers racing for Euskaltel. [At some point they’ll feature in our Cycling Families series – Ed.]
A 15-strong team was sent to contest the Challenge Mallorca but failed to register a result or even animate the racing during the first three days. The fourth day was cancelled.
With their season not having gotten off to the best of starts, the team have sought additional assistance. Upon returning from their training camp in Alicante, the riders and staff paid a visit to the parish priest of the Church of San Miguel and offered a signed jersey to the patron saint of the Basque capital – the Virgen Blanca. [That’ll do the trick – Ed.]
The team has also just competed at the Vuelta a Andalucia, where both Sanchez and Igor Anton finished in the top ten on the final stage, with Anton and Mikel Astarloza finishing 15th and 16th overall. Here’s what Mikel had to say (in Basque) after finishing 17th in the prologue.https://twitter.com/EuskaltelEuskad/status/171506135692619776
Although it has been a slow start for the Euskaltel boys, there’s no need to start panicking. To put this into context, the team didn’t score their first win last year until Samuel Sanchez won the GP Miguel Indurain at the beginning of April.
The other issue dominating the team news is their search for both an additional and a new sponsor. Euskaltel’s general manager Miguel Madariaga has once again raised the possibility of a change of philosophy at the team, opening it up to non-Basques. Current main sponsor Euskaltel have a deal which expires at the end of this year and have yet to pen an extension to their arrangement. Madariaga told La Marca:
We could alter our philosophy and open up to foreigners – it pretty much depends on the wishes of the sponsor we hope to find. Right now, we’re undecided. First of all we need to get a sponsor on board. If the new backer allows us to go ahead with our current philosophy then great, but if that’s not the case we might have to look at things anew. I don’t think it’s realistic that the team disappears, though.
What lies ahead for the team in 2013 will continue to be a hot topic. For now, Madariaga is more preoccupied with the team’s financial health. He commented:
We have the smallest budget in the WorldTour – it’s even smaller than many Pro Continental teams! It hasn’t gotten any bigger in the last five years, and that’s not to be recommended. Our budget amounts to approximately seven million Euros. We need nine to be competitive.
WorldTour ranking: 8th, 7 pts (as of February 23rd)
- Tour Down Under: Yauheni Hutarovich – 3rd in stage 1, 2nd in stage 3, 4th in stage 6.
- Etoile de Besseges: Nacer Bouhanni – won stage 1, 3rd in stages 2 & 3. Pierrick Fedrigo – 7th overall.
- Tour of Qatar: Arnaud Demare – won stage 6.
- Tour Mediterraneen: Yauheni Hutarovich – 2nd in stage 1, 3rd in stage 2, 4th in stage 3.
- Tour of Oman: Nacer Bouhanni – 3rd in stage 3, four other top 6 placings. Sandy Casar – 4th overall. Arnold Jeannesson – 5th overall.
FDJ have had a good start to the season, with two stage victories by two young Frenchmen in some rather big races.
21-year-old Nacer Bouhanni recorded the biggest win of his career to date, taking victory on the opening stage of the five-day French race Étoile de Bessèges, in which veteran Pierrick Fedrigo took 7th place overall.
Sprinter Bouhanni continued his excellent form with five top-ten finishes in the Tour of Oman, in which Sandy Casar and Arnold Jeannesson impressed, taking 4th and 5th overall.
Arnaud Demare won his first ever professional race, taking stage six of the Tour of Qatar. He commented:
In the sprint I felt good, my heart was beating faster and faster but my legs were turning good, no problem. I saw a Rabobank [Renshaw] two or three metres away, but he did not pass. At ten metres from the line, I could get up and lift my arms!
Another of the team’s sprinters, Yauheni Hutarovich, got the season off to a good start with a couple of podium finishes in the season-opening Tour Down Under, as well as in the Tour Mediterraneen.
However, it hasn’t all been good news. Yesterday (Thursday 23rd) the French cycling federation confirmed a one-year suspension for Yoann Offredo, following three violations of the whereabouts system. The 25-year old had been scheduled to be one of the team’s featured riders during the Classics.
Nonetheless it has been an impressive start to 2012 for the team recently admitted back into the WorldTour after a year’s absence. Let’s hope that the results continue to roll in. With newly-recruited classics specialist Dominique Rollin on their books, it could be a good spring for FDJ.
WorldTour team ranking: 3rd, 107 pts (as of February 23rd)
- Tour Down Under: Simon Gerrans – 1st overall, 3rd in stage 2, 2nd in stage 5.
- Tour of Qatar: Aidis Kruopis – 9th overall, 3rd in stage 3.
- Tour Mediterraneen: Simon Clarke – 21st overall.
- Tour of Oman: Baden Cooke – 2nd in stage 2.
- Tour du Haut Var: Simon Clarke – 5th overall, 5th in stage 1 & 2.
The new Australian-backed GreenEDGE team got their season off to a flying start at their ‘home’ race, the Tour Down Under. Simon Gerrans claimed third behind breakaway winner William Clarke on stage three, and then pushed Alejandro Valverde all the way on the summit finish of Old Willunga Hill to claim second and the overall lead, which he successfully defended in the final criterium stage to take the general classification and deliver GreenEDGE victory at the first time of asking.
Like many others, the team then moved on to the double-header at the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman. With Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish winning four of the five sprints between them, GreenEDGE had to settle for a single third place for Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis, whose consistent finishing was rewarded with a final overall placing of ninth, with the veteran Baden Cooke not far behind in 12th. In Oman, Cooke used all his strength and experience to place second behind Peter Sagan on a difficult uphill finish on stage two.
In between, Simon Clarke was the team’s highest-placed finisher (21st) at the Tour Mediterraneen, a race not well suited to this sprint-focussed squad. However, Clarke sprinted to fifth on the opening day of the two-day Tour du Haut Var, and repeated the feat the following day despite having to tackle the final climb with a not insignificant gear problem:
5th again. Absolutely devoed. Battery went flat with 10km to go, so no 53 and had to ride the last climb at 26% with only the 19 cog…
— Simon Clarke (@SimoClarke) February 19, 2012
Fittingly, his two fifth places translated to an overall finishing position of fifth.
In his final season before retirement, 39-year old Robbie McEwen has struggled to feature at the sharp end of any bunch sprints so far. A sole fifth place at the Tour Down Under is his only result of note.
Similarly, 2011 Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss has yet to hit the kind of form he will be looking for in the spring Classics. He was anonymous at the Tour Down Under, and had just a single top-ten finish to his name at the Tour of Oman.