Friday Feature: Is joining a cycling ‘super-team’ beneficial for a rider?

They can build you up to the sky and then afterwards they discount you when you drop. There is no compassion. For my family it is sometimes difficult.

So spoke Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert recently about his nation’s cycling press, who have been critical of their hero since his move to BMC.

Philippe Gilbert (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Since Gilbert made his big move, results have failed to come his way – as is so often the case when riders make a big step up. It is not just Gilbert either. His teammate Thor Hushovd and RadioShack-Nissan’s Andy Schleck have all struggled to impress since joining two of cycling’s powerhouses.

For Schleck, the culture shock will have been even more extreme than the BMC duo, having gone from effectively running his own team to joining one where Johan Bruyneel demands control, leading to public spats and surely spelling the end of their cycling relationship ahead of next season.

Gilbert and Hushovd may have not have been running their own teams before joining BMC, but such was their key role within their respective outfits, they might as well have been. Gilbert was the undoubted leader of the Omega Pharma-Lotto Classics team, while Tyler Farrar was sprinting second fiddle to the Norwegian within Garmin-Cervelo.

In retrospect, it was during these years when the pair enjoyed the greatest success of their careers – and while it is true that Hushovd is now in the final stages of his career, his decline has been startlingly dramatic. The 2010 world champion hasn’t had anything to put on his palmares this season, while Gilbert – a rider supposedly in his prime – failed miserably in his bid to defend the Ardennes triple, not winning a single race so far this season.

The proverb ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ is more fitting for professional cycling than cooking, so it would seem. Take a rider like Thomas Voeckler, a rider who has stayed with a single team for his entire career, deciding against a move to Cofidis ahead of 2011. Just as well – he held the yellow jersey for ten days at last year’s Tour de France, finishing as the best Frenchman in their home race since Christophe Moreau in 2000.

Thomas Voeckler (image courtesy of Europcar)

Voeckler has held the maillot jaune for a combined total of 20 days throughout his career; an extraordinary achievement for an ordinary climber. Likewise, his compatriot Sandy Casar has won three stages of the Tour having ridden with FDJ since 2000. The next generation of yellow jersey hopefuls like Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) and Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ) should take heed.

Those four riders listed were the top four in the 2011 Tour de France young rider classification. They all ride for relatively small French teams, with Rolland, Taaramae and Coppel riding for outfits who aren’t even in cycling’s top tier. There is little doubt that the likes of BMC and RadioShack will come knocking, although it is a decision that they must think long and hard about. As demonstrated, joining a big team far from guarantees success.

2 thoughts on “Friday Feature: Is joining a cycling ‘super-team’ beneficial for a rider?

    • Indeed. And it was also good to see how many stages were spread out among both the supposedly ‘lesser’ ProTeams and the wild-card entrants. Of the ‘super-teams’ only Sky – with Cavendish, Henao and Uran – can really be said to have had a good Giro. BMC had a great first few days with Taylor Phinney, but ultimately faded.

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