Team profiles: Argos-Shimano, Astana and Omega Pharma-Quick Step

In addition to selecting three riders apiece to follow, each of the VeloVoices will be monitoring the progress of one of the 18 ProTeams throughout 2013. You can read about Tim, Jack and Panache’s selections tomorrow, but today it’s the turn of Kitty, Sheree and Ant to reveal their teams for this season.

Argos-Shimano (Kitty)

Argos-Shimano 20132012 WorldTour ranking: N/A. 2nd in UCI Europe Tour, 1,615 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • UCI Europe Tour: John Degenkolb ranked 1st overall.
  • Tour of Oman: Marcel Kittel won two stages.
  • Vuelta a Andalucía: Patrick Gretsch won one stage.
  • Three Days of De Panne: Marcel Kittel won one stage.
  • Four Days of Dunkirk: John Degenkolb won two stages.
  • Scheldeprijs: Won by Marcel Kittel.
  • Tour de Picardie: John Degenkolb 1st overall and won two stages.
  • Tour de Pologne: John Degenkolb won one stage.
  • Vuelta a España: John Degenkolb won five stages.

Five to watch:

  • Marcel Kittel (sprinter)
  • John Degenkolb (sprinter)
  • Koen de Kort (Classics/road captain)
  • Peter Gretsch (time-triallist)
  • Simon Geschke (climber)

Why I’m following them:

I was so impressed by the Argonauts last season. First of all, their snowy white kits were a refreshing change from the blue/white/black combo that a lot of other teams were sporting. Second of all, they rode with heart and soul all year long and made the most of their wild card selections, especially in the Vuelta. They were gunning for a ProTeam licence and they made sure they were like streaks of lightning on the front of the peloton during the sprints. I think they’re going to have a great year this year, chalking up multiple wins from both Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb. Other than the Lotto boys, the Argonauts feel the most like a team who pull together in every race, have fun, and don’t have star ego trips. No toys out of the pram for these guys!

Website: www.1t4i.com

Twitter: @1t4i

Astana (Sheree)

Astana 20132012 WorldTour ranking: 10th, 645 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • Volta a Catalunya: Janez Brajkovic won one stage.
  • Amstel Gold: Won by Enrico Gasparotto.
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege: Won by Maxim Iglinskiy.
  • Gito d’Italia: Paolo Tiralongo and Roman Kreuziger won one stage each.
  • Tour de Suisse: Fredrik Kessiakoff and Tanel Kangert won one stage each.
  • Olympics road race: Won by Alexandre Vinokourov.
  • Vuelta a Espana: Fredrik Kessiakoff won one stage.

Five to watch:

  • Vincenzo Nibali (GC)
  • Evan Huffman (time-trialist)
  • Jakob Fuglsang (GC)
  • Maxim Iglinskiy (Classics)
  • Alexey Lutsenko (sprinter)

Why I’m following them:

Last year I followed Alexandre Vinokourov. He’s retired and, as befits an Olympic gold medal winner and Kazakhstan’s athlete of 2012, he’s now running the team. So I want to see how he fares. I also know some of the riders and support staff so this just might  – or might not – give me a better insight. They’re also a team that’s local to me in that a number of their staff and riders live either on the Cote d’Azur or in Monaco. Since assuming the reins, Alex has brought in additional sponsors, hired more assistant directeur sportifs and given the team an overhaul. Out goes Roman Kreuziger and in comes Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali, with his Italian wingmen, who’s going to be aiming for the top step of the Giro podium.

Another recent hire, Jakob Fuglsang, will presumably get a crack at one of the other two Grand Tours. With 23 professionals and four neo pros there’s room  – in the  budget and under UCI rules – to hire other riders. The team has nine Kazakhs and nine Italians, Italian largely being the team’s lingua franca as it’s the most common language among the riders, including the Kazakhs. I’m hoping, probably along with everyone else, that Alex’s attacking flair as a racer translates into a more aggressive strategy on the road for the most readily identifiable team. Yes, the turquoise and gold kit positively leaps up at you and I love their iridescent time-trialling skin suits – though I wouldn’t wear one myself.

Website: www.proteam-astana.com

Twitter: @AstanaTeam

OPQS Omega Pharma-Quick Step 2013Omega Pharma-Quick Step (Ant)

2012 WorldTour ranking: 4th, 1,162 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • Tour of Qatar: Tom Boonen 1st overall and won two stages.
  • Tour of Oman: Peter Velits 1st overall.
  • Paris-Nice: Tom Boonen won one stage.
  • Dwars door Vlaanderen: Won by Niki Terpstra.
  • E3 Harelbeke: Won by Tom Boonen.
  • Gent-Wevelgem: Won by Tom Boonen.
  • Three Days of De Panne: Sylvain Chavanel 1st overall and won one stage.
  • Tour of Flanders: Won by Tom Boonen.
  • Paris-Roubaix: Won by Tom Boonen.
  • Tour of Turkey: Iljo Keisse won one stage.
  • Tour of Belgium: Tony Martin 1st overall and won one stage.
  • Vuelta a Espana: Dario Cataldo wo. one stage.
  • Paris-Brussels: Won by Tom Boonen.
  • Road World Championships: 1st in trade team time trial, Tony Martin won individual time trial.

Five to watch:

  • Tom Boonen (Classics/sprinter)
  • Niki Terpstra (Attacker, or as Panache puts it, ‘all-round bad-ass’)
  • Sylvain Chavanel (According to OPQS, he’s a ‘stage hunter’ – I love this title!)
  • Tony Martin (time trialist)
  • Mark Cavendish (uber-sprinter) [Nah, never heard of him – Ed.]

Why I’m following them:

Speed. These guys have it in abundance, and while there are many teams which can electrify a race, it’s the sheer breadth of talent and flair within OPQS that drew me to them. (Okay, the signing of Mark Cavendish had a little something to do with it too.) From guys who love to go out on the attack, to sprinters, to time-trialists, OPQS have almost got it all. The one obvious weakness being road-hardened climbers (a couple of young prospects aside) who could challenge for high overall places in the Grand Tours. So what am I expecting/hoping to see? The combined talents of Boonen, Cavendish, Terpstra and Chavanel should bring them a decent shout of a victory on most days, and I would expect them to reel in a very big haul from the Classics.

One of the key points of interest for me will be how they manage to deploy these four guys with maximum effect, and I hope that the presence of Cav won’t stunt the opportunistic attacks that this team has such capacity for. In addition to this, of course, there are a number of very strong time trial riders in their ranks, not least world champion Tony Martin, and as a collective they picked up the world TTT title in 2012, so they have a good number of disciplines well covered. I still think the kit is awful, but I’ll turn a blind eye to that!

Website: www.omegapharma-quickstep.com

Twitter: @OPQScyclingteam

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