Here’s part two of our first round-table of 2013 – you can read part one here – in which we focus on specific teams and riders and take a little peek into our crystal balls.
Ant: I want to talk about some specific teams. We’ve got Nissan and Rabobank removing themselves from team sponsorship. Is it going to be difficult for RadioShack and Blanco to maintain team strategy or could we see a more selfish approach from their riders as they try to get themselves noticed by other teams?
Jack: Interesting question, but I don’t think much will change strategy-wise. Riders are always having to ride at their best, as they are often riding for a contract extension at their current teams anyway.
Sheree: I don’t think it’s just those two teams. If your contract is up for renewal this year, you’re in competition with your teammates in a similar situation plus all the other riders on other teams in the same boat. It’s dog eat dog out there, with UCI points winning the prize. It’s interesting to see the performance of riders in this situation towards the end of the season – they not unnaturally become more selfish and often get an unexpected win. You can’t afford to relax even if you’ve received reassurances that your contract will be renewed as managers often hedge their bets. If it’s not in writing, it’s not worth anything.
Kitty: I think they’ll maintain team strategy only to the extent that a well-drilled team wins stuff, which will make those riders more attractive to other teams next season.
Panache: I don’t think those two teams are going away any time soon. They will morph into different teams and begin to pick up new sponsors as the sport begins to resurrect. (He says, crossing fingers). I would expect to see RadioShack have a better Classics campaign, with better luck now that the evil Johan Bruyneel voodoo hex has been removed.
Kitty: How about last year’s so-called ‘super-teams’ BMC and RadioShack, which were, well, damp squibs at best. Do we think this season is going to be better for them or is it just going to be more of the same?
Tim: I didn’t think BMC’s 2012 was that bad overall. Sure, Cadel Evans flopped at the Tour, Thor Hushovd was missing in action and it took Philippe Gilbert eight months to hit form, as a result of which their Classics season was a wash-out. But they enjoyed success at all three Grand Tours: at the Giro they won both individual time trials and Taylor Phinney looked very Hollywood in the maglia rosa, at the Tour Tejay van Garderen emerged as a real GC contender and at the Vuelta PhilGil bagged a double and Steve Cummings had a solo victory. Oh, and but for the sake of five seconds they would have had both rainbow jerseys in their midst this season – but, hey, one’s not too shabby, is it? Whereas RadioShack – or should I say Radio-SLACK? – were shabby. Enough said. They’ll get decent results, particularly from a fit-again Cancellara, but unless Schleck the Younger sorts his head out they’re just A N Other middle-ranking team.
Sheree: Again, I agree with Tim and I’m aware I’m starting to sound like a broken record. As I said in our season-end round table, only Andy Rihs would be able to answer our question about BMC and I have it on good authority that he puts no pressure whatsoever on the team for results. This contributes greatly to the evidently happy team atmosphere. Therefore we have to assume Rihs is shifting plenty of BMC bikes and is a happy bunny. On the RadioShack front, certain riders continued to perform as anticipated despite the shambles. I’m thinking Maxime Monfort, Giacomo Nizzolo and Haimar Zubeldia. It’s not just about Frandy, Jensie and Miss Kitty’s beloved Fabian Cancellara.
Jack: I don’t think there’s any real reason why they shouldn’t. A lot of BMC’s poor performances last season were the result of plain bad luck, and they’ll have had more time to gel and really iron out any flaws in their training or race strategies, so I expect to see improvements. Perhaps without the constant bickering between Bruyneel and the Schlecks this season, RadioShack will improve too.
Ant: I don’t see why both these teams can’t turn out a good 2013. True, not all of the previously strong riders that underperformed last season will regain their full prowess, but I could easily see a world champion, a smattering of Classics and Grand Tour podium places being taken by riders from these two teams, such is their potential strength in depth.
Panache: I think both teams will have better seasons with the return of healthy strong men (i.e. Fabian and Thor). BMC has a great foundation to build on with a great mix of experience and youth. If Cadel can recapture his 2011 form and if RadioShack can get Andy Schleck’s head screwed back on straight, the 100th Tour could one for the ages!
Tim: That’s some pretty big ifs, though!
Ant: What about the one team which really was super: Sky? After the Froome/Wiggo – Friggo? – leadership issue last season, is this perhaps a watershed year for Sky? Will they be able to retain the likes of Froome, EBH and Geraint Thomas if they don’t open things up this season?
Tim: And let’s not forget Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke – that’s a former maglia rosa wearer, a couple of Giro top tens and an Olympic silver medal before you even get to JT-L. If they can get to the end of the season without a big fall-out and with everyone having at least one moment in the sun, I genuinely think they can keep most of the team together with the deep pockets they possess. The one thing that will have to budge is that one of Wiggo (potentially retirement) or Froome (to another team) will be elsewhere for 2014.
Sheree: What a nice problem to have: an embarrassment of riches! If anyone can hold it all together, it’ll be Brailsford, the Jose Mourinho of the cycling world. Ah, you say, but what about Cavendish? I would say they gave it a go, it didn’t work out, they parted amicably and honourably. No loss of face.
Kitty: Like Tim said, they need to make sure riders other than Wiggins gets the support and opportunities to shine this season. Yeah, they get paid well for being super-domestiques but anyone with any sort of ambition must be thinking “When do I get my turn?”
Panache: They will retain most of those guys because they just gave them truckloads of premium, custom Rapha clothing. Wouldn’t you stay?
Jack: This is stating the obvious, but if they don’t give Froome leadership at the Tour, he’ll surely leave. As for the others you mention, they are all given their own protected roles on the team in the races that suit them. Sky seem to do quite well at sharing the glory, so they should be able to retain the aforementioned until at least 2014. The question comes when/if any of their other riders – Rigoberto Uran, for example – develop into Grand Tour contenders. Then the true leadership issues could arise, though this might not happen for a few years yet.
Tim: Talking of Sky’s strength in depth, new recruit Tiernan-Locke emerged as the rising star of the early months of last season, and hopefully he will get his chances this year. But who should we be looking out for to make a similar impact in the first quarter of 2013?
Panache: I really have no idea. I wish I had a crystal ball. My guess is someone from Australia where the weather has been warm so I’ll go with Luke Durbridge or Cameron Meyer. [Panache came up with this before Luke Durbridge won both the national road race and time trial titles, so he’s off to a flyer already – Ed.]
Sheree: I have a long list of riders in their second year as neo-pros that I’ll be keeping a look out for in 2013. But you’ll be relieved to learn that I’ve whittled it down to three: a time-trialist, a Classics sprinter and a stage racer: Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Arnaud Demare (FDJ), the winner of the under-23 Worlds road race and Moreno Moser (Cannondale), winner of last year’s Tour of Poland. I predict we’re not far from people asking Francesco Moser if he’s Moreno’s uncle! He’s the future of Italian cycling.
Ant: Having had a look into the OPQS roster for this season there are a few young riders among their ranks who could be interesting prospects, including young Spanish climber Carlos Verona and young Brit Andy Fenn, winner of the Junior Paris-Roubaix in 2008. Now 23, he’ll be looking to make his mark this season.
Tim: I’ll be following Demare closely, but also his teammate and fellow sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. He won the French national championship last summer, having made his breakthrough with the opening stage of Etoile de Besseges and collecting seven wins in all. I’m hoping the pair will feed off each other this spring and get FDJ’s season off to a flying start.
Sheree: Are there any older riders who we think might find themselves regalvanised this year?
Panache: I’m hoping for Cadel Evans. The end of last season didn’t feel right as we watched him struggle at the halfway mark in the Tour. It will be interesting to see his approach to training and build-up to July.
Jack: At 31, I’m hoping for a lot from Pippo Pozzato in the Classics after he rejoined the WorldTour with Lampre.
Tim: Oh, that’s a good shout, Jack. My pick is another Classics veteran, Juan Antonio Flecha, who will have much greater licence to ride his own race at Vacansoleil than he ever did at Sky. It’s Paris-Roubaix he wants more than anything else: five top four finishes but never the top step of the podium. Watch him fly over those cobbles and indeed in any race where the going gets tough.
Ant: Tim’s picked a good one with Flecha there, but I’m going to go more with my heart than my head and say Thor Hushovd. I realise it’s unlikely that he will have an overwhelming impact on a season that will boast one of the strongest arrays of sprinters for some time, but I would love to see him up there contesting it with the new boys.
Kitty: I’m thinking Ivan Basso must be pretty close to retirement, so I wonder if he’ll try to make his last one or two seasons sparkle. I hope so. I love Basso.
Jack: Have we got time for one more? There have been some interesting rider moves over the winter, but of all the silly season transfers which has most caught your eye in terms of being the most intriguing, exciting or just plain strange?
Panache: I’m interested to see what is going to happen over at Astana where Nibali, Fuglsang, Brajkovic, Kessiakoff and Tiralongo have all converged. That is some serious firepower. They could be the surprise team of the year in Grand Tours.
Ant: I was pleased when Cav signed for Sky, but more pleased to see him get out and I think it’ll be interesting seeing him riding alongside Tom Boonen at OPQS.
Sheree: For me the most exciting is Sky signing the talented US twosome of Ian Boswell and Joe Dombrowski. [Sheree has an interview with them in the pipeline – Ed.] They’ll just build on the success of riders like Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky and give Americans a credible posse of riders to get behind.
Kitty: I’m most interested in where Joaquim Rodriguez will find himself.
Tim: Right, I think we’ve covered just about everything. Now whose turn is it to wheel out the VeloVoices drinks trolley?