Team profiles: Garmin Sharp, Movistar and Vacansoleil-DCM

Each of the VeloVoices will be following one of the 18 ProTeams during 2013, in addition to their three nominated riders. Today it’s the turn of Panache, Jack and Tim to unveil their selections.

Garmin Sharp (Panache)

Garmin-Sharp 20132012 WorldTour ranking: 9th, 762 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Won by Sep Vanmarcke.
  • Giro d’Italia: Ryder Hesjedal 1st overall, won team time trial and team classification.
  • Tour de France: David Millar won one stage.
  • USA Pro Cycling Challenge: Christian Vande Velde 1st overall, Tyler Farrar won two stages, Tom Danielson won one stage.
  • Tour of Beijing: Dan Martin won mountains classification.

Five to watch:

  • Ryder Hesjedal (GC)
  • Andrew Talansky (GC)
  • Dan Martin (climber)
  • Nick Nuyens (Classics)
  • Johan Vansummeren (Classics)

Why I’m following them:

Over the last couple of years Garmin-Sharp have proved that you don’t have to have a ‘super-team’ budget to be a really super team. In 2011 they were victorious at Paris-Roubaix with crafty teamwork that allowed Johan Vansummeren to come into the Roubaix velodrome on a flat tyre with time to spare. Then they went on a successful stage-hunting campaign at the Tour de France. 2012 saw even greater success with Ryder Hesjedal claiming Garmin’s first Grand Tour victory and becoming the first Canadian ever to win the Giro d’Italia.  The team finished the year strongly with Christian Vande Velde edging out Levi Leiphiemer in the time trial on the final day of the US Pro Cycling Challenge to claim overall victory.

I’m following Garmin-Sharp because I want to see how they will up the ante and strive for even greater success. Can they focus after the media circus surrounding the USADA testimony of Vande Velde, David Zabriskie and manager Jonathan Vaughters? Will the addition of Nick Nuyens create a stealth Classics squad that contends with Omega Pharma-Quick Step? I hope the answer is yes to both and the team that has strived to be clean from doping will continue to be rewarded with good karma.

Website: http://www.slipstreamsports.com

Twitter: @ride_argyle

Movistar (Jack)

Stampa2012 WorldTour ranking: 5th, 952 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • Tour Down Under: Alejandro Valverde won one stage.
  • Paris-Nice: Alejandro Valverde won one stage.
  • Giro d’Italia: Francisco Ventoso and Andrey Amador won one stage each.
  • Critérium du Dauphiné: Nairo Quintana won one stage.
  • Tour de Suisse: Rui Costa 1st overall and won one stage.
  • Tour de France: Alejandro Valverde won one stage.
  • Vuelta a España: Alejandro Valverde 2nd overall, won two stage wins, won points and combination classifications. Won team time trial and overall team prize.

Five to watch:

  • Alejandro Valverde (GC)
  • Rui Costa (GC)
  • Nairo Quintana (climber)
  • Andrey Amador (climber)
  • Alex Dowsett (time-trialist)

Why I’m following them:

Movistar are one of the most interesting teams in the WorldTour, boasting a fine mix of youth and experience and with a roster jam-packed with potential. Aside from the veteran and undoubted team leader Alejandro Valverde – who surprised by having an excellent 2012 – they have bags of youthful talent, from the likes of Colombian climber Nairo Quintana to the slightly older Rui Costa and Benat Inxausti. This year, they even have a Brit on board, with Alex Dowsett jumping across from Sky in the hope of getting a Grand Tour ride.

While they don’t really have a rider you’d expect to win one of the big three races – despite Valverde finishing second at the Vuelta last year – they have numerous capable of winning shorter stage races and individual stages in the Grand Tours, as well as possible top ten finishes. Very much a climbers’ team, the arrivals of Eros Capecchi and Sylwester Szmyd will complement the aforementioned, and could make for a successful season in the mountains. 

Website: http://www.movistarteam.com

Twitter: @Movistar_Team

Vacansoleil-DCM (Tim)

Vacansoleil-DCM 20132012 WorldTour ranking: 16th, 364 pts.

2012 highlights:

  • Paris-Nice: Lieuwe Westra 2nd overall and won one stage. Gustav Larsson and Thomas De Gendt won one stage each. Frederik Veuchelen won mountains classification.
  • Volta a Catalunya: Tomasz Marczynski won sprint classification.
  • Giro d’Italia: Thomas De Gendt 3rd overall and one stage (Passo dello Stelvio).
  • Tour of Luxembourg: Wout Poels won one stage.
  • Tour of Poland: Tomasz Marczynski won mountains classification.
  • Paris-Tours: Won by Marco Marcato.

Five to watch:

  • Thomas De Gendt (GC)
  • Juan Antonio Flecha (Classics)
  • Johnny Hoogerland (Classics/breakaways)
  • Marco Marcato (sprinter)
  • Jose Rujano (climber)

Why I’m following them:

Vacansoleil are one of the peloton’s smallest teams in terms of budget but one of the largest in terms of heart. They are a squad packed full of attacking riders who can be relied upon to animate any race in pursuit of even a remote sniff of victory or, at the very least, valuable airtime for their sponsors. Their overall points haul last year was small, but they had a habit of making an impact in big races throughout the year, most notably Paris-Nice, the Giro (where Thomas De Gendt won the queen stage atop the Stelvio and claimed the bottom step of the podium) and the autumn Classic Paris-Tours.

For 2013, they should be stronger still with the arrival of both veteran Classics specialist Juan Antonio Flecha and climber Jose Rujano, a former Giro mountains classification winner. The former will be hoping to finally win Paris-Roubaix (in which he has finished in the top four in five of the past eight years), while the latter will target mountain stages and provide support for De Gendt in pursuit of stage race and Grand Tour honours. They probably still won’t win many races, but they will be there or thereabouts throughout the Classics and Grand Tours and they will be loads of fun to watch.

Website: http://www.vacansoleildcm.co.uk

Twitter: @VacansoleilDCM

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

2013 Vuelta a Espana route: A treble treble of roads to hell

Vuelta a Espana 2013 logo

Readers of a certain age may remember a Chris Rea song entitled The Road to Hell. It was written about London’s M25, but could easily have been about the route for the 2013 Vuelta a España, which was unveiled in Vigo today. Featuring 11 summit finishes – a record for a Grand Tour – this year’s 68th edition offers little succour to either time trial specialists or to the top sprinters, many of whom will opt for the road to the armchair rather than endure the inevitable suffer-fest. Continue reading