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Thursday, 24 January 2013

TEAMS REVIEW 2013 - MOVERS AND SHAKERS

 AG2R LA MONDIALE 
Last year's poor showing has called for some injection of talent in the shape of Apollonio, Betancur, Hutarovich and most of all Pozzovivo who will boost their chances at stage wins. Still lacking strength in the Classics department, they will certainly concentrate in performances at the Grand Tours. Belletti, Gadret, Mondory, Nocentini are confirmed. They lose Roche, Hinault and Casper (the latter has retired). Always present in the breaks but rarely on the podium, it's a team that makes you feel a change in tactics or coaching is needed.

 ASTANA PRO TEAM 
One of the most active teams in the riders' market, their strength and depth is impressive. The post-Vino era will hopefully shrug off the many suspicions about their ethics. New riders are former teammates Agnoli and Vanotti in support for new super-signing Nibali in the quest for Grand Tour glory, Fuglsang who was incredibly sidelined at Radioshack and has great potential of GC, sprinter Guardini who had a great season at FarneseVini. These riders will join an established roster: Brajkovic, Gasparotto, Gavazzi, Guarnieri, Iglinskiy, Kashechkin, Kessiakoff, Muravyev, Ponzi, Tiralongo...all capable to grab classics or stages. Kreuziger is revamping is career at SaxoTinkoff, while Kiserlovski at Radioshack.

 BLANCO PRO CYCLING TEAM 
Let's hope the name is not a reflection on performance. Having lost their main sponsor Rabobank, they have one year to find another one. Probes into past doping practices are not helping either. They have acquired young Bobridge who hopefully will finalise his conversion from track racing. Nordhaug comes from Sky and should bring a wealth of experience. Vanmarcke and Wagner are looking for new stimulus. L.L.Sanchez is a world champion in the making, he just need the necessary luck to pull it off, although talks of past doping doesn't help his image. Blanco are good in the mountains thanks to Mollema, Ten Dam and Gesink, they look like a team for stage wins more than anything more substantial. Boom, Bos, Brown, Garate, Kruijswijk, Renshaw, SlagterTjallingii complete a strong lineup with not much vision apart from UCI points. Matthews goes to Australian outfit Orica, ever-present-at-the-Worlds Breschel left for Saxo, while Barredo is serving a suspension.

 BMC RACING TEAM 
A pretty much re-confirmed team roster with intuitive additions of Nerz, Oss, Lander. However, it should be a revamped team from last year as the ailments of Hushovd and Evans, together with the late form of Gilbert, gave BMC a subdued season. Phinney will challenge for the World TT title. Pinotti is back from injury and, as he was one of the few riders to give the team results, he should be a great choice for the Tour squad. Evans is fired up and confident at having another go at the Tour. Ballan is out and cannot imagine he'll be back at a reasonable level this year as his injuries were pretty bad. On paper this team is one of the best, in addition to the above mentioned, are: Blythe, Bookwalter, Burghardt, Cummings, Frank, Kohler, MorabitoQuinziato, Santaromita. Van Avermaet needs to show his Classics credentials and Van Garderen is one of the favourites for the Tour podium... while or helping Evans or not. They lost Tschopp who is a good climber, Santambrogio to FantiniVini and Hincapie who has retired.

 CANNONDALE PRO CYCLING 
This team has had a tactical shift. The riders they lost could make up a whole new team: Nibali, Oss, Nerz, Agnoli, Vanotti, Capecchi, Szmyd, Duggan, thus giving the impression that GC at the Grand Tours is not a priority. Basso is finding his form but doesn't seem to have the overall power to stay with the other contenders all the way. Moser is a great rider with a bright future who will try the Tour for the first time at least to see what his real calling is; he can be great in the Classics and Worlds race. Cannondale didn't go for big signings but opted to grow talent which is admirable. And they can afford it because with riders like Sagan and Viviani they know the will get the points to stay at the top. Domestiques like Agostini, Bodnar, Dall'Antonia, Sabatini, new signings De Marchi, Wurf and Koch, will make sure the leaders will have all the help they need.

 EUSKALTEL EUSKADI 
Sanchez is their star rider and this year he will try his best again at the Worlds and Grand Tours. But lose him and you lose this team. A bit harsh but in substance they simply look for climbs and make the most of them. The loss of Cabedo due to a fatal accident is a big blow to morale, but also one that can make them fight even harder in his honour. Astarloza is always great to watch, so is Martinez although the latter has not shown the same level of climbing prowess he had a couple of years ago. Their policy of Basque-only riders has gone and they should benefit from that.

 FDJ 
Always an exciting presence in the peloton, they produce stoic performances in epic breakaways...and sometimes it works too. Fairly unchanged setup, they lost sprinter Hutarovich to AG2R and Rasch to Sky. More or less the same targets as last year, poaching victories and try hard at long escapes. They have very strong riders who are not afraid of the hard work: Casar has the experience, Fedrigo needs to find his climbing form, Pinot, Rollin, Roux, Roy are all capable of stage wins. Demare is a rider capable of great things, the former U23 World champion will grow in confidence and he can be one for the Classics soon.

 GARMIN SHARP 
A well seasoned team, they have lost a few good players like Le Mevel, Haussler and Vanmarcke but gained Nuyens, always good in the Classics and Von Hoff who's a hard worker. Farrar has lost some of the edge he had a couple of years ago and might have to reconsider his targets as there are plenty of better sprinters out there. Dekker needs to show it wasn't all about the doping. Hesjedal's Giro win was a great boost for them and will be a contender this year for GC again. Helped by Bauer, Danielson, Hass, Hunter, Martin, Millar, Navardauskas, Rosseler, Stetina, Talansky, Van Summeren, Vande Velde, Wegmann and Zabriskie they will have plenty of chances to rack up points. Maaskant was tipped as a classics winner but has so far not shown his best...or maybe he has.

 LAMPRE-MERIDA 
The Padua investigation is a dark shadow for this team. They have now changed training centre from Mapei to a new and untested one run by Classics legend Bartoli. There is a lot of respect for the guy so it should help, even if psychologically. Scarponi is suspended but not for long. Pozzato joins after a fruitful season at FarneseVini and being back in the WorldTour might just boost him to top spots in the classics. Cunego is Cunego, he does his own thing, always tries but his targets are an enigma to all; not having a personal coach in my opinion has hindered his career, training by feel might not be enough now that the top riders look at all the possible little improvements that once were covered by doping. Favilli, like Pozzato, comes from a good season at FarneseVini and Ferrari, having beaten Cavendish once last year, will look to replicate that feat. Other riders to watch in this team are: Anacona, Cimolai, Lloyd, Malori, Niemec, Pietropolli, Richeze, Serpa, Spezialetti, Vigano. Ulissi could come good in a top 10 at a Grand Tour, while for Petacchi it will probably be his last stab at winning sprints.

 LOTTO BELISOL 
Thankfully you shouldn't judge a book by its cover because looking at their kit... but when you then produce the amount of wattage Greipel does, well, nobody will laugh at you. Very strong at the beginning of the season, they always ensure they get the necessary points so they can relax later when everyone else has their season's targets. Henderson would have been an amazing last man for Cavendish, not sure why Sky ever let him go; Lotto's gain. Hansen is a powerhouse, a training fanatic, Van den Broeck is the GC contender, maybe not podium material but thereabout. The team is practically unchanged, lost two riders, gained one. They seem to have plenty of power for all races apart maybe for TTs and seem to be very united in their tactics: Bak, Dockx, Roelandts, Sieberg, Van de Walle, Vanendert will give a headache to other teams.

 MOVISTAR TEAM 
Lacking in TT strength they have now acquired Dowsett from Sky. Valverde's defiance after his suspension has made it difficult to enjoy his otherwise punchy performances, always one for the Ardennes Classics and Grand Tours. They have lost Kiryienka and Arroyo but replaced them with comparable domestiques like Szmyd and Capecchi. Cobo has to show his Vuelta win wasn't a one off, although I suspect it might. Visconti has talent but needs to work on his tactics. Good sprinters like Ventoso and Rojas will be in the mix for stage wins. Other notables: Amador, Castroviejo, Erviti, Gutierrez, Karpets, Lastras, Moreno, Quintana.

 OMEGA PHARMA - QUICK-STEP CYCLING TEAM 
The length of their name reflects the depth of their team. Talent galore boosted by the signing of the Manx missile Cavendish. Losing Leipheimer will free them completely from GC duties. Some big losses in Cataldo, Chicchi, Ciolek and Brammeier but they have plenty of firepower in the arsenal: Boonen will try to replicate last year's amazing season; Trentin will drag Cav up the hills; Pineau and Chavanel for the breakaways. Then: De Weert, Fenn, Golas, Grabsch, Keisse, Kwiatkowski, Maes, Pauwels, Rabon, Steegmans, Stybar, Terpstra, Vandenbergh, Vandewalle, both Velits brothers. Martin will dominate the TT scene once more.

 ORICA GREENEDGE 
Only in its third year, this young team has shot up to top level almost immediately, last year's Milan-Sanremo win by Gerrans was the icing on the cake. Other great achievements were from Albasini and Goss. Matthews comes across from Rabobank to boost the already rich Australian contingent after the departure of Bobridge.. Potential results from: Beppu, Clarke, Cooke, Davis, Dean, Durbridge, young Hepburn, Impey, Kruopis, Lancaster, Langeveld, Meyer, evergreen O'Grady, Sulzberger, Tuft, Vaitkus and Weening.

 RADIOSHACK LEOPARD 
With Bruyneel finally gone and Guercilena in charge, this team will have a warmer welcome from fans around the world, although Frank Schleck's dope probe does not help the situation. Andy Schleck is back for good after a lengthy recovery and he will take a while to regain his strength and confidence, but his problems might be more psychological than physical due to his brother's troubles and his stubborn refusal to spend enough time on a TT bike to improve his GC chances. Cancellara should be back from injury as well and will no doubt fight it out in the spring campaign. Incredibly they have lost Fuglsang, Bennati, Wagner and Zaugg but have tried to patch up those losses with the hiring of Kiserlovski from Astana and an waning Devolder. The latter one will no doubt find motivation and return to form thanks to the trust Radioshack have bestowed on him. Riders to watch are: Bakelants, Gallopin, Hermans, Hondo, Horner, King, Kloden, Machado, Monfort, Nizzolo, Popovich, Rast, Roulston, Oliveira, Sergent, Voigt and Zubeldia.

 SKY PROCYCLING 
2012 was the consecration of the hard work Wiggins and Brailsford have been doing in looking for the smallest margins here and there and work on wattage output. Not a team with flair but plenty of power, playing at their strength and outdoing the opposition by wearing them down. They lost Cavendish, but stage wins were not their priorities and he wasn't going to rack up classics either. Some riders and staff have been lost to anti-doping stance, some have gone to look for personal glory elsewhere, so gone are Flecha, Rogers, Dowsett, Cavendish, Lofkvist, Nordhaug, Apollonio, Hunt and Barry. That alone is an impressive loss but they have looked for team players with certain qualities like Cataldo, Dombrovski, Kiryenka, Lopez, Edmonson, Rasch and the growing British talent Tiernan-Locke for the Ardennes and one week stage races. Thomas is back from track racing and should have an explosive year; he is an all rounder classics/stage racer, strong on the climbs as in TTs. Boasson Hagen will continue to shine. Froome might have a go at the Tour, although it will depend by Wiggo's form. Eisel, Hayman and Stannard will pull the team at the front. Henao, Kennaugh, Knees, Pate, Porte, Rowe, Siutsou, Sutton, Swift and Uran will provide the legs for this well oiled machine.

 TEAM ARGOS-SHIMANO 
This young team deserved the place in the ProTour on the back of the numerous results thanks to Kittel and Degenkolb, although apart from sprint stages, I cannot see what other plans they might have. Good strong riders like De Kort, and Veelers will try shake things up.

 TEAM SAXO-TINKOFF 
Tinkoff's comments towards Argos-Shimano when the UCI were deciding on licences were poor and childish. That, added to Riis' and Contador's controversial careers, make this team hard to like. Contador in shape is difficult to beat so should be an interesting Giro d'Italia up against Wiggins. Bennati is on last chance saloon in a very packed sprinters quarters. Boaro has shown TT and rouler's skills and should improve. They have been very active in the autumn, signing Breschel, Duggan, Kreuziger, McCarthy, Petrov, Roche, Rogers, Sutherland and Zaugg who will join Cantwell, Hernandez, Kroon, Lund, Paulinho, the Sorensen brothers and Tosatto.

 VACANSOLEIL-DCM PRO CYCLING TEAM 
No other team shakes things up quite like this one. Always active in the breakaways and at the front of most races, they perhaps lack the amount of results they would deserve for trying so hard. They have lost Devolder, Larrson and a retired Carrara but spent some money to sign Bole, Flecha, Rujano and Wauters. De Gent's show at the Giro needs to be followed by more results. No doubt Hoogerland will always be loved by fans for "that" injury and his sheer determination. Van Poppel should pull off some early wins. It's a team full of talent: Boeckmans, Feillu, Leukemans, Marcato, Marczynski, Mol, Poels, Van Hummel and most of all Westra.


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