Cobbles Baby 4: Unsolicited Rabobank Preview

Rabobank hasn't won a spring classic since Freire stole Zabel's lunch at the finish of the 2004 Milan San Remo. So why should they be the next preview, ahead of Liquigas' 2 wins and Gerolsteiner's 3 wins? Rabo deserves a preview because of the overall strength of the team, and because of the number of favorites they have for all the big races.

Contenders/Veterans/Young Guns/Outlook... on the flip:

Oscar Freire: Has had more injury problems than almost anybody else, but Milan San Remo is as big a race as they come, and Oscar is the perfect rider for MSR. He can win bunch gallops over Petacchi and Zabel, plus he can scoot up the climbs. As the races get longer, Freire's chances get better, and they don't come any longer than Milan-San Remo. If his health holds out, he's a threat in Ardennes classics as well.

Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni: Call him Mr. consistent. He's only won one big classic (Zurich in '04) but Flecha always seems to be in the mix. He's massively strong and has been in the selective group in Paris-Roubaix for a couple of years now. He's been riding at the top level for a few years now, but I can predict that he's going to break through to a higher level soon. Odd fact: Flecha finished 12th in the last 3 Ronde's.

Michael Boogerd: Not much can be said about the smiler that hasn't been already. 2006 was proof that he's still got it. He won't be favored in any races, unless it is Amstel Gold, but in the hilly classics he won't be far from the front.

At first glance, this would appear to be a weak point in the Rabo lineup. Sure Boogerd and Freire have been around the block, but losing Erik Dekker and Marc Wauters took out 30 years of hard-man experience. Rabo plugged the gap nicely by bringing home a couple of Dutch veterans.
Leon Van Bon
He's had a long career with only 1 classic victory (HEW in '98). But he's a regular resident in the top 10 of both the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix. He was on the podium of last year's Het Volk, so he'll still got some punch left. Van Bon has been a loyal worker for both Sargent and Lefevere, so he knows how a team should work in the classics.
Max van Heeswijk: Another elder Dutch pro returning to the home team. Van Heeswijk is a fast finisher, but has shown his toughness w/ top ten finishes in the cobbled races (Het Volk x3, MSR, P-R, & G-W). He's a steady hand who can steal a win if it comes down to a sprint.

Young Guns: This is a real strength for Rabobank. Their developmental squad is one of the winningest teams in any division, they develop their talent very well and always have more young talent than roster spots. Joost Posthuma (7th at the Het Volk last year) & Robert Gesink are 2 to watch this year. Also William Walker, who won the Aussie Nat'l Championship last season, but wasn't able to wear the jersey because he was U23 is another one to watch.

Outlook: The outlook for the Dutch Bankers is good. Freire is as much a favorite as anyone for MSR, plus he seems healthy. Flecha is among the favorites for P-R, and must be watched at Flanders and the other cobbled races. Boogerd is a perennial favorite in the Ardennes. Van Bon, Dekker the younger (if he rides), Van Heesjwick and the youngsters give Rabo plenty of wild cards. They lost a lot of talent with the retirements of former World Cup champion Dekker and Marc Wauters, but the pipeline of young guns and the return home of veteran Dutch riders makes Rabo look stronger in 07 than they were in 06.

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