The story of Slipstream has been one of steady progression. They've gone all the way from a small US development team, via invites to the bigger races, to an established Pro/World Tour team. They went on to take their first GT stage wins and in 2011 the first victory in a monument when Johan Vansummeren won Roubaix. 2012 saw another massive step at the Giro d'Italia as Ryder Hesjedal won Garmin it's first Grand Tour. This is a major progression for any American team since the three week races presumably rank well above the monuments in prestige for a majority for their fans. A GT win is another step closer to a Tour de France win and true greatness.
Hesjedal surprised most experts as he held off a Joaquin Rodriguez on fire and Michele Scarponi, who once again might have been a bag or two short, to win the Giro in a pretty balanced edition. Gone were the craziest parts of the Zomegnan era but this was no watered-down Giro, it was plenty hard. By this win alone we can call the season a success but what else is there to say?
What We Thought Coming In
After years of surprise TdF GC surprises it was indeed hard to see how they would keep that streak going in 2012.
With Hushovd gone Garmin-Sharp seemed to have a group of fairly even matched captains. Haussler, Vanmarcke, Vansummeren and Farrar all looked like possible classics winners.
What We Got
Well, somewhere in Colorado there's an oddly clothed man with sideburns the size of Mario Cipollini's ego who has a bottle of lightning tucked away somewhere in his no doubt extensive winecellar. One of the vets did indeed step up and suddenly Garmin-Sharp are a legitimate GC team and no longer just the plucky underdogs. Things may have gone pearshaped in France but then at the Vuelta Andrew Talansky proved that there is a bright future in store at the GT's if Garmin can hang on to him in the years to come.
On the classics side 2012 was a season of fulfilled and betrayed promises. Sep Vanmarcke assumed leadership and took home a big win when others faltered. Both Martijn Maaskant and above all the no longer very glorious Heinrich Haussler continued their wandering in the wilderness of no results. Both at one point looked like future classics giants but 2012 irrevocably showed that it isn't going to happen. With them faded the hope of a multi-pronged classics attack and as valiantly as he tried, Sep ran out of steam as the biggest races came around. All in all though, in a year of Tom Boonen in monster form, Garmin's spring has to be seen as a success. It's just that we all had hopes for a more aggressive performance.
Beyond this, Garmin managed to pull off two symbolic victories. The aging veteran of the team, Christian VandeVelde scored a rare win at the "hometown" race, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, shortly before spilling his guts in public about his less than glorious past. More inspiring was the first ever stagerace victory for Talansky at the Tour de l'Ain. This along with his strong Vuelta seems to confirm that the US will most likely have many battles to look forward to in the biggest races between Talansky and Tejay van Garderen.
Top Three Highlights
1. Giro d'Italia victory
Surprise victory. First GT win for the team. First ever GT victory for Canada. Not much more to say about it really.
2. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory
Judging by the hype we have helped build up around His Sepness here at the Cafe one could perhaps look at 2012 and say it was a disappointment since he wasn't really a factor in De Ronde and Roubaix but the truth is really the opposite by any fair assessment. The victory in the big season opener was a truly great step in his career and one that really underlined his immense promise. It was also natural progression much like the one Boonen had once. The northern classics don't invite many young surprise winners, you need to earn and build up to it and Sep Vanmarcke is building something big.
3. USA Pro Cycling Challenge
For Garmin the race in Colorado is always going to be special, with much of the team roots firmly planted there, so to dominate it like they did this year ranks pretty highly even if it isn't the biggest race on the calendar. Vande Velde got his biggest result since his surprise TdF performance in 2008, Danielson pulled off a magic solo win and Farrar finally got his mojo back with two long awaited stagewins. The whole week was one of smiles and joy which was probably welcomed as headlines were soon to turn more somber in the wake of the USADA report.
Bottom Three Lowlights
1. Stage 6 of the Tour de France
After the high of the Giro, Vaughters threw Hesjedal into the TdF as well and with that the team looked set to provide another strong July. The massive high speed crash on the way to Metz wiped out Hesjedal and the already crippled Danielson. Vansummeren was more roadrash than man afterward and all of the team were thoroughly out of the GC. Millar went on to save some of the race with a stage win but that crash pretty much ruined July. The horrific pile-up was bad in so many ways but in a sporting sense, Garmin were the ones that suffered the worst from it
2. Tyler Farrar's season
A new training strategy, full focus on the spring classics only to turn the training-focus to sprinting after April was the big plan. What happened was a paler than ever spring, lack of edge in the GT's and a general feeling that he had slipped from the top layer of sprinters. The two wins in Colorado (against second tier opposition) was the grand total of the season. So what was behind it? Was it just a gamble on new training that failed? Was the Weylandt tragedy still in his head or was it perhaps simply three seasons with nine consecutive GT that finally caught up with him? Whatever it was, hopefully he will put it behind him and go into 2013 without it holding him back.
3. Old Doping-farts overshadowing shining young talents
This Garmin team really symbolized the current woes of cycling in a nutshell. What could have been a bright story of great young talents, representing a new healthier era, performing admirably in the biggest races of the world instead got mired in never-ending tales of the old sins of the veterans on the team. 2012 could have been about the breakthrough of Talansky, about Sep stepping up as a leader, about Alex Howes grabbing the chance he finally got with both hands and punching above his weight in the Ardennes, Stetina being there for his captain in the Giro or perhaps about Navardauskas stepping into the spotlight wearing pink in the Giro. Instead the big headlines of the year go to some sad old veterans with their perhaps well-intended but oh so halfarsed and watered down excuses for the poor choices they built their careers on.
Where Do They Go From Here?
For 2013 Garmin-Sharp will perhaps more than ever be relying on the talent and youth. The classics squad will see it's third major makeover in as many years. 2011 saw the huge influx of stars from Cervélo Test Team, 2012 was about coping without Hushovd and a very evenly matched squad. This off-season has seen the departure of the two biggest names, Vanmarcke and Haussler, and the arrival of 2011 RvV winner Nick Nuyens and with him a whole new dynamic. Nuyens has been very uneven in his delivery and should he falter it will be up to riders like Rosseler and Vansummeren to pick up the slack, perhaps aided by young Jacob Rathe in his sophomore season. He showed some promising signs of strength already this spring so he will be an interesting one to watch. Another dream scenario would be if Garmin threw Navardauskas at the spring classics, it seems like it would be an awesome fit. But, and it's a big but, for whatever reason he hasn't done them these last two years so maybe it's not in the future for him either? Seems a shame for a guy with the nickname "Honey Badger". In the end though Garmin are looking a bit more one-dimensional for the classics than before, good thing their Ardennes contingent looks to be on the rise.
Grand Tour -wise 2013 will perhaps be the most exciting ever in the history of the Slipstream franchise. Ryder Hesjedal will be going into the year with a new level of confidence, presumably to try and defend his Giro-title against Brad Wiggins and others, while Talansky might test himself in the Tour de France for the first time. They still won't be going into any races as the favorites but they will have interesting cards to play and the depth is building up with Martin, Danielson, Howes, Kreder and Stetina. Add to that the influx of promise with von Hoff, Rohan and the much hyped Lachlan Morton and 2013 looks mighty interesting but perhaps uncertain. Farrar could provide much stability if he could return to his winning ways because nothing calms a team down like a dependable stream of wins from a rider, allowing the others to compete without the massive pressure at every race
Where the last two seasons have seen the team take some very big steps 2013 looks a little bit like a likely rebuilding and transition year. Many of the older stalwarts of the squad look likely to be entering the fading ends of their run and the team is chock-full of young talent that isn't quite ready to deliver the major wins just yet. Both Farrar and Hesjedal are guys peaking and quite able to win the biggest races but they will never be the big favorites in any of them. So a reasonable expectation for Vaughters is to see his kids progress and hope the established riders pull in enough points to keep them safely in the World Tour. World domination is still a few years away.