First, it's nice to be back from vacation and plugging into cycling... I mean work and home life again. Usually when the classics end I plunge into a morose state of silence and fasting, punctuated only by the occasional peek at the Tour de Romandie, for a week or so. But this time, surviving another cross-country family vacation has me invigorated, as well as three hours ahead of schedule until my body adapts to Pacific time again.
Anyway, one thing that's on the minds of cycling managers right now is transfers. Not that they call me or that I can read their minds from my Cascadian lair, but you often hear of initial contacts happening at the end of the Classics, leading to more serious pursuit in the days leading up to the Tour de France. By August, when signings are ready to leak out, it's not new news but the final culmination of months of work, months beginning around now. With that in mind, and another season's results to second-guess, here are my suggested transfers.
Philippe Gilbert to OPQS
Gilbert has been a moderately OK investment for BMC, which is about as damning a statement as you can make about a guy who's currently riding in the Arc-en-ciel, won in your team's colors. BMC have a habit of collecting world champions, but Gilbert is the first to win while under contract with Sergeant Rock's well-heeled squad. That plus the last ten days of legitimate protagonist status is about all Gilbert fans have had to cheer for, however, in the Belgian's American adventure. Which is to say, not enough.
Expectations can kinda suck. They aren't fair, especially in cycling, or at least in classics cycling, where fans tend to overlook the millions of ways fate can deprive you of your one-day burst of excellence needed to succeed. For Gilbert, expectations will never really come down to human levels, not after his incredible successes in 2009 and '11, and certainly not as the showpiece on an expensive foreign team. If he's burdened by the expectations, then BMC won't work out for him.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step, however, might. First, his tactical aggression can be put to good use on a team which deploys several riders in different roles in practically every classic. On the cobbles, he might actually be an excellent threat to anyone sitting on Boonen's wheel. Meanwhile, he can expect full support as the scene shifts to the Ardennes, possibly with a little less pressure after yet another team success in Flanders. Patrick Lefevre might not have a monopoly on crafty classics management, but he's generally quite good at moving multiple pieces around, to devastating effect.
Lawson Craddock to BMC
BMC's general approach to building the franchise started with Hincapie's post-High Road victory lap, then morphed into a Yankees-style collection of flashy talent. And almost none of that has worked out. [The exceptions being Alessandro Ballan, on occasion, and Greg Van Avermaet, rather relentlessly.] Meanwhile, as almost an afterthought (in the public's perception), they've become the home to a resurgent American cycling, led by Tejay and Taylor. I say in public perception, because obviously BMC knew what they were getting into in signing these guys, and they were not without competition. And it was money very well spent.
So with Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) taking aim at the Ronde van Vlaanderen in his last lap of the U23 world, he'd be an ideal signee for BMC as it creates the next US classics squad, built around Phinney and his obvious talents. I'd love to see the two big US squads, BMC and Garmin, succeed more through development than bringing in overseas stars. And by development, I'm fine with foreign talent being in the mix -- that's cycling. But there would be a lot more excitement in this country about two American teams developing American champions. Speaking of which...
Joe Dombrowski to Garmin
Garmin, meanwhile, seem to have successfully transitioned from a Cobbled Classics project to an Ardennes one. Now, don't hear what I didn't say (Mr. Vaughters) -- Garmin will always look for ways to win in Flanders, and while their main guys are all nearing or past 30, they're largely riders you completely overlook at your own peril. [My next sneaky Garmin win: Summie in Flanders! He'll never get off the leash again in Paris-Roubaix, but he can pull off a surprise at home, and he was very strong in de Ronde. But I digress...] The point is, Garmin's real opportunities lie in the hills, a point driven home yesterday by some very memorable team riding. Given that their classics manager is Eric Van Lancker, a former Liege and Amstel winner, this all makes sense.
The other big news on the team, apart from what do Ryder and Daniel do for an encore, is the elevation of Andrew Talansky's game as a grand tour threat. Garmin have a longer history of bringing in the young guys than BMC, so as their climbing roster becomes the team's great strength, led by arguably America's best climbing talent (Tejay fans beg to differ), then why not poach Dombrowski from Team Sky? I know I shouldn't dwell excessively on nationality, given the international nature of top-flite cycling teams, but what's his job over there? Running bottles to Richie Porte so he can run them up to Sir Bradley Wiggins?
Ah, maybe it's fine to have the Murdochs pay for Dombrowski's apprenticeship years, and I'm sure it looks good to have all those colonials around serving the aristocracy. But Sky have stocked the cupboard well into the future, and figure to keep buying more talent. At Garmin Dombrowski can team up with Talansky (and hey, someone might want to buy up Gavin Mannion's contract soon too) to make for some really good times in summer.
Zdenek Stybar to Sky
This one's kind of a joke in the real world. Putting it succinctly, Sky would have to pry Styby from Zdenek Bakala's cold, dead hands. But as the newest mega-power-stud for the OPQS classics team, Styby created a major sensation at Paris-Roubaix, looking all the world like a potential winner before a mishap with a fan. That was fine as long as Tom Boonen wasn't around. But looking down the road, Boonen is obviously planning to resume his captaincy, with at least one other co-captain in Chavanel (more on him in a moment), Stijn Vandenberghe stepping up, and oodles of young talent bubbling up from below (Kwiatkowski, Van Kiersbulck, etc.). In short, I'm not sure how much room there is for Styby here.
Sky, on the other hand, look all the world like a team in need of a durable, nails-tough, take-the-bit rider like Stybar. Call him the Bizarro Boasson Hagen. Sky do many things well, but their cobbles season was pretty hollow after Geraint Thomas' nice performance at the E3. Stybar is exactly the kind of non-clinical, lovable mudder that can counteract the "Heartless Machine" criticism of the team.
Mark Cavendish to Lampre
While we're raiding the OPQS cupboard (I did give them Gilbert), why on Earth is Cavendish on this team? I understand the ostensible reason: they paid him, and they promised to help him win the green jersey, which is his principle goal. I suppose for both parties, that's good enough.
But it could be so much better to see Cavendish riding for an Italian team, and by that we mean one not containing Peter Sagan. First, on a practical level this has to work for Cav, no? He lives in Tuscany and has a young child, so if riding for Lampre keeps him a bit closer to home on occasion, all the better. [I know, riders don't hang around the team's service course, but there has to be some benefit.]
Meanwhile, Cav would be so great for Italian cycling. Lampre have exactly nothing interesting going on right now, as opposed to Cannondale. Alessandro Petacchi is on his way out to pasture, Scarponi is coming off a brush with Ferrari (and that stink doesn't just come out in the wash), and if they're drawing in young talent it's news to me. But with Cavendish? That's a fun team, his fiery nature is a great fit in a country that worships Mario Balotelli. The excitement around them would be through the roof in the big Italian races, and then there's the pairing with his former nemesis and now friend Pippo Pozzato. Seriously, name one person who doesn't benefit from this move. One!
Sylvain Chavanel to FDJ
I'm not sure I want to keep plundering OPQS, but since the Styby one is 100% fake, let's toss in an alternative that you can almost envision happening. Now, Chava has been so transformed by his time at Quick Step that he's part honorary Belgian. But I do see him possibly moving on, after another season as Boonen's Plan B. Chava wound up getting his chance once Boonen crashed out of Flanders, and hoovered up plenty of points, even without a monumental win. But coming into the classics he seemed like he wanted his turn, no if's and's or but's. That's never gonna happen at OPQS.
Meanwhile, FDJ are building a terrific classics team, with Offredo and Ladagnous the main threats on the cobbles, guys who could support Chava quite well in his later years while taking their turns in time, or in the alternative/plan B scenario. Chavanel would also brilliantly support the team's other objectives, helping set up the sprinting duo of Demare and Bouhanni, and would have a free hand to chase Tour de France stages. Obviously Lefevre would be no more excited about this move than losing Stybar, but for Chava isn't this kind of perfect?
Sep Vanmarcke to GreenEdge; Lars Boom to Saxo-Tinkoff
Has anyone heard a peep about some angel investor rescuing Team Blanco? It will be sad to see the end of the line for the Kwantum/Superconfex label, but then no cycling brand lasts forever. And unless something happens fast, this one's a done deal. So... where do they all go? Let's start with the Classics guys.
Sep is a leader looking for a captainless team. GreenEdge are probably the best classics team out there with no real headliner. Goss and Langeveld are really the only big threats to do something, but they have plenty of experienced workers on hand to help out when there's a rider worth riding for. Vanmarcke doesn't need much (he almost won Paris-Roubaix riding for Blanco), and having ridden for an American team and a Dutch one, being on an Aussie squad should be a comfortable enough landing spot.
Boom, meanwhile, needs a bit more of a difference. Now, I'm not coming anywhere near calling the guy a disappointment; he's been strong enough to finish on the podium of Flanders and Roubaix each of the last two years, but like so many cobbles hopefuls before him it seems to slip his grasp. Well, Bjarne Riis still knows how to make lemons from lemonade, and with a talent like Boom my guess is the results could be quite positive. Saxo have practically abandoned the cobbles, and the Breschel pairing is probably sub-optimal, but with a few young workers Riis could revive his classics brand in short order.
As for the rest of Blanco, there is so much talent on the team that we could do an entire article farming out all the climbers. I don't want to get bogged down there. But feel free to run with this idea in the comments.