The lineups for the Tour are beginning to be finalized. Released today was OPQS where it's been interesting to see how they plan to support Mark Cavendish who left Sky this year, reportedly because he wanted to be in a team that could back up his ambitions in the Tour de France. Short answer: WTF? Wait that isn't an answer at all is it?
Last year was a dreadful year for Cav in France. Only 3 stagewins including a crushing performance on the Champs Elysée and not even close to winning the Green jersey. Sure his team won the Yellow jersey, had No 2 on the podium, won some other stages and generally dominated the race from start to finish. But Cav didn't win 27 stages like he's used to so you can see how he'd be depressed and frustrated. Anyways he ended up on on Omega Pharma, famous for their ability to recruit and grind stageracing talents to an unrecognisable pulp and generally going AWOL for the season once the Roubaix after-parties in Balen have died down. These are guys that have no other agendas in July and a ton of Specialized cash to throw around so it seems like a match made in heaven. So far it hasn't been a resounding success but July was always going to be the yardstick by which this transfer would be measured so no worries.
Which leads us to the Tour de France roster that looks like this:
- Mark Cavendish
- Tony Martin
- Sylvain Chavanel
- Jerome Pineau
- Michal Kwiatkowski
- Niki Terpstra
- Peter Velits
- Gert Steegmans
- Matteo Trentin
Now we all know that Lotto-Belisol is going to bring it's well-geled unit to work for Cav's nemesis André Greipel and Argos-Shimano are going all in for Marcel Kittel who looks in stunning form and wants to make up for last years illness-riddled TdF.So is this lineup good enough to take on those teams day in and day out? We're not just talking about taking a win or two, Cav's aim is clearly to return to the level of 2011. Which means beating the forementioned rivals again and again plus holding off Peter Sagan's green jersey challenge. That's a pretty tall order.
By the looks of it Cav will have three dedicated men for the final kms. Trentin, Steegmans and Terpstra have all been doing this job in the earlier races, Terpstra with the best results. His ability to motor in the finale matches well with Cav and they seem to have a report, Steegmans less so as his last man efforts have been of varying quality. Very good at times as in Treviso in the Giro but also often misfiring in all sorts of different ways. Hardly the steady rock that Cav has been used to having around in the Tour. Trentin is a brilliant youngster who seems to end up right in the difficult sprints but not sure if I see him as the ultimate leadout type?
We're not just talking about taking a win or two -
Beyond those three there are the ironmen Martin and Kwiatkowski who can be set to do pretty much any task before the 3 km mark and do it better than most anyone in the peloton today. Martin will be aiming for the TTs of course but will otherwise be fully dedicated to Cav and Kwiatkowski will do the job appointed to him in his Tour-debut. Then ...... the wheels come off the wagon a bit. Velits seems like a bit of a token GC rider thrown in there? And Chavanel / Pineau are pretty much the stage-hunting dreamteam but in the context of winning 5+ sprints and grabbing a points-jersey? I don't see them doing much in that picture and I'm guessing Lefevere does either. This is a bit of bet-hedging and the type of bet-hedging that you don't see from Argos. Lotto of course have Van Den Broucke for GC and he gets one helper but there is no doubt what the focus is. Particularly I'm missing a Bart Grabsch, Lars Bak, Danny Pate -type rider here to do the long long hauls early in the stages. Are OPQS really going to gamble on other teams being willing to chip in and help? Sure there are others who are sprint focused but one has to wonder how soon the fire to do the work dies down should Cav grab an early win or two. These guys aren't stupid, they know what the end result is if Cavendish gets smooth sailing to the finale, you need to gamble a bit to beat him if he has a working team around him.
It's no secret that Cav has been eyeing Boonen as a super-leadout for the TdF and it seems likely that the plans for bringing Petacchi aboard for that role were very real and close to becoming reality. Neither of those panned out and now Cav is left to work with what he has and there is no doubt that he can do tremendously well with these helpers but it begs the question if he is that much better off than he was a year ago? The ace in the hole I think is his old DS duo from HTC days Holm & Aldag. These guys know what needs to happen to make Cavendish a winning-machine and they will focus the team on the right things. You don't get the feeling there is any room for non-sanctioned freelancing when those guys are in charge and I have the feeling that the spirit in the team is very much in the right place. If they get off to a decent start in Corsica and Cav gets the yellow jersey that he aims for this could very well become an unstoppable triumph-wagon. I do wonder a little what happens if Cav has his usual slow start and discontent spreads early though? Is this team built to handle that?