Welcome to my first blog previewing the World Tour and how I think each team will do and, yes I know the Tour Down Under has started but frankly I don't count it.
AG2R La Mondiale
The two riders to look out for in particular are Domenico Pozzovivo, Romain Bardet and Carlos Betancur. Pozzovivo finished in the top 10 in the Vuelta and the Giro in 2013 and could challenge for a podium in either this year. Bardet the winner of the Tour de L'Ain has a chance to step up this year, look for him in the Ardennes Classics or even at the Tour in a transitional rolling stage. Betancur may have the best chance of success most likely in the Ardennes classics where he finished 3rd in Fleche Wallonne and 4th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year. he is another of the up and coming Columbian climbers who will attack and attack in the high mountains. They don't have much in the way of sprinters but could be seen in most other sorts of races but this relies on someone being in very good form so don't expect too much from AG2R La Mondiale.
Astana Pro Team
The big star of Astana is Vincenzo Nibali probably Chris Froome's biggest rival for the Tour this year, his whole season hinges on it. His ability to climb and attack Froome while competing in the time trials makes him a serious contender. Nibali will have plenty of quality domestiques in Brajkovic, Fuglsang, Kessiakoff and Scarponi who can easily compete with the Sky team who under performed last year. Their big prospect is Andrea Guardini the young sprinter who could join the elite crop of sprinters if he steps it up this year.
Belkin-Pro Cycling Team
Firstly in the Flemish classics the one to watch is Sep Vanmarcke 2nd in last year's Paris-Roubaix which he lost on the line and the only one who could stay with Cancellara is a serious threat this year. There two Grand Tour hopes Bauke Mollema and Laurens ten Dam finishing 6th and 13th respectively in last year's Tour could perform strongly once again. Robert Gesink will fail once again in the Vuelta or the Giro and Theo Bos may win a couple of sprints but other the than the big three no one else on the team appears likely to do anything of note.
BMC Racing Team
Money is thrown at this team every year and on paper have possibly the best team in the World Tour but fail to win at the big races particularly Tejay van Garderen who struggled in the Tour last year and will hope to bounce back. The most likely rider to win plenty this year on the team is the former world champion Philippe Gilbert who once again could sweep the Ardennes Classics. It would be nice to see Thor Hushovd do well on the cobbles but that is becoming increasingly unlikely. Even Greg van Avermaet could have a top 10 but once these riders arrived at BMC they began to under perform this trend is likely to continue but we will have to see.
As you should know the big personality of Cannondale is the bum-pinching, wheelying Peter Sagan who will compete with Boonen and Cancellara in the cobbled classics and is almost a dead-cert for the green jersey at the Tour. The other two young riders to watch are the sprinter Elia Viviani and the exciting uncle-of-a-legend Moreno Moser. Viviani will most likely be training for the Giro where he could win multiple stages and Moser could finish high in the Ardennes classics, Milan-San Remo and the Strade Bianche. there are no real GC contenders on the team unless you count Ivan Basso so look for this team in the classics.
This is a very promising young team unashamedly my favourite with two up and coming sprinters in Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare, possibly the best young sprinters around. Don't be surprised if one of them explodes this year and challenges the elite sprinters. Then there is the rider I am rooting for most of all, Thibaut Pinot who many are hoping will be the next French Tour winner, in a few years. He is still only 23 so has plenty of room to grow and he may not even ride the Tour but he is definitely one for the future.
Garmin are another young team expertly run by the often controversial Jonathan Vaughters. there big success last year was Dan Martin, winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and a Tour stage in the Pyrenees make him a big prospect for this season in the Ardennes Classics, the Giro or the Vuelta. Andrew Talansky and Tom Jelte Slagter are also talented young riders who have the oppurtunity to develop in many ways. Talansky challenged at Paris-Nice last year and came 10th in the Tour so is likely going to become a serious GC contender. Tom JS won the Tour Down Under last year and will probably win another smaller stage race this year.
Frankly this team is terrible and the only bright spot is Diego Ulissi who had some minor stage wins last year and the world champion Rui Costa but the world champion's curse will hold him back. I really don't see where the wins are going to come from this year, so that is all I have to say about Lampre.
Andre the gorilla Greipel is the main source of success at lotto competing with Cav and Kittell in the sprints he has a settled lead out with Henderson, Bak and Sieberg so watch out for the big man. Jurgen van den Broeck is coming back from a very dissappointing 2013 after a knee injury but should bounce back in the grand tours perhaps not the Tour. Tony Gallopin the young Frenchman won the Clasica San Sebastian last year should compete in the Ardennes.
Who can forget the star of last year's Tour - for me - Nairo Quintana the tiny Columbian climber won't be at the Tour but will almost certainly win either the Giro or the Vuelta. He is the best young rider around and the only real challenger at last year's Tour. The team's Tour contender will be Alejandro Valverde although he may be past it so shouldn't even challenge for the podium.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep Cycling Team
Mark Cavendish at quickstep could have an incredible year with possibly the best lead out he has ever had with Renshaw back, Martin, Petacchi and Terpstra they could break away all by themselves. At the Classics Tom Boonen will be back and appears very confident this year and we may have another battle royale between him and Cancellara at Roubaix and De Ronde. Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh will be very useful super-domestiques for Boonen. At the minor stage races Michal Kwiatkowski who came 4th in last year's Tirreno-Adriatico could win Paris-Nice or another similar race. Rigoberto Uran the new signing is the big GC hope at the Tour and will challenge his old Sky teammates in the mountains.
Simon Gerrans will feature throughout the year and is particularly targeting Milan-San Remo which he won in 2012 but is such an all rounder that we could see him in almost any race this year attacking the field. The team have two sprinters competing for the No1 spot in Matt Goss and Michael Matthews who won multiple stages at last year's Vuelta while Goss who has plenty of talent has been poor over the last couple of years but maybe the competition with Matthews will bring more out of him.
Who can forget Thomas Voeckler the sweetheart of the French public who has something special at every Tour will we see him again this year? I hope so. But the real GC challenger is Pierre Rolland who has to step up as he enters his prime at 28. The young sprinter on par with the FDJ sprinters is Bryan Coquard the ex-sprinter on the track won many a small stage last year and should do the same again this year, at 22 one of the youngest World Tour riders to watch.
Really there is only one significant rider on this team and that is Marcel Kittel who turned into one of the elite sprinters at last year's Tour winning the most stages at 4 of any of them. Otherwise there aren't any significant riders on the team other than John Degenkolb who won a few stages at the 2012 Vuelta.
Home of last year's No1 rider Joaquim Rodriguez who could once again do well at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and win Lombardia. But he will be hoping for a big result in the Giro and the Vuelta as a brilliant climber in the prime of his career he should win at least one of them. Along with Dani Moreno who performed at last year's Fleche Wallonne while winning two Vuelta stages. He is also in great form.
Chris Froome the star of cycling at the moment will almost certainly win the Tour however it won't be as easy as it was last year with Nibali competing for the maillot jaune. He will also win smaller stage races in the build up as Sky attempt to romp through the season once again hitting all their targets except on the cobbles where they always underachieve. Richie Porte Froome's faithful domestique is targeting the Giro this year and could challenge but will he perform as the leader? The rest of the team could be involved in all sorts and I can't be sure who so I shall leave the other riders to surprise you throughout the season.
Tinkoff - Saxo
Alberto Contador will be looking to really bring the fight to Froome this year after struggling to stay with him last time around. Their new yellow jerseys could be a good omen for El Pistolero. Nicholas Roche the young Irishman had a good Vuelta last year and will be looking to push on from that and perform in the smaller stage races.
Trek Factory Racing
Fabian Cancellara the star of last year's cobbled classics will have to compete with Boonen and Sagan this year but will likely still win Roubaix or De Ronde, he may also go for the hour record. The Schlecks will look to bounce back perhaps not in the Tour but at least to have some success in the mountains.