Cobbles Season Preview: The List!

Giuseppe Bellini, Velo/Getty

From A to Z... or at least D-, a grading of classics contenders.

And here are the protagonists in this drama. Graded from A-List on down.

The A List

Actually, that's not the top ranking. I mean, it is, but there's a sort of "first among equals" list to deal with initially...

The A++ List

Party of two...

Fabian Cancellara, Trek Factory Racing

They call him Spartacus, and in some ways it's the best of his nicknames. For starters, he can gladiate with the best of them. And like Spartacus of old, he inspired passionate responses to his deeds across many lands. But Spartacus also assembled an army of supporters that grew in such strength that, at long last, Rome was forced to respond. This Spartacus, meanwhile, has shed support faster than he drops his rivals. Or more accurately, he's had support shed for him, by directeurs sportif who, not for nothing, assume he can win alone and invest the "cobbles supporters" fund in another skinny climber.

Best and Worst: His considerable zenith happened in 2010. Not last year. In 2010 he beat Boonen head to head. That, along with the E3-Ronde-Roubaix Triple, really is as good as it gets. As to his lows, they consist entirely of injuries, which happen in this rough and tumble discipline. Cancellara never just disappears; he gets taken out, kicking and screaming.

Current Run of Form: Last seen pounding his bars behind the winner at Milano-Sanremo. He's on form.

Tom Boonen, OPQS

How do you overcome a defeat like what Boonen suffered in 2010 at the hands of Cancellara? By continuing to build a record-setting career at every stop. Four wins at Paris-Roubaix. Three more at Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. Five wins at E3. But more than anything he needs to beat Cancellara. This year. Of all his great victories, few have come at Cancellara's expense, directly. Sure, Fabian was hanging around in 2005 and '06, until the final hour of Paris-Roubaix when he did much more than hang around. More clearly, Boonen beat the Swiss Bear and Alessandro Ballan (remember him?) straight up in the Roubaix Velodrome in 2008. Doesn't all that seem like a long time ago?

Best and Worst: Boonen's double in 2005 seems like a long time ago, but either that, at an early age, or winning Flanders in the rainbow jersey the following year... that's Belgian Nirvana. Even before we start talking beer. Worst was last year when he made an early entry into a Flemish ditch, ending his spring.

Current Run of Form: Three victories so far this year... starting to look like vintage Boonen, assuming his wife's miscarriage of last week doesn't leave him unprepared to do his thing. I could see him having a quiet campaign or going on a total rampage. Nothing in between.

The A List

Peter Sagan, Cannondale

Riding over cars and riding over hellingen aren't quite the same thing, but whatever, Sagan is good at all of them. Sure, his next Monument win will be his first, but at age 24, the only thing stopping him is his fearsome reputation. And his possible distraction by the upcoming 2015 mega-contract he can expect any moment now.

Best and Worst: Second in Flanders last year was his top result, statistically and otherwise. Yes, he got schooled by Cancellara. Which puts him in company with approximately... everyone. But he had a more winnable Flanders get away from him in 2012 when he overcooked the turn onto the Paterberg. That would be the low point in an otherwise awesome introduction to the Cobbles.

Current Run of Form: Curiously non-dominant, but is that a mistake or is he playing the longer game? He's never had a lull in his form before. Maybe it's past due.

Zdenek Stybar, OPQS

I still can't believe he won the Cyclocross World Championship...

Best and Worst: The former is easy, since he made his cobbles debut last year and scored a sixth place in Paris-Roubaix. I suppose it's his worst too, given where things stood at the start of the Carrefour de l'Arbe, and his otherwise lack of appearances. He's already one of the half-dozen most interesting people in the sport. Not bad for a guy who didn't commit to the road until a couple years ago.

Current Run of Form: Um... for a few moments he looked like a threat to win Paris-Nice. He was seventh in Milano-Sanremo. "Scary" comes to mind, if you're not a Quick Step fan.

Sep Vanmarcke, Belkin

Just a wonderful classics rider, full of grit and skill and sense of the moment. Given his heritage, he's been strangely in self-exile form Belgian teams after leaving Topsport-Vlaanderen. I sort of picture him as Luke Skywalker, refusing Lefevre's entreaties to give in to the dark side. I bet Luke would have cleaned up as head of the Empire, with wingmen like Darth Vader.

Best and Worst: Top result is last year's second in Paris-Roubaix, where he wept at his defeat to Cancellara, but showed the rest of the world how fine a rider he is. His consistency speaks of bigger things to come. Low point was probably last year's Ronde, when a swollen knee seemed ready to torpedo his entire campaign.

Current Run of Form: Pretty typical, two top-five's in the winter events (Omloop, KBK) and nothing since. He's laying low.

Filippo Pozzato, Lampre

Pozzato has earned lifetime A-List status from me. I've said enough about him over the years. He's simply a born Classics rider, with the prettiest pedalstroke I know, but has often played things a bit too cagey for his own good.

Best and Worst: Undoubtedly second at the 2012 Ronde. For once, it was Pozzato taking it to Boonen, successfully even, distancing him slightly on the Paterberg. But he finished half a wheel short, or needed another 20 meters to overtake Boonen for the win. The 2009 Paris-Roubaix Pippo was about as good, but more defensive. Low point might have been last season, when for once there was simply nothing happening. Or 2010, when he was flying but got sick and went home before Flanders.

Current Run of Form: With the older veterans, who hold their cards so close to their vest, it's often hard to say for sure. He's been awfully quiet.

Alexander Kristoff, Katusha

This one I am second-guessing a bit, but after Milano-Sanremo I'll give him the benefit of any doubt. My doubt, though, is that he can't win unless it falls into his lap, or more accurately, unless Luca Paolini puts it there. The rest of the guys on this list have some history of making their own luck. Since Kristoff is young(ish), I'll say the jury is out on that one.

Best and Worst: Last year's run generally was his best moment. He won a stage at De Panne, fourth in Flanders, ninth in Roubaix. As for the low, he has two DNFs in Hell.

Current Run of Form: You have to ask? OK, I will say that winning Milano-Sanremo has generally NOT been a springboard to success on the cobbles. Too exhausting, perhaps, or maybe it just lacks predictive value. We will see how Kristoff responds to a week of interviews and celebrations.

The B List

Niki Terpstra, OPQS

I am sorely tempted to move him up now...

Best and Worst: As good as today's win was, his 2012 win was slightly more dominant, I suppose. Really about identical. He's been fantastic in the last two editions of Paris-Roubaix too, taking third last year. The low point is easier to pin down -- his crash in the 2011 De Panne time trial that cost him the rest of the Cobbles campaign. That's a really shitty way to go.

Current Run of Form: I think Awesome is the right word, don't you?

Greg Van Avermaet, BMC

Jack of all trades, BMC's most consistent and tactical rider. Not that Philippe Gilbert sets the highest bar in that regard.

Best and Worst: He's missing a big win back home. Last year's effort was as good as any. The low point was pretty much every team meeting where they told him to work for Gilbert.

Current Run of Form: Second in the Omloop, which is a good sign, though a bit stale too. He's probably as good as ever, and with Gilbert skipping the cobbles, it might be his biggest chance.

Sylvain Chavanel, IAM Cycling

Forever Boonen's shadow, at least when that role wasn't being fulfilled by Terpstra. Now Chava has struck out on his own, at long last, with IAM. At age 34 is it too late? Probably not, but his window won't be open forever, so he'd better adjust quickly to life outside the luxury of Team Lefevre.

Best and Worst: Second in Flanders in 2011, just pipped by Nuyens for the win. That was easily his strongest performance, when he and Cancellara seemed destined to stay away until Spartacus bonked in Geraardsbergen. He then spent Paris-Roubaix hitting the turf.

Current Run of Form: Fifth in Dwars today, so he's paying attention and laying low.

Jurgen Roelandts, Lotto-Belisol

The first of our Overlook-at-Your-Peril characters. Roelandts hits his prime with a strong showing last spring indicating some serious potential for a win, if other teams aren't careful. He's Flemish, and rides like it (not messing around). But he's never quite flashed the strength of the big winners.

Best and Worst: Third in Flanders last year, just behind Sagan, is the highlight. Missing the entire spring in 2012 is the easy pick for low.

Current Run of Form: Like most of his countrymen, these silly non-Flemish races aren't his taste. He was quiet at Omloop-KBK weekend, but that's probably a good thing.

John Degenkolb, Giant-Shimano

Of the sprinting stars, Degenkolb rates as the most likely guy to actually hang around in some of these races. It's been hit-or-miss with Degs, a top 20 in Paris-Roubaix, top ten in Flanders last year, and some forgettable days. But he's got the finishing speed and overall strength so that if he puts together a good day, he can end it well too.

Best and Worst: He won a stage of De Panne three years ago. That or ninth in Flanders, with the Bigs, last year, is his best. His 2012 spring campaign was too quiet, I guess that's his worst.

Current Run of Form: Seems good overall, though he did nothing in MSR and might be a bit tired out at the moment.

Ian Stannard, Sky

One of Sky's dominoes, and the one most likely to do his job. Stannard gets featured in the races where they don't want to overtax Boasson Hagen or Thomas, and as he showed in the Omloop, give Stannard some room and he can make people pay.

Best and Worst: The Omloop win was a breakthrough, albeit overdue. The low point was probably that time he tried to counsel Boasson Hagen on aggressive tactics, and Boasson Hagen pretended he didn't speak English.

Current Run of Form: He was active today, but with no real effect. Like many Omloop winners before him, it's possible his form is a bit stale.

The C List

Luca Paolini, Katusha

Strong enough to finish off his own race (and featuring one of the only great beards in cycling), Paolini is Plan B for Katusha, a plan that just got a bit more interesting now that Plan A (scroll up) has been fully implemented. And Plan A only works when Paolini makes it work, in case you missed that. Great rider, hard not to like.

Best and Worst: The Omloop is where delayed justice is meted out, no? Like Stannard after him, Paolini scored his just desserts there in 2013. The low might be his inability to extract himself from Italian teams before age 34.

Current Run of Form: He puts the "form" in "formidable".

Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Sharp

[This is what I wrote before Dwars. See update below.]

The Wonder of Wenatchee may have gained his share of doubters over the last two years, including perhaps within his own team. Farrar's lack of international results speak to a rider whose time has maybe passed, not necessarily due to internal decay so much as the advancement of others. His original rivals were Cavendish and Greipel, both of whom have either held form or improved as pure sprinters. Farrar's edge was perhaps a bit more hardness, being a guy who might hang around in the Cobbled Monuments if things went well. Not something anyone has said lately of Cav or Greipel. But along came another generation of sprinters -- Sagan, Degenkolb, Kristoff, maybe Hofland or Kittel now, who can not only match or top his speed but handle the cobbles as well, including the climbs. Times now, ain't what they used to be (and there was much rejoicing). But don't confuse Farrar's relative slippage with a complete loss of his qualities. This is a rider who has been fifth in Flanders, third in Gent-Wevelgem, and had a couple Scheldeprijs podiums (including a win). In Flanders, riders can play the long game, and I wouldn't call Farrar done. But I'm biased.

Best and Worst: Pick your best: fifth in Flanders was behind that epic Boonen-Cancellara duel, plus Gilbert and Leukemans in between. Farrar dusted the field coming in, after 260km. Is that more of a "victory" than a podium in Gent-Wevelgem or a win in the Scheldeprijs? Well, since the first and third items on the menu were from 2010, let's just call that his peak. And his floor was, unfortunately, last year, when he had nothing to show for his troubles.

Current Run of Form: [Update!] I originally had Tyler on the D List, but today's second-place at Dwars was B-List material. So I'll compromise and call it C-List for now. Suddenly Farrar looks like a contender for any race that comes back together, namely everything but the monuments. But how serious a threat is that? Everyone knows now that they probably don't want the race to come back together (except maybe Katusha), and Garmin, while very strong, aren't quite strong enough to enforce their will on the entire peloton. So Farrar fans, we can celebrate his return to form, but let's not get carried away just yet.

Sebastian Turgot, Europcar

Turgot officially joins Damien Gaudin at AG2R, a year after they formed the unofficial "hey, there are two French guys up there!" duo at Paris-Roubaix. Since Gaudin's success comes from out of nowhere (no, I'm not going Gogulski here), I'll stick to Turgot, whose success on the cobbles is now firmly established.

Best and Worst: Second in Hell in 2012 was a shockingly excellent result, but coming back just as strong last year (8th in Flanders, 12th in Roubaix, 10th in E3) is perhaps even sweeter. He's here to stay... for a few years anyway. [Turns 30 next month.] The low... I dunno, just not coming on sooner?

Current Run of Form: Solid. He was third in Cholet-Pays La Loire last weekend. He's ready, I'd bet. Damn, this is going to be an intriguing couple of weeks.

Oscar Gatto, Cannondale

As Sagan's shadow grows, Gatto's cat-like stealthiness potential grows with it. He spoiled that a bit by winning Dwars last year, alas. Sprinters gonna sprint, I guess.

Best and Worst: Highlight is obvious, though it's worth mentioning he was also 15th in Flanders last spring. Lowlight? Skipping the classics? Being born in Italy? Ok, scratch that last one.

Current Run of Form: Eighth today, so he's presumably about where he was last year. Look for something from him in Gent-Wevelgem, perhaps.

Sebastian Langeveld, Garmin-Sharp

Is he really only 29? I could swear I saw some grainy black-and-white footage of him launching a solo attack in the E3 or the Omloop or something. Langeveld joins Garmin-Sharp after a couple quiet seasons with Orica-GreenEdge, sort of in career-revival mode. But at 29, lots of guys' careers get revived, or more accurately, didn't really need reviving in the first place, just some better luck.

Best and Worst: The 2011 Omloop was the day it all worked. He stole away with Juan Flecha and dusted him in the sprint, since Flecha sprints like the draft horse he is. Fifth in Flanders that year showed that Langeveld held it together too. And however inconspicuously, he was nonetheless very good last spring too. Low point was crashing out of de Ronde in 2012.

Current Run of Form: No apparent bugs. On the down-low, as it should be.

Nick Nuyens, Garmin-Sharp

If you want to know why I don't think of Langeveld as all-or-nothing, form-wise, it's because of the guy standing next to him. Nuyens is the poster child for all-or-nothing. Langeveld is actually quite consistent, and it's merely our ability to notice that fluctuates.

Best and Worst: He won Flanders once, I seem to recall. As for the worst, how many times has he been forced to skip it? For starters, every year since he won Flanders.

Current Run of Form: Nuyens was active as recently as today, suggesting that something tremendously interesting is brewing at Team Argyle.

Andre Greipel, Lotto-Belisol

You could argue that Greipel falls into that category of pure sprinters who barely rate a mention, but I think we will see enough pure sprints to bring in guys like the Gorilla. Weather in Flanders is looking reasonably nice for the foreseeable future (boo!), which means Gent-Wevelgem could well be a sprinters' race, which means we need to look at guys like Greipel. So here goes.

Best and Worst: Fourth once in GW. Won a sprint in De Panne. Who hasn't? All the rest of his starts constitute his low point, except his 21st placing in Paris-Roubaix (!) two seasons hence. Why was he 12th in the 2012 Scheldeprijs? Probably for a reason, but don't ask me what.

Current Run of Form: Might not be on top of his game, as he crashed in stage 6 of Tirreno. But he was looking very, very good prior to that, including sticking with the climbers on stage 3. Presumably by the weekend he'll be fit as a fiddle.

Bjorn Leukemans, Wanty Group-Goubert

Leukemans fills the critical role of Belgian Guy Who Can't Do Anything But Win In Belgium, taking up the reins from Rambo Eeckhout, Peter Van Petegem, and the like. But hey, we're previewing races in Belgium, so here you go.

Best and Worst: His entire 2010 and 2011 campaigns saw strong results everywhere, even in the Ardennes. Top result? He's been fourth in both Flanders (2010) and Roubaix (2007). Low points are the usual injuries, but as recently as last year he was still hanging with the best. His specialty is probably Brabantse Pijl at this point.

Current Run of Form: Typical. I'm sure he's fine, and his new team should be a bit more dedicated to his cause than Vacansoleil were.

Stijn Vandenbergh, OPQS

Best of the Stijns currently plying their trade on Flemish soil. Vandenbergh is a workhorse, in service of OPQS, so any results he gets are purely a matter of cards being played.

Best and Worst: Second in the Omloop last year. He towed Paolini to victory (not that Paolini needs much help) as if he were doing his usual thing, helping someone else achieve their dreams. Still, he was a beast that day. Worst? I suppose when Stybar went crazy at Roubaix, pushing Stijn one block further down on the totem pole.

Current Run of Form: Beastly. It's what he does. It's all he does. And he will not stop. EVER.

Daniel Oss, BMC

BMC are another curious collection of talent, and while I couldn't begin to tell you how to deploy them (the whole seems to underwhelm the sum of the parts), Oss is yet another guy whom you could see succeeding here. He's got a nice finishing kick on him, in addition to the ability to hang in there -- last year with Sagan and Thomas in E3, and with the bigs in de Ronde. The material to work with exists.

Best and Worst: Third in E3 last season. As a foreigner, he probably just needed some time for things in Belgium to click, and that's now happened. He then crashed out of Paris-Roubaix. So there's your low.

Current Run of Form: Unfortunately for Oss, a knee injury kept him out of competition until just now. I should probably D-List him on that basis, but maybe he'll come around before the circus leaves town.

Johan Van Summeren, Garmin-Sharp

Summie, the ultimate teammate. Wonder if he'll ever have another day like that April in 2011? He's kind of a Paris-Roubaix specialist, which means he can also tow the entire peloton for a little while. Garmin Garmin Garmin...

Best and Worst: Take a wild guess as to his best. His worst? I'd say last year's Hell. Rarely has he ever been outside the top ten, so 50th was a very, very meh day for him.

Current Run of Form: Nothing to be concerned about. He raced in MSR so no Dwars for him today.

The D List

Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Sharp

Vincenzo Nibali, Astana

What? Oh, right. Tour-ists. Say this for his chances: at km270 of Milano-Sanremo it was Nibali, and only Nibali, taking the race to the big names. If he had any natural inclination toward the classics, he'd be a great fit for the racing style.

Best and Worst: There's no evidence that Nibali has ever, in his life, raced in Flanders except for a few boring stages of the ENECO Tour. His next race will definitely be the latter, and arguably the former too.

Current Run of Form: A little weak on the climbs, but strong as ever in the mind. CrAzIeR things have happened, right?

Lars Boom, Belkin

Wait, shouldn't he be on the A list? Or no worse than B? Yes. Yes he should.

Best and Worst: Sixth in the 2012 Paris-Roubaix, when he showed to all the world that he more or less is the guy Dutch fans were screaming about him becoming five years ago. Worst is 2010 P-R (oot).

Current Run of Form: And here's the big problem. As of yesterday Boom was telling De Telegraaf that his progress in healing a cracked elbow wasn't coming along as quickly as anyone had hoped. He's pulled out of E3, and his Ronde is in jeopardy. Arguably it scarcely matters now; if he can't race before De Ronde, he's not going to do anything that day. But if he's feeling better and can hold the bars, maybe a day in Flanders will warm him up for a season-saving trip through Hell. Which, considering his condition, sounds about right.

Thor Hushovd, BMC

Still hunting for his cobble... Hushovd made a lot of noise about wanting to win Roubaix, and not for nothing. He was second in 2010 and generally sports the qualities you need for that one race, if not so much the others. But his window seems to have just about closed. He's gone backward since his one year in Garmin colors, when his teammate took his cobble from him. Which is supposed to be a happy thing.

Best and Worst: That second in Roubaix was a stonking chase of Cance... wait, no, that was the year everyone stared at Boonen and basically raced for second place. Juan Flecha's sarcastic clapping motion was more memorable than anything Hushovd actually did. His low was the day he convinced himself that he's a Paris-Roubaix winner in waiting.

Current Run of Form: Non-nonteworthy. I think it's time to ride the chicken.

Taylor Phinney, BMC

Still another Paris-Roubaix specialist, only this one is on the opposite end of the age scale. The cobbles are not kind to youth or inexperience, but Phinney has been coming along just fine, thank you very much. Luck is another matter.

Best and Worst: His debut was delayed a year, but an impressive one when it happened and he took 15th in the Velodrome two years ago. That gave rise to increased expectations, which weren't met, because it's Paris-Roubaix and stuff happens. No point assigning a low. Something involving climbs. He'd be the first to tell you.

Current Run of Form: Begged off of MSR with the flu, which is bad, but not fatal to his hopes.

Heinrich Haussler, IAM Cycling

Must I? OK fine. Once upon a time there was a character named Barbie Barbie, whose friendly, casual attitude and all-round talent made him the most interesting cyclist on Earth. For about six months, then things started going backwards, for reasons not readily understood, and we never spoke of him again. OK?

Truth be told, Haussler seemed to rediscover his excellent past form last year, and there's no reason to rule him out of doing something here. He really is a talented guy, rides well on the hills (and thru the corners) of Flanders as well as over the stones of France. Having Chavanel on his side at IAM should lend itself to some teamwork. Not a guy to sleep on.

Best and Worst: There's no evidence that Nibali has ever, in his life, raced in Flanders except for a few boring stages of the ENECO Tour. His next race will definitely be the latter, and arguably the former too.
Worst: Getting confused with Nibali in a PdC preview? Best was clearly taking the sprint behind solo-winner Devolder in the 2009 Ronde. All in all that whole first year at Cervélo was pretty much one long highlight.

Current Run of Form: Anything but Glorious. Seems a lock for 73rd place for most races this year and we haven't seen much of him really. But, ignore MSR as a weather fluke and there is nothing to say he hasn't timed his run to be a factor in the coming weeks.

Sacha Modolo, Lampre

A bit of a flier here, but stay with me.

Best and Worst: Took second in a sprint in De Panne last year. Not the most glittering prize you've ever seen, but for an Italian cyclist to even be in Belgium is achievement of sorts.

Current Run of Form: Quite excellent. He's got four wins to his name this year and an eighth in MSR. Don't totally sleep on him. But yeah, mostly sleep on him.

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky

The eternal hope, a rider who seems to have it all, but never seems to put it to use. Or, that's the easy way to judge the dude. Really, though, he remains a fairly consistent rider, just a step behind where they hype would have him.

Best and Worst: The hype comes courtesy of his pedigree as well as a domineering win in Gent-Wevelgem, back in 2009. That rain-soaked tour de force spoke of greatness, which he has flashed on numerous occasions. Just not in the classics so much. Worst day? Just all the ones not worth remembering.

Current Run of Form: Not bad. Third in the Omloop is encouraging, except that the Omloop is such a poor predictor of anything else.

Bernard Eisel, Sky

One of the more curious cats in the great litter of cycling. Eisel has long accepted a complementary role, despite establishing himself as a pretty fair sprinter, and as a result he gets one or two occasions a year to ride for himself in a classic, where he often delivers a strong result. He's a former G-W winner but also has been seventh in Paris-Roubaix, third in E3... and somehow nowhere at De Ronde or the Scheldeprijs. But there's no mystery here -- when Sky deploy him as a helper, he helps. And when they send him after a result, he gets a result.

Best and Worst: That GW win. As to the downside, I don't really see one, apart from the limitations on his role and wherever they come from.

Current Run of Form: No sign of trouble.

Geraint Thomas, Sky

Damn, there is so much talent hanging around the peloton. When you start to compile lists like this, it helps understand why some of the guys we fetishize don't win very much. There simply aren't enough great races for all of these studs to win. Of course, in Thomas's case the real problem may be targeting all of them, stage races and classics. I'm sure he'll figure it out eventually.

Best and Worst: Second at Dwars in 2011, or maybe 10th in de Ronde that same year. He was on some terrific form. Or maybe winning the junior Paris-Roubaix a decade ago. The low was last spring when his performance started out well enough -- 4th in E3 -- but cratered in the monuments.

Current Run of Form: Looked good at Paris-Nice for a while, but crashed out and subsequently didn't finish MSR. Something up?

Daniele Bennati, Tinkoff-Saxo

He's on this list as an outside shot at Gent-Wevelgem. At this point in his career Bennati is well-respected as a guy who can do anything -- has done just about everything. He is versatile and effective, provided you deploy him in a supporting role most of the time.

Best and Worst: Second in GW back in 2011. But I will never forget him delivering Ballan to the winning position on the Muur in 2007. Ah well... Last year was his worst campaign though, a string of DNFs. Not his style.

Current Run of Form: Nothing unusual to see.

Matti Breschel, Tinkoff-Saxo

Remember that night you came to me in Flanders and you said "Kid, this ain't your night." Not my night! I coulda taken Boonen apart. So what happens? He gets the title shot and I get a one-way ticket to Palookaville. You were my DS, Bjarne, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody...

[The truth is that Breschel remains on the cusp of being a very productive rider. He's close, maddeningly close.]

Best and Worst: His win at Dwars in 2010 is an easy pick for his best. It was a command performance that was touted at the time as a threat to the captaincy of Cancellara. That's how strong Breschel looked, and continued to look, until the repeated mechanical breakdowns landed him in psychotherapy about halfway through Paris-Roubaix. He then spent two full years in an asylum in the Netherlands, IIRC, before being discharged into the custody of Bjarne Riis again. Some or all of that other stuff after Dwars counts as his low.

Current Run of Form: In a moment that serves as a metaphor for the last three years of his career, Breschel was hit by a flying mattress in Oman that sent him to the floor at 70kph. He's struggling with a ligament in his hand, and his preparation for the classics has been compromised.

Stijn Devolder, Trek Factory Team

I am so, so tired right now...

Best and Worst: Not to act like a pseudo-poet but maybe those two Flanders victories fall into both categories? Since his second win, Devolder has never again been subject to reasonable expectations. Well, now nobody expects anything, after four consecutive forgettable years. But if we were to set a standard for him, what would it be? Some nice teamwork? A top-20 finish? OK, sure, but it all feels like a damp squib now.

Current Run of Form: He's had a couple nice time trial results, which is where the optimism about his career began. Not that I want to get carried away here either; just sayin, he might be feeling OK at the moment.

Moreno Hofland, Belkin

Hm... is it too soon to start penciling him into this sort of list? All we have is a half-written body of work on one season, this season. But it includes a second in KBK and some other indications that this kid might be getting very interesting, quickly.

Best and Worst: Second in KBK, like I said. There's nothing much else to see.

Current Run of Form: Hasn't won a race in over two weeks.

Manuel Quinziato, BMC

Old vet, always involved. He's more of a glue guy now, but back in his youth he was an outside threat to win.

Best and Worst: In 2009 he took 9th in Paris-Roubaix. He hangs around. Crashed out in 2006.

Current Run of Form: He's hanging around. I just put him in here out of habit really.


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