After Kristoff's Milan-Sanremo and Flanders showing, I started wondering whether or not Katusha has the best all-around team in the World Tour. Here I am defining the best as the strongest combined cobbled classics and Grand Tour squads.
I am leaving out Liege and Lombardy simply because it's possible for a normal Grand Tour contender to compete annually in both (though obviously, it's not always the case), and I think this would complicate matters a bit. I am also including MSR in the cobbled squad as it relates to the classics hard men and discounting the more traditional sprinters.
So with that, here's what we have in no particular order:
Sky- With each passing year it seems their chances of winning a monument with the squad they currently have seem more and more unlikely. Thomas, Stannard, and Boasson Hagen's, as individual racers, best days are still ahead of them, but at this moment, it's nearly impossible to imagine them truly competing against the Old Guard and they seem just a step below the best of the New Guard. Their Grand Tour success of course speaks for itself, so it could all come together for them at some point. Without a mega transfer though, it does seem unlikely. My best bet for success out of the current crop is Stannard, assuming he recovers from the back injury. My guess is that Thomas will be drawn to the lure of Grand Tours before breaking through in the cobbles, and if anyone were able to predict Boasson Hagen's trajectory they would be better off playing the stock market.
OPQS- If Kwiatkowski were a few years older and contending in GTs they would undoubtedly be on top. Their Ronde notwithstanding, it's hard to argue that they have anything but the best cobbled squad in the world. I wish they would have let Kwiatkowski ride the cobbles again this year because out of anyone I can think of since the Halcyon days of Hinault, Lemond, and Fignon he seems to have the best shot at success across all disciplines of the sport. (High expectations much? See Boasson-Hagen, Edvald above).. Of course Rigoberto Uran could make this a moot point in a month's time if he pulls off a Giro win, in which case Omega Pharma Quick Step would be the most complete team right now. Wouldn't that have been a funny statement a year ago?
Trek- . Even as a fanboy I can't say this is likely scenario, but if Andy Schleck has anything left as a legitimate contender in Grand Tours, it could be a distant possibility. Frank has shown a decent amount of form between Paris-Nice and Criterium INternational, but the level of competition in those two stage races this year was sadly at a lower level than years past. Though in all fairness to the Schlecks and Cancellara, the 2010 Saxo Bank squad really is the epitome of the most balanced team--a very real contender in the GTs and cobbles. As an aside, I'm not sure which new nickname for Cancellara I like the most: "The Monuments Man" or his own moniker, the "Spartacus of Flanders?"
Belkin-- If anyone had doubts about Sep Vanmarke's potential, thinking last year's Paris-Roubaix was a fluke, he has put those concerns to bed in a very real way this year. His consistent showing throughout the season , and his demonstrated ability to be the only one so far to be able to stay with Cancellara shows he is likely a leg better than the rest of the new guard (Sagan, Degenkolb, Kristoff, etc). But if Belkin is a new cobbled powerhouse in the making, their maximum potential in Grand Tours is as an outside shot at a podium. They have a glut of really good but not great Grand Tour riders in Mollema, Gesink, and ten Dam. Mollema seemed head and shoulders above the others at last year's tour, but moving forward, is it possible one of them could break out and win one? My guess right now is no.
Tinkoff Saxo--If the 2010 Saxo squad defined a complete team, Bjarne Riis did little to discourage the notion after a complete change in personnel resulted in a similar result with a major caveat: Nuyen's 2011 Ronde matched up with a blazing Contador who tore through the Giro winning the race without so much as blinking, until it didn't really happen. And since then, they've had absolutely nothing in the cobbled classics. Contador seems much improved this year, and while Nicki Sörensen's debut Ronde resulted in a solid 13th place, with Breschel now injured their cobbled ambitions--for what they were to begin-- seem to have completely withered.
Lampre--Not really. A few years ago when Pozzato had an outside shot combined with today's team and the addition of Horner and Costa, they might have had an outside chance, but until we see Pozzato near the front of a race again they are not contenders.
Garmin-- They have not shown much in the cobbles the last several years. VanSummeren's wreck notwithstanding, they were always going to have long odds this year. That said, they will be a force in the Ardennes even if their GT success still seems a distant hope for now.
BMC- On paper BMC should have won several monuments and been contenders in multiple GTs, but on paper BMC have been world beaters for years now.
FDJ- Not yet, but one can imagine Demare-Pinot juggernaut in the coming years.
Astana--They would be interesting if we included the hilly classics because they are there or thereabouts every year, but they don't really have much to show for in the cobbles.
AG2R--Not yet. The potential is there though, and again, wouldn't that have been a strange thing to say a couple years ago?
Cannondale--Unless Sagan suddenly transforms himself into a GT rider or Basso turns back the clock, no.
Lotto--They have a very similar profile to Belkin: close in the cobbles, podium potential in GTs, but it is hard to imagine them on the top step of either at this point.
Movistar-Valverde didn't look half bad on the cobbles. But yeah, no.
Giant--In a couple of years when Barguil is knocking off several Tours in a row and Degenkolb is battling every year with Vanmarke, Kristoff, and Sagan for cobbled supremacy, this whole exercise will look silly won't it?
OGE--Do they even race outside of Australia?
Which leaves me with Katusha, which really surprised me when I first thought of it. They are generally fairly anonymous outside races Rodriguez and Moreno target, but with Kristoff winning MSR and placing 5th in Flanders all with Paolini also dancing around the front they look incredibly solid, and they will have as good a shot as anyone not named Nairo to win either the Giro or Vuelta. Rodriguez's long line of second places seems destined to end at some point. Though we've left the hilly classics out of the conversation, entering them would only strengthen the case for Katusha. As a whole, interestingly, Katusha is one of my least favorite teams, but it's hard to see past them when looking for this year's most complete team. Long live our Russian Oligarch Overlords.
I'm interested to hear what others think..