Handing Out First Half Team Grades

Susie Hartigan

Time for a Progress Report. No E's for effort though.

Just for the record, I have zero qualms about gorging myself on soccer (football) once every four two years to the detriment of our cycling discussions here. Why? Because it's June. And June is for training and/or races loved mostly by WillJ. But the fat (Le Tour) is approaching the fire (Grand Depart), and things will get serious awfully quickly.

Meanwhile, trade teams have temporarily disbanded (ha!) for the coming week, as European Cycling trains its focus on national championships, the bulk of which will be wrapped up by Sunday. So in this brief lull, now is as good a time as any to take a look at whether our favorite teams, the World Tour dudes, have gotten themselves on track to achieve their year-long goals in 2014. A progress report, if you will. Let's dive right into the deep end.

Movistar

Current Ranking: 4 (2013: 3)

Win total: 19 (2013: 32)

Expectations: That more authority would be ceded to the kids, and that Don Nairo would crush at least one grand tour. Also, Valverde would continue to do his thing.

On track? Ahem... does the cover photo for this post leave any questions unanswered? Quintana's dominant Giro confirmed his lofty status as The Next Big Thing (sorry Barguil fans), and that's with one grand tour still left on the table. Not to be missed is the fact that Valverde is actually having a much better season than his last two, if you truck in victories, which he most certainly does (along with false hopes for the Tour de France GC). His Fleche Wallonne win capped off a very nice spring (Roma Maxima, GP Big Mig, Andalucia, Murcia), his best since winning Liege in 2008. Most of the team, save for a slow-starting Giovanni Visconti, are exactly where you'd expect them to be.

Omega Pharma-Quick Step

Current Ranking: 1 (2013: 1)

Win total: 39 (2013: 55)

Expectations: More of the same in the spring, with luck. Possible breakout from Kwiatkowski. Possible disappointment in Uran

On track? Dear god yes. Only a cynic would regard the meh-ness of Tom Boonen and claim that anything has gone at all wrong at Club Lefevre. Sure, Boonen hasn't recaptured his 2012 form, but he needn't have bothered, with Niki Terpstra filling in nicely at the top. Numerically speaking, Mark Cavendish has been performing below his career norms, but to the naked eye he appears to be feeling fine and headed to Le Tour in good shape (barring any ill effects from a tumble at the Tour de Suisse). Rigoberto Uran repeated his 2013 Giro runner-up, while not siphoning off any team resources in that defense. Guillaume Van Kiersbulck scored a nice overall win in De Panne.

And Michal Kwiatkowski has been one of the sport's top revelations, hoovering up points and podium finishes, winning Strade Bianche, the Volta ao Algarve and a Tour de Romandie prologue, plus third in La Fleche and Liege after taking a nice fifth at Amstel. What he does for an encore remains to be seen, but Lef and co must be thrilled to get this much this soon from the young Pole.

Orica-GreenEdge

Current Ranking: 7 (2013: 16)

Win total: 25 (2013: 34)

Expectations: Jacks of all trades, masters of none. For a medium-sized team the Aussies (and friends) rack up a healthy total of wins, including some of real consequence. No great changes anticipated.

On track? Yep. Ahead, actually, thanks to the consistent contributions of Albasini, Matthews, and Gerrans, plus two very nice wins from Johan Chaves and a Giro stage from the ever-active Pieter Weening. Matthew Goss (0 wins) remains a bit of an enigma, but then again, the sprint game has changed a bit since 2010.

Belkin Pro Cycling

Current Ranking: 11 (2013: 6)

Win total: 13 (2013: 38)

Expectations: Hovering on the edge of contention for virtually every race in existence. Occasionally winning a few.

On track? Nope. Injuries derailed the team long before the sponsor jumped ship, with Robert Gesink suffering from a cardiac arrhythmia which has wiped out much of his season, as well as Lars Boom's poorly timed broken elbow at Paris-Nice. Mollema is the same guy he was last year when he improved to sixth at the Tour, and maybe Hofland will get hot again later in the season, but you have to think morale will keep dragging them down even further.

BMC

Current Ranking: 2 (2013: 5)

Win total: 17 (2013: 30)

Expectations: I've spilled plenty of virtual ink complaining about their near misses, but they're also a perfect reminder not to get too caught up in the recent past as predictor of the future. I called them a dangerous team in preseason, despite the modest returns on their big investments.

On track? Yes, finally, though with a grain of salt, or something more bitter. Maybe bleach crystals. Philippe Gilbert had a strong spring campaign, his first in BMC colors, at least by Gilbert (a/k/a winning) standards. Van Avermaet continues to rack up second places, but at least they're top-shelf (Ronde van Vlaanderen, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad). Evans won the Giro del Trentino, a solid race. Things are shaping up nicely going forward at the Tour, with the team firmly behind Tejay Van Garderen and the days of Yelling for Cadel, sweet as they were, are finally accepted as being mostly over. Not that Van Garderen is a top favorite for yellow, but it wouldn't be a terrible shock to see him hovering around the podium. Even the veteran guys like Sammy Sanchez have been spotted doing solid work.

And then there's Taylor Phinney. Such a nice season, he was putting together, before a rather awful compound leg fracture and patellar tendon rupture at the US Champs. With four wins, Phinney was a significant contributor to the squad, but now he's looking at a long, slow road back to competition, with 2014 seeming like a faint hope, and calling into question what sort of shape he can achieve in 2015 after so much trauma and time off. I have little doubt he will get back to form someday, but I have some real doubts about when. So yeah, BMC are having a nice season, but I don't see how anyone can feel too great about it.

Garmin-Sharp

Current Ranking: 8 (2013: 15)

Win total: 19 (2013: 32)

Expectations: Quasi-rebuilding mode. Part of the original core (Zabriskie, VdV) retired, passing the baton to Martin and Talansky (who, it should be mentioned, is still only 25). More focus on hilly races, with only a flier taken out on the cobbles.

On track? Ah, yeah, I guess. Spring was about what one might expect, with Tyler Farrar showing some decent form (two seconds) and Langeveld quietly scoring some points. [Farrar's sprinting is ramping up as well, for what it's worth.] Martin's campaign has been torture, from the untimely crash at Liege to the unbelievably untimely crash in the Giro, in his home nation. That plus an otherwise ruinous Giro might have caused a hangover within the team, but Talansky's surprising Dauphine win will have cured those ills. They certainly see Talansky as a podium threat, and while the Dauphine win wasn't exactly a matter of crushing Froome and Contador, it was nonetheless a positive sign for the future. This isn't one of the strongest teams on the planet but in their evolving state I'd call the first half a reasonable one.

Lampre-Merida

Current Ranking: 14 (2013: 13)

Win total: 15 (2013: 16)

Expectations: They don't garner a ton of attention in the US but the changes for 2014 seemed to point in a positive direction. Gone was team leader Michele Scarponi, a colorful guy but a fading one and a guy with too many Ferrari connections to feel good about. Incoming were Chris Horner, on a flier, and World Champion Rui Costa, as the guy whom they're actually rebuilding around, along with the extremely talented Diego Ulissi.

On track? Absolutely. They have already nearly matched their 2013 win total. Ulissi delivered two Giro wins. Sascha Modolo has had a nice bounce-back season. Costa is pure class, as he showed again last week. Nobody expects anything from Horner. But while this may look solid in 2014, they can't go on much longer without at least one rider who could make the podium at the Giro. I'm not sure that guy is currently on the roster.

Giant-Shimano

Current Ranking: 8 (2013: 14)

Win total: 25 (2013: 29)

Expectations: Your friend Bob's nice cousin, who doesn't rub anyone the wrong way. Oh, and a sprint dynasty in the making.

On track? Hell yeah. I went into this last week so I'll keep it short, but like Lampre they've already nearly topped their win total of last season. And we thought last season they kicked ass. All systems go for the Tour, where they have only stage winning ambitions for now.

Team Sky

Current Ranking: 5 (2013: 2)

Win total: 19 (2013: 35)

Expectations: More mind-numbing, consistent domination of Le Tour, and anything that smelled of Tour preparation. Oh, and in their spare time, the Giro.

On track? Yes and no. Sky truck in Tour victories, and they are in line for one more of those, after which nobody should care too much about coughing up the Dauphine to some Americans. But Ritchie Porte would have been an interesting contender for the Giro, had his season not been derailed by illness. Edvald Boasson Hagen had a quiet spring, but Geraint Thomas kept it more than respectable and Ian Stannard finally got his big win at the Omloop. Froome, when staying upright, has been especially productive with wins in Romandie and Oman. Wiggins won California with ease. Kennaugh snuck in a win at the Coppo e Bartali. After two maillots jaune it's hard to come up with an encore, and to the extent Sky had some ideas, they haven't really panned out. But even playing the expectations game, they've been fine. And they're still plenty deep for July.

Lotto-Belisol

Current Ranking: 15 (2013: 17)

Win total: 14 (2013: 28)

Expectations: Erm, there wasn't much to say. Never really is. Greipel sure can sprint.

On track? Not really. Greipel scored a bunch of forgettable wins, but was looking like a guy about to make a statement in Flanders when he crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem. Jurgen Van Den Broeck hung in well at the Dauphine, taking third overall and boosting his usual chances of a podium at the Tour ever so slightly. Beyond that, this is a roster of decent guys doing decently, but until something bigger happens, it can't be considered a great year.

AG2R

Current Ranking: 3 (2013: 11)

Win total: 12 (2013: 8)

Expectations: How does anyone ever know what to expect here? Certainly there was hope for a quality season. And plenty of doubt, starting with rumors that Carlos Betancur was fat.

On track? Mais oui. Betancur used those extra calories for a hot streak in February and March which padded the win totals and hauled in a very useful home victory at Paris-Nice. From there the action has been more solid than spectacular. Youngster Romain Bardet was part of the palace coup at the Dauphine, taking fifth after a poor start. Domenico Pozzovivo was respectable at the Giro (5th). Damian Gaudin had a disappointing spring, but the Turgot-Gaudin duo aren't done yet. But things could stall out quickly. Betancur seems to hate Europe, and his team -- a European cycling squad -- are starting to hate him in response. Bardet was 15th in his Tour debut last year, which is nice, but at his age he could have used the cover provided by having Betancur alongside.

Tinkoff-Saxo

Current Ranking: 6 (2013: 10)

Win total: 13 (2013: 7)

Expectations: Something better than last season's unmitigated disaster. Also, some uncomfortable moments involving the team owner and a microphone.

On track? The numbers say things have improved, nearly doubling last season's paltry win haul, but how much better are they? Roman Kreuziger hasn't shown much. Nic Roche had a completely forgettable Giro d'Italia (though winning the Route du Sud last weekend helps). Rafal Majka had a decent Giro, moving up one place from last year's seventh, but he may start hitting his grand tour ceiling and evolve into a one-week guy instead (albeit a very solid one). Basically, the improvement comes almost entirely from Alberto Contador, who is seemingly back on top of his game. Tinkoff went all in on Bert a couple years ago, and if it pans out in July he won't care about Kreuziger or anyone else.

Katusha

Current Ranking: 10 (2013: 4)

Win total: 14 (2013: 29)

Expectations: Largely a two-man show, with Joaquim Rodriguez finally winning the Giro d'Italia (seriously) and Kristoff doing his Sagan impression.

On track? Nope. Well, Kristoff's Milano-Sanremo win paid the bills for a while, and J-Rod won a nice Catalunya, always a good thing. But after several years at or near the sport's summit, Rodriguez might have seen his best days already. The team bet heavily on him winning the Giro, only for him to crash out with broken ribs. This came after two DNF's in the Ardennes. At 36, betting on him to rebound is no longer the mortal lock it had been since he left Caisse d'Epargne. Kristoff hoovered up a bunch of wins in Norway, and is a Person of Interest at the Tour. But from there things could get quiet. J-Rod is in France hunting for stages in the last week. Alexei Tsatevich is on the long form roster, so we might get a glimpse of his sprinting chops soon. Then... ?

FDJ

Current Ranking: 12 (2013: 9)

Win total: 16 (2013: 33)

Expectations: Exciting things. Arnaud Demare was for real, and Thibault Pinot is your classic exciting French prospect.

On track? Erm, maybe. Demare has been joined by Nacer Bouhanni on the sprint team -- Bouhanni was already there, but nobody pegged him for the success he's had: seven wins and the Giro points title. Demare, meanwhile, hasn't won much that anyone cares about, but his misses say a lot more. Second on Gent-Wevelgem? Cool. Twelfth in Paris-Roubaix? Huh! He's only 22 and making his Tour debut next month. That Arenberg stage would make a fine palmare. Beyond that, it's Pinot and maybe Arnold Jeannesson making waves at the Tour, a thing which may or may not occur. I won't pre-judge them because of the importance of next month, but if pushed I'd be fine with their performance to date.

Trek Factory Racing

Current Ranking: 13 (2013: 7)

Win total: 9 (2013: 10)

Expectations: The Schleck Project goes American... and carries on with the same cast of characters. Cancellara, Voigt, Zubeldia, the Schlecks... why not?

On track? Apart from Cancellara and his sky high expectations, the rest of the team has basically met the rather meager goals we fans might have set for them -- something about being noticeable for reasons other than Andy Schleck's poor form. Julian Arredondo and Giacomo Nizzolo gave them a presence at the Giro. I suppose we could start asking uncomfortable questions about how much longer Cancellara can stay at his historic performance level, but another Ronde was good enough for now.

Astana

Current Ranking: 16 (2013: 8)

Win total: 8 (2013: 15)

Expectations: Deliver the Shark to Tour Glory. After that, some wins in the hills.

On track? Ah... no. Well, Vincenzo Nibali has been known to guard his form, so perhaps his near-total absence from the results sheet is no biggie. He was hovering around in all the key warm-up races, which is a sign of non-badness, and the Tour squad (Kangert, Scarponi, etc) is strong. But makes you worry a bit. If things go pear-shaped at the Tour, the season won't be a total loss, given the development of Fabio Aru into a credible grand tour threat after taking third in the Giro (winner of the non-Colombian GC). This is both earlier and maybe a tad more dramatic than expected, even by hysterical tifosi standards. So yeah, 2014 may not be going anywhere memorable, but the longer term plan has some real intrigue.

Cannondale

Current Ranking: 17 (2013: 12)

Win total: 12 (2013: 35)

Expectations: Peter Sagan would win every race he entered, while negotiating the world's richest sports contract and inventing new bike-handling tricks for YouTube.

On track? Ah... no. Not at all. Sagan has shown a human side -- not in his persona (though I'm sure that exists) but on the bike. Six wins and no big spring breakthrough is probably considered a disappointment by his standards, as opposed to practically anyone else. Sixth at Paris-Roubaix is pretty exciting. No, really exciting. But for Cannondale, possibly in their last go-round with Sagan, nothing less than a stonking Tour will feel like a big year. Elia Viviani has quietly continued to win, but Moreno Moser has struggled to stay healthy and Ivan Basso has struggled to stay not way too old. That doesn't leave much to work with for the rest of the season.

IAM Cycling

Current Ranking: 19 (2013: 21)

Win total: 6 (2013: 12)

Expectations: Their first world tour campaign would go as well as Sylvain Chavanel allowed it to go.

On track? Unfortunately, yes. Chava has been a bit down this season, for no particular reason, and so has the team's performance. Mathias Frank nearly cured all ills last week with a very strong Tour de Suisse, but not quite... once again. Wyss was impressive, and they're flying under the radar for Tour stage wins, so all hope is not yet lost.

Europcar

Current Ranking: 18 (2013: 20)

Win total: 11 (2013: 26)

Expectations: Very low. Voeckler and Rolland and Gautier are riders who do nice things now and then, but you can't count on them too heavily in advance.

On track? With those expectations? Yeah, sure. Bryan Coquard is being rushed off to the Tour, after a handful of age-appropriate wins (he's 22). I don't care for this plan, but OK.

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