Saying goodbye to the Classics is a time to turn the page on the Cycling season. There are several months to go, but one of the most distinctive, traditional phases of the calendar is done, and it's time to take stock, Pro Tour team-by-team, of who accomplished what. The following grades are scaled against expectations rather than raw scores (you can look up Pro Tour points if you just want a purely empirical summary. Also, omitted from this assessment are Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the dozen or so Spanish mini-tours of the last two months. Included are Het Volk, the Cobble warmups (K-B-K, Dwars, E3 Prijs, Brabantse Pijl, De Panne), and the majors (Milan-San Remo, De Ronde, Gent, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel, La Fleche and Liege).
Coming Tuesday: Grading the graders... the long memory of the Internets gives us the chance to see who predicted what, and whether we should listen to them ever again.
Submit your own grades in response if you please. Here we go.
CSC: Grade A-
Victims of last year's success and the subsequent expectations, CSC were one rider away from a dismal spring campaign. Young studs Fabien Cancellara and Frank Schleck scored but two podiums between them: 2nd at E3 Prijs and third at Liege. Karsten Kroon was 4th at Flanders. Nice but...
Fortunately, the one rider, whom nobody really counted on, was a resurgent Stuart O'Grady, who rode the hell out of the last two months. First to the Roubaix Velodrome... and third in Dwars, 5th in Milan-San Remo, 5th at Het Volk, 9th at E3 Prijs and 10th at De Ronde. Just a one-man wrecking crew.
Rabo: Grade B
Lacking the expectations of a Quick Step or CSC, Rabobank acquitted themselves well all spring. Oscar Freire's comfortable win at MSR, over a star-studded field, capped a run of success through the winter warmups. Freire also won Brabantse Pijl as well as the field sprint for third at Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Prijs, while Juan Antonio Flecha took second at Roubaix and Het Volk. Still, Rabobank can't feel completely satisfied, given their stake in the Ardennes races where three minor placings (AGR: Boogerd and Freire 5th/8th; Liege: Boogerd 6th) barely registered. But Rabo have been uncharacteristically smart and aggressive all spring... like I said, lack of expectations.
Discovery: Grade INC
Nuthin but minor placings here and there, highlighted by Allan Davis' 2nd in San Remo and Stijn Devolder's time trial win at Dreidaagse de Panne. But they never had a great plan for the Ardennes, and their plan A for the cobbles was shelved in South Carolina. Bad spring, but not really their fault.
Quick Step: Grade B-
On the one hand, you can only mark Lefevre's squad down so much when they led the peloton in wins. Boonen's three wins (KBK, Dwars, E3) and Gert Steegmans' stage at De Panne make for a fine stat sheet, and Boonen's minor placings (3rd at Het Volk and MSR, 6th at Roubaix) would satisfy the mortals in the peloton. But there's a reason Lefevre spent last week throwing his guys under the bus: expectations. Boonen's handy win at E3 Prijs was intended as an opening statement, rather than the swan song it turned out to be. Paolo Bettini couldn't get untracked anywhere. Steegmans and Van Petegem turned in their work and waited for the fireworks that never came.
Lotto: Grade C
Leif Hoste strengthened his iron grip on de Ronde's second step, McEwen and Leukemans just missed the podiums at MSR and Roubaix. Respectable... but painful misses all. My own pathetic road career was highlighted by a couple second-placings, and I can tell you what I remember from those races is what I did to lose. Multiply that by a few million and you can imagine what Leif Hoste is going through right now.
Caisse d'Epargne: Grade D
No single rider (besides Boonen, who actually won something) started their spring campaign with higher expectations than Alejandro Valverde... who went 6-2-2 in Amstel-Fleche-Liege. And complained about the other teams who didn't chase down breaks for him. I'm not absolving other teams, but champions understand responsibility, or at least talk like they do.
Cofidis: Grade B-
I wanted to ignore them, but the fact is they drafted Nick Nuyens to become factors in April and got a handful of minor placings (4th-2nd-7th at Het Volk-Brabantse-de Ronde), about what you'd expect. Not bad for a flier, though I think they were hoping for a win.
Gerolsteiner: Grade B
On the verge of a somewhat historic Ardennes team triple, Gerolsteiner tried the old one-two again at Liege with Schumacher attacking with Tintin Rebellin sitting in the pack, waiting for a sprint. High marks for the aggressive racing and for two fine wins, Schumi at Amstel and Tintin in La Fleche. But marked down for failing to close the deal, and for being nonexistent before Paris-Roubaix. Unless you count David Kopp's face-crash in Italy.
Lampre: Grade B+
Coming in, Alessandro Ballan inspired less conversation than Stuart O'Grady, so when he dominated the Tour of Flanders, with some remarkable help by Daniele Bennati, and took De Panne as well, we noticed. Two additional minor placings at Roubaix plus the promise of Damiano Cunego make Lampre an April player after all.
Liquigas: Grade A
The big winners! Pippo Pozzato's win at Het Volk seems like forever ago, but Liquigas quietly added a Flanders podium and stage win at de Panne from Luca Paolini, along with some other minor placings, before DiLuca stamped his signature on the Ardennes with thirds at Amstel and La Fleche... before Sunday's great victory at Liege.
Saunier Duval: Grade B-
Losing steam here... Ricardo Ricco, Francisco Ventoso and JJ Cobo scored some top tens in the biggest races. Not bad at all.
T-Mobile: Grade C
But for Marcus Burghardt's emergence, T-Mob would have had an awfully quiet spring campaign. OK, expectations were pretty low, given all the roster changes, but Kim Kirchen's good form was wasted in the Ardennes, while castoffs Wesemann and Kessler were animating some of the big races.
Not graded: AG2R, Astana, Bouygues, Credit Ag, Milram, Euskaltel, FdJeux, Unibet.