Attributes: Young, immensely talented roster that could own Cycling in 2012. Fabulous depth for one-day races. Lots of guys you (OK, I) want to root for. America's only Pro Tour team. Marcus Burghardt. Sport's leading anti-doping program.
Problems: Lack of future sponsor after depressing fallout with T-Mobile. Leading anti-doping program undermined by Patrik Sinkewitz. Hideous uniforms. Lack of leadership on the road and a clear Grand Tour plan. Need several kids to grow up fast. Also, does anyone besides Stapleton really think of them as an American team?
Key Rider: Kim Kirchen. Sandwiched between the young guns (Cavendish, Ciolek, Lovkvist, Burghardt) and the aging warriors (Hincapie, Hammond, Pinotti) is a guy hitting his prime, with a legit shot at all the Ardennes races and a puncher's chance at the Flemish calendar as well. Not that winning will be easy anyplace, but an early, high profile palmare would be a huge boost for this young and traditionally unfocused squad. Oh, and he was 7th in the Tour last year.
Key Moment(s): The Roubaix Velodrome. Or the Cauberg. Or Via Roma. The latter could see a surprise from Ciolek or Cavendish. The first two offer a last chance for Hincapie and a fabulous chance for Kirchen.
Passing Thought: Few teams will be as intriguing to watch in 2008. Thus far they've been quiet, but nothing has happened yet and after a tempestuous offseason quiet is probably what they need. By the end of this season, they need leaders to emerge from the talented masses, so they can sell the next sponsor the promise of a fabulous, star-studded generation of racing. If the team were still officially German, the betting would be heavily on Burghardt and Ciolek, but Cavendish might be the cream of the sprinter crop with some Classics upside as well, as early as this year. Lovkvist probably won't stand out until he gets a shot at a grand tour with more time trialing, maybe in 2009. If he stays healthy, Burghardt is ready to win now. But another top-10 in the Tour -- or, say, top 5? -- and it could be Kirchen's team until further notice. Who knows? But I'll be openly rooting for them (and Bweeg) all the way.