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Slipstream's Biggest Stage

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"You can do 150 races in a year and they are all pretty much the same. But not this one. There is only one race like this in the whole season." Magnus Bäckstedt

Big Maggie knows of what he speaks. But he's not just speaking for his own experience, he's speaking for Team Slipstream. I almost don't want to write this post, on the off-chance they'll see it and, you know, feel the pressure, but here's my inescapable conclusion: This is their biggest day of the year!

While Slipstream may get their share of wins, right now this young and evolving team has shown more of a knack for secondary placings at big races. First, thanks to their clever program, they are being asked to attend nearly every massive race on the planet, so instead of cleaning up at cat-2 races in Europe or the US, they're busily prepping for or attending the top events. And they're doing a rather respectable job:

  • Zabriskie and VandeVelde have scored some solid ITT results, including CVV's win yesterday at the Sarthe.
  • David Millar took second on GC in the Tour of California.
  • Martijn Maaskant was 12th in the Tour of Flanders (!) and 4th at Eroica; Meatball (Friedman) was 12th at Het Volk

And so on. But while this is good progress, none of it compares to winning or getting a podium at a monument. It also pales next to winning or getting a podium at a grand tour... but the difference is, Slipstream's chances at high grand tour placings are less than certain, and possibly a fantasy.

Not so Sunday. Nobody on the Slipstream roster has a win as significant as Bäckstedt's Paris-Roubaix 2004 crown. Past success is a fair indicator of future chances, and Bäckstedt has two other top-10 finishes to go with his win. I rated him a three-star contender, and even that may be generous for a guy who's been held back a lot lately. But he looked OK at Flanders, a course that, shall we say, isn't ideal for him. Most guys his size (6'4", 210lbs) could barely walk up the Koppenberg, let alone follow the favorites in de Ronde.

Anyway, he's got a chance Sunday. Which means Slipstream have a chance of being on the cover of papers all over Europe on Monday. A decent chance, and apart from picking off a Tour stage win, this is their clearest shot at big-time glory for now.