For certain teams, the Spring Classics are a season in themselves, around which rosters, budgets, and many offseason plans are formulated. So how'd it work out? Here's a quick look at the eight squads who (IMHO) are most heavily invested in a good spring. This may run a tad long; when it comes to the Classics, I don't know when to stop. Is that so wrong?
Preseason Outlook: Everyone knew they'd be flooding all the races with talent. The question was whether anyone would get a win?
Results: Solid! Cancellara's surprising win at Milano-Sanremo delivered on the promise. Kurt-Asle Arvesen's win at E3 Prijs was nice too. After that, it was pretty standard CSC fare, lots of high finishes and guys in the thick of the action, but no more wins. Frank Schleck's 2nd at Amstel and 3rd at Liege were solid; Cance was 2nd at Roubaix, a tailor-made race for him.
Future: The worst you can say about them is that they lack guys with a big finishing kick for pretty much all of these races. When the CSC captain -- Cancellara, Schleck, whoever -- gets to the line with a group, they're screwed. But the brilliance of the CSC plan is that if you keep putting people in position to win, you're bound to get breakthroughs here and there. If Riis doesn't want to buy a Valverde to finish races off, this is the next best plan. CSC are set on talent for a few years minimum; Andy Schleck is joining the conversation too.
Preseason Outlook: One-man show in the Ardennes; handful of guys with a shot at MSR.
Results: Rebellin took two fourths, 6th, and 2nd in MSR and the Ardennes. But he wasn't as solitary a figure as expected; Fabian Wegmann did some nice teamwork and a brilliant attack that nearly won la Fleche. Stef Schumacher was strong throughout the Ardennes.
Future: Predicting when Davide Rebellin will get old is bad for business. Their window is closing (and that's before sponsorship issues are considered), but the three-pronged attack might have another act or two left. Shame that they can't muster more of a presence on the cobbles though.
Preseason Outlook: Under heavy expectations to regain their iron grip on the cobbles races, though some questioned whether Boonen was the same as before.
Results:The Double!! After that, I doubt anything else matters. Still, the sharing of the spoils between Boonen and Devolder has to make this especially sweet. Stijn winning de Ronde in the Belgian Champion's jersey is about the one thing better for the team and its fans than a Boonen victory. Wouter Weylandt got third at Gent-Wevelgem, a solid sign of growth. But Paolo Bettini's Ardennes goals were ruined by injury.
Future: Couldn't be better, for the Flemish races anyway. Devolder and Boonen could double-team the Cobbles fields for years to come. Carlos Barredo has slotted in as an ideal teammate for the entire month and may take over the Ardennes captaincy (an increasingly lonely position). Wouter Weylandt is coming along very nicely. Is there still even any room for Gert Steegmans?
Preseason Outlook: Not especially high. Leif H\o/ste has been consigned to second place. Cadel Evans was expected to focus almost exclusively on the Tour. Greg Van Avermaet is a key.
Results: As expected. Van Avermaet's 7th place at de Ronde and 3rd in E3 Prijs shows that he's coming along very well. Big Johan Van Summeren was sensational at Paris-Roubaix, taking 8th and marking his place for a few future attempts at the cobble trophy. Evans rode exceptionally well in the Ardennes.
Future: H\o/ste and Van Avermaet might make a solid two-faced attack on the Cobbles for a couple more years. Evans could win an Ardennes race (though there's usually someone around with better closing speed). But Silence! spread their resources around broadly, which means that they're contenders everywhere but rarely favored.
Preseason Outlook: Hincapie's comeback season was an iffy proposition, though Kim Kirchen was expected to bag some high placings. Solid depth gave them the potential to do something. Burghardt would've improved the outlook more if healthy.
Results: Hincapie continues to be cursed by the Cobbles at Roubaix, but rode extremely well, and enjoyed solid help from Andreas Klier, Roger Hammond, and Bernhard Eisel. Kirchen won la Fleche with a brilliant display of power. Mark Cavendish's sprinting exploits, including a win at the Scheldeprijs, were a high point as well.
Future: Cavendish has the look of a future Gent-Wevelgem winner, and Burghardt's potential is enormous. But Kirchen, Klier, Eisel and Hincapie all look like they've reached their ceilings, and future breakthroughs are gonna have to come from their stable of uber-talented youth.
Preseason Outlook: They've had trouble living up to expectations before 2007, and even in 2008 I'm not sure Freire, Flecha and Dekker were really expected to bag any big wins -- except for Freire's annual assault on Milano-Sanremo. They are CSC-lite, with strong riders everywhere, so a win was probably the over/under.
Results: Freire missed the winning move in San Remo, but otherwise it's been a terrific spring for Rabobank. Oscarita got it all right for Gent. Flecha's 3rd at Flanders was the product of some immense riding. Seb Langeveld's aggression that day was inspiring. Robert Gesink's formidable climbing power looked pretty threatening at la Fleche and Liege. Joost Posthuma bagged a nice win at Dreidaagse de Panne, and Freire's win at Gent was a highlght. Dekker's consistently high challenges in the Ardennes (5th-5th-6th) proved his excellence.
Future: Fricking brilliant. See my post below on emerging Dutch stars. Gesink is arriving rapidly. Dekker's already a stud. Langeveld is a Cobbles stud. And the Spanish captains still have a good number of miles left in the legs. They could be THE spring squad next year.
Preseason Outlook: Murky. Valverde's had a rough 12 months or so. They're inundated with talent but a casual fan might have trouble telling who's who. Surely someone would contest the Cobbles too... right?
Results: Hard to complain. A Cobbles plan never really materialized, but Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde made a great duo in the Ardennes, with Valverde taking the big win in Liege and third at Amstel. Rodriguez contributed to Valverde's success mightily and made a stab at La Fleche.
Future: On their deep, deep roster, you might expect them to groom another rider or two for the northern campaign. Luckily for Unzue and co., Valverde's talent means he doesn't need much help.
Preseason Outlook: Depth a problem after Daniele Bennati's defection to Liquigas, leaving Ronde champ Alessandro Ballan a little exposed.
Results: While Ballan missed out on the big win, Lampre showed some real depth in the cobbles, with Baldato and Spilak frequently on hand to help Ballan. Cunego's win in Amstel Gold was great, though he lost steam afterwards. Mirco Lorenzetto's fifth place at MSR was a nice contribution.
Future: Solid! Maybe Cunego could use a lieutenant, but it's nice to see a real team plan for the northern campaign. Liquigas may yet fight back for the honor of Italy's best Classics squad, but Lampre have raised the bar, unexpectedly.