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Priorities, Part One: Who's A Grand Tour Team?

Its an interesting discussion going on: which team is best? From what I've been reading, various thoughts are seeping into my head, which I want to sum up before getting to the centerpiece of this post, the Grand Tour Table (GTT).

- Professional Road Cycling is unique in the world of sports in that literally there is no even playing field. Each course is different, from flat circuits to mountains and everything in between.  The only other non-cycling sport that even comes close to this variation is golf and there its much subtler. Most sports have some given playing field- a rectangle or diamond or some such. Car racing is divided into circuits and within each circuit the courses are mainly the same: squiggly courses in Formula 1, lots 'o left turns in NASCAR etc. Only cycling varies so much. Its like life in that way.

- The road cycling's season is much too long and hard for any one team, let alone any one rider, to compete effectively during the whole thing. That's also unique in the world of sports though some sports get close- tennis and golf mainly. Soccer is not quite as close. The big  Euro teams play too long of a schedule for any one player but the teams stay dominant. That's not true in cycling where even the Saxo's have their weak moments as we will see.

- Cycling teams have no championship. The Cycling World Championships are just another very good race. That's also very unusual. No Super bowl. No Champions League. No Grand Slam tournaments. No Indy 500 or Daytona. No World Series. No World Cup. No Olympics that are de facto championships. Yes, there are some cycling races that are more prestigious as we know but here the thing: different teams prioritize different races to peak for so there's no consensus as to which race is the Championship. Not even the Tour (sorry ASO).

- Closely related to the No Championship thingy, different teams, depending on where they are based, prioritize different races. Also different teams from different countries adopt their nation's management styles.

What all this means is that comparing teams is like like comparing apples and oranges. Even the biggest budget teams have differing goals and I hope in the next couple of posts to demonstrate that. This first post is about the Grand Tours and on the jump comes the GTT (remember when I wrote that acronym above? Now you are being tested!) followed by commentary...

So the GTT below ranks the top 15 teams (by VDS points) by each Grand Tour, with the right column combining the three races:


Giro Points Tour Points Vuelta Points Combined total Points
1. CSF 1415 1. Saxo 1665 1. Astana 2235 1. Astana 3085
2. Liquigas 1375 2. Columbia 1305 2. CdE 1355 2. Liquigas 2405
3. SDV-Scott 895 3. Rabobank 770 3. Quickstep 726 3. Saxo 2395
4. Astana 880 4. *Lotto 730 4. Cofidis 660 4. CdE 2160
5. Columbia 761 5. CdE 565 5. Saxo 590 5. Columbia 2066
6. LPR 595 6. AG2R 480 6 tie Lampre 445 6. *Lotto 1542
7. Quickstep 540 7. Garmin 470 6.tie X.Galicia 445 7. Rabobank 1510
8. Lampre 465 8. Euskatel 425 8. *Lotto 432 8. Quickstep 1441
9. SDA 385 9. Credit Ag. 345 9. Rabobank 425 9. CSF 1415
10. *Lotto 380 10. Liquigas 315 10. Liquigas 415 10. SDV-Scott 995
11. Tinkoff 355 11. Agritubel 300 11. Gerolsteiner 345 11. Lampre 945
12. Rabobank 315 12. Cofidis 280 12. Credit Ag. 260 12. Cofidis 940
13. CdE 240 13. FdJ 255 13. AG2R 190 13. Garmin 915
14. Saxo 140 14. Quickstep 175 14. FdJ 80 14. Euskatel 890
15. AG2R 130 15. Milram 135 15. Tinkoff 70 15. AG2R 800

This chart is meant to show which teams target the Grand Tours and, if you read between the lines, how they target the Grand Tours.

- Astana, with its Bruyneel/Armstrong leadership, targets the GC of the GT's big-time and their Combined #1 spot while missing the Tour underscores that. Just look at how they blew away their competition in the Vuelta. Reading Lance's remarks today in CN underscores that. They are the deepest GT tour team easily as you can see when you look how big the drop-off teams like Leeky, Saxo, and Caisse d'Epargne have in at least one of the Grand Tours. That drop-off won't happen to Astana this year. Their focus on the GC is maniacal.

- On the other hand, getting points in a Grand Tour is not only about competing for the GC, a point that I think Frinking was making yesterday when you look at his Grand Tour point totals. Grand Tours are just that, Grand. they have meaningful competitions within the overall competition, allowing less well-endowed teams to have hope if things break their way. Liquigas for instance benefited greatly from Benna while Quickstep, a team that no one associates with Grand Tours, does quite well even if their leader is doing blow, with other sprinters and stage hunters.

But the team that most illustrates a non-GC approach is Columbia, ranked #5 overall- and like Astana only competing in two Grand Tours last year. Their focus on stage wins is in its own way as maniacal as Astana's GC focus. The anti-Astana? The anti-Columbia?

- Another thing to look at here is the national focus of teams. We all know that Italy, France, and Spain have teams, quote good teams in fact, that keep their focus mainly on races within their nation. Sure, Xacobeo Galicia wants to get a Tour invite- but they won't be crushed like Astana or Columbia were when RSO announced that they would be excluded from last year's Giro. For them the Vuelta's the thing. Same with SDA (no way I'm writing THAT one out) or CSF or Agritubel. My next post in fact will focus on this national focus. 

But I think the national orientation goes further than that. The teams from a given nation compete in a certain way that's somewhat different than those teams from other nations. Furthermore the differences are not just the "Belgian teams focus on sprints and cobbles while the Basque Euskies focus on mountains," though that's true. Another level of difference is team organization. Columbia, Garmin, and Astana, all with a strong American team-orientated management approach are similar in this regard and share this with Danish Saxo- in marked difference with the Italian teams, the Belgians, and especially Rabobank. The French teams organize in a different way. It will be interesting to see Katyusha in action.

More in a couple of days.