Time to check in on how the transfer season is shaping next year. A little background... yes, the transfers are individually well known, but this is a look in on the collective effect. And OK, sure, if you're a professional tifoso, sitting in a cafe in Utrecht hitting refresh on cyclinglinks.nl, then even this may be old news. But for many of us -- casual fans, people struggling to preview fall races on their coffee breaks, etc. -- those stories took shape piecemeal during the late summer/fall crunch, and are worth digesting in more detail now. So here goes. [And no, Transferbecco is not available to assist me.]
v.2009: A looming presence. Dave Brailsford, Scott Sunderland, and more GB Pounds than you could stuff under your mattress. Am I going to have to say something nice about Rupert Murdoch soon?
v.2010: Ah, riders... While Sky have been extremely active in real life (almost as active as they were in the rumor mill), the team is clearly a work in progress. It's a nice mix of young (Boasson Hagen, Thomas, Possoni, Serge Pauwels) and veteran (Arvesen, Gerrans, Flecha). It's also decidedly Brit and Scandinavian accented, with a focus on classics and short stage races. Thomas Lovkvist is the leader for the climbs, though he doesn't fit the grand tour billing yet. Boasson Hagen is the biggest star, though his youth probably means the team will stop short of giving him full leadership. Arvesen may indeed be the real captain while shepherding his countryman protege around the biggest classics this spring.
Holiday Wish List: For 2010 to hurry up and end? If the team's motivation is to showcase British cycling and inspire the citizenry to take to their bikes in time for the London Olympics, then Brailsford can be forgiven for openly salivating over the day next year when Wiggins and Cavendish become free agents. [2011 for Cav.] Sky could try to make major moves now, but their ideal scenario might be worth waiting for instead.
I think I'll go in reverse alphabetical order. To the flip, shall we?
Team Saxo Bank
v.2009: Standard Riis fare, covering every race with depth and at least one true threat to win. Cancellara's injuries put a damper on the Cobbles team, but from Liege-Bastogne-Liege onward Saxo were their usual excellent selves, a close second on points to the Columbian juggernaut. Jakob Fuglsang's development was the biggest story, but mostly this team belonged to Cancellara and the Schlecks.
v.2010: Their depth has taken a hit, and the emergence of Sky as a competitor for Scandinavian talent must be a bit unnerving. Also, surely there was some consternation over Rasmus Guldhammer going to Columbia-HTC. But cycling teams don't have geographic rights, and anyway Riis' comfort zone -- a veteran, hard-riding nucleus -- has a few good seasons ahead of them, at least.
Holiday Wish List: A little more backup for Tony in the cobbled classics. Actually, a healthy Stuart O'Grady might do the trick.
v.2009: Or is it Team The Shack? God, that would suck. Anyway, I suppose you could argue that it didn't exist, but of course it did, just under a different set of colors. The Bruyneel Model is all about loading up for the grand tours without a shred of restraint. Of course, when you only meaningfully contest one of the three grand tours, despite having enough riders for at least five GT squads, it raises some uncomfortable questions. Like, do Bruyneel and Armstrong have an unhealthy relationship to the Tour de France? Of the I-know-better-but-can't-stop-myself variety? They do, and everyone knows it: you, me, them, even ASO. But hey, it's their money, not mine.
v.2010: It's tempting to just call this the wayback machine version of a Bruyneel team -- everyone but that annoying Contador guy -- but it is worth noting that they should be a presence in a few classics as well, with Vaitkus a B-list cobbles guy along with Steegmans and Rosseler, plus Lance and young gun Ben Hermans in the Ardennes. One wonders where exactly this is going; JB and Lance seem like a one-trick pony, and that trick, along with the ponies, is getting rather old. But I will give them credit: the Trek/Livestrong development team is evidence that they're building for the future, when it's finally time to pack away US Postal for good.
Holiday Wish List: Honestly, I can't think of anything. There are plenty of needs, but I don't know if Bruyneel is interested, and I'm not overly interested if they aren't.
v.2009: I tried to believe in these guys this year, and what did they do? Racked up eight wins... fewer than Seoul Cycling, Colombia es Pasion, and Azad University Iran. As to who they are, the most you can say is that they're distinctly German, which is a good model for them even if it hasn't paid off yet. At all.
v.2010: More of the same, sitting around waiting for Ciolek to accelerate or Gerdemann to climb away. Both riders seem just short of great to me, which is too bad, because for all their Germanness Milram are not bringing home the bigger stars. Tony Martin isn't walking through that door anytime soon. Marcus Burghardt went to BMC. Perhaps they like the kids they're bringing in better. Or maybe they don't have the money or cachet to ramp up. Anyway, hope for better luck next time. [Good point in the comments: it's still early for Ciolek. And he might end up more of a classics stud than a pure sprinter.]
Holiday Wish List: A guardian angel for Gerdemann. Also the return of the DeutschlandTour would help them immensely.
v.2009: Kind of an unhappy mess, but then things are never easy in Year One of a team's existence. I suspect they can avoid further internal madness (stop hiring alleged dopers), though you never know. Anyway, they were a random classics team with an April pedigree, and had Pozzato gotten past Boonen in northern France they'd have been celebrating a great spring.
v.2010: Katusha are officially an Ardennes juggernaut, and maybe a minor threat in the hilly stage races. Serguei Ivanov probably has a few more efforts left, and now can enjoy the sight of Kim Kirchen and Joaquim Rodriguez alongside. Well, maybe... how these guys mesh remains to be seen. Certainly Rodriguez is coming to Katusha thinking he'll get his chance to shine, after years in the shadows. Anyway, there are worse problems to have. Pozzato may still be a tad exposed on the cobbles, but if Joan Horrach is healthy maybe Pippo will be OK.
Holiday Wish List: Oh, they'd love to go shopping for a Tour de France winner. Barring that, another cobbles guy, healthy sprinters, and the official start of the Sochi Tour. Like Milram, the exposure of a major stage race on home soil would do a world of good.
v.2009: Needs little introduction: a classics and stage-winning juggernaut unseen since the Mapei days. The grand tours eluded them, thanks to a roster that featured youth and sprints over experience and climbing, but you can't have everything in today's Cycling world.
v.2010: After the mass exodus that saw Boasson Hagen, Lovkvist, Burghardt, Hincapie, Possoni and Henderson, you could be forgiven for thinking of Columbia-HTC as a helpless feeder system for other teams, nurturing young talent only to see it snatched away. But the Guldhammer signing indicates something more sustainable -- Columbia-HTC are in fact occupying a unique niche focused on giving young riders a development opportunity they simply can't find anywhere else. Guldhammer told Cyclingnews that he didn't want to spend his development time as a system rider for Riis, hammering away for other guys, when he could be at Columbia riding a program designed to suit his specific needs. Obviously such a program won't immediately translate into success at the biggest races, where experience is so critical, and they won't be able to retain everyone they develop. But if they can hang on to a few of their top projects along the way, those bigger goals aren't out of reach.
For now, though, the team got a lot younger in the last few months, so unless Guldhammer and Jan Ghyselinck and Tejay Van Garderen can accelerate their learning process (not recommended), Columbia are looking much more like a sprint squad with little else. Tony Martin can chase after short stage race wins and continue to learn his way around France in July, but their classics team has been gutted, and will call more on Cavendish to make it to the end of any race he possibly can. The Velits boys might make a difference, with Peter someone who might just be ready to make the leap. We'll see.
Holiday Wish List: Contador might seem like a logical fit, given the big void, but I have no reason to suspect that would happen. Really, they ought to be looking for some protection for Martin to see what he can do in the Giro or Vuelta. But even there, they have plenty of talent already on hand (Monfort, Rogers, Albasini, Siutsou) to cover things.
v.2009: A large stable of mostly Dutch stars, mostly young, and capable of winning everything you can think of (though they usually won't).
v.2010: A large stable of mostly Dutch stars, mostly young, and capable of winning everything you can think of (though they usually won't). Seriously, virtually no changes other than booting the unhappy Juan Flecha and calling up a couple more kids from their endless talent pipeline. And another year older should translate into a few more wins.
Holiday Wish List: Um, if Rabo managers aren't salivating over Johnny Hoogerland, there's something wrong with them. Pairing him with Gesink, Ten Dam and Mollema would be like a cycling remake of Young Guns. Only cooler. Unfortunately Vacansoleil are a real team, so the Hoogie Heist isn't likely. Apparently there's some history which is described in the comments and constitutes a permanent wedge between Hoogie and his former employer from his junior days. See what I mean about professional tifosi sitting in Utrecht cafes?
v.2009: Defied the usual jokes about their season being over in April with a San Sebastian win and some noise from the latest Belgian Climbing Sensation, Kevin Seeldraeyers. That said, they delivered on the Cobbles again. And Boonen's journey away from the bunch sprint world took several big steps.
v.2010: Virtually no change, so far. Apparently the scuttlebut among the kids is that QSI isn't a place to develop, because the young Belgian talent seems to be avoiding Patrick Lefevre like the plague. The biggest story will continue to be Devolder's role vis-a-vis Boonen, followed by Boonen's possible transition away from the stage sprint game and toward... not sure. More time trialing? Stage races without major climbs?
Holiday Wish List: A veteran climber. Maybe even one who has a few Tours under his belt? The Contador rumors don't seem overly likely to me, more like a marriage of convenience. Either way, Quick Step have apparently held back some money and roster spots in case, and when Contador comes to his senses, Lefevre can use that money and freedom to build some depth instead.
v.2009: Like Rabobank, a team that does everything... poorly for about three months, after which they did everything unbelievably well. Tyler Farrar gave them a top-end sprinter in the stage battles. Bradley Wiggins and Christian VandeVelde comprised one of the best Tour tandems on the planet. Martijn Maaskant was an excellent fourth in Flanders. And they often seemed to have a guy like Hesjedal or Daniel Martin or David Millar on the prowl for a result.
v.2010: Could be a great, great year. Vaughters fortified his strengths by adding Frederik Kessiakoff and Johan Van Summeren, two extremely useful all-rounders, plus Robbie Hunter for the sprint squad and Jack Bobridge for the development gang. Maaskant may still be exposed on the Cobbles, depending on how they want to deploy Van Summeren, though they would make a capable duo, to say the least.
Holiday Wish List: There are no shortage of rumors concerning Alberto Contador coming on board, along with some clear reasons why it would work better than the Astana overstock did. Til it happens, Garmin have enough to be happy about.
v.2009: See Team The Shack for half of the story. The other half consisted of Alberto Contador dominating the Tour de France and a few other races (while seeming briefly human in Paris-Nice). Max Iglinsky enlivened the hilly classics on occasion, and Alexandre Vinokourov enlivened the media for the final month or so.
v.2010: The Contador Saga will determine whether this is Vino's team entirely, or something worth paying attention to, at least in July. David de la Fuente would be the top lieutenant in the climbing stages, presumably, which is nice to have. Otherwise, Contador will have replaced the unpleasantness of Team Lance with a far less potent, but more devoted, support gang.
Holiday Wish List: An end to the story. At this point, any ending will do.
[Gavia will be following up with a check-in on the other half of the Big Teams. Stay tuned!]