Start of the season edition!
Plus a plea to Gavia and Veloki for a real cool graphic! Pleeeeeeeeeeeze? I'll use it again and again!
Given that it's March 1st, this poll is organized a bit differently. We haven't had enough races to truly separate the teams- but we have seen enough to see which teams are getting a jump on the season and which teams... not so much. So below I put teams into one of three self explanatory categories. Within each category, consider the teams equal.
Firing on all cylinders
- Cervello Test Team. With 5 wins in Qatar, California, Algarve and Het Nieuwsblad, Cervelo is off to the dream start they conceived of this winter. Heinrich Haussler's the poster boy for the team, going from C-list sprinter to B+ sprinter and Classics stud. But make no mistake- this is a team effort (outside of Carlos Sastre): Haussler, Hammond, Hunt, Hushovd (the 4 H club) Klier, Gerrans, Reimer, Rasch, and Pauwels have all been heavy contributers and no doubt we'll be hearing from others soon.
Cloud on the horizon: At Qatar, the team won the 1st stage, then none after that. At California, the team won the first sprint- then none after that. At Algrave the team won the 1st sprint.. then won the last one. In Belgium the team won Het Nieuwsblad, then not K-B-K. See a pattern? Since Cervelo is a new team, do the other teams need to see their tactics in action once before beating them? We'll see...
- Columbia High Road. It's not just Cavendish's four wins that put the team in the top category. You got Mick Rogers' 3rd on GC at California, 1st at the Australian ITT, 3rd on GC at TDU, and Eisel's 2nd at today's K-B-K. I see no reason why they won't lead all teams in victories again. Update: Greg Henderson wins today's Clasica de Almeria.
Cloud on the horizon- Well Kirchen's injury obviously. But even that might not be a problem as it gives Rogers a free run for GC spots and if the team adjusts Kirchen's season so that he puts in a heavy schedule post-Tour, there are a bunch of races he'd excel in (San Sebastian, Worlds, Lombardia, Vuelta).
Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni Androni Giocattoli- As long as they keep posting these results, the longer I'll keep writing out their full name. What have they done? 1st they literally blow away the Langkawi field in both the sprints (Mattia Gavazzi) and GC (Serpa). But that's just a taste. Next you have literally The Next Big Sensation In Cycling, aka Francesco Ginanni aka the next Bettini, scoring two 1sts at Laigueglia (over Pozzato among others) and at dell'Insubria. We next see Ginanni at Eroica.
But there's a big name rider on SDA too- Tin Tin. remember him? He warned up his engines with two stage wins at Andalucia, then today with a 2nd place at Lugano. He targets T-A next. This team is remarkably diverse and I'm looking forward to them at the bigger Italian races.
Cloud on the horizon- Will they ever race outside of Italy? It sucks enough that Tin Tin isn't in any of the Ardennes races; will they disappear after the Giro?
Astana- Just like we figured: the best stage racing team in the world. Leipheimer 1st at California. Contador 1st at Algarve- with Kloden 5th. Contador's favored at next week's Paris-Nice while Kloden should rate as a co-favorite at Tirreno-Adriatico. They will have the likes of, in no order, Horner, Brajkovic, Noval, Zubeldia, ad nauseam to back them up. Oh yeah- Armstrong too.
Cloud on the horizon- A) If Levi's sacrum is worse than expected that makes their depth just shy of You're ^%^&$%^&( cheating! levels. B) They don't put much into the Northern Classics but in Rast and Vaitkus they have two riders who should place in a couple of races. Now Vaitkus is out (elbow) and Rast is banged up.
-Quickstep- Not that bad. True Tom Boonen's become the go-to meal for Mark Cavendish. But Tornado Tom did win Qatar- again- and just won K-B-K. Tom barely missed Het Nieuwsblad too, with mainly that crash slowing him down. But taking into consideration that Syl Chavanel looks very strong in working for Boonen this weekend and we haven't even seen the #1 CQ rider for the year, Alan Davis the TDU winner, in Belgium, QS looks loaded for bear this month.
Cloud on the horizon- Is it all about Boonen? Will Chavanel have a chance to win? Not much to worry about here- at least until mid-April.
Francaise des Jeux- How long they stay in the penthouse is a question but between Ladagnous, Veikkanen and the TDU results they've done alright for themselves. Ladagnous: 4th at Haut Var, 9th at Eto ile de Besseges, and 7th at K-B-K. Veikkanen: 3rd at Haut Var, 9th at TDU. Sulzberger: 5th at TDU. Cherel: 10th at TDU.
Cloud on the horizon- The rest of the season.
Rest of the teams on the flip
Works in progress
Garmin- New season, new Pro Tour status. California was good to them: a nice 2nd on GC for Zabriskie at California (plus Danielson got 9th) plus Tom Peterson's stage win, offsets their otherwise very quiet opening to the season. Vandevelde's training was supposedly set back by a bad winter in Chicago, but what about Garmin's cobbles team or their Australians at TDU? meh. They did win the TTT at Qatar, but screwed up the TTT at Mediterranean, finishing 2nd and getting a tongue lashing by Vaughters. More results to come soon I think.
Liquigas- Benna's started off strong, winning three races and the overall at Sardegna, but nobody else has it seems. Basso? Not much. Nibali? Meh. Its a one man team so far. Pellizotti? You mean he hasn't retired?
Rabobank- The Dutch team's fantastic impression of the Dutch national soccer team continues. Great talent. Complete inability to get along with each other. Highlight so far: Posthuma's GC win at Andalucia. Lowlight: Pick either: K-B-K or Het Nieuwsblad. Both races saw Rabobank push the race with several riders with only a 5th and a 3rd to show for their efforts. Their lack of a closer with any sprinting ability is painfully obvious. Did anyone really expect Fletcha to stay away in K-B-K when he took his flyer with 5k to go? Okay Gesink rode a quite but good California and he was joined in his efforts by a very aggressive Mollema. But young talent we know they have. Results?
Katyusha- I fully expected to put them in the Firing on all cylinders- group until this weekend and their shut-out in Belgium and Switzerland with Ben Swift's 10th in Suburbia and his 7th at Lugano being the only decent results. What had made me optimistic was seeing early season wins by Steegmans, McEwen, Unibrow, and Colom. Also Pozatto's been consistently in the top 10 of his races. But top 10 isn't a goal for this squad. They need to step it up and in bigger races.
Cofidis- Moncoutie's had a nice start, which is the most one could hope for with this outfit.
BBBBBBBBBBweeg!- Voeckler's had a nice start, which is probably the most one could hope for with this outfit.
Okay. Bweeg's done a bit more as Trophy Mom snagged a 3rd at Besseges.
Saxo Bank- Yeah I heard that they're starting slow was due to their heavy winter training. Cancellara sure started off with a bang in California. Kroon looks like his normal Kroooooooooooon self at K-B-K. O'Grady finished 2nd on GC at TDU. Frank Schleck won the last California stage. Otherwise pretty quiet, with bad rumors of Frank Schleck swirling.
Lampre- Nice, inoffensive start to the season. Ballan 3rd on GC at Sardegna, while Lorenzetto won two stages there. Cunego's raced to an 11th at today's Lugano. Santambrogio got 8th at TDU. Like I said- inoffensive.
Milram- Ciolek did well in those Trofeo races, including winning the Trofeo Calvia. Otherwise he had a quiet 1st weekend on the cobbles. Nothing else to report from them.
Caisse d'Epargne- Well there's the Valverde circus. But Lulu Sanchez has started decently, leading Mediterranean, and Haut Var at various points- and [edit- Phil H] winning the GC at Mediterranean. JJ Rojas has been finishing in the top ten of nine stages so far, winning exactly none of them. I don't know. It feels like they could implode if Valverde goes down. J-Rod has started, but has yet to engage in the season. I think the team desperately needs him and Lulu to get some results soon.
*Lotto- HEL-LO? BELGIUM'S OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!! WANNA, LIKE SHOW UP?
Ask and ye shall receive. And look, it's blue! Love, Gav and Vee.