The first version of this ran on March 2, and set the baseline as follows:
- Quick Step
- Saxo Bank
- Silence! Lotto
Since then, there have been several major changes: startling results, injuries and illnesses, Katusha changed its official anglicized spelling, and so forth. Which makes for a drastically altered ranking: (previous ranking)
1. (1) Quick Step ↔
Well... except at the top. We have had three VDS-scored (re: important) races in Belgium so far and Quick Step have held serve in two of them, including today's schooling of the peloton. Not only did Boonen & co put three men in the final break, but two of them were the reigning champions of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. So are you going to focus on Kevin Van Impe? The nice thing for Lefevre is that Dwars isn't exactly their world championship, so Quick Step could afford to take a chance on Van Impe sealing the deal, which saves the burning of more precious matches, and results in even better team harmony (and tactics) when in fact KVI pulls it off. Could this have gone any better?
Rest of the Top Ten... on the flip:
2. (3) Rabobank ↑
Still probably pining for a finisher, and I love Boonen's comment today about hoping to finish off the race considering their having numbers up the road: "We had the numbers, but didn't want to do what Rabobank did in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad." Ouch. When your rivals are calling you out by name for chasing down your own breaks, you're not off to a great start. Still, Graeme Brown has been terrific, albeit in smaller events, winning Nokere-Koerse and taking second in the Ronde van het Groene Hart. Nuyens, Langeveld and Flecha are all flying right now. Hayman was solid today. All the pieces (except Freire) are in place.
3. (7) Cervélo Test Team ↑
I know someone will insist I switch them with Rabo, but it's important to distinguish individual results from team strength. The Knights of é are on fire right now, but I for one am wondering where this is headed. First, Haussler needs to keep his cool and get used to being worked over when Quick Step have riders on all sides of him. His effort today was valiant, but foolish. Why dig that deep for Dwars, when you're completely boxed in, and when there are three weeks left of cobbled races? I salute his form, but it won't last forever, and it really won't last forever if he keeps going vollgas every time he gets on the bike. Someone get him a race calendar. Next Hushovd: also going well, but he can't count on more last-km crashes or genuine sprinters' events from here on. Nice to see that Klier was in the early break; he needs to do more than just rack up quiet placings. Rollin and Hammonds are guys to watch.
4. (5) Team Columbia-High Road ↑
Marcus Burghardt, Marcel Sieberg and Bernhard Eisel were all patrolling the front today until Haussler's attacks shattered the elite chase group. Hincapie's work in San Remo was a great statement of his head and heart. Cavendish is almost certain to win any race where we think he can make the finale. I will be very curious to see how they find places for Boasson Hagen or Martin to do something. Anyway, they have the same cohesion as before, the year's first monument in their pocket, and two viable captains for the cobbles. So far, so good.
5. (4) Silence-Lotto ↓
Today was a good opportunity for Van Avermaet, but a crash more or less ruined his day. Fortunately for team morale Cadel Evans is stretching his legs in Italy, so they can point to something that has gone right. They still have a deep cobbles team, and it's too early to write them off, but the temperature in the team car is starting to rise, as it so often does in March/April.
6. (2) Saxo Bank ↓
Guests of honor at the pity party: losing Fabian Cancellara for most of the classics and Stuart O'Grady for all of them is cruel fate indeed. OK, Cancellara may return in time to contest his ideal race, Paris-Roubaix, but we shall see whether he can get his mojo back in time. Riis still has Arvesen and Kroon as his main weapons, plus the usual arsenal of competent guys like Hoj or Goss or Bak, but this is a big dropoff. I would be shocked if they won anything on the cobbles circuit this year. [UPDATE] Cancellara is racing at the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, so for now it's a question of how much form he can recover.
7. (8) Team Kat
Pippo Pozzato has been frisky, and Robbie McEwen won't go away, but they need to squeeze some results out of Gert Steegmans in order to shine this season. They can't count on guys like DeHaes, Swift, Joan Horrach or Antonio Colom to excel here. Not sure where this is headed.
8. (9) Milram ↑
The Terpstra-Velits tandem is growing ever more interesting, with either one or the other getting into contention regularly. But the races keep getting harder, and young riders are at a distinct disadvantage. Hopefully Gerald Ciolek will join in the excitement soon.
9. (6) Lampre ↓
The other pity party guest, losing Alessandro Ballan to the Curse of the Rainbow really put a damper on their spring. Or, well, the non-Cunego half of it. Gasparotto and Spilak are now fighting for their own placings, which isn't hopeless, but the job just got a lot harder.
10. (--) Skil-Shimano
Right now I would put Koen de Kort, Johnny Hivert, Kenny Van Hummel, et al, up against anything Liquigas has to offer. Welcome to the show, guys.