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2009 Year-End Cobbles Power Poll!

Powerpoll_mediumThe Scheldeprijs is still left on the schedule, but I'm going to jump the gun and roll out the final Cobbles Power Poll. After all, what could possibly happen on this flat course that would change the top five results? If you've left it to the Scheldeprijs to save your season, it's beyond salvation. So let's make this year's poll final, and do a little looking ahead.

1. (1) Quick Step ↔

I won't bore you with more speculation about whether Boonen and Devolder can coexist on this team. Assume they will, and next year's results will be in danger of looking eerily familiar. I do wonder whether Chavanel likes his new arrangement, but even there it may be too late to seek an alternative. Anyway, Lefevre got his quarry, and now he spends the rest of the year looking for ways to keep his guys happy. Chav and Boonen go stage- or (minor) jersey-hunting at the Tour; Devolder probably has a few chronos or small stage races on his menu; Weylandt should get captaincy for a slew of Low Country B-list events; etc.

2. (2) Cervélo Test Team ↔

The Knights of é were simply an unbelievable revelation all spring. I'm sure I cannot fully appreciate how hard it is to make a team out of whole cloth and have it perform at this level right out of the chute... so I'll just assume it's damn hard. Aside from a few regrets here and there (Thor and the barriers, for one), they surely feel great about what they accomplished and will be counting the days til Het Whatever, 2010. Whether they add further reinforcements, I dunno, they can probably just keep bringing along some of the kids on staff.

3. (3) Team Columbia-High Road ↔

Solid campaign, all things considered, but along with a few of youse guys I see their cobbles squad at a bit of a crossroads. The question is, how long can they continue to support George Hincapie as Plan A? Hincapie clearly intends to keep going, and he strikes me as enough of a realist to cede authority back to the team (assuming he had it to begin with). Columbia are deep and talented, moreso than Cervelo, but their top guys are generally on either side of their peak years (whereas Cervelo's main men are all peaking). I would dearly love to see Burghardt and Boasson Hagen leading the classics team, up front and taking chances, with Hincapie waiting in the wings as the wildcard. Take this squad, swap in Cavendish here and there, and you have a chance at a brilliant campaign. In any event, as Boasson Hagen and Burghardt continue to grow, Stapleton has to invest in them with trust and responsibility, so they don't feel tempted to look elsewhere for their chance. So not being too hung up on Hincapie and that feel-great story that never seems to happen is a big key.

4. (4) Silence-Lotto ↔

It is what it is. I agree with whomever it was who said that they need to outsource Leif H\o/ste, for the sake of the team's sanity and a few riders' chances. Johan Van Summeren wasted a brilliant day Sunday nursing that little whiner to the line. Just once, rather than spending his time with the media complaining about people, I'd like to hear him say how grateful he is to Van Summeren and how, you know, those are the breaks. Personalities aside, he's 32 and his days of winning anything important are pretty much over, even before you look around and see who he's racing against. Van Summeren, meanwhile, is entering his prime, and he might just be a Backstadt-style Paris-Roubaix specialist, big horse that he is. Van Avermaet seems to have gone backward a bit and is in danger of being too sprinty to win the cobbles races, but not exactly the next Cavendish. We'll give him another year or two though before deciding.

5. (5) Team Katusha ↔

Filippo Pozzato's outstanding run of form should give the Russian Oil Boys something to feel quite confident about, and to build around. Unlike Cervelo they didn't gel as a monster squad overnight, in part because they could never get Gert Steegmans going. He was sorely missed. But Katusha can outspend about ten teams combined, so if there are cobbles aces to be bought this fall, I'd be surprised if one or two didn't make a grab for the rubles. [Do rubles still exist? Does asking this question make me sound old?]

6. (7) Saxo Bank ↑

This rating is strictly about 2009, and Saxo Bank didn't have it. Unlike some teams, it's not their fault; losing Stuart O'Grady and Fabian Cancellara was simply too much. Cance played the confidence game throughout Holy Week, but it takes more than confidence to get you to the Roubaix Velodrome, and a fully fit Cancellara does NOT get dropped like that. Good efforts by Breschel especially, showing he's a threat to follow the front group home (and outsprint them), which is a big development for 2010 when O'Grady, bless him, will be 37. Riis' teams have provided the power balance in past years that was sorely missing this spring, so their return to form will be a BIG relief.

7. (6) Rabobank ↓

All I can do is ask our Dutch friends if they can explain why Rabobank never really got it going. I understand Langeveld was sick this past week. Oscar Freire gives them a dangerous sprinter to be marked, so his absence really hurt. Flecha, Nuyens, Posthuma... these guys are all B-list to me. Nuyens' results were about as good as you can expect, I suppose. To be clear, I don't dislike them; if anything I like them too much and keep wanting them to do more than perhaps they are currently capable of. What would be ideal is for them to develop one of the kids into a cobbles ace, but the guys in my Coming Dutch Hegemony series are heavier on climbers than cobbles. Except for Maaskant and Terpstra, who aren't riding for the home team.

8. (9) Liquigas ↑

Quinziato rode quite well last week, and Kuschynski and Willems got their results, but there's little to say about the "cobbles team," other than that management hasn't completely overlooked this discipline. Look for Lampre to assume the token Italian team slot next spring. And look for Alessandro Ballan to wipe away this year's spring tears with a ripping 2010.

9. (8) Garmin ↓

There's a separate post on this squad below, and I don't want to step on it. I will only add that Maaskant's 4th places in both de Ronde and Paris-Roubaix speak of future success, rather loudly. This year they learned lessons. 'Nuf said.

10. (tie) Vacansoleil/Lanbouwkrediet ↑

Leukemans was perhaps the best of the Continental pros this year, but both teams did well to show themselves and bag some respectable placings throughout Holy Week. I won't insult your intelligence by trying to guess wildly at what lies ahead for either.