As I lay sleeping last night I had a dream. I the dream Girbecco came to me and said, "Look at the teams you dummy." I woke up with a start, remembering those horns and what could be done with them (even if they are wearing socks) not to mention those eyes, but got right to work thinking about teams.
At times we get caught up with individual riders but if you think of it, practically every major race is won by a rider on the team that dominates that race. (Duh, says Girbecco.) And that's any kind of race. Just look at this year:
- The #1 Cobbles team, Quickstep, won the two biggest races, Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. All the other teams had to dance to their tune; only a couple teams could even think of matching up with them. Quickstep was dominant in part because they always had multiple legitimate threats to win.
- The #1 Ardennes team, Saxo Bank, just drilled the other teams at the biggest race, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Like Quickstep on the cobbles, Saxo could have won that race with any of three-four different riders probably- and that's not taking anything away from Andy Schleck. They never even had to play their last card, brother Frank.
- The #1 sprint team, Columbia, won MSR convincingly. They not only have the #1 sprinter but their lead-out is a thing of beauty.
- The #1 Stage team, Astana, raced in seven stage races, won three of them (California, Castilla y Leon, and Pais Vasco) and led for a good part of three others (Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Giro del Trentino) and is currently leading in an eighth (Romandie) with a B team. Only in The Jens! Invite (Criterium International) were they a non-factor because their leader there got sick and didn't start (Kloden).
Pictured: Girbecco smiles when we talk Grand Tour teams!
It goes without saying that teams are huge in the Grand Tours. It also goes without saying that the teams don't/can't use the same nine riders at each Grand Tour. Teams pick and choose which GT to prioritize. So what follows here is a look at the potential Grand Tour teams separately and rank them. What I mean by that is not to say something dumb like, Astana is a better GT team then Columbia, but to look at say the Astana Tour team separately from the Astana Giro and Vuelta teams since they will be different. Do the same for Liquigas, Euskaltel, Saxo, etc. I'm attempting to guess how dominant various teams will be at various Grand Tours. Confused? You'll catch on soon enough.
I'm gonna do the comparisons in a slightly different way too. I'm gonna assign numerical values to each team according to various criteria. That way, in theory (much like for Wily Coyote, Acme products work great-in theory) we can compare say, the Liquigas Giro team to the Saxo bank Tour team to see if they are truly competing or are they spreading themselves too thin across the three GT's.
Okay. I see you there thinking that since we don't know the make-up of even the Giro teams in fill much less the Tour and Vuelta teams, how can we do this? We do know where most of the major riders are going plus which Grand Tour(s) are the highest priority for a given team. Those priorities do change from year to year too and not just because ASO decides to exclude a team. Take Euskaltel last year. They put a lot of emphasis on the Tour with Sammy Sanchez. This year however, they are really putting almost all their eggs into the Vuelta. But there are some teams that we don't just know, like Rabobank in the Vuelta. If anyone has any help there, please put it in the comments.
So okay. Here's the numerical values I propose to assign:
5 points to a team for every legit podium contender racing.
2 points to a team for every legit top 10 contender racing.
1 point to a team for every legit top 20 contender racing.
(Riders only earn points from one category above so, say, Contador only earns points from the podium contender category and not the other two.)
3 points to a team that have good support riders-riders who can really climb and help defend a lead or attack if their leader is behind.
1 point for fair support. Can help sometime but can't be counted on at crunch time.
- 1 point if the team has a serious points competition threat.
[update] 1 point for a good DS; -1 point for a bad one.
[update #2] Home cooking bonus: 1 point if racing in home country.
Let's see how this point system works out. I won't do every team; maybe you can help some in the comments. I also want a critique of the system in the comments. Any suggestions on how to improve this will be welcomed!
Let's start with some home cooking:
Liquigas Giro team: 17 points
5 points for Basso, 5 points for Pellizotti, 1 point for Miholjevic, 1 point for Szmyd, 3 points for good support. 1 point for DS and 1 point at home.
Astana Giro team: 11 points.
5 points for Leipheimer, 1 point each for Armstrong and Brajkovic, 3 points for good support. 1 point for DS. (I can imagine either Brajkovic (mainly) or Armstrong being in the top ten, but the former is unproved at a Grand Tour and the later is still recovering and he's said he might not finish the race.)
Cervelo Giro Team: 7 points
5 points for Sastre, 1 point for fair support. 1 point for DS We'll see. Like their Cobbles team maybe this climby team will shock the world. I'm particularly interested in Gerrans. It's good that Hushovd opted out.
Rabobank Giro team: 7 points
5 points for Menchov, 3 points for good support, -1 point for including Browne. I have liked how Rabo has been supporting Menchov this year. Like Gerrans, Ten Dam could be a surprise.
Lampre Giro team: 11 points
5 points for Cunego, 2 points for Bruseghin, 3 points for good support. 1 point at home. I could be convinced of giving Cunego only 2 points here.
LPR Giro team: 3 points.
2 points for DiLuca. 1 point for fair support, -1 point fro Petacchi. 1 point at home.
Acqua & Sapone Giro team: 2 points
1 point for Garzelli. 1 point at home.
Caisse d'Epargne Giro team: 3 points
2 points for Rodriguez, 1 point for Moreno, 1 point for fair support, -1 point for JJ Rojas.
Columbia Giro team: 3 points
2 points for Rogers, 1 point for Lovkvist, 1 point for fair support, -1 point for Cavendish.
Diqui Giro team: 6 points
5 for Simoni, 1 for fair support, -1 for a sprinter. 1 point at home.
Saxo Giro team: -1 points
They have no one who's a legit top 20 threat. They have a sprinter, so that's -1. This team is not taking the Giro seriously.
Some Tour teams:
Astana Tour team: 18-20 points
5 points each for both Contador and Leipheimer, 2 points for Armstrong, 1 point for Horner, 1 point for Zubeldia, 3 points for good support. 1 point for DS. Oh 2 more points for Kloden if he rides.
Saxo bank Tour team: 12 points
5 points for one of Andy or Frank and 2 points for the other. 1 point for Chris Anker Sorensen, 3 points for good support. 1 point for DS I just can't see both Frank and Andy on the podium. 1 definitely, both no.
Cervelo Tour team: 7 points
5 for Sastre, 1 for Gerrans, 1 for fair support, 1 for DS, -1 for Hushovd and Haussler.
Rabobank Tour team: 10 points
5 points for Menchov, 2 points for Gesink, 1 point fro Ten Dam, 3 points for good support but -1 for Freire.
Columbia Tour team: 7 points
2 points for Kirchen, 2 points for Rogers, 3 points for good support and -1 point for Cavendish. 1 point for DS.
Silence Lotto Tour team: 6-11 points
5 points for Evans, 1 point for fair support and I have no idea what to make of Gilbert or Dekker. Those two could be legit in their own right and/or elevate support up to a 4. I'm totally clueless here.
Garmin Tour team: 5 points
2 points for Vandevelde, 1 point fro Hesjedal, 1 point for fair support. 1 point for DS Not sold on CVV as a legit Tour podium threat this year. I do like how Hesjedal's riding. Danielson? Wouldn't touch him in any race.
Liquigas Tour team: 4 points
2 points for both Kreuziger and Nibali, 1 point for fair support. -1 for Benna. Imagine if Liquigas had Nibali and Kreuziger in the Giro too.
Caisse d'Epargne Tour team: 4-6 points
2 points for Valverde if he races, 1 point for Arroyo and Lulu, 1 point for fair support. 1 point for DS. I do think Valverde is legit this year in the Tour, but then again CONI probably thinks otherwise. How exactly the team will function without Valverde is an interesting question, They could be like AG2R: a couple of top-15 guys. Or not.
And a couple for the Vuelta:
Euskaltel Vuelta team: 12-14 points
5 points for Sanchez, 2 points for Anton and Martinez, 1 point for fair support. 1 point for DS and 1 point at home. Only 1 point for support because when them mountains get real steep, I just don't like these guys other than Anton. If Cobo races, give them another deuce.
Caisse d'Epargne Vuelta team: 13-15 points
5 points for Rodriguez-unless Valverde races then he's a 2. 5 points IF Valverde races. 2 points for Moreno and 1 point for Arroyo. 3 points for good support. 1 point for DS. 1 point at home.
Astana Vuelta team: 7-17 points
5 points IF Contador races. 2 points for Brajkovic, 5 points for Kloden IF he races, 2 points for Zubeldia, 3 points for good support. Lotsa IF's here. Kloden has said that he's targeting the Vuelta, but we'll see about this pesky investigation.
Saxo Vuelta team: 8 points
5 for Andy Schleck IF he rides. 2 for good support IF Andy rides. 1 for Van Goolen
Xacobeo Galicia Vuelta team: 9 points
5 points for Mosquera, 2 points for Garcia, 1 point for fair support. 1 point at home. Remember, Zeke is out of the Giro which has to be a huge disappointment.
Fuji Vuelta team: 4 points
2 for Cobo, 1 for fair support. 1 point at home. Am I missing someone here????
So provisional top 10 Grand Tour teams this year:
1. Astana Tour team: 18-20 points
2. Liquigas Giro team: 17 points
3. Caisse d'Epargne Vuelta team: 12-14 points
3. Saxo bank Tour team: 12 points
5. Euskaltel Vuelta team: 12-14 points
5. Astana Giro team: 11 points
7. Lampre Giro team: 11 points
8. Rabobank Tour team: 10 points
9. Xacobeo Vuelta team: 9 points
10. Astana Vuelta team: 7-17 points. Vague here I know.
11. Saxo Vuelta team: 8 points- with a lot of caveats.
So what do you think of this grading system? Improvements?