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Saxo Bank: The Un-Astana

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Tour_1__mediumYesterday I went on a fairly elaborate rant against the situation at Team Astana (acknowledging that they still may win the Tour). Aside from the money troubles, Bazayev's suspension and the drop in wins, Astana just don't look like the kind of cohesive unit you'd like to have on hand to win a grand tour.

I'll posit Saxo Bank as the polar opposite of Astana. Here's a short list of Saxo riders for le Grand Boucle:

  • Andy Schleck
  • Fränk Schleck
  • Fabian Cancellara
  • Jens Voigt
  • Chris Anker Sørensen
  • Nicki Sørensen
  • Jakob Fuglsang
  • Matti Breschel
  • Kurt Asle Arvesen
  • Gustav Larsson
  • Stuart O'Grady

Two names will need to come off that list, but you get the idea. What Bjarne Riis enjoys, and Johan Bruyneel does not, is a team where everyone knows exactly where they stand. Andy Schleck is the protected GC rider. Fränk and Larsson are sort of protected guys, just in case, while Breschel and Cancellara are free to do a limited amount of stage hunting. But assuming the plan works, as it did so perfectly in 2008, the Schlecks (and Larsson?) would conceivably get in position for results, while guys like O'Grady, Cancellara, one or both Sørensens, Arvesen and Voigt would work to control the pack, or rip its legs off, when it suits Andy's needs.

Recent history shows no ego issues, no confusion about how to deploy the plan, no reason for Andy to look over his shoulder. Yes, it's his first go-round as a Tour leader, so there is much that can go wrong, but every team lives with uncertainty. Even Bweeg could wake up one day with the yellow jersey. You never know. But that aside, Riis has once again put together a strong, versatile, and almost certainly cohesive unit that will rank as one of the race's most threatening. Will Astana win anyway? Probably, though if so it will be more about Contador > Schleck than how the teams stack up.

Is there a better Un-Astana team out there?