What? It's been only four days since the last Power Poll and you are wondering why we have another one since just one race has been raced? Get a hold of yourself! 33.33% of the races have elapsed and if you count calendar days, the season is 37.5% over!
Before we starting to rankin', I ask that you watch Cosmo Catalano's How The Race Was Won for both last year and this year because what he is saying and what I am about to say are similar and have everything to do with the rankings.
Okay, you back now? The number in parenthesis is the pre-race ranking for the team:
1) Omega Pharma Lotto (5)
What I said: Lotto gets placed high because of That One Guy, Phil-Gil.
What I say now: Who wins AGR has everything to do with teamwork and while Lotto may not have the best team on paper, they executed beautifully. First they had Staf Scheirlinckx in the break, allowing the team to sit back, while letting Saxo and Rabo drive the catch, thus allowing those guys to get tired. Thanks Saxo and Rabo!
Second, in the last 30 of so kilometers, when having teammates to work for their star being so important, Lotto had Jurgen Van den Broeck riding down a dangerous Sergui Ivanov break, probably the most dangerous break of the day. This again allowed their star to sit it a bit.
Finally, relatively rested, Gilbert rocketed past the field on the steepest part of the Cauberg. And I mean rocketed: compare the two videos and see how much faster Phil-Gil went compared to the Ivanov/Kroon death march the year before. Of course it helped that Gilbert, as Cosmo noted, was perfectly positioned for his drive to the line.
This team out-teamworked the others by a mile and Gilbert's win was not because of his fantastic form; the team was all over this win. They deserve the #1 spot for now and they are serving notice that you can't discount another win by them in the next two races. Van Den Broeck leading out Gilbert up the Mur seems like as good a strategy as any other team.
2. Katusha (1)
What I said: Katusha has...Sergui Ivanov, ...Joaquim Rodriguez...and Alexandr Kolobnev.
What I say now: Pretty much the same thing. They tried to get cute a bit and saved J-Rod for the next two races and relied on the two three Russians to cary the AGR day. (Vorganov, who finished 15th was useful too.) They came damn close to pulling it off too. I wonder if the two had switched places-Ivanov on the late break and Kolobnev in the pack-if they would have done better. Oh well, even well executed plans don't always succeed in the new Gilbert-dominated hilly Classics world. Unlike most of the other teams, their star for the last two races is relatively rested.
After Katusha here, things get sketch. The stronger teams wasted their depth and the weaker teams took advantage.
3. Saxo Bank (2)
What I said: Jens! will give it his all but with CA Sorensen injured and Cancellara taking a break, not to mention losing Kolobnev and Kroon, the workers for Saxo are much less than last year.
What I say now: yep, this team is down from last year and even getting back CA Sorensen wouldn't even things up. They badly miss a third serious threat that they had last year with Kroon. At AGR they helped Rabo and Lampre to bring back the break but that strategy only works if you have riders who are pretty guaranteed to take advantage of the work-and for this race at least-they didn't. The Schlecks were overmatched and I'm not sure of the shape Andy is in anyway.Still I am probably overstating their predicament as Frank did place 7th and Andy 18th. That's why they are still #3.
4. Garmin (in the 11-17 group)
What I said: has Ryder Hesjedal, 11th at LBL last year. Looks like he's in decent form and should be thought of as a dark horse. Other than that they got rookies and guys practicing for other races.
What I say now: Team-wise not much, but when your main man finishes 2nd you gotta be rewarded for smart riding. Kreder did come in 41st and they add Dan Martin for La Fleche. Gilbert's huge improvement in the climby races is the big story but Hesjedal has also shown newfound climby chops over the past year and he looked both strong and quite surprised how strong relative to the field on the Cauberg. With confidence he should remain a factor.
5. Liquigas (8)
What I said: Perhaps I should have ranked these guys lower until they get a good result. Kreuziger and Nibali are quite a 1-2 punch. But they haven't had a top placing yet though they were near the front at the races last year. Let's chalk that up to growing pains and predict that they will be solid top 10 contenders this year.
What I say now: Kreuziger gets that top 10 placing (5th) so up they go in the standings (with Nibali 21st). I see no reason why they can't duplicate this at La Fleche or LBL.
6. Astana (12)
What I said: ...Gasparotto will be a good helper.
What I say now: Like with Garmin's Hesjedal, Gaspa rode a smart race to wind up third. The bad news for this team was Iglinsky finishing 47th. I am thinking that he may be riding too many races. He started slow but since Strade Blanche, he's been constantly active. After all three Ardennes, he's got Romandie and the Giro on tap. I fear we'll see his emaciated body on the Zoncolan being picked at by ravens.
Anyway, between AGR and La Fleche, the team take on an almost completely different appearance. Iglinsky is around but Gaspa leaves (he's at Trentino) along with a couple others to be replaced by Contador and helpers. I'm saying with this ranking that I don't think Contador was hurt by the extra travel and we'll see if he can handle other riders on a mini-Mende climb. (Mende at Paris-Nice was 3 km @ 10.7% avg gradient; Mur de Huy is 1.3 km @ 9.3%.) After La Fleche they have Vino joining the team.
7. BMC (7)
What I said: Got Karsten Kroon and Cadel Evans. Nice 1-2 there though Kroon is only really good for AGR. Seems like the World Champ should win an Ardennes race once in his lifetime, doesn't it?
What I say now: Yeah Krooooooooooon got 9th and Evans 13th but I have a sour taste in my mouth. I think they should have done better. I think Evans was on much better form and he could have been on the podium if he wasn't working for Kroon. I would have liked it better if they were co-captains like the Leeky twins. And I wonder (Evans fans shut your eyes!) if the rigid team hierarchy is more because of Evans than anything. Like I said above, Lotto, Evans' old team, executed their plan flawlessly. None of the problems that they always got into in the Grand Tours-or in the Ardennes last year. I am wondering if that cloud is following Evans to his new team.
I am sure a bunch of you are upset that I just wrote that. He's in great form as Jens noted in the post-race thread. But until I see an Evans trade team put him over the top I'll keep my suspicions thank you and you fans will have to keep hoping against hope that he'll prove me wrong. Call me a hater and I'l keep pointing to the scoreboard.
8. Landbouwkrediet-Colnago (Seriously?)
What I said: I could put *crickets* here but that would be too generous. What was it that crickets evolved from?
What I say now: Hell, I don't know. De Waele looked good on the Cauberg; maybe he can do the same up the Mur? Probably not but this 8th place is for recognizing his achievement.
9. Lampre (6)
What I said: Cunego!
What I say now: Cunego!
10. Vacansoleil (11)
What I said: Has Matteo Carrera, 12th at LBL, 21st at AGR, and 26th at La Fleche. Leukemans could be a help here. And wither Hoogerland? No priors to speak of in the Ardennes but this is Johnny Hoogerland we are talking about.
What I say now: Forgot Marco Marcato, who was also 9th at E3. Oops! Leukemans was 24th. I don;t see why they won't be around the rest of the week.
11. Caisse d'Epargne (3)
What I said: Besides AV, there's Lulu...
What I say now: Volcano! So they get an incomplete for AGR. La Fleche? Seems like they should send Lulu on a flyer at 15 km out, use the rest of the guys to block, and if it comes together at the bottom of the Mur (not a given if Lulu is TTing) then they release Valverde. Seems simple, but I'm not sure if they will think of it with Valverde around.
12. Radio shack ( in the 13-17 ghetto)
What I said: has Horner who just won Pais Vasco. Chris should make some noise. Surprisingly they don't have Jani "I got 2nd!" Brajkovic starting.
What I say now: Yeah, still no Jani, but Horner raced a solid 10th and Zubes clocked in at 17th. Not bad at all and so they get a raise. They add Kloden to their La Fleche lineup.
Off the list
- Rabobank (4): Miss Congeniality award for setting up all the other teams. Hopefully Gesink will come back. Hopefully Friere isn't messing with the team.
- Quickstep: Chavanel and Barredo were present if not threatening.
- Cervelo: meh
- Androni: meh
- Euskaltel: Maybe Anton can keep his form.