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Half Way Home

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[Doing this in pieces, thanks to some travel...]

Today marks the halfway point in the Cycling season, by any measure I can think of. Counting half of January and half of October, that's 4.5 months down, 4.5 to go. As far as major milestones, we have the classics and the first grand tour in the books, with the rainbow stripes, maillot jaune and Vuelta remaining. So where's the party?

Plenty of other sports mark their halfway points in enjoyable ways. My favorite is baseball, which stages a nice celebration of skill stuff, and puts on a good show of a game, more or less. Basketball and hockey have followed suit too. Football can't, for practical reasons, and soccer doesn't really do anything besides tell everyone to go home for Christmas, but even that is pretty awesome since the sport doesn't really have an off-season. 

Cycling? Nothing. If I were in charge of the sport I would summon everyone to Aigle for a few days of skills contests, maybe a circuit race, with some sort of meaningful prize, although I get that the UCI does that later. Still, putting the sport's stars on a single stage is a great spectacle, so we'd think of some way to put them to use. A bidon carrying contest or a downhill race (heavily padded) or maybe some cross racing. Nothing dangerous. And everyone would have fun, because they need to be in Switzerland or southeastern France the following weekend anyway. Bah!

Anyway, another reason why baseball is home to my favorite midseason break is that the halfway point has real meaning. Unlike the sports where post-season invitations are given out like lollipops, in baseball the All Star Break is a chance to take stock of your season. With eight playoff berths for 30 teams, there is no hiding from the creeping sense of doom overtaking any franchise with a losing record, while for teams on the winning end, only rarely can they relax; the smart ones choose to reload instead. 

Cycling's goals aren't awarded at season's end, per se, and there's no such thing as trades. But the mid-point isn't a bad time to assess what's gone right or wrong -- whether your sponsors should be fretting and whether you need to start returning more agent calls for 2012. So let's do this... in a few parts, starting with the American squads.

BMC

Top Stories: A lot of effort for no results in the classics. Taylor Phinney picked the wrong month to have a sore knee, since it ruined his Paris-Roubaix debut. Cadel Evans has looked very solid, racking up the team's only wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie. And, you can't help wonder what the various doping investigation distractions are doing to the team's concentration and morale. If nothing else, it ruined their Giro plans.

Star So Far: Evans, for his Romandie win. He's been as good as can be and while Contador's presence means he can't realistically imagine winning the Tour, Cadel should be a major factor. Greg Van Avermaet looked like a serious threat to start winning Belgian races again.

Stories to Watch: Evans at the Tour. Phinney at the worlds (time trial). The whole team at the Tour de Suisse.

Make Me An Angel Who Flies: up Sierra Road. Are they intending to make a big splash in the US? Steve Morabito is a nice rider, but his 8th place in the Tour of Cali didn't get them any headlines. Phinney will, soon, when he's fully fit. But the cobbles squad could use someone a little more veteran than Taylor, and maybe a little less veteran than Hincapie.

One down, three to go... on the flip!

Garmin-Cervelo

Top Stories: Nobody got more attention in victory and defeat this spring. The flood-the-field approach to the classics could use some refining, at least if people are going to leave them alone. The Giro was a mix of nice rides and nightmares. The World Champion is still seeking his first victory in rainbow.

Star So Far: Johan Van Summeren. One day, one ride, and one marriage proposal was worth a good six months of headlines. 

Stories to Watch: how Tyler Farrar responds to losing his best friend. Their whole Tour is shrouded in mystery, from Farrar's fitness to the team approach to green, or stages, or the GC... or who's even on the squad.

Make Me An Angel Who Flies: Over hellingen. The team's makeup was exposed in Flanders when they had plenty of muscle but couldn't put anyone under pressure. Paris-Roubaix was a better match, but that's just one day; Flanders is a mini-season. Unlike BMC, though, they just need a veteran puncher to fill the 2-3 year gap before Sep Vanmarcke takes over.

HTC

Top Stories: Leading the universe in victories (rinse, lather...). John Degenkolb has more wins than Mark Cavendish. Tony Martin has more wins than Mark Cavendish. Die Mannschaft!

Star So Far: Degenkolb and Matt Goss, each with five wins. Obviously Goss's win in MSR is the headliner, but Degenkolb is arriving ahead of schedule.

Stories to Watch: Cav's contract. The team looks as cohesive as ever, but Sky will come calling, no doubt.

Make Me An Angel Who Flies: up the Alps. I know, grand tour competitors don't fall from the sky. But it's still a bit odd that HTC can't make more of a play in the three-week events. Peter Velits' third in the Vuelta looks like a fluke so far. Tejay Van Garderen can't be put in that position for a couple more years, minimum, in the best-case scenario.

Radio Shack

Top Stories: Tied with Garmin for fourth in victories, the Shack can be said to have had a fantastic first half, all things considered. Like, the fact that they don't normally target anything before Cali, where they delivered a classic Bruyneel drubbing to the peloton.

Star So Far: The kids: Ben Hermans, Jesse Sergeant, Ben King, Matthew Busche and Manuel Cardoso, who collectively lower the average age of the team by about six years. And they're pretty good too. 

Stories to Watch: Can this old formula translate into anything at the Tour? It's a little jarring to see the US Postal/Discovery squad from 2005 still plying its trade at the 2011 Amgen Tour. Sort of like watching Ronaldo at Corinthians. Also, I really hope Fumy Beppu gets in the right break at the Tour. A Japanese stage win would be one of the top stories of the year.

Make Me An Angel Who Flies: around Belgium. Seb Rosseler was his usual self, but if the Shack are going to move on from the same old guys doing the same old thing, a classics run would be nice.