Writing about Tony Martin and the whole "greatest ever" subject got me thinking back to his former team, before he came into his own under Patrick Lefevre's Quick Step leadership. He was yet another of those High Road boys, and damn, there were a lot of them. High Road was, of course, the moniker Bob Stapleton gave to his project once he bought the whole shop from T-Mobile in 2007. Pretty quickly they were Team Columbia, then Columbia-HTC and finally just HTC-High Road... and then silence. Along the way they topped out at 85 victories in a single season, with 77 the previous year. Most years, anything over 50 is a positively massive number. Omega Pharma-Quick Step are presently up to 60 for this season. Columbia-HTC's lowest total was 56.
Here's who rode for them over their four massively successful years.
Michael Albasini, 08-11
Then: Steady point scorer, most likely back in Switzerland or in a one-week stage race. He gets hot on occasion and can be hard to stop. Useful in team time trials too.
Now: Won the Volta a Catalunya in 2012 for Orica-GreenEdge to underscore his tendencies. He disappears a lot, but remains a fixture in the back end of the Top 100 rankings.
Lars Bak, 10-11
Then: Part of the classics and TTT squad, a very useful rider who can handle all terrains and in a flat stage race (e.g. ENECO) capable of a significant result. Fifth in 2011 Paris-Roubaix.
Now: Enjoying the autumn of his career at Lotto-Belisol, still grabbing the odd result while taking care of his mates often enough. Second in Danmark Rundt this year. No more results in the monuments though.
Michael Barry, 08-09
Then: Similar to Bak, a guy who sneaks in an occasional result that makes you take notice, such as eighth in the Beijing Olympic road race, but mostly a team helper and TTT functionary.
Now: Retired after two more years at Sky, playing system rider.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, 08-09
Then: Arrived with great expectations from Team Maxbo-Bianchi, and immediately began raising them even further. His age-22 season (2009) saw him win Gent-Wevelgem, the ENECO Tour, the Tour of Britain, two stages in Poland, his national ITT title, and a stage of the Giro d'Italia. It's difficult to overstate the extent to which he was seen as the next big, big winner. He left as the #6 ranked rider in the world... before his 23rd birthday.
Now: Left for Sky in 2010, where in hindsight he fit in very well, managed to pick his spots, and continued scoring excellent results, such as two really great stage wins at the 2011 Tour de France and the 2012 GP Ouest France-Plouay. I say in hindsight, because at the time he was criticized (by me, among others) for choosing a system squad instead of one that would feature him more prominently. From there, injuries have limited his success the last two seasons, and he's off to MTN-Qubehka next year to perk up his career.
Then: Roster-filler. Pretty good all-rounder.
Now: Did OK in a season at Quick Step before dropping down to Pro-Conti level.
Marcus Burghardt, 08-09
Then: Like Boasson Hagen, he was a young winner of Gent-Wevelgem (23), albeit before joining High Road, where he was a classics/TT/leadout guy. Bagged a Tour stage win to boot.
Now: Jumped with Hincapie to BMC as part of that team's transformation into wealthy juggernaut. The results stopped coming after a couple more shots at riding for himself in the classics, but he's still an excellent team guy (he makes BMC's Tour team routinely) and occasionally threatening to score points.
Mark Cavendish, 08-11
Then: A young mega-speedster aiming to upset the world order. By the time he was done, Zabel had retired, Boonen had switched his focus to just the classics, and Petacchi had yielded the title of World's Fastest Human, albeit not without a fight. Cav's last act as a member of the team was to win the 2011 World Championships. Prior to that, he won six stages of a single Tour, plus Milano-Sanremo, points jerseys in the Vuelta and Tour, and stages of all three grand tours.
Now: Spent a weird season at Sky, where you'd think the familiar surroundings would have been helpful, but he couldn't capitalize on having the Olympics on home soil, and eventually found the Sky focus on yellow detrimental to his chances. Switched to Quick Step, and regained his form, before crashes messed up this season.
Gerald Ciolek, 08
Then: German road champion at age 19, U23 World Champion at age 20... Ciolek migrated over with the T-Mob and showed potential, coming second in two Tour stages.
Now: I can't recall much about his move to Milram, but am guessing that Columbia simply had too many mouths to feed. Cav over Ciolek was a wise enough choice, but Ciolek eventually revived his prospects following four forgettable years with Quick Step and Milram by winning Milano-Sanremo in MTN-Qubekha colors.
Scott Davis, 08
Then: Domestique, seemed to have a sprint on him. I assume they used him in leadouts?
Now: Retired after seasons at FlyV and Astana.
John Degenkolb, 11
Then: Raw kid with a ton of talent. HTC scarfed him up in 2011, his age-22 season, presumably as their guy to take over from Cavendish, should the team have found a way to continue. By season's end he had an impressive Vuelta under his belt and was ready for takeoff.
Now: Moved to Argos-Shimano, now Giant, and now completely awesome. As a 25-year-old he will end the season ranked in the top five or so world-wide, with wins in Gent-Wevelgem, Vuelta stages and points comp, and second in Paris-Roubaix. Already a star, just a question of whether he can make it to "superstar" status.
Zakkari Dempster, 11
Then: Called up to the big leagues as the team was winding down. Sprinter type with a good time trial. Which is to say, Australian.
Now: In his third year at NetApp, he's got Vuelta and Tour finishes on his resume as well as some cobbled classics, but no great results.
John Devine, 08
Then: Young trainee billed as a future stage racing hopeful.
Now: Disappeared from the sport after his stint with HTC. If anyone knows why, please feel free to elaborate.
Gert Dockx, 09-10
Then: Trainee/domestique. Got a shot at smaller races up north. Good at everything but not likely to score points.
Now: Stuck with Lotto as a semi-climby domestique.
Bernhard Eisel, 08-11
Then: Yet another sprinter, only one who read the writing on the wall and volunteered for leadout and secondary sprinting duties, performing them brilliantly. After the mini-exodus of BMC guys, Eisel became something of a captain, as well as the team's big cobbles guy. Notwithstanding his modest potential there, he won Gent-Wevelgem in 2010 and finished 7th in Paris-Roubaix the next year.
Now: Same role over at Sky. He's still good for some points and an outside chance for the win in a cobbled classic. Third in E3, 10th in MSR, always hovering in the top 20 somewhere in Roubaix. Solid leadout for the odd Sky sprint. The kind of teammate every squad could use.
Caleb Fairly, 11
Then: Poached from Garmin after a decent debut, including third in the Giro della Toscana. Contributed little in that sole season.
Now: Back to Garmin, where he has been roster filler for the climby races. His position going forward is uncertain, given the roster crunch after merging with Cannondale.
Linus Gerdemann, 08
Then: Migrated over from T-Mob as the kid who won a Tour stage and took yellow in heroic, credible fashion (remember when it was rare to see a guy who clearly wasn't doped?), and proceeded to ring up his best season as a pro, with wins at the DeutschlandTour (speaking of memories) and the Tour de l'Ain.
Now: Went to Milram, and joined their legions of underachievers. It didn't help that he was miscast as a legit Tour threat, or that the D-Tour went under. He's since done OK in the odd one-week stage race.
Matt Goss, 10-11
Then: Another strong Australian kid with a sprint on him, and yet another borderline awesome guy whose best season by far was at High Road. As the team was winding down Goss rang up an MSR win plus a steady stream of minor wins and major near-misses (2nd in a Tour stage and the Worlds). When he left he was a 25-year-old ranked in the top 20 worldwide.
Now: Not much for an encore. Goss went home to Orica but has only two individual wins in three seasons, one of which was a Giro stage in Denmark.
Bert Grabsch, 08-11
Then: Time trial specialist, who seemed to really specialize in winning time trials on German soil. Not much of a future in that but he did OK, bagging a rainbow jersey in Italy when Cancellara skipped the event. Do I even have to say that his best seasons were all with High Road?
Now: Retired after two more nondescript seasons at Quick Step.
Andre Greipel, 08-10
Then: A guy who couldn't get away from Cavendish, but was nonetheless a point-scoring machine for High Road. OK, he's a rare guy whose best season was elsewhere, but the Gorilla scored a Vuelta points jersey win, two Tours Down Under overall wins, and a variety of smaller one-day victories. Long a top prospect for success, his three years with HTC saw him rise to ninth in the world.
Now: Same guy, with more support. Age (32) may be catching up as this season has been nothing special, but his previous two were his best ever. Along with his six Tour stages he's a cobbled classics threat up to a point.
Patrick Gretsch, 10-11
Then: Stapleton couldn't get enough hard-nosed Germans who knew their way around a crono, and Gretsch was another.
Now: Still a useful guy, taking pulls and chasing crono results with AG2R.
Roger Hammond, 08
Then: Britain's original Flandrien, Hammond lent some credibility and support to the cobbles squad for a year. Took 10th in Gent-Wevelgem.
Now: Moved over to the Garmin Cobbles Project, rising to fourth in Roubaix and seventh in Flanders before retiring.
Adam Hansen, 08-10
Then: Another all-rounder from Down Under. Hansen won Ster Elektroer for HTC, part of what had been his most productive-ever season until this year.
Now: Now with Lotto, doing leadout and other important duties. Guess how many grand tours Adam Hansen has finished in the last three years.
Nine. A/k/a all of them. Talk about earning your paycheck.
Greg Henderson, 08-09
Then: Another key character in the "calling all Antipodean sprinters" approach to team-building, Henderson finally came into his own in his last season at High Road, capped off by a Vuelta stage win.
Now: Sky bought him for 2010, where he delivered a slightly better performance, before the next wave of lightning-fast kids started taking away all the cool prizes.
George Hincapie, 08-09
Then: The old vet, DS-on-the-road type with a jones for some classics glory. For a dude in his mid-30s he still posed a certain threat to do something in the classics, and was otherwise an invaluable presence in the last 3km of every sprint event, which High Road contested like four times a week.
Now: Continued to play the same role for BMC until he retired after 2012.
Leigh Howard, 10-11
Then: Just a kid, Howard got in a few nice sprints in minor races as HTC groomed him for a team future that never arrived.
Now: Howard is still only 25, and while his future hasn't arrived in a big way, he's good for a couple hundred points along the way most seasons.
Kim Kirchen, 08-09
Then: Veteran classics climber, High Road were forced to put him on Tour de France leadership duty and he responded with, oh, a time trial win, about a week in yellow, and a seventh place overall. This paired nicely with his wins in two Pais Vasco stages and La Fleche Wallonne.
Now: Left for Katusha, where the results went south. Retired after suffering a possible heart attack during the 2011 Tour de Suisse.
Craig Lewis, 08-11
Then: Roster-filler, useful in the TTT and other complementary duties.
Now: Left for Champion System.
Thomas Lofkvist, 08-09
Then: Somewhat mercurial Swedish climber, but not that kind of climber. Lofkvist has been active for twelve seasons, two of which he ranked in the top 50 in the world, and the rest outside the top 100. Guess which two years? Here's a hint: he spent two years at High Road.
Now: Two years at IAM and three at Sky with no wins. Didn't help that they nixed the D-Tour.
Tony Martin, 08-11
Then: Coming into his own as a crono ace, but also pursuing mass-start goals, or at least small stage race goals where he could win the ITT and finish high up on GC as a result.
Now: Three time world champion against the watch, and preparing to assume Cancellara's mantle as best time triallist. Won a Tour stage along the way this year.
Maxime Monfort, 09-10
Then: Climber who can time-trial, or maybe time-triallist who can climb. He was never great enough at either to be a grand tour contender. But guess who he was riding for when he had his best season (ranked #46) and last victory?
Now: Same ol Monfort. Actually he seems to have prioritized grand tour GC placings, and has moved into the top-15 at the Tour and Giro while riding for the Shack and now Lotto-Belisol. There's value in that versatility, for sure.
Lachlan Norris, 11
Then: Trainee, Australian, good crono ability. You know the score.
Now: Riding for Drapac, getting the odd result (e.g. 10th in Utah).
Danny Pate, 11
Then: Veteran climber with a bit of a crono, useful to have around. Didn't do much in his one season at High Road
Now: Domestique for the SkyBots.
Andrea Piechele, 08
Then: Trainee, won a stage of the Giro del Friulli
Now: Never caught on at the top level.
Marco Pinotti, 08-11
Then: More crono goodness. Pinotti was a regular time trial champion of Italy, which is a bit like being basketball champion of Iceland, but he was a fine all-rounder who was never going to win a grand tour but could rack up some very respectable placings and maybe a crono stage in the process. I'm not even going to bother asking if you can guess when he had his best seasons. Suffice to say, finishing ninth in the 2010 Giro and wearing the maglia rosa the following year for a day are probably his highlights. After Hincapie left, Pinotti helped bring the coach-on-the-road element to the squad.
Now: Raced two more seasons at BMC, then retired and wrote a book.
Morris Possoni, 08
Then: Roster-filler. Had a nice Vuelta al Pais Vasco one year. Could help out in the TTT.
Now: Retired after two years with Sky and a season at Lampre.
Frantisek Rabon, 08-11
Then: More of a super-domestique than a run-of-the-mill guy, Rabon would occasionally win small- to medium-sized stage races, because everyone at High Road had to win something sometime. Anyway, he scored a Murcia GC win and nearly won Criterium International, when not otherwise helping out.
Now: Raced two more seasons and then switched to mountain biking. Respect!
Alex Rasmussen, 11
Then: Trackie, won the Philly race once.
Now: He got caught in UCI limbo over some missed doping controls while at Garmin. Now riding for Riwal Platform back in Denmark.
Mark Renshaw, 10-11
Then: Cherry-picked enough sprint wins to get a bigger, better deal elsewhere. Otherwise fit the profile by being Australian and multi-skilled.
Now: For every rule there's an exception, and in this case it's that Mark Renshaw's best season was with Rabobank. You can look it up. I'm not kidding.
Vicente Reynes, 08-10
Then: You know, it's a little weird that High Road had so few Spaniards in their four years. I get it, the team had German roots, but one Spaniard? Most teams pick up more than that by accident. Anyway, the dude could climb, but they had him ride the Tour of Flanders anyway. Which goes to show you how little High Road understood about Spanish cycling.
Now: Still going strong at IAM Cycling, who had him at the Vuelta and he picked up some nice stage placings. Previously with Lotto, where he also... rode the Tour of Flanders. The year after he took ninth at Lagos de Covadonga. Honestly...
Michael Rogers, 08-10
Then: Have you heard the one about the Australian guy who could time trial? High-larious. Every time. Actually Rogers was a treble crono world champ early on with Quick Step, then a top ten Tour guy with T-Mob. With High Road, he did a little bit of everything, chasing Olympic medals, grand tours, and crono wins, doing enough of each to justify a quasi-leadership role.
Now: More of the same with Tinkoff and Sky. He just bagged a Tour stage and 26th overall, after taking 18th at the Giro with two stage wins, including Monte Zoncolan. This is arguably his most resilient year as a pro, if not his most decorated.
Hayden Roulston, 10-11
Then: The usual mix of Autralian ski... what? New Zealand? Is that even a country? Oh, right, OK then. Well, he came out of obscurity and straight to 10th in Roubaix. Maybe cycling isn't so difficult after all?
Now: Three seasons at the Trek Shack helping others. Ho hum. Another glue guy.
Alexsejs Saramotins, 10
Then: Honestly, I can't fathom why he got a contract for a year with High Road. Because he won the Druivenkoers in late August and High Road had an opening? I'm sure the dude could ride the cobbles, but he wasn't even winning back in Latvia or Estonia, so I'm not sure why anyone expected him to win in Belgium.
Now: A bit better, winning the Tour du Doubs over Thomas Voeckler last year, and winning the Latvian nats a couple times. About six weeks ago he won a crono stage of the Vuelta a Burgos. So I guess he's a handy guy to have around still.
Marcel Sieberg, 08-10
Then: Basically a Belgian classics guy in the body of a German. Flashed some potential but lots of guys do that when they're young.
Now: Still carrying on, with Lotto. Seems like the Tour of Qatar remains his primary focus. That sort of thing will happen when Andre Greipel is your teammate.
Kanstantin Siutsou, 08-11
Then: Strong in both the climbs and time trials, Siutsou rang up a 16th in the Tour and ninth in the Giro during his High Road years. Also won a tough Tour de Georgia with a stage victory on Brasstown Bald. Yet one more handy guy to have around.
Now: Still going strong, riding for the SkyBots, who know how to deploy a good cronoman.
Gatis Smukulis, 11
Then: Another non-obvious selection, a Latvian dude who tends to win the home nats ITT and little else.
Now: More of the same. Still Latvian ITT champ.
Tejay van Garderen, 10-11
Then: Hiring the next great American stage racer is always a bit dicey, but things were looking awfully good when Tejay went out and got third in the Dauphine, at age 22. Tejay grew up some at High Road, before taking his talents to BMC (and even greater success).
Now: Two fifth place finishes in the Tour suggests you have a bit more work to do, but potential championships are not out of reach.
Martin Velits, 10-11
Then: Climbing domestique, with no great distinction apart from his more famous name.
Now: Status quo.
Peter Velits, 10-11
Then: Scooped up from Milram, the former U23 world champion has consistently, if somewhat quietly, packed on points.
Now: Was at Quick Step, moved to BMC, where he can continue to kinda sorta achieve without getting too much credit.
Bradley Wiggins, 08
Then: Kind of a stage race flunky who never quite got anything going.
Now: An example of how not to judge early flunkies. Wiggins went from also-ran to fourth to victory in the Tour de France.
So what does this amount to besides a lot of words? I think we already knew that High Road scored most of its points in sprints, but what might not have been obvious before is the depth of quality on the squad. They won a lot because they could sent out multiple credible teams to a multitude of races. They won with the right combination of leaders and ... doers. They won by grabbing a lot of strong time triallists, preferably from Down Under so they could be paid in a lesser currency. IMHO High Road were a lot like other cycling teams, only more so. That said, what's your take, looking back on the best team we knew? What made them tick? Just individual performances or team maneuvering?