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The Team That Never Stopped Winning

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HTC-Columbia-High Road, still killing it at the Tour de France

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The HTC/Columbia-High Road* juggernaut of the 2008-2011 seasons is a storied tale of victories piling up on top of other piles of victories. They have been much analyzed for their raw win totals, scrutinized for what they didn't win (grand tours... so sue me), and generally celebrated as a pretty cool chapter** in cycling history.

And if they were riding the 2016 Tour de France, they'd be the talk of the race.

Although the project shut down in 2011, they had generally approached roster-building by stockpiling young talent, and many of the HTC stars of yore are in or just past their prime as we speak. Moreover, many of those guys really were talented, so not only has age treated them kindly, but in or near their primes these are Tour de France assets for their current teams. Here is a rundown of the former HTC riders still around.

[*Hereinafter, just HTC.]

[**Usual caveats apply in the cesspool of cycling history, though they were pretty clean by any cycling standard of their day. ]

cavendish

Mark Cavendish, Dimension Data

Then: Twenty of his Tour de France stage victories, plus his only Green Jersey, came in HTC colors.

Now: Still winning, up to 28 stages, plus a World Championship

Andre Greipel, Lotto-Soudal

Then: Because of Cavendish the Gorilla couldn't break into the HTC Tour roster, not even once. But he won a Vuelta points jersey and enough sprints to convince his current employers to take him on.

Now: Up to ten stages (including four last year), all for Lotto, though he's fallen short twice so far in this Tour. Three times if you include today's cluster-something.

greipel

John Degenkolb, Giant-Alpecin

Then: Just breaking in with the team, and only started the Vuelta, though he scored some nice wins along the way

Now: Strangely quiet throughout his Tour career, though obviously it has to do with having Marcel Kittel as his teammate most of the time. Degs has crushed the Vuelta stages and has become a Classics champion, though his injury in the horrible team crash this winter has held him back up to now.

tejay van garderen

Tejay van Garderen, BMC

Then: A promising young rider, who rode one Tour for the squad and in the process became the first American to ever wear the polka dot jersey (briefly).

Now: A seasoned Tour leader for BMC, with two fifth place finishes under his belt. He also won the best young rider in 2012, and currently sits in 18th place, albeit tied with third place, i.e. in amongst the stars.

Tony Martin, Etixx-Quick Step

Then: A young colt, with some serious enough time trial chops to break through for a Tour de France stage (2011) and a world championship (later that year).

Now: A time trialling machine with the torso of a cyclist and the lower body of a Belgian draft horse. Martin not only seeks his own fortunes against the watch (and has five Tour stages, five rainbow jerseys (individual and team) and six German titles), but does incredible turns at the front of the pack in service of the sprint squad, now featuring that Kittel guy again. He will be the hot favorite to take the 13th stage.

Martin and Cav

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Dimension Data

Then: Just a talented kid, breaking into the Giro squad but not the Tour.

Now: An enigmatic, but still very talented, all-round rider. Boasson Hagen has a couple Tour stages by his name, but has also earned his paycheck in service of his star teammates at Team Sky (through 2014) and Dimension Data. Anyone doubting his quality wasn't in Norway last month when he won the road and ITT titles. If Cavendish falls out of contention for a sprint stage, Boasson Hagen takes over as the protected rider. Maybe on some hillier stages as well.

Edvald Boasson Hagen HTC Bryn Lennon

Marcus Burghardt, BMC

Then: Workhorse, classics prodigy, and all-rounder who won a transitional stage of the 2008 Tour.

Now: His status as a potential winner didn't last, but his ability to help his team in a variety of ways has. At 33, he's a seasoned, strong veteran domestique.

Michael Albasini, Orica-Bike Change

Then: A rare veteran presence on the squad, Albasini rode the classics and the smaller stage races in search of wins and the odd contention for a GC distinction. Never rode the Tour for HTC in his four seasons.

Now: I wouldn't say much has changed, with only a Vuelta stage by his name for Orica-Bike Change (and by the way, does anyone else think of frantic equipment swaps by the roadside when they hear that name? Was Orica-Flat Tire not an option?). I just got through picking him to win stage 5. Which means oh so very little. But he's a fighter.

Bernhard Eisel, Dimension Data

Then: A fading sprinter who could still win now and then, and who became the glue to their Tour and Classics teams.

Now: No longer seeking wins, Eisel is an esteemed on-bike coach and leadout master prized by many teams. Cavendish had him at Sky for a year after the breakup, then brought him to Dimension Data.

Eisel gone mad

Mark Renshaw, Dimension Data

Then: Another third-tier sprinter and occasional leadout guy.

Now: Late in his HTC days and pretty much ever since, he's been one of the sport's most highly recognized leadout aces, even more so than Eisel. He has teamed up with Cavendish for all but his two (predictably) wasteful years at Rabobank.

Adam Hansen, Lotto-Soudal

Then: Oh, just a domestique who held over from the T-Mobile squad. To show you how times have changed, in his final year at HTC he didn't complete either of the two grand tours he started.

Now: Another internationally-acclaimed domestique, not only for his work but for the fact that he has ridden every grand tour -- and finished them all -- since the 2011 Vuelta. That's fourteen in a row, with a 15th underway.

Lars Bak, Lotto-Soudal

Then: Domestique with a classics resume. He took fifth in Paris-Roubaix in 2011, which was one of their better results in the monuments.

Now: Bak moved on to lead out Greipel at Lotto and occasionally seek his own fortune in the classics. That latter chance didn't amount to much, but being Greipel's Renshaw has been a good career development for him.

Leigh Howard, IAM Cycling

Then: Opened his account at age 20 by beating Boonen, Farrar and co at the Tour of Oman in a sprint. A couple other nice wins for the Mannschaft along the way, but no Tour starts.

Now: Making his Tour de France debut doing domestique work.

Marcel Sieberg, Lotto-Soudal

Then: Another classics/all-rounder capable of some leading out. He got on the Greipel train with HTC...

Now: ... and never got off it.

Greg Henderson, Lotto-Soudal

Then: Already a veteran presence, Henderson gave the team a few more sprint wins and a bit more leadout.

Now: Still on that leadout thing. He won as recently as 2014, at age 36, so he's still reasonably fast.

*****

By the way, other HTC graduates include Bradley Wiggins, former Tour winner, and current riders Kanstantin Sivtsov and Maxime Monfort, who have been known to pitch in to their current teams in the grand tours, but aren't riding Le Grand Boucle just now. OK, that's your HTC alumni network. Now, assuming HTC got their magic sponsor back in 2011 and everything else about their roster was frozen in time, they'd be at the Tour de France. My cut at a Tour squad would be:

  • Van Garderen
  • Cavendish
  • Greipel
  • Boasson Hagen
  • Bak
  • Renshaw
  • Martin
  • Eisel
  • Hansen

A little controversial, I know. Degenkolb could justify his place but his season has been too difficult. Albasini and Burghardt are painful cuts, and you could talk me into swapping Sieberg for Bak I guess, but that's my preference. What you would have would be a GC rider, two of the top three points scorers, two stage wins in four days and a pair of sprint trains that are as good as any other one team can offer. Weird? Yes, but the Mannschaft seemed to always delight in a little intra-squad competition, what with so many assets to deploy in a limited number of races. In reality they'd wind up working together and it's not clear where that would go. Maybe you drop Greipel in real life and use Degenkolb as a superstar leadout, then grab anything resembling a climber to help out Tejay. Or make friends with some other DSs who have second-tier climbers and no real GC threat. Cuz Tejay would be out there buck naked.

Anyway, it'd be a dynamic team, and a good reminder that the heydays of a great franchise haven't faded from view.