A lot has changed at Garmin in the last few months with riders leaving, riders coming and a new co-sponsor in Barracuda coming on board.
Ten riders, including Thor Hushovd, departed for new teams in the off-season but Slipstream has picked up a number of bargains in the transfer market with Thomas Dekker, Fabian Wegmann, and Koldo Fernandez all joining.
The core of the squad remains relatively stable with Heinrich Haussler, Martijn Maaskant and Johan Van Summeren to lead at the Classics and the trio of Christrian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjdal and Tom Danielson expected to manage the team’s expectations in the grand tours.
With part of the squad competing at the Tour Down Under the rest of the team headed to Calpe, Spain, for their second major camp in as many months. These photos, from Lucas Gilman, show off the team as they prepare for the season.
Former criterium champion returns home after European stint
After two years of racing for BMC, which included almost a full European campaign of the Spring Classics and a start in the Giro d' Italia, John Murphy has returned to competing for an American based squad.
Murphy made a two-year commitment to the Kenda/ 5-Hour Energy squad and is hoping to return to his winning ways before racing full-time in Europe. He has decamped from Europe to his new home base of Asheville, North Carolina. Previously Athens, Georgia was home, but the mountains, better training conditions and being closer to his family were the deciding reasons for his move.
With the domestic racing season only weeks away is Murphy going to miss the high level of competition he faced as a member of a WorldTour team?
"I am going to miss racing in Europe, but not living there," said Murphy. "I'm really excited to live in the U.S. again. I'll have a home base that I can actually spend some time at and see my friends and family more than once or twice a year."
Murphy's European home base was Ghent, Belgium – home to several one-day classic stars – which was appropriate for a rider pegged for that style of racing.
"BMC is one of the best teams in the world – no question. I wanted to continue to grow with the team. But the issue was that the team was continuing to grow faster than I was."
With the addition of Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert, it is evident that BMC wants to add a one-day classic to the team's list of victories.
"I understand how it ended (his contract not being renewed for 2012) and they need riders who can win Classics, and maybe I'm not quite there yet."
"But I wanted to go to a team that allowed me to get some results. I haven't won a race in two years and that bothers me," continued Murphy.
That team is the Kenda/5-Hour Energy and Murphy is looking to post some victories starting at the San Dimas stage race and the Redlands Classic.
"I need to help Kenda/5-Hour become the bigger team that they deserve to be and win some races to show that, while I did spend two years racing in Europe, I wasn't floundering. I was getting stronger. I want to remind the cycling world that I'm not done."
One of the biggest races on the American calendar is the Amgen Tour of California and the squad knows that it will be an uphill battle for selection. Posting some wins during the early season could show that Kenda/5-Hour Energy deserves a spot.
As a former national criterium champion, Murphy can be relied upon in a field sprint, but he feels he's progressed as a professional cyclist.
"I hope to win some big races whether it's in a time trial, sprint, one-day races – I want to show that I can be a factor in all the races."
While the quality of racing has improved in the U.S. would Murphy return to Europe?
"Absolutely, the door is not shut. But for me personally I needed to return to a domestic calendar."
"There's a few elements I need to work on like win some bigger races such as a stage of the Amgen Tour of California, Philadelphia (TD Bank International Cycling Championships), or the Tour of Battenkill. Even one of the NRC events," said Murphy. "I'd like to win a general classification also. I don't think that's beyond the realm of possibility."
"If the opportunity arises maybe Kenda/5-Hour Energy goes to Europe. Maybe we build this team and take it to Europe or maybe I return to a ProTour team and take another swing. Only time will tell."
Madiot waiting on outcome of Offredo whereabouts case
After regaining WorldTour status for the 2012 season, FDJ-BigMat manager Marc Madiot is ready to hand greater responsibility to the team’s younger riders, with Thibaut Pinot, Arnold Jeannesson and world under 23 champion Arnaud Démare expected to continue their progress.
“We’re going to really give them their responsibilities, have them express themselves at 100 percent of their capabilities,” Madiot said, according to Ouest France. “Perhaps they will find it difficult to win the first year, but the objective is to put them in the role of leader as often as possible, racing at the front.”
“That might be the case for Thibaut Pinot if we chose to send him to the Vuelta, but also for Démare at the Tour of Qatar or the Giro, so that he might learn how to race in a Grand Tour. The team will be built around him at the Giro. He has more of a chance of not winning than of winning, but we want to put ourselves in a situation where we could win with the young riders.”
While Sandy Casar is set to make a return to the Giro d’Italia, Arnold Jeannesson will lead FDJ-BigMat at the Tour de France. 15th overall in Paris last year, Madiot is hopeful that the 26-year-old can improve further in 2012.
“Jeannesson is going to be protected and have teammates who are going to shelter him from the wind and bring him up to the front of the race,” Madiot said. “He finished 15th on the Tour when nobody particularly expected much from him at this level. He is going to have a season more in line with his experience. I think he has become aware of his capacities and his qualities, which are perfectly suited to the Tour.”
For another one of Madiot’s young guns, Yoann Offredo, the horizon is a little more clouded, however. In early January, it emerged that he had missed three doping controls in 2011, and now risks a two-year suspension. Madiot reiterated his team’s support for the whereabouts system as an anti-doping measure, but questioned the severity of the possible penalty faced by Offredo.
“There were problems with whereabouts, proceedings are ongoing. We’re going to wait to see how it unfolds,” Madiot said. “The whereabouts system must exist, but perhaps be improved so as to facilitate the life of sportsmen, whether they are cyclists or from other sports. There’s no need to call it into question or seek its abolition as some are asking.
“Compared to other sports or to actual positive tests, the scale of penalties [for whereabouts violations] is disproportionate in my opinion, but that’s just my opinion. There needs to be reflection on it. Strong sanctions must be found: dissuasive, but not excessive at the same time.”
While a number of their colleagues are already in racing mode at the Santos Tour Down Under or about to start their seasons at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, Ivan Basso and Peter Sagan were among the Liquigas-Cannondale riders still fine-tuning their form at the team’s training camp in Cecina, Tuscany during the week.
Basso is building towards the Giro d’Italia and will not begin his season until February 18, at the Trofeo Laigueglia, long a staple of the early-season in Italy. His first stage race of the campaign is set to be Paris-Nice, and he will continue his Giro preparation at the Volta a Catalunya and the Giro del Trentino.
Given his ambitions in the Classics, it’s no surprise that the precocious Peter Sagan’s season begins a little earlier. He’ll measure himself in the sprints against the likes of Mark Cavendish at the Tour of Qatar and Oman, before returning to Europe. After tackling Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, the 21-year-old will line up among the dark horses for victory at Milan-San Remo, and then head north for a tilt at the cobbled classics.
For a gallery of Liquigas-Cannondale’s recent travails in Tuscany, click here, and check out a behind-the-scenes video from the team below.
2010 Giro d'Italia stage winner Damien Monier is in stable condition after being hit by a car while training today. According to AFP, the Cofidis rider is in a hospital in Clermont-Ferrand with fractures to his skull and face.
"He's regained consciousness and fortunately, his life is no longer in danger," said Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer.
Monier, 29, has been with the Cofidis team since turning professional in 2004, and scored the first and biggest win of his career on stage 17 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia when he made the winning breakaway and was able to ride away from Danilo Hondo and Steven Kruijskwijk to take the stage victory in Pejo Terme.
Garmin-Barracuda neo pro climbs his way to good sensations
Not content with spending over 100 kilometres in the day's break, Nathan Haas (Garmin-Barracuda) decided to go it alone with two laps left to race of Old Willunga Hill on stage 5 of the Tour Down Under on Saturday. While it didn't pay off in the end, it was a good indicator of the neo-pro's promise at the WorldTour level.
"It wasn't exactly a gamble, I was just trying to be in front for my team all day so I thought I'd capitalise on the lead we already had just to take some pressure off the boys up the climb," Haas explained after the race.
It's been a big week for Haas, the 22-year-old making his WorldTour debut on home turf after blasting his way into the wider cycling world's consciousness with overall victory at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour last October when he wrapped up Australia's National Road Series in the process.
"The thing that I've noticed so far is that there's more depth here, there's more guys on top condition as opposed to the racing that I've done where there's only 20 to look out for," Haas noted. "The biggest change hasn't necessarily been the speed or the quality; it's more how many guys are good."
Haas believed that being out in front benefited his teammates in the hunt for prime GC positioning, namely Heinrich Haussler, Ryder Hesjedal and Jack Bauer, who were all 12 seconds in arrears before stage 5.
"Coming into the climb, if I still had a bit of legs left I wasn't going to be able to be there on the last lap with them because I'd been out all day, so the best thing was for me to go then and there and keep them on the front foot until the latest time possible," he said.
When Haas took off on his own during the first ascent of Willunga, it was hard not to think about to his epic performance to outride Jack Bobridge on the penultimate stage of the Sun Tour and take the overall lead. The circumstances were vastly different, however, with Haas over 17 minutes down on GC heading into Saturday’s stage, but though he admitted the gutsy attack was doomed to fail, there were plenty of positives.
"Today was one of the first days where I actually had good sensations on a climb for a long time," Haas explained. "It's good moving forward from here. Knowing that I'm going to Europe on Monday for eight, nine months, it's nice to be going over there with some good condition."
Bauer ended up being the best-placed of the Garmin-Barracuda team, finishing in ninth, 26 seconds down on stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with Haussler in 32nd nearly three minutes down.
"It's just what it is; cycling's a team sport and today was just that," Haas reasoned. "Unfortunately it didn't pan out the way we wanted but you've got to put your best foot forward and that's all you can do."
Saur-Sojasun team manager Stephane Heulot has set his team's main goal for 2012, and that is earning an invitation to the Tour de France. The Professional Continental team was presented in Châteaubourg on Friday, January 20.
Heulot said that the 14th place overall of Jerome Coppel in last year's edition of their home Grand Tour only served to whet the team's appetite for more.
The addition of Brice Feillu and David Le Lay to the team's developing young riders will reinforce the attacking style of the Professional Continental squad.
"Our style is oriented primarily toward aggression, and we have a number of young riders who are maturing, such as Jonathan Hivert, Julian Simon, and Anthony Delaplace, without forgetting Jerome Coppel or Brice Feillu: we have strong statements to make."
The all-French line-up features 23 riders, with Maxime Méderel and Eugène Tortelier amongst the newcomers. The team will begin its season at the Grand Prix de la Marseillaise and l'Étoile de Bessèges followed by a trip to Spain for the Trofeo Mallorca. After earning an invitation from the ASO, the team's first major race will be Paris-Nice.
Saur-Sojasun for 2012:
Cyril Bessy, Jérôme Coppel, Arnaud Coyot, Anthony Delaplace, Jimmy Engoulvent, Jérémie Galland, Jonathan Hivert, Fabrice Jeandesboz, Christophe Laborie, Cyril Lemoine, Guillaume Levarlet, Laurent Mangel, Jean-Marc Marino, Rony Martias, Jean-Lou Païani, Stéphane Poulhiès, Paul Poux, Julien Simon and Yannick Talabardon.
New riders: Brice Feillu, David Le Lay, Maxime Méderel and Eugène Tortelier.