News feature, June 23, 2008
What was the first half of the 2008 season like for the 18 ProTour teams? Who can be satisfied with their performance and who needs improvement? Or, as the Cyclingnews staff asked, 'What went right and what went wrong?'
Here is part one of a team-by-team analysis of the first half of the year. The teams are listed in no particular order.
Team High Road
What went right: Just about everything. The team has won races over the entire first half of the season, from the Tour Down Under, dominated by André Greipel, to Kim Kirchen's victory in the Flèche Wallonne, to four Giro d'Italia stage wins to George Hincapie's stage win in the Dauphiné Libéré. Kirchen also won a stage in the Tour de Suisse and wore the leader's jersey for two days. The team has won sprints, time trials and breakaways, with 10 different riders accounting for the wins. And a big plus for the team was the recent announcement of a new sponsor, Columbia, as of the Tour de France.
What went wrong: Injuries have struck three of the team's main riders. Marcus Burghardt was supposed to lead the team in the Spring Classics, but knee problems and subsequent surgery eliminated him. The two Tour de France captains will also be missing this year. Linus Gerdemann is still recovering from broken bones and torn knee ligaments suffered in a crash in Tirreno-Adriatico, and Michael Rogers is not yet back in form after a bout with Epstein-Barr virus.
Holding out for: It is hard to see what the team needs to work on, although it has deficiencies in the mountains. Young German sprinter Gerald Ciolek is not bringing in the wins as expected. Without Burghardt, the team showed weaknesses in the Spring Classics, saved only by Kirchen. The youngsters are doing well, but simply need more time and experience.
Overall: Team Manager Bob Stapleton can be happy with his team. The team is showing success across the board, and the youngsters, although sometimes inconsistent, are bringing in the wins. 23 year-old Manxman Mark Cavendish has seven wins, including two Giro d'Italia stages. Of the 10 riders with victories so far, seven of them are 25 or younger, with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ciolek, both only 21, each having two wins.
By Gregor Brown
What went right: The classic blue and pink team of Giuseppe Saronni is trucking along well for the first half of the year thanks to a developing Danilo Napolitano, solid Alessandro Ballan and re-born Damiano Cunego. Sprinter Napolitano has filled the gap left by Daniele Bennati's departure; the Siciliano punched the win card early with a stage in the Tour de Qatar and the newly-formed Giro della Grosseto. Alessandro Ballan returned to the Classics with impressive podium positions, flying the Lampre Classics flag until Cunego – fresh off wins in the Basque country – topped the Amstel Gold Race and placed third in Flèche Wallonne.
What went wrong: The Lampre training camp could have done without the attention of a late night anti-doping call and the press that followed, not to mention the disappearance of long-time team rider Patxi Vila following a positive for testosterone. Ballan, even with the debut of Simon Spilak, could have used stronger henchmen in the north. Finally, a decidedly B-Team at the Giro d'Italia was saved by Marzio Bruseghin's stage win and third overall.
Holding out for: The team is definitely holding out for the start of the second half of the year with the Tour de France – Cunego's Grand Tour objective this year. Expect to see the Veronese put in an outstanding performance to back up his debut Tour in 2006, when he won the young rider competition. Any form left over from the race will be used for San Sebastián, the Worlds and Lombardia. Napolitano will fill the gaps with sprint wins along the way.
Overall: The team is lacking depth, something that was not helped by the departure of Bennati and Enrico Franzoi and contributes to its low total of eight wins thus far. Saronni will continue to develop youngsters Simon Spilak and Francesco Gavazzi, but he needs to make some wise signings to bolster the team for 2009.
By Monika Prell
What went right: The Italian part of the team did good work so far, with two stage wins from Riccardo Riccò in the Giro d'Italia and one in the Euskal Bizikleta by young Eros Capecchi, who also won the overall classification. The fourth victory of the season went to Luciano Pagliarini, who won a stage in the Tour of California. Riccò did a great job in the Giro, fulfilling his promise and showing that it was not just swaggering, but that he had the talent to do well in a three-week race.
What went wrong: The team that in 2007 reached 29 victories has not fulfilled the expectations for an equally successful 2008. Juan José Cobo and José Angel Gomez Marchante still have not shown their form so far. Furthermore, the team had some bad luck with injuries, the most recent being David Cañada's fractured collarbone (Tour de Suisse).
Holding out for: If Gomez Marchante and Cobo are in good form, they will be the leaders in the Tour de France.
Overall: At the beginning of the season, the Spanish-Italian team got a new sponsor and changed its name to Saunier Duval-Scott. The management can be content; they signed some promising young riders with Eros Capecchi (22), Ermanno Capelli (23) and Beñat Intxausti (22). The departure of Spaniard Koldo Gil was noticeable, as he had brought in many of 2007's victories. A possible comeback by Iban Mayo depends on the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision.
By Monika Prell
What went right: A lot. The Basques are showing a never-before-known team mentality, most recently in the Dauphiné Libéré, where they won the team classification, and in the Tour de Suisse, where they defended for several stages the leader's jersey held by Igor Antón, who finished third there and second in the Euskal Bizikleta. The biggest name of the first half of the year has to be Koldo Fernández; the 26 year-old had three of the team's five victories. Samuel Sánchez showed his stuff by winning the Vuelta a Asturias time trial and young talent Igor Antón won a stage in the Tour de Suisse.
What went wrong: Sánchez missed much of the first part of the season. His Tour de France preparations caused him to skip the team's home race, the Vuelta al País Vasco. The team just didn't have a lot of wins, and especially missed the sprints of Fernández, who admitted to being afraid of his rivals. The team had bad luck with injuries, especially for two of their Tour de France leaders, Haimar Zubeldia and Sánchez.
Holding out for: This year, the team will send its strongest team to the Tour de France with leaders Haimar Zubeldia, Mikel Astarloza and Samuel Sánchez. After having abandoned the Tour two times, Sánchez is determined to finish it this year. He prepared especially for the race and expects to put in a strong performance. The team is traditionally considered bad in time trials, but it has shown improvements there. Markel Irizar finished second in the Paris-Nice prologue, only four seconds behind winner Thor Hushovd.
Overall: The team has had some good efforts and has become a very complete team, with sprinters (Fernández, Iñaki Flores, Aitor Galdos), strong climbers (Antón, Aitor Hernández), time trialists (Astarloza, Egoi Martínez, Sánchez) and all arounders (Zubeldia). The extension of contracts with riders like Rubén Pérez, Amets Txurruka and Sánchez is a big plus, as was the early stage win by Fernández. Team Manager Miguel Madariaga can be proud of his team, which has turned from a negligible group into a ProTour worthy team.
By Susan Westemeyer
What went right: It could have been better. The team has racked up only 11 wins so far. Sprinter Robert Förster has won three sprints, and Davide Rebellin won the Tour de Haut Var and the overall title in Paris-Nice. Markus Fothen won a stage in the Tour de Suisse, hopefully evidence that he will show something again at the Tour de France, after an off-year in 2007. Matthias Frank, just 21 years old, has been a ray of hope for the future by winning the GP Triberg Schwarzwald and giving some impressive performances in the Tour de Suisse.
What went wrong: The team has been slow to come into form this year. Rebellin brought in top ten finishes in Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but didn't win any of the Spring Classics this year. The biggest disappointment has to be Stefan Schumacher. After finishing third in the World Championships' road race last season, he has only one victory to his credit this year, the time trial in the Bayern Rundfahrt. And the team was struck with a sort-of doping controversy, putting Andrea Moletta on the inactive list when his father was involved in a doping raid during the Giro d'Italia.
Holding out for: What the team most desperately needs is a new sponsor. Team manager Hans-Michael Holczer has had to see how CSC, High Road and Slipstream have all announced new sponsors. Better performances might improve the chances of a new sponsor, but athletically, the team needs more consistency. It needs a GC rider for the Grand Tours, since Markus Fothen, Schumacher and Fabian Wegmann have never established themselves in that role.
Overall: The team can't be happy with its season to date. Rebellin is still one of the top riders in the peloton, but at 36 years old, he is past his peak. After several successful years in the Spring Classics, it was a blow not to win any this year. And many of the team's usual winners have either not delivered or have brought in few wins: one each for Heinrich Haussler, Schumacher, and Wegmann, while time trialist Sebastian Lang has been virtually invisible. The team can only hope that Oliver Zaugg and Fothen hold their good form from the Tour de Suisse and that Bernhard Kohl has his climbing form, in order to bring in a decent Tour de France – a race in which the team has, traditionally and unfortunately, never done particularly well.