Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) enjoys what may be his last day in the maillot jaune
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An analysis of a particularly drama-filled 2012
When, in September 2011, Leopard Trek's Flavio Becca confirmed the merger between his number three-ranked team and Johan Bruyneel's 10th-ranked RadioShack squad, the cycling world raised its collective eyebrows. The late announcement sent half of each team scrambling for contracts, but on paper the 2012 squad looked to be a powerhouse.
Instead, the shotgun wedding of two highly successful 2011 teams with 58 victories between them produced an offspring that could only squeeze out 15 wins, and which had more headlines out of their intra-team dramas and doping cases than from their sporting performances.
If it hadn't been for Fabian Cancellara, 2012 would have been one big April Fool's joke for the team, but even he couldn't avoid the springtime jester, falling victim to a crash in the Tour of Flanders which scuttled his Classics campaign.
There were few bright spots for RadioShack-Nissan in 2012: one of them was Cancellara's commanding victory in the Strade Bianche. His time trial win in Tirreno - Adriatico preceded a close second to Simon Gerrans in Milan-Sanremo, but that would be the end of his spring success. He was heavily tipped as a favourite for Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but his untimely crash put an end to his Classics campaign.
After his extended recuperation, it was only Cancellara who could put the team on the podium in the Tour - he won the prologue and held the leader's jersey for seven stages before eventually departing the race to be with his wife for the birth of their child. While Daniele Bennati managed to take home one stage of the Vuelta a España, and the team rallied to win the teams classification in the Tour, the individual results demonstrated that the merged team was less than the sum of its parts.
The Schleck brothers Fränk and Andy should have been the leaders of a team that, on paper, could have been one of the top Grand Tour squads of 2012. With Cancellara and Jens Voigt as their diesel engines, Jakob Fuglsang, Chris Horner and Andreas Klöden for the climbs and ample talent in the domestique department, the team should have done better than sixth in the Tour de France - it's top Grand Tour finish by Haimar Zubeldia.
Instead, the team succumbed to bickering and finger-pointing, with the Schleck brothers railing against Bruyneel's authority. Andy Schleck publicly campaigned for the inclusion of Kim Andersen at the Tour de France, while Bruyneel insisted on separating them from the Dane.
Fränk Schleck resisted a surprise call-up for the Giro d'Italia after Fuglsang suffered a knee injury, then abandoned after a crash, citing a shoulder injury, but Bruyneel was not convinced, and used the press to criticize him. He even threatened the under-performing brothers with leaving them off the Tour de France squad, to which Andy replied, "if I was a manager I wouldn't try to solve problems with my riders through the press,"
While juggling his Schleck issues, Bruyneel was simultaneously hit with hints that Fuglsang would leave the team for Saxo Bank and was served papers while at the Tour of California that started the rumour mill churning. In a few weeks, all was revealed when the US Anti-Doping Agency announced it had filed anti-doping rule violations against Bruyneel, Lance Armstrong and four other of his former associates from the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel team years.
The scandal ricocheted through the team, leading to speculation that the Schlecks would leave and that the ASO would rescind its invitation to the Tour de France.
Soon, there were whispers about non-payment of riders and the UCI was called in to investigate. It was reported that the Schlecks, Cancellara and Fuglsang all claimed they were owed payments, but the team claimed it was only due to a minor problem that was later corrected.
To top it off, Andy Schleck crashed at the Critérium du Dauphiné and broke his hip, an injury which would exclude him from the Tour de France and the majority of the remainder of the season.
The final stroke came when, during the Tour de France, Fränk Schleck tested positive for xipamide in a case which has still to be resolved.
As the dark season closed for RadioShack-Nissan, USADA's reasoned decision came out and the full story of Bruyneel's past emerged. Becca cut ties with the Belgian and co-title sponsor Nissan split with the squad.
What to expect in 2013
After such a dismal year, it's hard to imagine 2013 could get any worse for RadioShack, but at least Cancellara decided to stick to his contract and stay with the team, and the Swiss champ will have the hard working Jan Bakelants and emerging talent Tony Gallopin at his side for the Classics.
There is still much uncertainty surrounding the case of Bruyneel, which is past due to go to arbitration. The team could fall under the cloud of more scandal - much remains to be seen. The case of Fränk Schleck is still to be resolved, leaving the possibility that the wonder twin duo could once again be separated for 2013. Can Andy perform on his own?
With the decision of Jens Voigt to remain in the peloton for another year, RadioShack will at the very least have this energetic, charismatic German to entertain the fans.
Danilo Hondo joins the team for 2013, bringing experience and power to support the team's young sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo, winner of the Tour de Wallonie overall and three other stages in 2012.
Jakob Fuglsang, winner of the Tour of Luxembourg and Tour of Austria could have been a GC contender to replace a possibly suspended Fränk Schleck, but his bitter battle with Bruyneel and Becca ended with him departing for the Astana team, where he may be given more free reign and a chance to lead at the Tour de France.
Man to watch
Tony Gallopin's third place overall and position as best young rider at the Tour of Oman was just a hint of this French rider's potential. With one full year at the WorldTour level under his belt, Gallopin is just starting to find his place in the peloton. Expect him to have a break-out year in 2012.
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