Ghost of doping past haunts clean team
WorldTour Ranking: 8/18
Win Count: 17
Top Riders: Dan Martin (6th), Andrew Talansky (31st), Ryder Hesjedal (68th), Tom Danielson (74th)
Garmin-Sharp, the champions of clean cycling, started off the year with three riders under suspension for their part in revealing what was one of the biggest doping scandals in sports history, thanks to USADA and Lance Armstrong. That meant the season could really only go uphill from there - or did it?
In terms of 2013 cycling performance, Garmin had the fewest number of victories in a season since it joined the WorldTour in 2009: only 17 wins. But what it lacked in quantity, it made up in quality. Rather than rely upon its veterans - four of whom would be haunted by the ghost of doping past - it was the new crop of riders who came to the fore.
Andrew Talansky scored Garmin's first win of 2013 on stage 3 of Paris-Nice in Brioude, taking the leader's jersey, but his aspirations of an overall victory were dashed by Sky's Richie Porte.
Daniel Martin made up for that disappointment two weeks later by soloing away to victory on the queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya to Port Ainé-Rialp, with enough margin to net him the overall victory over Joaquim Rodriguez and Michele Scarponi.
A month later Martin would win the team's second Monument in a brilliantly-played finale of Liège - Bastogne - Liège (Johan Vansummeren won Paris-Roubaix in 2011 for the team's first Monument victory).
More stage wins followed thanks to Ramunas Navardauskas (Tour of Romandie), Michel Kreder (4 Jours de Dunkerque), Tyler Farrar (Tour of California and Tour de l'Eurométropole), Alex Rasmussen (Bayern Rundfahrt), and Lachlan Morton (Tour of Utah), and overall stage races wins from Rohan Dennis (Tour of Alberta) and Tom Danielson (Tour of Utah).
But it was the pair of Grand Tour stage wins with Navardauskas in the Giro d'Italia and Martin in the Tour de France that really capped off Garmin-Sharp's season.
The next generation also helped to make up for the sins of the team's veterans through numerous podium placings by riders like Steele von Hoff, Jack Bauer, Nathan Haas and Peter Stetina, but their results were dragged down in the eye of the public by the doping revelations from the Lance Armstrong era that embroiled Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie, who would retire, Tom Danielson and, we would come to learn late in the season, Ryder Hesjedal.
Hesjedal's past doping was outed in Michael Rasmussen's book, and his confession drew the ire of his fellow Canadians, the hopes of a nation dashed by the 2012 Giro d'Italia champion's past.
What to expect in 2014:
Next season, expect the team to further support Martin and Talansky in their ambitions in stage races. Both riders are developing nicely, and Martin's steady upward trajectory is aimed directly at Grand Tour podium level.
The Ardennes Classics should continue to be a goal for Martin, and the team has brought in Sebastian Langeveld as a solid addition for the cobbled Classics. With a little luck he could parlay his top 10 finishes in E3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix into a podium place. A healthy Nick Nuyens and diesel engine Johan Vansummeren could also get results in the spring.
Tour Down Under winner Tom-Jelte Slagter and Langeveld were the team's best acquisitions for 2014, but manager Jonathan Vaughters brought in a number of promising riders, any one of whom could turn out big results: Janier Acevedo was the top climber in the US circuit this season, landing on the podium in Tour of California and Tour of Utah (and 4th in Colorado). Phil Gaimon has been consistently very good on the domestic circuit as well, although a crash early in 2013 impacted his season.
To be brutally honest, most of the riders who left Garmin this year have been under performing: Vande Velde retired after years as more crash test dummy than racer, and Zabriskie had the good grace to bow out of the sport after the Armstrong affair and a lacklustre season. Alex Rasmussen never regained his previous level after his whereabouts violation, Martijn Maaskant failed to live up to his promise as a Classics rider after taking 4th in the Tour of Flanders in 2009, and Sébastien Rosseler hardly finished a race all year.
But the team will miss solid support riders like Jacob Rathe, Michel Kreder, and Peter Stetina, who goes to BMC.
Who to watch:
Rohan Dennis will show in 2014 that his Tour of Alberta overall victory was no crosswind-induced fluke. The Australian, in his first WorldTour season, came second to only Tony Martin and beat Chris Froome in the Critérium du Dauphiné time trial, and donned the leader's jersey the following stage. Expect more breakthrough performances next year.
Lasse Norman Hansen, the Olympic gold medalist in the track omnium, has a wealth of talent and was a terrific addition for Garmin. On the road, he was a bronze medalist in the U23 Worlds time trial, second in the U23 Thüringen-Rundfahrt and won two one-day races in 2013.
With Hansen, Dutch rider Dylan van Baarle and Dennis, Vaughters could be re-building his team back into the team time trial powerhouse of old.