The Discovery Channel team has announced its roster for 2006, and while the team lacks the now-retired Lance Armstrong, team manager Johan Bruyneel says he isn't worried about Armstrong's absence. Bruyneel said in the team announcement that he excited to go after new objectives with a team he feels is one of the best in the world, with the ability to still contend at the Tour as well.
Four riders will join the team for 2006: Australian Trent Lowe, Spaniard Egoi Martinez, Russian Vladimir Gusev and Belgian Jurgen Van Goolen. Departures include Lance Armstrong, who will still be involved with the team at the very least as one of its owners, as well as Americans Michael Creed, Antonio Cruz, and Patrick McCarty and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal.
The team remains internationally diverse with 27 riders from 16 countries, though the departure of three Americans and a Canadian from the squad means its former flavour as the most American ProTour team is somewhat diluted.
The departure of Lance Armstrong means that Discovery will be a very different team in 2006, as Bruyneel acknowledges. "Without Lance our objectives will change; who will race in what races will change and the plans for the season will change," he said. "But we still have a very strong team without him. If you look at our 2005 season and take out what Lance accomplished - basically, his Tour victory - this team had an amazing season. It was a season that any team would sign up for before it started."
Bruyneel was pointing to the fact that Armstrong had two of the team's 21 victories in 2005 - the overall and a stage at the Tour de France. Other notable performances included Paolo Savoldelli's win at the Giro d'Italia and a stage victory at the Tour de France, George Hincapie's stage victories at the Tour de France, Dauphine Libere and in the GP Plouay, and Yaroslav Popovych winning the young rider classification at the Tour de France and an overall win at the Tour of Catalunya.
Bruyneel believes the 2006 roster is a balanced one, with several riders who can step into the role of team leader. "We have plenty of strong riders who are ready to step up and take the opportunity to lead the team at a race like the Tour de France," he said. "The Tour was always our one goal and we always had one leader in Lance for that particular race. Now, riders like George, Popovych and Jose (Azevedo) are all excited to take the opportunity (to lead the team)."
With experienced riders such as Azevedo, Hincapie, Savoldelli, Beltran and Ekimov, and up-and-coming youth in Popovych, Janez Brajkovic, Danielson and Stijn Devolder should point to an exciting year for the team. "I feel like with have a really strong team but without Lance; it's going to take some time and some races to get used to him not being here," said Bruyneel. "It will be a big challenge for me. I think in a few years we'll have another strong leader at the head of this team and I think we have a few that are here now and are ready to step up into that role."
The 2006 Discovery Channel team roster
Jose Azevedo (Portugal), Michael Barry (Canada), Manuel Beltran (Spain), Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan), Volodymyr Bileka (Ukraine), Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia), Tom Danielson (USA), Stijn Devolder (Belgium), Viatcheslav Ekimov (Russia), Vladimir Gusev (Russia), Roger Hammond (Great Britain), George Hincapie (USA), Benoît Joachim (Luxembourg), Leif Hoste (Belgium), Trent Lowe (Australia), Egoi Martinez (Spain), Jason McCartney (USA), Gennady Mikhaylov (Russia), Benjamin Noval (Spain), Pavel Padrnos (Czech Republic), Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine), Hayden Roulston (New Zealand), Jose Luis Rubiera (Spain), Paolo Savoldelli (Ita), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Belgium), Jurgen Van Goolen (Belgium), and Max Van Heeswijk (Netherlands).