Bernhard Eisel believes that despite losing several big name riders, HTC-Columbia could still spring surprises in Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this weekend. Last year’s Columbia outfit included both Edvald Boasson Hagen and Marcus Burghardt, but with both moving on to Team Sky and BMC respectively, the American team look a little lighter on paper.
In the off-season the team signed several up-and-coming young riders including Leigh Howard, Jan Bakelants, Tejay van Garderen, Peter and Martin Velits, as well as the more experienced Lars Bak and Hayden Roulston.
“We can certainly surprise people,” said Eisel, who will race Het Nieuwsblad before catching a plane to join up with Mark Cavendish for training.
“We have good names but not the big stars and no real captain. Okay, I know the roads a bit better because I’ve done Het Nieuwsblad a few more times but that doesn’t mean anything or that I’m the captain,” Eisel told Cyclingnews.
Eisel believes that the team are turning over a new chapter in their history as they aim to build another successful team. “It’s like when we had a new team: We won loads of races. This year we restructured again and everyone said all the good guys had left but we’ve won the same amount of races, even without Cavendish racing. We saw Mick Rogers winning yesterday. We have a lot of talent.”
“We’ve got Goss who is quick, Velits was in the front group last year and Lars Bak is always good in those races. I think we can play a role but probably not like Quick Step or BMC.”
Eisel himself is no stranger to the Classics and has raced Paris-Roubaix multiple times, finishing in the top ten in the cobbled Classic. It’s a race he still dreams of winning and after working for the likes of George Hincapie in the past, his chance could come this year.
“I still dream about it but I’ve changed as a rider in the last few years. I’m quick but we’ve talked about it in the team and I’ve never really been a bunch sprinter. I was always there getting third fourth, fifth or top ten but I’m not the guy who can beat Mark Cavendish in a sprint. I hope I can ride with him for as long as possible.”
“I can win out of a small group like I did last year at the Tour de Suisse but I’m missing some watts. I’m improved my endurance though and hopefully that will show this Spring.”