After the high-profile acquisitions of Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd and Tejay van Garderen last winter, BMC owner Andy Rihs has been more restrained in the transfer market this past off-season, even if the team presentation once showcased his munificence by taking place in the newly-opened BMC Concept Store in an anonymous industrial estate near the evocatively-named village of Nazareth, in Belgium.
Resplendent in the rainbow jersey of world champion and with the home media out in force, much attention focused on Gilbert, who joked that living in Monaco had lightened somewhat the burden of being a Belgian world champion. By his own estimate, Gilbert would have lost up to two weeks of training had he stayed in Belgium during the off-season and attended the various functions to which he was invited. Instead, he logged more training miles than last winter – “in the sun, always in the sun” – and begins his campaign early at the Santos Tour Down Under.
BMC’s transfer splurge last year meant that expectations were high coming into the classics, but with both Gilbert and Hushovd struggling with illness, the team fell short in April. General manager Jim Ochowicz is expecting more from his charges this time around, with Greg Van Avermaet also featuring. “We expect out of these star races to have a BMC rider on the podium,” Ochowicz said, adding, “we also want to have a rider on the podium at the grand tours.”
The thorny question lingers as to who that will be. Tejay van Garderen outshone his ill team leader Cadel Evans in finishing 5th at last year’s Tour de France, though both men were in agreement that Evans remains the captain for 2013. “He’s the leader for sure,” van Garderen said of Evans. “I think I’ll have a bit of free role and if Cadel’s leader, it doesn’t mean that I can’t get a result myself.”
In a mixed season for BMC in 2012, Taylor Phinney was one of the squad’s most consistent performers, enjoying a spell in pink at the Giro d’Italia, two near misses at the London Olympics and a silver medal in the world championships time trial. The American’s aim is to continue that progress through 2013 with a return to the Giro. “I think having another grand tour under my belt will bump me up another level,” he said.
Absent from the presentation in Nazareth was Alessandro Ballan, who suffered an horrific crash on the final day of the team’s training camp in Denia before Christmas, although the Italian made an appearance via Skype.