By Susan Westemeyer
The Team High Road men have notched up a total of eight wins since March 30, with six of them going to the team's talented youngsters. Kim Kirchen, at the ripe old age of 29, took two stage wins in the Volta al País Vasco to break the youngsters' streak, but in one of those stages, he pipped 22 year-old team-mate Morris Possoni at the finish line.
The dominant rider at the moment is 22 year-old Mark Cavendish, who uses his explosive power and speed to win sprints. After winning gold in the Manchester Track World Championships in the Madison with High Road team-mate Bradley Wiggins, he turned his attention to road racing and promptly won the second stage of the Driedaagse van de Panne, coming out of nowhere to win by two bike lengths. And since that was so good, the "Manx Express" did it again the next morning, once again beating Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) but this time by only a few centimetres.
"Mark is really exceptional," said directeur sportif Alan Peiper. "Nothing seems able to take away his self-confidence. Other sprinters lose their self-belief quickly, but what makes Mark so exceptional is that his morale remains so solid come what may."
After a disappointing Gent-Wevelgem, "Cav" blasted back in the Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen, pipping a very surprised Tom Boonen on the finish line. "It was a super sprint. He was a little bit too far back but did two sprints: One to get up to Erik Zabel and then another to beat Boonen. He was clearly the fastest in the final metres," according to directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman.
Cavendish himself noted that "some people sprint until 300 metres to go ... I had to get around them; it was like dodging traffic islands out there."
Another 22 year-old recorded his first pro win this season. Tony Martin won the Hel van het Mergelland in a long breakaway with Adam Hansen. "It's a really exceptional victory after an exceptional race. They fought like animals to get their break away. First they only had a minute, then 90 seconds but they kept going until the bunch split into four," Hoffman said. "I'm very pleased for the team, but I'm also pleased because it's good to see when two riders - any riders - are so aggressive in a race and they get the right reward: a great win."
The first and last of the wins in the streak have come from the youngest on the team, Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, who is just 20 years old. Despite his tender age, he is reigning national time trial champion, and showed why, when he won the third stage time trial in the Criterium International, finishing the technical 8.3 km course seven seconds ahead of team-mate Martin.
"Edvald did a classy ride, he made no mistakes and calculated his strength perfectly," said directeur sportif Valerio Piva. "At the half-way time check he was one second down on Tony, and then he turned up the throttle to finish seven seconds ahead. That shows real control and power." He lauded the youngster's first win for High Road, saying, "For a 20 year-old, it's an amazing achievement, and one which really bodes well for the future."
But the talented Norwegian showed that he can do more than time trial. On Thursday, he scored the sprint out of a four-man group to win the GP de Denain, only 24 hours after Cavendish won the Scheldeprijs. He was part of a breakaway of 15 riders which got away early, and helped to whittle the group down to six.
"He jumped away with five other guys on the second to last lap at a danger point where there was a bit of a climb and a cross-wind and I'd warned them attacks could go." Hoffman said. "[French sprinter] Jimmy Casper was still in that move, so Edvald tried again and wore the rest out with another attack." This reduced the lead group even further, to just four. "Then in the finish he went again and this time the other guys were too tired to respond."
Boasson Hagen won by several lengths. "Edvald sprinted so strongly for the line that there wasn't anybody else in the finishing photo," according to Hoffman. "It was a really classy charge for the line."
Hoffman, as well as the rest of the team, was pleased with the results the team has brought in. "The great thing is that it's not just one of them, either. Mark, Edvald, Tony Martin: they are all winning," he said, adding that the string of victories "shows how well the team's focus on new talent is working."