Proven champions ready to work for each other
When the Spring Classics roll around, much of the cycling world's attention will be focused on the Belgian teams Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto or HTC-Columbia. Last year, the Cervélo TestTeam stole some of the show with stellar performances by Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler, but come this April it might just be the BMC team that shines.
Each having a cobbled Classic to his name, George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan and Marcus Burghardt will be a formidable trio in races like Gent-Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, provided the team earns invitations to those events.
While shared leadership could be a source of friction in some squads, all three riders expressed a strong desire to work toward a team victory over personal goals.
The only member of the team with a Monument to his name, Ballan, the winner of the 2007 Ronde, left Lampre after six seasons with the team for BMC in part because he heard that Hincapie and Dutchman Karsten Kroon had gone to the Swiss/American squad.
Both Ballan and Hincapie have stood on the podium of Paris-Roubaix, both have a burning desire to hoist the famed cobble trophy overhead this year. "It's the race that everyone wants to win but nobody wants to ride," Ballan joked.
Between them the two have three podium finishes in Roubaix, yet both are happy to work with each other toward that shared goal even though only one man can cross the line in first place.
"It's definitely not a problem, it's a strength," Ballan said. "We all have goals, but if one wins, we all win."
For the 30-year-old Italian, the switch to BMC was an opportunity to try something new, to learn English, and it was a carefully considered move. Without ProTour status, the team's calendar will include fewer big races, and therefore fewer chances for glory. Yet rather than a sense of competition, Ballan was given assurances there would be cooperation.
"Before I signed, I called George to ask him about the decision, and he was happy - he signaled that we would support each other in our individual goals."
Hincapie echoed that sentiment, saying he's excited to do the races with what he called "the strongest Classics team I've ever been on."
"I'm excited to do the races, and to have several cards to play in the finale. Ballan and Burghardt have been up there many times, and are very talented.
"It's my place ... to know if I need to be sole leader that day. If I'm not doing great, I know that I can still do one of the best jobs in the world to help the guy who feels the best."
The expertise that these riders have on the cobbles could prove handy come July should the team gain an invitation to the Tour de France. With 13.2km of cobbled sectors in the Tour's first week, Hincapie, Burghardt and Ballan could be critical in protecting team leader Cadel Evans.
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