Bob Stapleton's HTC-Columbia team may have won five stages and secured four second places in this year's Tour de France but the American team manager is planning how to do even better in next year's race.
HTC's five stage wins came courtesy of Mark Cavendish but that tally only tells one side of a Tour that involved Adam Hansen crashing out, Mark Renshaw being thrown out and both Tony Martin and Michael Rogers faltering in the race for GC.
Originally coming to the race with the aim of propelling Tour of California winner Rogers up the leader board, while Mark Cavendish would take aim at the coveted green points jersey, the squad were forced to refocus their efforts continually through the race.
"We had to use our resources differently without Hansen and Renshaw. We couldn't put nine guys on the front. We thought we could win five stages, that we had a chance for seven and the maximum feasible was nine. We've had four seconds but you can never count on that," Stapleton told Cyclingnews.
After five days of racing, Rogers had already lost two minutes to his GC rivals and Cavendish had yet to hit form and was well done in the race for the green jersey. But the following day Cavendish made a spectacular comeback and claimed his first stage win. It led to one of
the most memorable images of the race, as the Manxman's emotions were laid bare on the podium and his eyes filled with tears.
"We never had a loss of confidence in Mark," Stapleton said. "We knew he could do it but we also knew that we had to change our game-plan because some teams had come in with a tactic designed to derail our train. We needed to adapt and we did. It's worked pretty well."
"We watched the news reports the next day where everybody basically said Cavendish didn't have it. I watched them interview nine other sprinters and ask them if they could win because Cavendish isn't that good."
Cavendish went on to win four stages but ultimately missed out on green.
"Mark's got that talent that people overlooked the last year and a half because they've been so used to seeing that train. The real deal is that Mark has the talent and tactical knowledge and ability," Stapleton said.
The HTC-Columbia manager lost or let go several high profile riders last year, including Edvald Boasson Hagen and George Hincapie, replacing them with youthful talent in Tejay Van Garderen, Leigh Howard and Matt Goss. This year the big-name exodus could be much lighter, with only Andre Greipel tipped to leave. It's something Stapleton is already planning for, while he's aware that the team's GC failings in this year race may also need to be addressed.
"I think we have to look where we're at on GC competitiveness. We're going to continue to play to our strengths around Mark and keep that train around him super strong. We'll refocus and make sure we don't have any drama or surprises in the early season and we've got a couple of young guys that we want to develop behind Mark, obviously Leigh Howard and Matt Goss. Those guys can fill the gap that will probably come from Greipel. They're both super talents and they'll develop quickly."
Rogers came into the Tour with his best form in years, winning several stages races in the Spring. However his Tour bid unravelled in the heat of the Pyrenees, and he eventually struggled home in 37th place, over an hour down on Alberto Contador.
"He was super good all season so I think it's a special case. I think it says he cant be good for seven straight months. He'd really changed his training and approach but it was really a case of too good too soon."