Standing by Ballan as CONI close in
Allan Peiper believes that BMC were pushed into a corner during this year’s Tour de France after mounting criticism over the team’s performance in the race but that the team fought back during the second half of the season.
BMC went into the Tour de France with 2011 winner Cadel Evans, Tejay van Garderen and then-world champion Philippe Gilbert on their roster. However both GC riders crumbled and but for van Garderen’s second place on Alpe d’Huez, were virtually anonymous from the overall battle. Gilbert faired little better, seemingly at odds with the team’s tactics during the opening week.
“We were pushed right into a corner at the Tour de France with the press and the public not talking so positively about us and not having any good results. Sometimes that’s what you need though, you need your backs against the wall,” Peiper told Cyclingnews.
“We had that in the Tour and I think the boys came out fighting after that. They came out fighting and we won three stages in Poland, and three in Austria. The boys put on the boxing gloves and came out fighting."
On the morning after the Tour concluded in Paris the team confirmed that John Lelange had left his role within the management set-up.
“The public saw in the last three months of this year that we did race differently,” Peiper said.
“We did have guys winning races and we were in every breakaway in the Vuelta. There wasn’t a break that went away that we weren’t in. We don’t race like that every time but we want to be an offensive team, especially in the Classics because if you have strength in numbers that’s where you can go on the offensive.”
Towards the Classics
The Classics will be another major objective for the US-registered team in 2014. Peiper has already begun work on tweaking Gilbert’s race programme, while Taylor Phinney will be expected to be among the key riders at Paris-Roubaix and the other flat semi-Classics.
Two other riders Peiper will be expecting results from are Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Ballan. Both riders have had health problems in the last two years but Hushovd looked to be returning to something near his best during the second half of 2013. The former world champion won two stages of the Tour de Pologne, the overall at the Arctic race and a stage of the Tour of Beijing in October.
Without singling out one rider, Peiper is keen to stress the depth of talent BMC have within their armoury. There has been little debate over the talent the team has but in previous seasons there have been questions over how the team have utilised and drawn the best from the riders at their disposal.
“Thor is back to where he was. He is really strong again when he showed that in Poland. A good preparation and start to the season and he could be on fire for the Classics. But Thor realises that with the depth in the team that there are other guys who could play a critical role in the Classics. Daniel Oss was fourth in Harelbeke, Taylor was seventh in Milan San Remo and that could make us stronger and more unpredictable. I think Thor is fine with that because strength in numbers is always something to take in the finale of a Classic.
“The team we have, and the depth we have on a number of fronts, means we have a strong potential. It’s up to the management and the sports science team to get the best out of that potential. It’s a gold mine that hasn’t been brought up to full production yet.
“There’s one word that keeps coming back in my mind and that’s synergy. That’s something that you can’t order or create, it happens by itself and you can only set the stage for it happen.”
Ballan: back or banned?
The future of Ballan still remains up in the air. The Italian has been called to appear before the Italian Olympic Committee’s National Anti-Doping Tribunal on January 16, where he will respond to charges stemming from the Mantova-based police investigation into alleged doping at his former Lampre team.
CONI’s anti-doping prosecutor has recommended a two-year suspension for the former world champion, citing article 2.2 of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, which forbids the "Use or attempted use by an athlete of a prohibited substance or a prohibited method."
Ballan has denied doping but the situation has left BMC under pressure to provide a clear stance on the Italian’s situation. News of Ballan’s implication first broke in April 2010, when his new team BMC temporarily suspended him from racing and later reactivated him.
When further developments in the slow-moving Mantova case were reported in 2012 and 2013, BMC opted not to take further action against Ballan, who has now spent four seasons at the team with the investigation rumbling in the background.
“I don’t know about the ban or how it’s going to work out but we have him down to race from January and that’s going to be a good start for him,” said Peiper.
Asked if the team would stand by Ballan, Peiper added: “There’s been a lot things said about him in the last few years, about a lot of other riders as well but the court does it work, the UCI makes decisions based off that and until those things are spoken out in a court of law it’s not for us to say yes or no.
"We’re standing behind Alessandro at the moment because of his accident last year, and we’ve stood behind riders before who have been sick and it’s not for us to make a decision about that case in Italy. That will come out by itself without it having any affect on it."
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