By Les Clarke in Sydney, Australia
After a 'watershed' year for Rabobank, the Dutch squad will alter its plan of attack in 2009. The fallout surrounding Michael Rasmussen's dismissal in 2007 has continued to frustrate management throughout this year, and as such the lessons learnt from '07 and '08 means they will look to achieve different objectives next season.
That's not to say that Rabobank didn't enjoy a strong season in 2008. Oscar Freire's green jersey win at the Tour de France was an obvious standout, while Juan Antonio Flecha's status as a perennial protagonist in the Spring Classics continued to bolster stocks in the team's future. Underneath this, however, was a 'wind of change' sweeping through the respected Dutch outfit that required a shift in tack from those sailing the good ship Rabobank.
Australian sprinter Graeme Brown is part of that process, and told Cyclingnews that, "There are a lot of changes at Rabobank – a change of bikes, different management and riders... I guess you could say it is just like a new team. It's like a team changing names or re-starting; that's the feeling I get, anyway."
Brown has ridden for Rabobank for the last three seasons; this year shaped up to be his best with them yet after a solid set of performances in 2007, although it didn't quite work out as planned. As team management decided that general classification performances may have been the cause of too much tension – citing various issues around Rasmussen and the departed Thomas Dekker as examples of this – it will focus on strengthening its supply of sprinting talent and support for next season.
The winner of the Madison at the 2004 Athens Olympics will assist in this by becoming Oscar Freire's ally in more races next year. "I've had good discussions with them; Oscar and I always used to race separately and now we'll probably do more together," said Brown. "We'll make it more of a team, rather than a heap of individuals. I know it sounds silly, but Saxo Bank does it perfectly. Quick Step has everyone riding for the one sprinter, so rather than have Oscar or myself do the races individually, we're going to pull together and make sure we win the race, rather than try to win the race.
"With guys like Oscar Freire it's hard not to go wrong, but it helps when you put him in the right spot," he added.
Another change is the arrival of Theo Bos as part of the overall Rabobank team structure. The former sprint world champion on the track will be riding with the Continental arm next year, and Brown doesn't think there will any short cuts taken to get him into the ProTour ranks any sooner. "He's still got to prove himself first, win a few road races. If he gets to finish of any race he's going to kick most guys' arses because he's a sprint world champion but we just need to make sure he's got the legs for the first 200km."
Another change for Brown comes in his private life. His partner Hayley gave birth to their son Andy earlier this year, and he said life with a five-month-old is "unreal". Brown explained that, "He's an active little boy; he's got a lot of me in him – I'm active – and he's got a lot of Hayley – she's relaxed. There are times when he'll just kick back and sit on your lap as you watch TV together, while at other times he's just going bananas."
And judging by his performance in last Saturday's BikeBug 500, Freire may have no better ally than the Australian as he seeks another green jersey in 2009.