Bob Stapleton believes his HTC-Columbia team is well positioned to compete for riders after 2009 saw the first major buy-outs of riders already under contract by rival teams. While the practice of big-dollar transfers is common in sports like football, the tactics employed to entice riders like Bradley Wiggins from Garmin-Slipstream to Team Sky were a reasonably new occurrence for cycling.
Stapleton’s team was also at the centre of Team Sky’s thirst to fill out its first ProTour roster, with riders like Greg Henderson and Edvald Boasson Hagen being lost to the British outfit. Despite admitting he wished HTC-Columbia was able to hold on to Boasson Hagen in particular, Stapleton believes his outfit is well positioned to compete for riders.
“I don’t fear that at all,” said Stapleton. “I’m ready for that anytime anybody wants to do that, we can be active in that too. I do think it’s a little unique; there are a lot of new teams in the market that need to have key riders. I mean I think Sky was in trouble if they didn’t have Wiggins. I think for the British market they needed a top name British rider, that’s just reality.
“I think BMC, to get into the big races, needed big names,” he added. “It makes total sense to me and I feel like we can play in that game very well, on defense or offense – whatever it takes.”
One rider Stapleton has no plans of pursuing is defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador, whose contract with Astana is up for renewal at year’s end. It’s nothing personal between Contador and Stapleton, instead the team is taking a different development path to try and achieve glory at the French Grand Tour.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for him but we haven’t spoken to him at all,” said Stapleton. “I just feel like he’s going to be the dominant guy at the Tour for the foreseeable future. We’ve got our sprinters and we’ve got our young guys we’re going to grow. If we’re going head-to-head with him in two, three, four years from now with someone fresh and new then great. I think there’s a lot of interest around him and we really aren’t in that game at all.”
Stapleton applauded Team Sky’s approach of observing other teams and applying the best methods to the formation of its team. Now the tables will turn, however, with Stapleton expecting to pick up a thing or two from his British rivals.
“You know, I’m going to keep my eye on Sky,” he said. “They’ve got the biggest budget by far, they’ve got a lot of expertise they’ve brought in from the track. I want to look to see what they do to see what we can borrow from them.
“I think, right now, they definitely look a lot like us,” he added. “They even have the same fabric, the same clothing supplier, there’s a lot of things that are very similar. I feel like we can go toe-to-toe with anybody, even with a budget that’s much less than a Sky or a Katusha. We just have to work harder and smarter, but I believe in the people here.”
Stapleton believes that Team Sky’s willingness to go head-to-head with his riders is excellent news for the sport. Having a second team working towards the same goal as his own team increases competition for them and entertainment for fans, something that was lacking in the closing stages of last season, according to Stapleton.