Report Card: BMC Racing Team

There were significant - even unrealistic - expectations placed on the BMC Racing Team in 2012 with Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert joining an already star-studded cast at the start of year.

Gilbert was the team’s marquee signing after an unstoppable 2011, while Hushovd’s move from Garmin was supposed to herald the Norwegian’s first monument win. They looked set to dominate in almost every race. However, illness, injury and a lack of form scuppered BMC’s new stars and it was left to other riders to fly the red and black BMC Racing Team flag.

Alessandro Ballan secured podium places in Flanders and Roubaix, while Cadel Evans started the season showing his intentions with a win in the Criterium International. Taylor Phinney blasted his way from promising rider to international star in the space of 8.7 kilometres at the Giro d'Italia. There was also a popular win for Marco Pinotti too, who closed out the race with a win in the final time trial at the Giro d'Italia.

All eyes then turned to the Tour de France. Could Evans keep the composure and poise that lifted him to glory in 2011? Could he stop Team Sky’s run-away train that had dominated a host of stage races already?

We were left in little doubt by the start of the Tour's second week when a knee injury and illness left the Australian out of the running – although a valiant ride to La Toussuire reminded everyone of the Australian’s true grit. The emergence of Tejay van Garderen at the Tour overshadowed Evans’ downturn, with the former HTC rider becoming the first American since Greg LeMond to win the white jersey.

The second half of the season saw Gilbert finally rediscover his 2011 legs with two Vuelta stage wins and a rainbow jersey. Greg van Avermaet also produced two strong rides in Montreal and Quebec WorldTour events in Canada, while van Garderen narrowly lost out to Vande Velde at the US ProCycling Challenge in Colorado. Steve Cummings picked up two wins, and Johan Tschopp claimed the Tour of Utah.

What to expect in 2013

All eyes will be on the big-name triumvirate of Hushovd Gilbert and Evans in 2013. The Norwegian hasn’t had a consistent year since 2010 and his two aggressive wins at the 2011 Tour papered over the fact that his sprint legs may have left him for good. Gilbert will be expected to win at least one Classics come the spring, while the loss of Ballan to injury provides opportunities for Van Avermaet, new-signing Daniel Oss and Phinney, who has won the U23 version of Paris-Roubaix twice.

As for the team’s stage racing potential: a lot depends on Evans and his aging legs. At 35 and with van Garderen hot on his heels, the former Tour winner will be under pressure come July. But as van Garderen will find out, there’s a gulf in pressure and performance when it comes to stepping up and riding for yellow. The 2013 Tour route certainly favours Evans’s characteristics though, and to his credit, he’s bounced back from poor Tour showings in the past.

Best signing
BMC Racing Team were relatively quiet on the transfer front this time around although the opportunity to sign Joaquim Rodriguez perhaps still can’t be ruled out. At 25 Oss joins the team at a pivotal phase in his career. Despite having gathered respectable places in a number of Classics the Italian has yet to blossom into a consistent winner and despite his decent sprint he has was deployed as a domestique under Liquigas’s care. With Ballan set to miss the Classics and Hushovd’s capabilities an unknown, Oss is a wildcard for a number of spring races. His compatibility and relationship with Gilbert will be key.

Biggest loss
George Hincapie was allowed to eek out the final breathes of his career in 2012, having agreed a confession and deal with USADA. A paltry six month ban served out after retirement was little justice for years of doping but ethics aside, his BMC teammates will miss Hincapie on the road. In terms of racing experience and knowledge the American was a valuable asset. However with the likes of Evans, Pinotti, and Hushovd, the blow is somewhat cushioned.

Who to watch
With such a star-studded array of cycling galácticos, the BMC Racing Team once again packs a strong punch in 2013. However, van Garderen stands out as the rider with most to gain this season. With Evans perhaps on the wane, BMC lack an alternative leader, with only Marco Pinotti having shown three week form in the past.

Van Garderen’s progress isn’t just crucial for BMC, it’s a matter of national importance given the USA’s recent malaise in cycling.

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