Report Card: Garmin-Sharp

From its roots as a junior development team in 2003, the organisation which evolved into present-day Garmin-Sharp has steadily checked off milestone victories year after year. While the squad has claimed semi-Classics, a full-fledged Monument, stage wins in every Grand Tour, stage race titles in events up to 2.HC classifications, a Grand Tour team title, stints in the maglia rosa and maillot jaune, plus top-ten GC finishes in four straight Tours de France, the signature honour of a final Grand Tour GC podium position remained unclaimed. Until 2012.

And Ryder Hesjedal didn't just make the podium at the Giro d'Italia, however, he became the first rider in team history and the first Canadian to stand on the top step of the podium at the conclusion of a Grand Tour. The 2012 Giro proved to be a thrilling duel between Hesjedal and Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez in a race where final ownership of the maglia rosa wasn't decided until the concluding stage's time trial on the streets of Milan.

Hesjedal's Giro glory was tempered, however, by a disastrous July which began with Alex Rasmussen being fired after receiving an 18-month ban for violating the whereabouts system. Riding a wave of emotion into the Tour, buoyed by Hesjedal's Giro victory plus the team's performance in 2011 where it won three stages, had a stint in yellow and claimed the team title, things couldn't have gone more wrong as GC hopefuls Hesjedal and Tom Danielson were a couple of numerous victims claimed by opening week crashes while Tyler Farrar limped through the Tour after hitting the deck several times in the opening week. But the far-reaching effects of the case against Lance Armstrong brought by USADA seeped into the Tour when De Telegraaf ran an exclusive claiming that team manager Vaughters plus riders Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (along with BMC's George Hincapie and Omega Pharma's Levi Leipheimer) would face six month suspensions for admitting to doping.

Rumours and suspicions became reality as all, plus Tom Danielson, provided testimony replete with detailed accounts of their doping histories while part of the US Postal Service team as part of USADA's 1000-page reasoned decision which outlined the anti-doping agency's case against Armstrong. The Texan would ultimately be stripped of all seven Tour titles and receive a lifetime ban from all sports adhering to the WADA code. Garmin's Zabriskie, Vande Velde and Danielson all received six-month bans, currently being served, and will return to racing this coming March.

While Hesjedal's Giro title was unquestionably the marquee result of the season (and all-time) for Garmin-Sharp, the US-based WorldTour squad was a consistent, although not prolific, winner throughout the season with victories in every month from February through August, followed by podium finishes in September and October to wrap up the season. Garmin-Sharp won 23 races in 2012, three of those team time trials with the remaining victories claimed by 14 different riders on the roster.

Not only were the victories spread throughout the roster, but riders both younger and older tallied wins for the team. Seasoned pros delivered victories, such as Ryder Hesjedal (Giro champion), Robbie Hunter (South African road champion), David Zabriskie (time trial wins at Tour de Langkawi and Tour of California which led to lengthy stints in the leader's jerseys plus a sixth US national TT title), David Millar (the team's Tour savior with a well-earned stage 12 victory) and Christian Vande Velde (USA Pro Challenge overall title).

But young riders, too, stepped to the plate, none more so than then 23-year-old Sep Vanmarcke who dispatched of Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha in a three-up sprint to prevail at February's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. 24-year-old Michel Kreder took three sprint victories in the early months at Tour Méditerranéen and Circuit de la Sarthe, his 22-year-old brother Raymond won a stage at the Tour of Norway, 24-year-old Ramunas Navardauskas won Lithuania's time trial national title and provided key horsepower in team time trial victories at the Tour of Qatar and Giro d'Italia, where he earned a two-day stint in the maglia rosa. 23-year-old Nathan Haas finished a close second overall at the Tour of Britain plus there was the performance of Andrew Talansky, but more about that shortly.

US-based WorldTeams have few opportunities to race on home soil, but Garmin-Sharp definitely made its mark in the triumvirate of premier American stage races: Tour of California, Tour of Utah and Colorado's USA Pro Challenge. Garmin-Sharp was the only team to win stages in all three events with a team time trial victory in Utah, David Zabriskie's time trial victory and ultimate second place overall in California, while Tyler Farrar and Tom Danielson won stages at the USA Pro Challenge in a race won overall by Christian Vande Velde.

As a further testament to the team's depth and talent, four riders claimed national titles in 2012 (Robbie Hunter-South African road champion; David Zabriskie-US time trial champion; Ramunas Navardauskas-Lithuanian time trial champion; and Fabian Wegmann-German road champion) while seven Garmin-Sharp riders represented their nations in the road race and/or time trial at the Olympic Games in London (Jack Bauer, Tyler Farrar, Murilo Fischer, Ryder Hesjedal, Daniel Martin, David Millar, Ramunas Navardauskas).

What to expect in 2013
It's been 20 years since a rider won back-to-back Giro d'Italia titles (Miguel Indurain in 1992-93), but Ryder Hesjedal nonetheless will start the Giro with the number 1 dossard as defending champion and will hope to once again find glory in Italy. If the Canadian has the same form and sterling team support he enjoyed in 2012 anything is possible at the corsa rosa.

Tyler Farrar had a trying season in 2012, replete with numerous crashes, including multiple incidents in the Tour's opening week plus a season-ending concussion at the Tour of Britain. Podium finishes aren't enough for sprinters who are measured by their wins, and Farrar suffered through a winless drought which extended from July 4, 2011 through August 20, 2012 when he won the first of two stages at the USA Pro Challenge. Farrar's won stages in all three Grand Tours and has several semi-Classic victories in his palmares and he's due for a full season spent on the top step of the podium instead of licking wounds on the tarmac. Look for him and his teammates to make amends this year at the Tour de France.

The team is brimming with talent for both the cobbled and Ardennes Classics while stage race stalwarts such as Andrew Talansky and Daniel Martin continue to make significant strides. Martin enjoyed a solid 2012 with a 4th place at the Volta Catalunya, a 6th and 5th respectively at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, fourth overall and the mountains classification at the Tour of Beijing, 2nd in the Japan Cup plus his debut in the Tour de France.

Young Aussies Lachlan Morton, Rohan Dennis and Steele Van Hoff plus the return of Caleb Fairly are solid additions to a team already chock full of upcoming talent.

Zabriskie, Vande Velde and Danielson will return to competition in March after serving their six-month bans and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception they receive from the fans once they kit up for races.

Biggest loss
With the departure of burgeoning Classics star Sep Vanmarcke tempered by the signing of Nick Nuyens (see below), the biggest loss to the Slipstream program going forward is the dissolution of its feeder team, known in 2012 as the Chipolte-First Solar Development Team. Numerous current members of the Garmin WorldTour squad learned the ropes both domestically and internationally via the well-run Continental squad and made the transition to the big show, most recently Steele Van Hoff and Lachlan Morton for 2013. One of four US Continental teams to disappear for 2013, the development squad will be missed.

Best signing
Nick Nuyens joins Garmin-Sharp in 2013 from Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff and should prove to be a key asset in Garmin-Sharp's spring Classic campaign. Winner of the 2011 Tour of Flanders, Nuyens' 2012 cobbled campaign never came to fruition after he fractured his hip in the opening time trial at the 2012 Paris-Nice. The experienced Belgian preceded his Ronde victory in 2011 with a win at Dwars door Vlaanderen and with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Het Volk wins in his palmares he'll provide significant experience to an already solid Classics line-up.

Man to watch
In his second year at the WorldTour level, Andrew Talansky had a stellar 2012 season. The then 23-year-old came within a hair's breadth of beating Bradley Wiggins in the final stage time trial at the Tour de Romandie and finished just 12 seconds behind the raging Briton on general classification. In August Talansky claimed both his first professional victory with a stage win at France's Tour de l'Ain and then one day later wrapped up the overall general classification to win his first stage race in the pro ranks. Talansky capped off his season with a 7th place finish at the Vuelta a Espana, in just his second Grand Tour. An ace time trialer and strong climber, look for Talansky, dubbed "Pit Bull" by team boss Jonathan Vaughters, to make further progress in Grand Tours and vie for victory in other stage races throughout the season.

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