Rolf Aldag has raised the possibility that André Greipel will support Mark Cavendish at the 2010 Tour de France, as part of HTC-Columbia's plan to fill the void left by George Hincapie.
At the team's training camp in Majorca, Spain, on Monday, Aldag admitted that Hincapie had played a pivotal role in the set-up of Cavendish's six stage wins at the 2009 Tour and that it would be difficult to replace. However, he said the team was already working through strategies to ensure Cavendish was supported in his bid to claim more stage wins and the maillot vert at next year's Tour.
"[Hincapie's departure] gave me the biggest headache over the winter," said Aldag. "He has the technical know-how and was able to deliver [Cavendish's final lead-out man Mark] Renshaw to 500 metres to go at the Tour last year.
"This year, we'll divide [Hincapie's] role in two. In terms of the technical skills, Bernhard Eisel is a guy that has proven his ability. André Greipel is still an option. You'll definitely see us trying out different combinations."
The prospect of Greipel joining Cavendish at the Tour would set up a situation where one of the two most successful members of the 2009 peloton would cede his ambitions for the benefit of the other.
Asked how he would manage the risk of conflicting interests at the Tour, Aldag said it was the responsibility of the team to ensure both riders were satisfied in their individual objectives for the season.
"We need to give André goals [worthy of his ability]. He deserves his own chances. We, as a team, need to respect that," said Aldag. "We have to make him happy no matter what happens at the Tour."
In addition to Greipel and Eisel, Aldag indicated that new signings Hayden Roulston and Matthew Goss were also being considered as riders with the potential to excel in the final kilometre of Tour stages.
With two riders likely to come in to fill Hincapie's role in the Tour team, HTC's roster for the race will leave little room for secondary objectives, including that of the team's prospects for the general classification. "The setup of the Tour team will also change. With the clear objective of the green jersey it may require more investment.
"When I saw the route for the 2010 Tour de France I was sorry for Tony Martin," said Aldag. "If there had been a large number of time trials and some smaller mountains it may have changed things, but it's just not 'his Tour' at this stage of his career."
Despite the focus on Cavendish, Martin is expected to race his second Tour de France. Last season, the German finished 36th overall and Aldag explained that Martin would play his part in sprint finishes, but will be given a level of autonomy throughout the remainder of the race.
"The goal for him is to avoid the bad days he had this year. We'll expect his 600 metre effort to setup the sprints [for Cavendish], but he won't be working to close down the break for 200 kilometres, for example."
Although confident the team has riders capable of returning from France with the green jersey, Aldag indicated that this year's winner of the points classification, Thor Hushovd, will once again be the rider most likely to spoil the party. "We see Hushovd as the main rival for the green jersey. We can't let him get away from us."
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