Friday Group Ride #34

The King and His Chosen Heir?

Great movement is afoot. The tides of change rise with the moon and deposit treasures of all sorts on the shore of our cycling beach. Holy Moses! That’s a horrible metaphor.

Anyway, so far we’ve seen: Contador to Sungard – SaxoBank, Greipel to Omega Pharma-Lotto, Fränk and Ändy Schleck to Luxembourg – TBD, Jurgen Van de Walle to Omega Pharma – Lotto, and many more strong support riders shifting allegiances and lining up behind new leaders.

The one that sticks out for me is Team Radio Shack. This is a sponsor that got into the sport based on the ability of Lance Armstrong to draw eyeballs to their brand at the world’s biggest sporting event, the Tour de France. Now that Armstrong has ridden his last Tour (not to mention the questionable attention he’s attracting while under federal investigation), the Shack has a very large hole to fill.

Wanted: Tour de France winner not named Contador.

Johan Bruyneel and his seemingly deep-pocketed backers have to do something big, and they need to do it now. Star of the future Taylor Phinney is not going to win the 2011 Tour de France. We could talk about when the young American star WILL be ready to vie for the French podium, but we know it’s not going to be next year, so that leaves the transfer market.

With Contador estranged from Bruyneel, the next, obvious choice is Ändy Schleck, who looks like the only rider with a shot at besting the Spaniard. Schleck has left Bjarne Riis’ Saxo Bank team, but the Luxembourg-based squad he’s rumored to be leading has yet to coalesce. Though the overwhelming odds are that that team will in fact form, is there the outside possibility that Schleck could be coming to America?

The shadow player here could be Trek. With Armstrong’s exit, the American bicycle maker is losing its best representative in the pro ranks. Of course, Contador and Schleck both rode Specialized bicycles to Paris this year, and that can’t sit well with the big wigs at Trek. They too have a stake in placing a big winner at the Shack, if only to peg back Specialized who seem to have taken over as the top US brand.

As unlikely as it seems, a case could be made that Radio Shack and Trek need to make a hard run at Schleck or suffer the financial consequences. It’s no secret that the young Luxembourger has maintained an almost obsequious attitude toward Armstrong over the past year. Is that simple respect or business savvy?

If this odd scenario doesn’t play out, who will lead the Shack next year? Will they really bet their season on the aging legs of Leipheimer and Kloeden? Or is there another possible answer that we’re just not seeing? Does Janesz Brackovic become the new kid on the block? How salable is he as a marketing asset?

What do you think?

Photo: Jake Schoellkopf/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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  1. jza

    Shack might have jumped in without checking how deep the water is. Nobody said “Hey, what if this doesn’t work.” I think they just assumed TdF wins were a given because, hey man IT’S LANCE he always wins these things.

    Hog might have some tricks up his sleeve, I see them just getting what they can out of Bottle and Horner and then disappearing quietly.

    They do have some very interesting riders on that roster. Brajkovic is a stud. Machado could be a baller, but the clock is ticking before “fast Portugese cyclist busted for epo” headline gets rolled out again.

    Phinney might be the heir as far as marketing, but racing he’ll be like Cancellara.

  2. Ron

    Hmm, I wonder if Andy Schleck sees the U.S. as a spot where he could gain a lot of new fans and maybe make a ton of money? Something like Beckham did with coming to the MLS, though Beckham is on the downside of his career and Schleck has a lot of racing still to do. Then again, cycling in Europe is a much bigger sport.

    I think RS does it’s best with what it has and fades away. As many have noted, how is the company still in business as it is? The sponsorship just seems like one more bad move for them.

    As for Phinney being like Cancellara…as in he’s a one day specialist? Or, do you think he has as much power as Fabian? He’s probably still growing and filling out, but Cancellara looks to me like a power forward while Phinney looks like a shooting guard.

  3. Champs

    With or without new blood, RadioShack is looking at a shaky situation next season. The title sponsor is definitely on death watch.

    The men in plaid aren’t too far behind. People want GPS in their phone, and Garmin phones are not selling.

    How about Caisse d’Epargne pulling itself back from the brink as Movistar?

  4. Champs

    And leave it to me to forget my original point; as jza says, Taylor Phinney appears to be a man for classics, not a grand tour contender. After all, he’s the same size as Tom Boonen.

  5. cboas

    Jani is the RS man for next year. The Dauphine showed that.
    That buys Johan to find a new sponsor as RS Corp. is feeling the pain of gambling on Lance, Levi and Co.*

    *An aside: Aging executives in Amercian companies are unlikely to invest in sponsorship of teams with young riders. The risk is too high for them, the domestic exposure too little, and the age of the riders too much of a reminder that 1999 was a long time ago. They want riders that the Dr. and Lawyers can get as misty eyed about as their red corvette. I digress.

    The Schlecks are not going to RS and Team Luxembourg will be a dissappointment, because Andy and Frank don’t realize you need a strong team and smart director to pull you to the mountains in a grand tour. Not just two fast skinny climbers.

    Contador gets #4 in 2011, by 3-4 minutes.

  6. randomactsofcycling

    I really hope all of this attention does not adversely affect a ride that is still just a kid. If the USA really expects him to fill Lance’s shoes, whoa, that’s some mighty pressure. He seems like a nice kid but let’s give him a couple of years before he gets pigeon holed as a rider.
    Radio Shack will go the way of Discovery – nowhere. Lance came back, realised he had lost a) the respect of the peloton and b) some speed. Now that he has hooked up another corporate lifeline for his friend Johan, he can ride off into the sunset with George Bush on their matching mountain bikes. Bruyneel will do the same at the end of the sponsorship.

  7. dacrizzow

    if radio shack (the company) had someone who knows bike racing they would’ve known it was a bad idea. any race lance or his team ever has done seems to be to “not win, only training for the tour”. teams like b-box get tv coverage for a few hours a day in breakaways as opposed to 30 seconds on a podium at the end of three weeks. b-box missed a good breakaway this last tour and their DS had them ride at the front to make sure the brand was seen. THAT is thinking about your sponsers.

  8. grolby

    “Andy and Frank don’t realize you need a strong team and smart director to pull you to the mountains in a grand tour. Not just two fast skinny climbers.”

    I’m pretty skeptical about this statement – it assumes that Andy and Frank are leaving Saxo and Riis because they think they have a better chance of winning the Tour somewhere else. That seems doubtful; they’re pro riders, they know this stuff. There are lots of reasons that riders might leave a team. But even so, consider the riders rumored to be coming with them to the new team. Most of the names we’ve heard so far belong to some pretty strong riders. And Kim Anderson is no slouch as a DS. I doubt that they’ll win the Tour, but I also doubt that they’ll embarrass themselves.

    I do think that this Luxembourg team is going to materialize in some form or another, and they won’t end up on Radio Shack. So the Shack is definitely in trouble; even if Taylor Phinney has an epic debut season and wins Paris-Roubaix or something (no, I’m not suggesting for a moment that I think this will happen), what the hell would Radio Shack do with that? Maybe one day he’ll have some fraction of Lance’s marketing potential, but not next season. Possibly not ever; he’ll grow up, but he definitely comes across as a bit dopey and awkward at the moment. Hopefully he’ll get past that to become America’s Next Badass Cycling Hero.

  9. Jim

    Whoops. Comment fail.

    Janesz Brackovic is 27 years old. He’s been “showing promise” as a possible GC contender since he won the U-23 ITT Worlds. You know what a guy who has been “showing promise” as a possible GC contender for 5+ years is called? Christophe Moreau. Phinney looks wonderful but he appears to be more of a one-day rider. It isn’t impossible for a big kid with huge power to win the Tour, but it hasn’t been done since Ulrich did it, and wasn’t done repeatedly before that since The Big Mig was doing it. Contador would be the Heir Apparent, but he has a style and personality that seems to rub 50% of people very wrong at all times; I’m in that camp of people who can’t stand him, and I don’t know why, but that lack of understanding of “why” doesn’t make my dislike for him any less. The Schlecks… nice, but they are pretty much going for an All-Luxembourg thing, and I’m not sure they have it in them to be dominant, hero-types on the GC stage, though Andy looks to have a few grand tour wins in his legs.

    So my answer is a non-answer. There’s no heir apparent, let’s just sit back and enjoy the fight for the throne.

  10. cboas

    All the talk about where riders are going in the off season with regards to different teams and there has been little comment about what Saxo has turned into other than just AC in, and Andy out.

    Novarro & 3 other AC workhorses and Fabian rumored to be staying on?… WTF?
    That is some serious horsepower.
    Winners of Tour of Flanders, Paris Roubaix, and TdF.
    2nd at Dauphine, World Champ contender, E3 Grand Pris, 2nd at FW.

    If AC was in Fabians pocket (instead of Andy) on Stage 3 in 2010 TdF, this years Tour would have been even less exiciting.

    #4 in 2011 for AC.

  11. sophrosune

    First off, Phinney will never, ever win the TdF or make the podium. If he does, I’ll eat my Campagnolo cycling cap. Second, Brackovic will continue to be a real contender for one-week stage races, but I really don’t see him winning a grand tour…ever.

    RS will probably look to their grey beards to win the grand tours. Leipheimmer and Kloden look to be their main guys and Horner will be their lieutenant. Whether that’s the way to go seeing how things went in 2010 is a good question.

    I never understood RS’s reason to support the old-age part of Astana as a cycling team, but I guess Armstrong was too attractive for them to think clearly.

  12. MattyVT

    Chris Horner’s 10th place at the tour would be an achievement on many other teams, namely the French ones. He’ll be 39 next year and although he keeps improving with age he’s not the type of rider you build a team around. And as much as I like Levi, it would appear that age is starting to get the better of him.

    Maybe they’ll make a move for an up-and-comer like Van Den Broeck, or even Ryder Hesjedal as he’s (North) ‘Murican. After all, raiding the Vaughters tour talent camp is becoming a sport in itself.

  13. SinglespeedJarv

    and the same question can be asked of Cervelo.

    But what is this obsession with having a contender for the Grand Tours. For Radioshack it is obvious as the Tour seems to be the only thing that most American’s can understand about cycling.

    Radioshack have the second oldest average age for all pro teams this year and is this reflected in the fact that they are languishing in 29th place in total wins for the year, with 11. However, Cycling Quotient have them listed as 6th on team points. So they have lots of riders capable of getting results without actually winning anything. So it this enough for Radioshack and the American public? Or, with the disappearance of Armstrong, the public adopt one of the other American teams?

  14. todd k

    SinglespeedJarv: Good points and questions. For sure being 6th on team points in the UCI is not enough for Radioshack the company. (I’m even doubtful that the Board of Directors on the whole were aware there was a “prestigious” team competition at the Tour when Radioshack won the team competition.)

    This is a team based on the perpetuation of a mindset that the Tour is the only race that can define greatness and therefore the only race that really matters. The reasoning to me is far too embedded in circular reasoning for me to be overly enthusiastic about the team in general.

    I’m doubtful folks will embace the other American teams in general in high numbers. HTC/Columbia has been around for a while now and has been successful and arguable more successful this past tour, but I still don’t think most folks know who Cavendish is and why they should care. Maybe some day they will know Tejay van Garderen, but only if he succeeds in the Tour. Garmin was around during the Armstrong retirement years and have had some success, even with an American rider in Christian Vande Velde one year. I’m not really sure what it would take for folks in the US to see value and worth outside of the Grand Tours, especially if we insist that all riders must succeed in them before they warrant our attention. I often wonder if things would have been viewed differently had we had more substantial success in the Classics prior to success in the Tour.

    All this comes back around for me to a general dissatisfaction that I have with so many folks insisting on talking about “Phinney the Tour candidate”. In part because it is far far too early to determine if he has that potential. Last time I checked he had not even ridden in a Grand Tour. But mostly I get irked because it is becuase it is entirely dismissive about his potential to develop into a great classics rider. To be fair I dont think any cyclist is immune to this, though. Earlier this year Cancellara was being talked up by Riis as a potential Tour candidate. I rather like that Cancellara has far been fairly dismissive of the idea. But it just goes to show how much the sport is aligned to the Tour specifically and the grand tours generally.

  15. Hank

    By next season Bruyneel will be retired as a result of the Feds investigation. Lance will be radioactive as a spokesperson and Radio Shack will probably be in Chapter 11. Better look elsewhere for a development vehicle for American talent. Maybe BMC.

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