Friday Group Ride #79

The silly season is upon us, and, with the demise of HTC-Highroad, there are a lot of top riders on the market. The merger of QuickStep with Omega Pharma and the start up of the Australian GreenEdge project will also shuffle the pack. And of course, there is the normal, seasonal activity on top of all that.

One move that is sure to create waves is Thor Hushovd’s switch from Garmin-Cervelo to BMC. Hushovd, who absolutely killed it at the Tour de France this summer, was not happy with how G-C managed his spring classics campaign. He believes he’ll get better support and higher priority at BMC. More money probably helps, too.

As a result of Hushovd’s announcement, Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters promptly excluded the Norwegian from his team’s roster for the Vuelta a España. This makes perfect sense as the Garmin-Cervelos will need all the points they can get for returning riders, in order to maintain their WorldTour placing. Deploying departing riders isn’t very useful to managers in the current pro set up. It’s better for Vaughters to key on Tyler Farrar, who is staying, in grand tour sprints. That Hushovd evinced surprise over losing his Vuelta spot is silly.

One has to wonder the wisdom of Hushovd’s move, though, given that Cadel Evans has already told BMC boss Jim Ochowicz point blank that he doesn’t want Hushovd at the 2012 Tour de France. Freelancers need not apply. If the god of thunder knew that going in, it says something about his commitment to winning Paris-Roubaix, and may indicate BMC’s resolve to support him there.

Another big move is in the offing for Philippe Gilbert, the world’s number one rider. He has been linked with both the new, Belgian super squad and BMC, though where he would fit in with the latter is hard to see, given his large salary and the amount of support he would need to achieve his spring (and fall) targets. Gilbert is running out of things to accomplish. Milan-San Remo and/or one of the cobbled classics must be on his list, but that level of ambition requires ambitious support. With the reported salary of Hushovd being $2.5M euro, it seems likely that BMC—despite its well-deep pockets—was angling for either Hushovd or Gilbert, but not both.

Finally, there is the curious case of Mark Cavendish. In my mind, you can reasonably ask whether the Manxman’s departure from HTC-Highroad preceded or precipitated the end of HTC’s sponsorship of the team. Regardless, now, he’s moving on, and he’s doing it without his lead out man Mark Renshaw, who has already signed with Rabobank in an effort to move from second fiddle to first violin. If Cavendish goes to Sky, as has been rumored, who will comprise his new lead out? There will be more money and a home-based team, but Sky will have the same problem with Cav that BMC might have with both Hushovd. Too many stars, not enough water carriers.

That brings us to our question. Which of these riders will land well, and which will be disappointed in 2012? The motivation to move from one team to another lives somewhere at the nexus of greed, ego and ambition. Getting the balance right is key to success, as long as you measure success by wins. So, who is getting it right? And whose pride goeth before a fall?

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. randomactsofcycling

    I think Thor has made a great move.
    He’s done pretty much all he can at the TdF and he’s longing for a Paris-Roubaix victory. Anyone who saw the ‘team talk’ on the Garmin-Cervelo bus this year knows there were way too many chiefs on that team. It also seems that Farrar is the designated sprinter and let’s face it, Haussler is as good in the classics.
    If he gets the kind of support for the Classics that Evans got for the Tour, look out. With Big George clearly relegated to ‘Super’ domestique duties, being given sole-leadership and the correct support that goes with it does lot for a rider’s peace of mind and confidence.
    If Cav ends up at Sky, I also think it’s a good move. Let’s face it, Wiggins is never going to win the Tour and although Cav’s ‘train’ at HTC is given a lot of well deserved credit, he is more than capable of riding a la McEwen and winning on his own (so to speak).
    One rider I really hope benefits from Gilbert’s apparent ‘move’ to Quickstep is Tom Boonen. If indeed Gilbert’s contract is for the Management company and he is therefore already contracted for next year, perhaps this is the missing motivation Tom needs to find top form and prove who is the better Belgian?

  2. Doug P

    I have vivid memories of “Super” Mario’s leadout train, see from above in the helicopter shots in the TDF and the Giro. No one could come around! Cav’s leadouts were equally inspiring. Watching Mark Renshaw, with his impeccable sense of timing, and a turn of speed unparalleled in the sport, wrest victory from the peloton was a real treat. But doing the hat trick of becoming a star in his own right….well, that’s a horse of a different flavor! Mark needs to have a talk with Big George about that……

  3. melbin_rider

    renshaw has previously stated that cav has about 5-10 km/h on him for top speed, so i think he’ll be fine at sky. obviously starting your sprints from position 1 helps, but the missile does have one hell of a kick. can see renshaw continuing to lead out rabobank pure sprinters, isn’t michael matthews with them?

    as for thor, not sure there. how much was gilbert asking again? 2.5m euro for thor is not small money, though for sure he is an epic rider, but gilbert is tantalising – no? if I had to choose (albeit sitting on the couch and making the decision without my own money) might have picked gilbert. will thor disappoint, can’t say that, but gilbert is almost money in the bank.

  4. Souleur

    hey guys, great friday ride

    Its been something I have mentioned before and this continual dynamic, eloquently said as the balance in the ‘nexus of greed, ego and ambition’ is what teams do now as they restructure. As perennial as the sunflowers in july is the strife of restructuring and finding that magical balance by march….april and so forth.

    I think Thor has struck a deal, or even better yet, Farrar has by default. Either way, this will be best for all especially since they both really are alpha personalities on the same team, committed to the same task. Good luck to both, it’ll be good to see you next year boys.

    Gilbert has everything to lose IMHO. He has a good support now, and moving to ‘BMC’ as rumored may bring with it alot of expectations to a penultimate year he has already had, anything short will seem to be a failure. Minus a GC contender season, which some have surmised, would be the only thing that would top this fantastic season and something tells me the maillot-juane will have something to say about that.

    Cav at sky will be an odd fit IMO. We must admit, the HTC squad was tasked to lead out…and thats about it. They had no REAL GC’r, really. They had a few climbers, no support for a GC’s and they had..well..Renshaw, the stud and the lead out team that was like a team of Clydesdales coming through the peloton when the time came for the work to get done. Kudo’s, because they did it. Look at the team palmares for the year…its produced. Cav will have no Renshaw at Sky and I am not sure how/if Sky will restructure. This will be the question, to surround themselves w/a lead out for Cav, who has produced more wins in the TdF or to go for the GC’r, Wiggo and surround him for a real hopeful. The team fundamentally cannot do both, and must focus on one of the two. To go with Wiggo will make Cav feel like he is being thrown into the scrap heap, to go w/Cav will make the Brits all go nuts, which they may either way.

    I’m done pulling, pull on around, I’m drafting for a bit

  5. Mark

    I’m left highly puzzled by Thor’s move. An apparent desire to be the unquestioned team leader and protected rider led him to move from Garmin-Cervelo to… BMC? How, exactly, does that improve things? Perhaps there’s more behind the scenes, with respect to the late or non-existent World Championships payoff, or simply not working well with the rest of the team or team management. Then again, I can’t help but think that once a rider gets up to a high level of salary, ego is an important motivator of who to ride for.

    Wherever Cavendish lands, I would think it would take some time to reestablish a great sprint train. That’s not something that comes around too quickly.

    Gilbert? I’m not the greatest observer of race tactics, but it seems like his most impressive victories this season (and late last season) didn’t have much to do with teammates. I’m sure they were a huge help in the first 3/4 of any given race, but the man seems to have better late-race fitness than anyone else in the peleton this year. If (and that’s a mighty big if) he’s in a similar shape next season, will it matter what team he’s on? He’s so good that Hincapie’s best shot at winning PR might come with Gilbert as a teammate, and Hincapie given some leash on a breakaway. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad scenario.

    Unmentioned, and possibly quite important, is Allan Peiper’s move from the defunct HTC-Highroad to Garmin-Cervelo. I have some respect for Jonathan Vaughters, but Peiper might bring some much-needed tactical acumen to the ex-argyle boys. Aside from pushing the boundaries on calculated risks in the TTT, I’ve been more impressed by Vaughters as an executive than as a director sportif. I’ll leave it at that before I’m rightly derided for talking about things I don’t know enough about.

  6. Paul

    I noticed that Sky just signed up another Colombian climber, which makes it look like they are building around Wiggins, not Cavendish. Can they do both? Not sure, they do already have a pretty good lead out train as they have proved at times for both Swifty and EBH. Geraint Thomas is as good as they come, although he perhaps wants more for himself.

    1. Padraig

      Paul: History says no, you can’t do both. No one who has finished on the podium of the Tour in the last 10 years had a sprinter with a leadout train on his team. This is just another example of Sky’s inability to contain its outsized ambition.

  7. Martin W

    Re: Cavendish to Sky, there may be a short-to-medium term plan rather than a long term conversion into a sprinter’s support team. The links between British Cycling and Sky are very strong – in fact it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins – and I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if Cavendish was there for this year’s Worlds and the London Olympics and then moved again at the end of the 2012 season by prior agreement.

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