So Omega Pharma has announced it will merge with another team. L’Equipe is reporting that there will be no Belgian superteam merger with QuickStep. Rather, the merger is likely to take place with Dutch formation Vacansoleil.
Why no announcement has been forthcoming from Vacansoleil is curious. If the deal is done enough for Omega Pharma to announce that there will be a merger, one wonders why Vacansoleil needs to wait.
Regardless, the merger is unfortunate. Any team merger—such as this season’s merging of Garmin and Cervelo—invariably results in a game of musical chairs that leaves a number of people without seats. From riders to mechanics to soigneurs, there are always some good people who are left scrambling looking for paychecks when one formation ends, and that happens even if they don’t act like Trent Lowe.
The two best Belgian climbers in a generation (or two), Jelle Vanendert and Jurgen van den Broeck are said to be headed to the new Lotto formation, and that—quelle surprise (exclaimed with not even a hint of irony)—Philippe Gilbert is headed for BMC. That’s great for Gavin Chilcott, Jim Ochowicz and Andy Rihs, but I mean, dude.
I began today thinking that today’s FGR would speculate on just what formation would join forces with Omega Pharma, but with these latest revelations, the question has changed.
If you have Philippe Gilbert, who is unquestionably the finest one-day rider of this season, at your disposal, would anything short of your personal, professional and moral bankruptcy allow Gilbert to slip from your clutches? There’s no denying that Vanendert and van den Broeck are gifted climbers but nothing signs sponsors like a win, which is something Gilbert can do against anyone, any day.
And while we’re at it, you can’t help but wonder what else BMC has up their sleeve. Are BMCs selling that much faster than Cervelos that Rihs can fund a formation with some of the world’s top riders out of his pocket without suffering the same fate as the Canadian frame maker? Not to put too fine a point on it, but multiple sources told me that team nearly bankrupted the company. Do you think Rihs is really funding the team strictly out of BMC’s operations or is he feeding it with his own money?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
I spent about 20 minutes Sunday morning trying to explain the Stage Two Team Time Trial (TTT) to my four-year-old. There was really no parallel I could draw to anything within his frame of context (Transformers, Lego, Beyblades), so we ended in failure, him cheering every rider that came across the line first, at the head of a line of teammates.
The TTT had two winners, of course. One was Thor Hushovd who led the Garmin-Cervelos over the line to take the yellow jersey. I thought, on Stage One, that Philipe Gilbert had pulled off a good trick by getting to pull the maillot jaune over the Belgian National Champion’s jersey, but then the Bull of Grimstad one-upped him by pulling yellow over world champion stripes. In that one magical moment, all the disappointments of the Norwegian’s early season seemed to disappear. The order to let Hushovd cross the line first was a tactical masterwork by G-C management. A happy viking is a helpful viking (more on that in a minute).
The other big winner was Cadel Evans, whose BMC squad managed to take second place, and, because Garmin-Cervelo has no current threat for the general classification, Evans was able to add valuable seconds to his lead real candidates for the overall, for even though Hushovd wears yellow, everyone knows he isn’t a contender for GC. BMC’s performance was all the more impressive as none of their squad are world-class time trialists. It speaks to a level of organization and focus that, in a TTT, can overcome raw power, and it suggests that Evans finally has the team support he needs to make a credible tilt at the top podium step.
Stage three was your standard TdF sprint stage, except that the intermediate dash for green jersey points saw both Hushovd AND Mark Cavendish relegated for a brief tussle that barely registered on TV cameras. It was just another blow to Cavendish’s green jersey hopes, which were dented further in the run into the finish.
HTC-Highroad’s lead out seemed to come to the fore awfully early, with riders peeling off the front well in advance of the line. When things really got hot near the end, the blue helmets of Garmin-Cervelo suddenly appeared, and then cut the HTCs out entirely on a hard left-hander, Cavendish losing his line and leaving Hushovd in yellow to lead out Tyler Farrar for the win.
Yes. The sight of the yellow jersey on the back of the world champion leading out a sprint for a teammate is something you should try to remember. To my knowledge, it has not happened before, it may well not happen again. This is the fruit Garmin-Cervelo get to reap for taking care of Hushovd in the TTT the day before, and it allowed the big Norwegian to further burnish his reputation as an act of pure class.
Farrar winning on the 4th of July was a nice storyline for American fans. His ‘W’ victory salute in tribute to fallen friend Wouter Weylandt was a nice touch. Garmin-Cervelo are clearly the darlings of the 2011 Tour thus far.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
One of the perks of writing about cycling gear is that from time to time you receive schwag. From jerseys to courier bags to T-shirts by the pound, bike companies spend untold dollars giving this stuff to journalists. Knowing that all this stuff is a drain on bottom line, I try to be mindful and respectful when I am the recipient of said schwag.
Honestly, some of the stuff isn’t that exciting, but every now and then some item clears the bar of wearable and vaults up into the territory of real find. Take these Merino wool socks from Castelli. Unless a pair of socks is hideous in appearance or so coarse as to be uncomfortable (both happen), they are likely to make it into my rotation. I’ve got so many pairs of socks I could go a month—maybe more—and not worry about dirty socks.
These are part of the Garmin-Cervelo kit, which explains the Garmin blue at the back of the sock, as shown above.
They are thinner than most wool socks, making them perfect for warm weather and come in three sizes, so unlike some socks, these actually came in a size that fit my foot. Perhaps their best feature is that they are available as part of Castelli’s Service Course custom clothing program. The only possible knock against the sock is that it has pilled a bit since these images were taken.
When it comes to great cycling clothing, touting the benefits of Assos can at times be a bit like shooting apples in a barrel—it’s that easy. The reason I do review Assos products is to show just how good a piece of apparel can be.
For reasons I can’t explain, Castelli doesn’t seem to receive the respect it deserves. This sock is a perfect example of just how good Castelli’s clothing is. Given that their stuff is noticeably less expensive than Assos’ and yet usually significantly better than anything offered by their similarly priced competitors, I can’t fathom why their stuff isn’t more popular.
Just to be super-explicit about this: When it comes to custom clothing, they are in the top three of all the clothing I’ve ever worn. These socks are a perfect example of the company’s attention to detail.
I watched yesterday’s Paris-Roubaix twice. There were so many pivotal moments, I needed the second viewing to make sure I’d seen what I thought I’d seen. To my eye, it looked as though with 30kms to go and the gap to the breakaway plummeting, Fabian Cancellara sat up and decided to have a chat with his team car. At that juncture the gap was 25 seconds. When the big Swiss decided, in concert with his director, to put his head down again and ride on, the gap was back up to 1 minute 10 seconds.
I don’t know for certain what Cancellara wanted to talk about, but I would guess he was concerned that, in bridging up to the break, he would merely be towing his companions, Thor Hushovd and Alessandro Ballan, up to their teammates in the lead group, thus burning all his matches to double the strength of his opponents.
Sitting at home, I was finding it very hard to believe that Garmin-Cervelo’s endgame was to sacrifice Hushovd’s chances to give Johan van Summeren a shot at victory in the velodrome, but that’s exactly what happened. Shortly after Cancellara’s team meeting, van Summeren attacked the lead group, forced a gap and rode solo to victory.
Behind him, Cancellara seemed to have resigned himself to defeat until a frantic, late attack saw him dash to the front of the race, albeit behind van Summeren, and snatch 2nd place from a small group of breakaway survivors. Ballan settled for 6th, Hushovd for 8th.
In effect, Garmin-Cervelo won this race when they were able to put van Summeren in the break and keep Hushovd on Cancellara’s wheel. From the time Cancellara forced a selection from the chase group, a move that eliminated everyone but Hushovd and Ballan, he was stuck. He couldn’t bridge for fear of linking his opponents to strong teammates, and he couldn’t sit in and draft, because Leopard-Trek had no one in the break. This was the triumph of tactics (and luck) over pure strength.
All of this sells short the effort van Summeren made to take the biggest win of his career. From a lead bunch that contained experienced powerhouses like Lars Bak, Lars Boom, and Gregory Rast, finding the strength and resolve to attack and win off the front was nothing short of breath-taking. Van Summeren found himself in a break full of top lieutenants and showed that, on a team that boasts Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler, he was more than worthy of being promoted to captain.
Some other observations, it must have broken Hushovd’s heart to think he had the legs to stick with Cancellara all day, the strength to outsprint the Swiss, but had to sit-in and slow his roll to allow a teammate to win. He gave up his chance at winning Paris-Roubaix in the world champion’s rainbow stripes to watch a teammate climb to the top of the podium. Bittersweet.
Maarten Tjallingii? Rabobank? 3rd Place? Yeah, that happened.
Ballan must be the big loser here. He showed guts to fight his way back up to Hushovd and Cancellara when they’d dropped him, but his teammate in the break, Manuel Quinziato, didn’t justify Ballan’s sacrifice in sitting on the Leopard-Trek rider. Ballan made the same sacrifice as Hushovd and took 6th place for his trouble.
Next to Ballan, crying in the corner, you’d probably find QuickStep’s dynamic duo of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel. Both of them found it necessary to kiss the pavement multiple times, the former crashing out altogether, the latter finishing in 38th, next to his brother Sébastian. Consolingly, Chavanel did get an inspiring cameo on TV, fighting back from his crash, bloody and torn. That shot is sure to make it into race promos for years to come.
Speaking of broken hearts, if you’d told me two weeks ago that Belgians would win in both Flanders and Roubaix, and that neither of them would be named Gilbert or Boonen, and that neither of them would come from teams based in Belgium, I’d have chuckled. Nuyens and van Summeren are top pros, for sure, but nobody saw these results coming. Nobody.
A final note for the DNFs. This year’s list of non-finishers includes a lot of big names: Stuart O’Grady, Roger Hammond, Heinrich Haussler, Geraint Thomas, Matt Goss, Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Pippo Pozzato, Leif Hoste, Bjorn Leukemans, Allan Davis and virtually all of Movistar and Euskaltel (each team finished one rider).
Thanks also to the guys at Pavé who allowed me to join in on their Live Chat of the race. It was a lot of fun, and I hope some of you got to chime in.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International