Friday Group Ride #103

As teams at the fringes of the ProTour struggle to find and keep sponsors, a few super teams have risen to the top of the sport. BMC, Team Sky and RadioShack-Nissan have thrown their large budgets at cadres of the best riders, and conventional wisdom suggests these are the teams who will be vying for the lion’s share of the podium spots in the year’s biggest races.

But things seldom go to script in top level racing. Despite the financial clout wielded by the super teams, talented racers from other squads will certainly muscle their way into the spotlight.

For example, BMC have Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd for the Spring Classics. Fabian Cancellara rides for RadioShack-Nissan. Those three riders will go on every favorite’s list for each of the big spring flings. But OmegaPharma-Quickstep believe their one-two punch of Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel can pull off big results, surrounded as they are by northern European strong men.

No conclusion is forgone, unless of course the Schlecks are involved in a two-up sprint against my grandmother, in which case grammy is going to need some help shaking up that magnum of champagne.

All kidding aside, there are dark horses that aren’t so dark. Who are they?

It would be ridiculous to call Alberto Contador a dark horse, but, assuming he’s not suspended, he’s the prohibitive favorite to win the Tour de France this summer. BMC’s Cadel Evans, RS-N’s Schleck brothers and Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins will have their work more than cut out for them, and that is pro cycling’s top prize.

If Boonen were to take either Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, or as last year, Garmin-Baracuda were to pull of the tactical coup they executed at Roubaix last season, that would take another shiny bauble off the table.

Mark Cavendish will be the favorite for Milan-San Remo glory, but does anyone think Matt Goss and Greenedge won’t be there to contest? This week’s Group Ride asks: Who are the riders who will ruin the party for the super teams? Who are the dark horses? And where will they win?


Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Jesus from Cancun

    I would like to see Greipel beat Cav every now and then. I really liked the way he rode most of last season, riding in breaks, working at the front for the team on races that were not his kind, bringing bottles from the car, and winning some of the races he targeted.
    Some people didn’t notice how he lead Gilbert out on that TDF stage where he got the yellow jersey. It was Greipel drilling it with Gilbert on his wheel before he attacked for the win.

    I would also love for JJ Cobo to prove that his win at the Vuelta was no fluke. He is strong as a bull, I think he just needed to have his head in its place to get a big result. Hopefully Movistar can support him and get the most of his ability.

  2. gmknobl

    As I have stated elsewhere, if Peter Sagan proves to be more than a flash in the pan, and there is no indication he is a flash, then he has to be a favorite for any individual stage in a GT or in a classic where it comes to a sprint from a whittled down field. MSR is one place where he could go from 1.5 out and take the win ala Bettini or, on a good day take it in a sprint. Leipheimer, if he rides Paris-Nice, could take the overall.

    For the Giro, Nibali is a possibility. For the TdF, the Schlecks, as you mentioned, are possible but I cannot think anyone outside them and the other well known favorites (Evans and Contador) has a shot at anything better than 3rd. What can Tony Martin do if he somehow pulls out better climbing? Wiggins can climb and time trial so, if he has full support, maybe he could pull out a finish at position 2. But the question with the TdF has been who will get out of the first week and a half without injury. Only then will we know who can contest.

    I hope the Tour of California grows to be a (more) major event as it will tell us much about who can get the form for July. Those that don’t go to the TdF will show up in the Olympics and the Vuelta. So, could the (preparation for the) Olympics be used to prepare for the last GT?

  3. Souleur

    Personally, I think Sagan has surpassed dark horse status, the guy is real and its now just a matter of time til he stamps out his fortunes

    I have to say Sep Vanmarcke is a definite after last years strong finish at E3, not to mention the year before Ghents performance. So, the question is…where…when…so here…LBL this year

    I hope that EBH has a better year, and in that, I feel he may be a dark horse readied for a good year, but will see? Maybe Omloop Het Nieuwsblad?

    As for the queen and flanders, I only see the real contenders panning out…there is so much for them there, but last years P-R proves anything can happen unpredictably

  4. gmknobl

    The question included but was not defined by dark horse status. And along those lines, Valverde looks good this early on.

  5. cormw

    I can see a team like Rabbobank pulling off some big Classics wins with the likes of Boom and Breschel having a good Classics season.

  6. Dave

    I think it likely that we will again see several of the one day classics won by dark horses. Who would have bet on Nick Nuyens at Flanders or Johan Van Summeren at Paris-Roubaix? Again this year, there is so much emphasis being placed on a couple of teams and a couple of riders, that it seems fairly likely that they will neutralize each other again and someone from a lesser team can take the win. Maybe Tornado Tom can recover some form (and stay injury free) and have an impact at some of the classics (in the roll of “underdog” he may be able to get away).

  7. randomactsofcycling

    I agree with a few in that I think Sagan will have a genuine breakthrough season. I would like to see Chavanel take something big too. I see Tony Martin though as a dark horse for one or two of the Spring Classics though, rather than GC contender.

  8. 4estrunr

    Denis Menchov is no stranger to performing well at grand tours, but he is my Tour de France dark horse. After missing out on the TdF last year, I think he will be highly motivated to get on the podium this year. I hope he gets the chance.

    I’m particularly excited about the potential combination of Menchov and Trofimov. I think they might work well together in the mountains. The entire Katusha team might be fun to watch this year.

  9. John

    I’m looking forward to seeing what Mark Renshaw can do in a sprint against Cavendish. I don’t know what sort of lead out train Rabobank is going to be able to give Renshaw, he may need to make a habit of folowing Cavendish’s wheel and letting team Sky do all the work, but it will be interesting to watch.

    When it comes to stage races, I’m going to be watching last year’s TdF revelation Pierre Roland. I doubt we’ll see him on the podium, but he could make things interesting.

  10. Adam

    Is it possible to say that Pozzatto is a dark horse for Flanders and Roubaix now that he rides for a non-WT team? I imagine he could podium in either while not making the top 10 lists of most writers in the weeks before.
    Andrew Talansky for a small stage race. Probably not Paris Nice, but he has the goods to snag something like the Criterium International.
    Ben Hermans for a Spring Semi Classic – no rider had so many tops 10s last year and garnered so little attention. Stronger teammates will either hinder or help his chances depending on the day.
    One final selection is that I feel the Velits have so much more talent than their resumes would reveal, this year one of them may win something big.

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