by Neil Browne
It’s time to play pro cycling shuffle
It’s that time of year again – transfer season! The unofficial start to the transfer season was during the Tour de France. Of course there are official UCI rules that prohibit riders from entering into talks with another team, but you can make some educated guesses by who is coming out of another team’s bus before a stage.
Some teams have no big surprises. Case in point, Chris Froome is still a Team Sky member. A little bit of a surprise is Bradley Wiggins will continue to wear the black and blue of Sky in 2014. A larger surprise is that Wiggins has thrown his arms up and resigned himself to defeat in regards to racing in the Tour de France.
In an interview with The Times newspaper Wiggins said he will race on the road in 2014, but then focus on the track for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
This turnaround is from a General Classification contender who we thought would win multiple grand tours to a guy who said “F-it.” He doesn’t want to try to come back from the knee injury that forced him to abandon this year’s Giro d’Italia. The sacrifices made were too much he told the paper. He’s getting older, has a family, and he accomplished everything he wanted to do. However, I suspect Sir Wiggo just didn’t have the mentality needed to be a fighter every single year and focus on destroying the competition. Love him or hate him, Lance Armstrong was a fighter who relished battling with his competitors, both on and off the road.
Another veteran rider is Danny Pate and he extended his contract with Sky. While he rarely breaks the top 50 in a race, Pate is the consummate rider willing to take those monster pulls like he did in the Giro. Sky isn’t paying him to win races, they’re paying him to make sure Sky wins races.
As we all know Trek is taking over the World Tour license of RadioShack. Some riders are staying, others are hitting the bricks. Personally there’s one rider I’m glad to see purged from the team in 2014 – Andreas Klöden. The German has more skeletons in his closet than a serial killer. I’m always amazed when I see him racing and can’t think how the heck he escaped the doping drama. I’m guessing because he kept his head down and just raced his bike. There’s a rumor he is going to IAM Cycling, but seriously, any team that takes him on really should take a look at themselves in the mirror.
One German that is staying and ending his career on a Trek bike is the crowd favorite Jens Voigt. He made the announcement on his Twitter account that he was going to finish his professional cycling career at the conclusion of the 2014 season. He’s a huge fan favorite and will be missed by the public when he does hang up his cleats close to the Roadcycling.com headquarters.
Another big signing for Trek is Fabian Cancellara. Trek hasn’t made it a secret that the team is built around Fabs for 2014. The Swiss showed he can be a force in the Classics and the Schlecks, well that is a touchy subject. Andy has shown flashes of returning strength but is it too little too late? And then there’s Frank. His suspension has been served, but he hasn’t had any racing time for months. I can’t see Frank being much of a force in 2014. The smart move by Trek was to put all their chips on Cancellara and combine it with the popular narrative of Voigt to sell some bikes! I suspect we’ll see a strong marketing push with Trek’s Domane series.
More Americans are making the move to the WorldTour stage. Lawson Craddock (Bontrager Cycling Team) and Chad Haga (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) are joining the Dutch squad Argos-Shimano. Not a general classification squad, Argos-Shimano is a great team for those guys to start on and earn their stripes. Craddock and Haga have the possibility of shining during the Classics.
Another American who already has made a mark for himself and is going to win a Classic at least once during his career is Taylor Phinney. It was announced that his current team BMC locked him down for another two years. That’s a smart move by BMC. Phinney has the potential to win a Classic and a stage in a tour like he did in the Tour of Poland. Joining Phinney is his buddy Peter Stetina. With Phinney locked down and many of their supporting riders still in the red and black kits, BMC needs to re-evaluate their general classification dreams. Cadel Evans isn’t going to win the Tour de France again. Tejay van Garderen shows potential, but that might be a couple of years down the line still. For the short term BMC needs to focus on Phinney and Philippe Gilbert for stage and classic wins. In 2015 BMC could go shopping for stronger GC contenders.
Speaking about teams with bad luck Omega Pharma – Quick Step announced Tom Boonen was done for the season. He’s had a perineum cyst that won’t go away. Boonen hoped to recover for the world championships, but his undercarriage just isn’t ready for the saddle time. Also, Mark Cavendish hasn’t had the season we’re all used to him having. Yes, I know he won two stages in this year’s Tour de France, but I doubt the Manx Missile was happy being beaten by riders he regularly trounced. On top of it they lost super domestic Sylvain Chavanel. Whenever there was work to be done during the Tour (or anywhere) Chavanel was at the front, stringing it out. IAM Cycling was lucky to get the Frenchman’s signature for 2014.
Team Garmin-Sharp is also gaining some talent. It’s been public for a while that Phil Gaimon is heading to the Argyle Army. Another addition is Nate Brown who is currently riding for Bontrager-Livestrong. Jonathan Vaughters has a knack for spotting young talent and I think he’s done well with Brown. On the flip side to that youth equation is the retirement of Christian Vande Velde. The 2012 US Pro Challenge champion has had a career riddled with injuries and it makes sense to call it a day.
It’s being reported that David Zabriskie is contemplating retirement. He’s had some bad luck with injuries and might lack the motivation for one more European campaign. Personally, I don’t want to see his career fizzle out quietly like an unexploded firework. Instead I’d like to see him return for one more year and do well in a Grand Tour time trial. The reality is that may not be possible. Injuries and the toll of admitting to doping might weigh too heavily on him. Unlike many other pros, he seems to have thought about a post-pro life and his DZ chamois cream is a popular seller. Sure, ass cream isn’t going to keep you rich, but he could segue that into other product lines, followed up with personal appearances. Lube away.
One of the longest running teams in the European peloton was Euskaltel-Euskadi. The Basque-based team for years only hired riders who were from that area. This year they allowed foreign riders onto the roster to ensure they had enough WorldTour points. However, austerity measures in Spain have forced the team to fold at the end of the 2013 season. The team was jokingly called the Bleeding Carrots because whenever there was a crash, an Euskaltel-Euskadi rider seemed to be at the bottom of the pile. Regardless, they’ve accumulated their share of wins and will be missed.
In a week or so all the team’s rosters will be nailed down and we start the countdown to the Tour Down Under 2014.