The dust has finally settled—Bradley Wiggins has officially signed with Team Sky. And now that the deal is done, the finality of the transfer has got me thinking: who now has the better team for the Tour de France? Does Sky truly have a core of riders capable of delivering Wiggins to the podium in Paris? And conversely, has Garmin lost its best chance for a high placing? While anything can and will happen between now and July, let’s take a look at how things might shape-up, beginning with Sky’s prospective 9-man Tour team:
Kurt Asle Arvesen surely deserves a spot—he’s a proven Grand Tour stage-winner and provides the experience and veteran savvy necessary for a new team to have success on the sport’s most challenging stage. Michael Barry’s another talented veteran, able to help on tougher days; he’ll provide unwavering service to his teammates. Edvald Boassen Hagen has to be included as well—he’s just too talented to leave at home. He’s a favorite for the Prologue and seems certain to grab a stage at some point. Look for him to be the bright spot for the team should Wiggins fail to deliver. Dario Cioni will get a ride—if he doesn’t ride the Giro. He’ll be a valuable and necessary asset for Wiggins in the mountains and can’t be left home. Simon Gerrans will also warrant a start—he’s another past stage-winner who can also help the team when it matters most. Thomas Lövkvist—if he’s not too miffed about losing his leadership to Wiggo—will also have a chance to prove himself should his captain falter. Maybe Wiggins takes the spotlight allowing Lövkvist to make a surprise of his own? So far then, including Wiggins, that’s 7 riders for 9 spots. Who’s left?
Of the rest of the roster*, I think it will come down to Sylvain Calzati, Juan Antonio Flecha, and Serge Pauwels—a tough choice. Pauwels is a dedicated team rider, someone willing to sacrifice his own chances for the sake of his team (as we all witnessed in this year’s Giro). Calzati and Flecha have both won stages in the Tour though, and would be two more cards for Sky to play from breakaways. I think Pauwels gets one spot (Scott Sunderland likes a good Belgian), and Flecha takes the other (he’s a bit more high-profile than Calzati). That makes nine:
On paper, it’s truly a solid team—a GC contender, former stage winners, veteran leadership, and young talent. Looking over these nine though, do you notice anything? Well, I see 4 riders who might look for stages when they should be looking to help Bradley Wiggins, only 2 riders capable of offering serious help on difficult stages, and 2 riders who’ve never even ridden the Tour before. Does this have the makings of podium spot for Wiggins?
I don’t think so.
Now Garmin. If I’m Jonathan Vaughters, I’m thinking of getting my first Tour stage win with Tyler Farrar. Mark Cavendish is a tough nut to crack, but his team’s diminished by the losses of Hincapie and Burghardt. Garmin bolstered its lead-out train this off-season, adding Robbie Hunter and Johan Vansummeren to the mix. It’s not an indomitable line-up, but it might be just enough to get Farrar over the line first on one or two occasions. So let’s start building Garmin’s Tour team with the following men:
That leaves 5 spots. David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, and Christian Vande Velde are givens—barring something unforeseen, there’s no way Vaughters leaves them home, and for good reason. Like we saw at Sky, we’re left with 2 places for 3 riders: Ryder Hesjedal, Daniel Martin, and Tom Danielson.
Hesjedal gets a nod for his ability to support the team on a variety of terrain—as the Aussies used to say: “he’s a driver”. He can wind it up for sprints, or set the pace on climbs. Heck, he showed us in the Vuelta that he can win when the road goes uphill too! Frankly, it’s only a hunch, but I think Vaughters is done with Danielson. Yes, he rode a good Vuelta—for two weeks at least—but he just doesn’t seem to have the fortitude (intestinally and otherwise) necessary to succeed in a 3-week Grand Tour. Vaughters has given Danielson more than one opportunity to prove he has the makings of a Grand Tour contender, and he’s failed every time. Time to look elsewhere for the next Garmin GC surprise. On the other hand, Daniel Martin’s young, talented, and eager to prove himself; Vaughters can’t wait another year to see what he’s capable of. Thus, Martin gets the spot. Vaughters has scored two consecutive top-5 finishes with men previously thought to be incapable of such feats—I wonder what he’ll do with someone from whom we expect results. Here’s the final team:
So who’s got the better squad?
As much as I think Wiggins’ attitude stinks, it has to be said that Sky has the more impressive Tour team—on paper. With several riders capable of winning stages, and at least one chance for a good GC result, Sky will come to the race with a terrific chance of performing well. Garmin? There’s certainly potential, but more things will need to fall into place for the wins to start flowing. That said, there’s one advantage for Garmin: less pressure. Sky boasts a star-packed roster, now led by Bradley Wiggins. With the roster they’ve compiled, anything less than 2-3 stages and a Top-5 placing will be a disappointment. Furthermore, Garmin will certainly be racing with a chip on its shoulder—Sky (especially Wiggins) will get no favors from the boys in argyle.
So while some might be tempted to think Sky won the battle, they should be cautioned to remember that the way is not over. In fact, it’s only just begun.
In the end, it adds yet another intriguing sub-plot for a Tour that gets more and more interesting each day.
And it’s not even 2010 yet.
*Prospective roster data from Cycling Quotient. If you haven’t bookmarked this site yet, you should.