Friday, December 11, 2009

Garmin vs. Sky - Wiggins Transfer Analysis

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:

Boassen Hagen

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:

Tyler Farrar
Robbie Hunter
Johan Vansummeren
Julian Dean

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:

Vande Velde

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.

Your thoughts?

*Prospective roster data from Cycling Quotient. If you haven’t bookmarked this site yet, you should.


  1. While that looks like Sky's strongest line-up, I'd expect a couple more GB riders in the final mix. Froome, Thomas and Cummings would be the three out of the riders on the squad.

    I think they've gone under the radar a bit being at Barloworld as it's been falling apart. Thomas has a seriously big engine judging by the pursuit times he's been putting in and if he can mature as expected and keep the weight down then I'd have him in there. 3rd in mountains at Baby Giro and won Route Du Sud suggest he's got the chops, just a matter of focusing on the road season and adapting to Protour which can take a couple of years.

    Sky's biggest problem is that everyone is going to ride against them unless they start making friends fast. They'll be riding to impress the management into taking them on and to beat them.

    Garmin's problem is less the riders at their disposal but the direction of them. Compare the men in the cars and Garmin are lacking guys with experience of Yates and Sunderland. Marie and White don't strike me as being able to direct riders with knowledge and experience in the same degree as their opposition.

    Then again, come July I reckon the pair of them will be a second string narrative arc compared to the Astana v Radioshack battle.

  2. garmin has more cohesion and miles on the road as a unit. has team sky won an ITT or had a rider even win a stage in a GT or minor race? no. each time will have some interesting moments this year, and since i am a fan of the men in argyle, of course i favor their efforts and hope for their results.

  3. I am not the biggest Garmin fan, although I do like many of the guys on the team, mainly CVDV, Dave Z, and Ryder. Having said that until Sky proves they can ride, and win together as a group, I tilt the scale in favor of Garmin. We will also see if Wiggo can repeat and improve off of his 4th at the tour. Look at Sastre or Evans' 2008 vs 2009. Improvement is anything but a given.

  4. I cant believe JV won't ride TD at the tour if he can procur enuf TP.

  5. Dan Martin is a shoe-in for a TDF spot either way- he was on the TDF selection this year and only pulled out at the last minute for a nagging knee problem. Shame b/c I think he could have contributed significantly to VDV and Wiggo's efforts in the mountains.

  6. I agree with the previous comment. Martin has a far greater upside that Wiggins.

  7. I think Wiggins has lost his mind. He has either set the bar high for himslef or set himself up for failure.

    HE has shown himself to lack character.

    Unretalted though it may be, that haircut makes him look like douche. Paul Weller needs to kick him in the nuts and take his do back.

  8. I think Alex's point is going to be the driver for Sky's selection; your list only has one Brit on it. I'd also add Ben Swift....if he's in the roster.

    If two or three riders have to be cut to to make room for young GB talent I hope Barry still gets to ride. Every time I see him he's either stringing out the peleton for endless miles or helping Cavendish catch back on on the descents. Hard to believe he's still never ridden the Tour.

    With all the Tour talk, you've got to try and remember that with Gerro, EBH and Flecha the teams going to have some real Classics power too. In that respect they've got far more than Garmin.

  9. Danielson is a train wreck, and if you're not right about JV being done with, he should seriously listen to good advice. Garmin would be foolish to bring him to the Tour.

    Dave Z has one of the same problems that Danielson has - he can't ride comfortably in the peleton - he's either off the front or off the back. If it wasn't for his TT abilities, he'd just be a marginal domestique at best. Good thing he is fast "Contre La Montre"

  10. It would be silly to bring TD to the TdF; he might get to ride the Giro or Vuelta, but a spot at the tour would be wasted on him until he proves himself.

    I don't think Sky can risk bringing any of the young guys that might/might not do well at the Tour. The pressure will be on to perform, so they'll bring the experienced guys.

    Michael Barry deserves a ride at the TdF. Unbelievable teammate and workhorse. Can't wait to see what Dan Martin might do as well.

    Don't forget that every year a guy nobody expected to place top 5 in the TdF does, and with the increased pressure the following year, fails to back it up. I think Wiggins is that guy (VdV was that guy before that), and it looks like he's believing all the hype.

    Another great analysis. Strong work.

  11. Thanks to all for the wonderful comments! Next year could be an English-speaking Battle Royal between Columbia, Garmin, Sky, and BMC. Should be interesting to see how the new line-up's will affect the old battle lines.

    The question still needs to be raised: was Wiggins worth all the trouble?

  12. I disagree with most of the post and comments.

    There's no real debate over which makes a stronger tour team that would help a rider like Wiggins contend, and that's Garmin.

    There's also the fact that had Vande Velde not been injured, Wiggy would likely have been domestique'n it for Christian. In all the success and hype that came with Wiggins 4th place, the fact remains that Vande Velde still finished in 8th while not fully recovered from a broken back.

    Let's say that Wiggins remained with Garmin and was the undisputed leader at the tour next year. Christian Vande Velde unselfishly did an amazing job hauling Wiggins up on stage 15 (?). David Z. did an extraordinary amount of solid work in the mountains last year that has been overlooked. Danielson also redeemed himself somewhat during the Vuelta last year (though he didn't finish, he proved that he can still ride in the mtns.). Through in Danny Martin, and it's no contest.

    It's going to be a mountainous tour. Garmin will ride for Vande Velde next year, and if he doesn't suffer from more crashes, I'd take him over Wiggins. He also has a lot more help from climbers than Skye will be able to provide.

  13. Thanks Tommy--I would tend to agree. While on paper Sky might have the better team NAME-wise, Garmin has a better team TEAM-wise.

    It all boils down to this: is Wiggins for real. I would wager--as I bet you would--that he's not. He was fortunate to have a good ride thanks to several constellations aligning in his favor--one being VDV's off-year.

    Thanks for reading and sharing!


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