Bjarne Riis made it look pretty easy last year didn't he? With virtually the same group (less powerful on paper in fact) as the present day Leopard-Trek team, Bjarne Riis had his riders charged and ready to head into the meat of the northern classics season with a handful of wins under their belt. When the season finished, they were clearly the best in pro cycling, at least at the biggest races.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Fast forward to 2011, and the pre-determined #1 team in the world, Leopard-Trek, still isn't off the schnied in the wins column. Not the mighty Fabian Cancellara, not the super-suave Daniele Benatti, not the indomitable Jens Voigt, no one on the Leopard team has been able to take to the top step of the podium thus far in 2011.
With the Omloop Het Niewsblad only several days away, the Leopard-Trek team needs to sort itself out before they find themselves well behind in the world rankings. Cancellara will likely be ready come time to ride the cobbles, but it is looking unlikely that the Leopard team will enjoy the dominance that so many predicted for them ahead of the 2011 season.
But back to Bjarne Riis. The Saxo Bank boss must be smiling silently to himself as he watches most of his former team try to figure things out on the road early on in the year. Surely he knows, as everyone else does, that the Leopard team will win some big races in 2011, but it must still give him a sense of pride to know that it isn't always as easy said as it is done in the world of professional cycling.
When trying to predict how well the Leopard team will do for the remainder of 2011, it makes sense to look at another highly-funded and much-hyped team now in their second year in the pro peloton: Team Sky. 2010 was their first season, and the British outfit spared no expense in debuting their team colors and roster.
Once the actual racing began the Sky team looked very strong, at least initially. They rode a strong early season campaign in the Tour of Qatar and in the early season Spanish stage races, and after Juan Antonio Flecha won the Omloop it looked as though they would be the gorilla of the pro field.
Things turned tepid though after Flecha's win, and following a terrible Tour de France the British outfit admitted that they hoped for too much too soon. Now in their second year, team management is singing a very different tune for the 2011 campaign. Their expectations have been tempered and they have clearly realized that becoming the world's most dominant team won't happen over night.
Team Leopard-Trek will definitely win a bunch of races in 2011. But to assume that Cancellara will roll to victory at Flanders and Roubaix like he did last year is a bit naive. Likewise, don't expect Andy Schleck to control the Tour de France and win going away. If there is anything that the early season should have taught Leopard, it's that results won't come easy and no one is going to hand them wins in big races. If they are to assume the role of the true #1 team in the world, they'll have to go out and work for it. Just like Bjarne Riis has his team do year in and year out.