It has been an excellent start to the 2011 procycling season, with both veterans and new comers alike finding big results early on. From Alberto Contador's controversial return to the exciting running of "La Primavera", it has been one hell of a start to the year. Some impressions thus far on the season . . .
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Garmin-Cervelo squad, despite being very strong on paper, have yet to live up to the lofty expectations put on them by fans and media alike ahead of the season. From Thor Hushovd to Heinrich Haussler to Tyler Farrar, Jonathan Vaughters' super team has yet to deliver a huge result in 2011. Shut out of the Omloop Het Niewsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Milan-San Remo, the American teams heads into the meat of the cobbled classics season with little to show for their early season efforts. Big pressure awaits over the coming weeks as a winless spring will see the classics monkey still on the back of Vaughters and his riders.
Team Leopard-Trek hasn't been all that better than Garmin. Fabian Cancellara took a solid runner-up at Milan-San Remo, but other than that the pre-season world's number 1 ranked team has looked just average. Cancellara will clearly keep the team in the spotlight, but the dominance that so many predicted for them has been elusive thus far in the year.
Bjarne Riis is an amazing cycling coach an motivator, simple as that. Despite losing the majority of his team to Leopard-Trek, Riis still manages to bring home the wins. This year it has been JJ Haedo and Nick Nuyens who have thrived under Riis' tutelage, while new star signing Alberto Contador's return to the peloton after being cleared of doping by his national federation has allowed Saxo to be as strong as ever in stage races as well. Nuyens particularly owes Riis a ton, as his integration into the Saxo team has seen him take his first classic in years, just today at Dwars Door Vlaanderen.
The ascension of Taylor Phinney onto the pro cycling scene seems to have stalled as the American phenom deals with various knee ailments. In an eerily similar situation to Heinrich Haussler last season, Phinney has once again been shut down as BMC team doctors try to decipher what is plaguing him. Hopefully he'll be given plenty of time to heal so that once he does return it is at full strength.
Patrik Sinkewitz is an idiot. So is Riccardo Ricco.
Mark Cavendish seems to have lost a pedal stroke or two over the past two seasons. The previously unassailable "Manx Missile" has been a dud thus far in 2011, after a strong but not dominant 2010. In looking at his palmares, it is interesting to note that he notched "only" 13 wins last year, far off the blistering pace of 24 in 2009. Could a single digit season be on tap for him this year? It's looking more likely as each race passes him by.
Watch out for Alessandro Ballan over the next few weeks at the northern classics. The BMC rider looks all the way back after terrible 2009 and 2010 seasons. Ballan will always be the type of rider who needs ideal circumstances to win, but with the form he's holding today he looks like a big threat for Flanders and Roubaix.
As he did in 2010, Tom Boonen will likely take to the start line at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix with a world of pressure on his shoulders. Unable to break through at MSR, Boonen is once again staking his season on two weeks in spring. Hopefully he can get it done this year and avoid the Cancellara buzz saw.
Dominique Rollin may not be a name on everyone's mind heading into the next two weeks, but don't be surprised to see the French-Canadian find his way onto a podium in one of the big classics. Rollin seems to gradually get stronger each year, as as a protected rider for FDJ he'll have every chance to ride for a big result in the coming weeks.
Where is going on with Steven Cozza? There were big expectations for the American as he joined the NetApp team for 2011, especially for the classics. With several races in the books though, Cozza is nowhere to be found. He didn't finish today's Dwars race and seems off schedule for being ready in time for the other big one day spring races. If he is saving his form for a run at the Amstel Gold Race then great. If not, then his early season has been a disappointment, simple as that.
More thoughts on the early season in the coming days in what has been another interesting start to a cycling year.