Return of the National Teams

Back in the 1920s,1929 to be exact, the Tour de France was, in the eyes of the tyrannical organiser Henri Desgrange, meant to be a race for individuals. He had made it clear that his perfect Tour was one were ‘only one rider made it to the finish’ and his every grand attempts to make the race even harder then before to truely push the competitors beyond their means was half of the attraction to the viewing public. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with such Darwinistic ideals, namely the riders, who didn’t want to be physically and mentally destroyed by whatever Desgrange had concocted. Whilst they were plummeting down descents, the riders were only allowed wooden wheel rims until 1937 for instance, as supposedly there was concern the wheel would explode with the heat if a metal rim was used. Thus, armed with the one gear Desgrange had allowed them (and they were lucky to be allowed that), the teams thought up ways to get their leaders to win.

Thus, in 1929, Maurcie De Waele, the Belgian on the French Alycon team, (the sponsor was the Bicycle manufacturer, Alycon), was shepherded around France to victory by his comrades, despite illness, and in the face of Desgrange’s strict rule that tactics and help, even within trade teams, was forbidden. When De Waele won, Desgrange sobbed ‘my race has been won by a corpse’ and set about plotting a way to make the race even more diabolical.

What he came up with was two fold – firstly, he had decided, in a decision that shows that the current UCI at least have precedent, that bicycle manufacturers had too much say in the race, and their race to produce the best bike was undermining the competition’s ideal – namely that it was for individuals, and individuals would triumph heroically. So out went the bicycle manufacturers, and Desgrange brought in a standard bicycle for all the riders to ride in 1930 (it was yellow of course). He then decided that sponsors were also evil, which was novel, as most of them made the bicycles that had just been banned anyway, and threw them all out. Thus, the beloved publicity caravan , famed for throwing trash that grandmother will fight for, usually at eye level, was born to fund the race, and National teams were introduced.

Now, it’s time for a little romantic imagination. Let’s imagine that, bored by Team Sky and the superteams domination of the sport, the UCI and ASO decide that all teams will now be dissolved and sorted on national frontiers. After much struggling, the idea is accepted, especially by the old struggling nations, who get funding out of the idea as well as their best riders back, whilst the Anglo-Saxon powers suddenly have to rely on their own talents. What would emerge from such a rule? Lets think…

Below is the list of teams I’ve come up with – there are Grand Tour teams (GT), a classic squad (CLA) and five reserves (RES) for each team, making a total of 23 riders in most cases. We’ll also see that my glorious idea creates world harmony by bringing other nations together to compete with each other. Aint that sweet. I’ve even created jersey’s for them.

Spain

Spain are one of three nations who could quite comfortably field two very competitive national teams, but when its packed down to just nine men, they have amazing strength. They could enter a Grand Tour with three separate grand tour champions, as well seven wins in the bag, plus an Olympic champion and umpteen top ten finishes. They would essentially be the team to beat for the GC, sacrificing sprinters chances for the overall. It’s not unlikely that three Spaniards could sit atop the podium of a Grand Tour, especially given their history of helping each other in them anyway, regardless of trade team. The classics squad looks threadbare however, especially for the cobbles – it’s fine for the ardennes and Lombardy- but where are all Spain’s sprinters? Freire is on the brink of retirement and Rojas has had one good three week race – Spain needs more then just climbers.

GT: Alberto Contador, Samuel Sanchez, Juan Jose Cobo, Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Daniel Moreno, Haimar Zubeldia, Igor Anton, Luis Leon Sanchez

CLA: Juan Antonio Flecha, Oscar Freire, Alejandro Valverde, Samuel Sanchez, Joaquim Rodriguez, Francisco Ventoso, Alberto Contador, Juan Jose Rojas, Luis Leon Sanchez

RES:  Mikel Nieve, Daniel Navarro, Jonathan Castroviejo, Xavier Florencio, David Arroyo

Italy

Italy, forever stylish, would probably be able to claim the most competitive all around team – they possess climbers, sprinters, puncheurs and cobbled classics men, and with young talent coming through after a bit of a wane, would be confident in the state of the nation’s cycling stock. With Pozzovivo and Basso able to set pase for Nibali and Scarponi, stage win opportunities from TT specialist Pinotti and young Moser as well as a young/old split in the sprints, the team would be confident in a tour. And even more confident in the classics – Ballan and Pozzato are two of the most consistent men, and teaming them together would be a scary propostion for other teams. The hilly men arent bad either – Cunego, for all his over hype for GC, is an excellent hilly classic man. Oh, and yes, I haven’t made them the Azzuri, because lets face it, white is very Italian these days.

GT: Vincenzo Nibali, Ivan Basso, Michele Scarponi, Damiano Cunego, Domenico Pozzovico, Moreno Moser, Alessandro Pettachi, Andrea Guardini, Marco Pinotti

CLA: Alessandro Ballan, Fillipo Pozzato, Giovanni Visconti, Marco Marcarto, Damiano Cunego, Moreno Moser, Vincenzo Nibali, Daniele Bennati, Enrico Gassparoto

RES: Sacha Modolo, Eros Cappechi, Elia Vivianni, Giacomo Nizzolo, Manuel Quinziato

Great Britain

Whilst they’d no doubt come up with an awful jersey like the one I’ve created, GB would quickly find that the Sky dream was much better then this, as when you search for British riders, you quickly run out of those at ProTeam level anyway, and so struggle to fill the roster. The Wiggins/Froome combo, now forever interlinked thanks to the rules, would still be impressive, but there would be none of the furious pace setting the were used to from their Aussie team mates, unless Steve Cummings and Tiernan-Locke can increase their potential. Of course, a lack of mountain men would increase the room for Cavendish’s sprint train, which would no doubt keep him happy. The classics squad has potential, unproven at this point, but the youth of it may prove to be the undoing for a couple of seasons.

GT: Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Stephen Cummings, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, David Millar, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish, Ben Swift

CLA: Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Mark Cavendish, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, David Millar, Ben Swift, Jeremy Hunt, Adam Blythe, Andrew Fenn

RES: Russell Downing, Alex Dowsett, Luke Rowe, Peter Kennaugh, Ian Wilkinson

Belgium

Obviously, the Belgian classics squad is ridiculous in its depth and strength: Boonen, Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Nuyens, Van Summeren…all have won top classics, and combining them could force a lock out, if they dont fall out, which lets be honest, is somewhat likely – Nuyens and Boonen still don’t get on, but if they can get around this, the ream is essentially unbeatable in cobbled classics. It’s the GC team that suprises though – men who have finished 4th and 3rd in Grand Tours, as well as capable mountain support in Vanendert, Monfort and Seeldrayers could see the Belgians being dark horses. More likely, they would sneak someone into the 4th-5th places, otherwise known as the worst place to finish.

GT: Jurgen Van den Broeck, Thomas de Gendt, Jelle Vanendert, Maxime Monfort, Kevin Seeldrayers, Dries Devenyns, Stijn Vandenbergh, Phillipe Gilbert, Tom Boonen

CLA: Tom Boonen, Phillipe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, Jurgen Roelandts, Sep Vanmarke, Bjorn Leukmans, Johan Van Summeren, Nick Nuyens, Ijo Keisse

RES: Jan Baeklands, Gianni Meersman, Gert Steegmans, Sebastien Roessler, Stijn Devolder

France

A couple of years ago, France would have struggled to put together a GT team that was anything but a mixture of individuals who could win stages. Now though, they can look at making genuine inroads into the top of the table, with top 10 places almost a given. They have six men over a spread of ages who could compete for a top 5 on their day, some excellent young sprinters in Bouhanni and Demare, and still have mantained the excellent range of stage winners. Even better, the classics team, built around Sylvain Chavanel, would have a real chance, and even more amazingly, the reserves are pretty damn good too. Things are looking up for France.

GT: Thibaut Pinot, Pierre Rolland, John Gadret, Christophe Le Mevel, Jerome Coppel, Thomas Voeckler, Nacer Bouhanni, Sandy Casar, Sylvain Chavanel

CLA: Sylvain Chavanel, Arnoud Demare, Jerome Pineau, Piedro Fedrigo, Tony Gallopin, Samuel Dumoulin, Lloyd Mondory, Sebastian Turgot, Julien Simon

RES: Amael Moinard, Romain Feillu, David Moncutie, Jeremy Roy, Arnold Jeannson

Netherlands

The Dutch don’t have a bad team, but you wonder if it looks much better on paper then it performs in reality. Gesink seems to have Grand Tours as his Achilles Heel, and its Mollema and Kelderman who look more likely to challenge. They almost look like the old French team – lots of attacking talent, but little results. That said, a cobble classic duo of Terpstra and Boom powered up by Maaskant, Tjallingi and Langeveld would be very strong, and with some sprinting speed as well in Veelers and Bos, the team does have potential to keep the win meter ticking over.

GT: Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, Steven Kruijswijk, Wilco Kelderman, Wouet Poels, Pieter Weening, Liewe Westra, Johnny Hoogerland, Theo Bos

CLA: Nikki Terspstra, Robert Gesink, Lars Boom, Johnny Hoogerland, Theo Bos, Sebastian Langeveld, Michael Kreder, Martjin Maaskant, Maarten Tjallingi

RES: Tom Veelers, Thomas Dekker, Laurens Ten Dam, Koen De Kort, Stef Clement

Germany

Of course, in our fantasy situation, Andreas Kloden loves to be associated with Germany again – in reality he is fed up of the moaning and doping stories – and so he would lead the team one last time to get the others experienced. You can’t really see anyone else challenging for the top 10 in the next five years for Germany, who really need some new blood, which is currently concentrated in the sprinting talent like Marcel Kittel (no pun intended over his black UV treatment). The German team would be better suited setting up Greipel and Kittel for stage wins, with Tony Martin taking TT wins, but the Classics team isn’t bad – sure, it’s not that good, but it could challenge in the right breaks.

GT: Andreas Kloden, Tony Martin, Linus Gerdermann, Jens Voigt, Christian Knees, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Gerald Ciolek, Bert Grabsch

CLA: Marcus Burghardt, Andre Greipel, Gerald Ciolek, Marcel Kittel, Fabian Wegmann, Danilo Hondo, Marcel Sieberg, Paul Voss, John Deglenkob

RES: Patrick Gretsch, Paul Maertens, Dominic Nerz, Marcus Fothen, Andreas Klier

Australia

The Aussies have the potential to kick some ass in the GT’s, with the Porte, Evans, Rodgers combo ready to take on the GC. They could theoretically take all the major jersies – Evans in yellow, Lloyd in KOM, and GOss in Greeen, with Gerrans picking up stage wins. Whether Renshaw would actually get in the team given Australian cycling don’t seem to like him is questonable, but the classics squad has shown its strength individually, and shouldn’t be underestimated despite how weak it looks on paper.

GT: Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Michael Rodgers, Matthew Lloyd, Matt Goss, Simon Gerrans, Mark Renshaw, Luke Durbridge, Jack Bobridge

CLA: Simon Gerrans, Stuart O’Grady, Matt Goss, Heinrich Haussler, Cadel Evans, Matthew Hayman, Christopher Sutton, Michael Matthews, Nathan Haas

RES: Simon Clarke, Cameron Meyer, Jonathan Cantwell, Wesley Sulzberger, Travis Meyer

United States

Whatever happenned to the Lance effect? The Race to Replace never got off the ground, with its big reveal, Tom Danielson, now in his 30s and with one Tour de France top ten to his name. Not exactly what was intended. The problem is that once you strip away the older generation, you are left with few young riders. To be fair, they replace quantity with quality, but Phinney and Bookwalter aint all that great, and the classics team is basically just whoever they had left. You wonder what’s going to happen to US cycling in the next 10 years…they won’t want national teams!

GT: Tejay Van Garderen, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Christan Van de Velde, Tom Danielson, Andrew Talanksy, Tyler Farrar, Taylor Phinney, Danny Pate

CLA: Tyler Farrar, Taylor Phinney, Tim Duggan, Ed King, Matthew Busche, Tim Duggan, Peter Stetina, Benjamin King,

RES: David Zabriske, Brent Bookwalter

Switzerland

The Swiss are really a one man team: Fabian Cancellara. However they have strong support in multiple areas, just not the strongest. A Swiss classics team looks much stronger then some of the classics squads Cancellara has been supported by in the past, and the team is certainly looking for stage wins rather then GC intetions. However, what will they do when Cancellara retires? Swiss cycling, which used to produce strong men like Tony Rominger and Alex Zulle regularly, now looks fairly week when its figure head is removed from the equation.

GT: Michael Albasini, Johan Tschopp, Oliver Zaugg, Steve Morbiato, Michael Schar, Martin Elmiger, Fabian Cancellara, Matthias Frank, Marcel Wyss

CLA: Fabian Cancellara, Greogry Rast, Martin Kohler, Oliver Zaugg, Michael Albasini, Matthias Frank

Scandanavia (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland)

This is where things in my fantasy world start to get interesting. The individual Scandanavian nations were a bit sparse by themselves, so if the situation arose, it would be better if the combined to form a supernational team (defeating the object of this excercise somewhat, but meh). Sporting a jersey featuring the constituent parts of all there flags and some ice-blue shorts, the team has strength, if not in depth, in all regions – JUglsand and Lovkvist supported by Kessiakoff and the Sorensens is a good core GC unit, and the classics team of hard, cold northern men certainly has the star power to compete with the more traditional nations.

GT: Jacob Fugslang, Thomas Lovkvist, Frederick Kessiakoff, Chris Anker Sorensen, Nikki Sorensen, Thor Hushovd, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Lars Bak, Lars Peter Nordhaug

CLA: Thor Hushovd, Edvald Boassen Hagen, Alexander Kristoff, Lars Peter Nordhaug, Gabriel Rasch, Matti Breschel, Lars Bak, Michael Morkov, Jussi Veikkanen

Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Croatia, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria)

Another glorious excercise in friendship sees Eastern European states and, er, Austria combining into another team. Whilst the Slovak trio of Sagan and the Velits twins provides a solid foundation, The Poles and Belarussians add depth people probably wouldn’t realise, and chuck in Kreuziger and Eisel and suddenly all bases are covered – even Huatrovich is a decent sprinter, and when you have Sagan as your main man, you needn’t worry much about victories anyway. Kiverlovski and Kreuziger could fight out the GC whilst Sagan cleans up points and stages – this team would be much stronger then it first appears thanks to the strength of men like Siutsou, Rohregger and Szmyd.

GT: Romain Kreuziger, Peter Velits, Michal Kwiatkowski, Sywester Szmyd, Thomas Rohregger, Robert Kiserlovski, Kanstantsin Siutsou, Vasil Kiryenka, Peter Sagan

CLA: Peter Sagan, Bernhard Eisel, Michal Golas, Maciej Bodnar, Martin Velits, Yauheni Huatrovich, Stefen Denfil, Juraj Sagan

 

South America (Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina)

Yep, we’re now getting to combining whole continents, pretty much because I don’t know more then three of the Colombians or Venezualans. The team is still weak, and extremely climber heavy, so would be good at the Giro but not at the faster, TT happy Tour. Haedo and Fischer could combine for some sprints, and Duque suprise in a classic, but its in the mountains that this team will succeed.

GT: Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao, Jose Rujano,  Murilo Fischer, Juan Jose Haedo, Jose Serpa, Miguel Rubiano, Lucas Haedo, Fabio Duque

The Forgotten (Luxembourg, Canada, Ireland)

Yes, you’re right, I am getting a bit desperate. This team is an amalgamation of teams that simply have so few men and are in such odd places that they can’t really be combined or would fit with their neighbors due to rivalry. Thus we have countries seperated by seas and continents competing together. Hmm. Still with the Schlecks (we’re presuming Luxembourg will let Frank off), Martin and Roche, if they targeted the Ardennes, they would be very strong, but the Grand Tours would obviously be where they ended up. Hesjedal would be the only truely useful mountain lieutenant for the Schlecks, and the team is threadbare elsewhere. Maybe worth changing their licenses to Belgium.

GT: Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Ryder Hesjedal, Daniel Martin, Nicholas Roche, Svein Tuft, Michael Barry, Philip Deignan, Matthew Brammier.

CLA: Matthew Brammier, Daniel Martin, Laurent Didier, Bob Jungels, Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Nicholas Roche

Russiastan (Russia, Kazakstan, Ukraine)

A glorious rebirth of the Soviet Union as Kazakstan, Russia and Ukraine combine for an again team, which has seen its interesting parts, Vinokourov and Galizyminov, retire and be banned in turn. Still powerful and attacking, but like Russian cycling in general (see previous blog post), fairly poor and backward.

GT: Denis Menchov, Mickael Ignatiev, Alexandr Kolobnev, Maxim Iglinsky, Andrey Kascheskin, Yaroslav Popovych, Andriy Grivko

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