2012 Year Review: ProTeams, Part One

AG2R La Modiale

UCI Ranking: 17
Major Results: Stage, Tour of California (Georges)

Victories: 4

Report card: Another poor year for the AG2R boys, who once  again banked on plucky stage wins from their batallions of break away specialists, but drumming up few returns. Sylvain Georges ar the Tour of California was a high point, but aside from that, there was little to shout about, so the management have cleaned out men like Nicholas Roche to make room for some young sprinting talent to up the wins for next year. A year to forget.

Head Boy: Although you wouldn’t have noticed, Manuel Belleti was the pick of the AG2R riders, picking up various solid placings in classics and the like that were just slightly too far back to be noticed.

Class dunce: Nicholas Roche has always been a tad overrated in my opinion – 12th and 15th in the Tour and Vuelta are good, but indicate that he should be winning other things. Roche for some reason is determined to conquer the Grand Tours when stage wins would be more his thing. Still, a move to Saxo will see him either get reinvigorated or serve Contador. Harsh yes, but I’m sure he could do better.

Scandalometer: Steve Hounard tested positive for EPO at the end of the year, supposedly because he needed results to get a new contract thanks to the points system.

Astana

UCI Ranking: 10
Major Results: Olympic Road Race (Vinokourov), Vuelta Stage (Kessiakoff), Giro stages (Tiralongo, Kreuziger) Amstel Gold (Gasparotto), Liege-Bastonge-Liege (Iglinsky)

Victories: 22

Report card: With old boy Vino finally bowing out, Astana were expected to rally around him for a year, but they actually had a remarkably good one considering. Stage wins in the Giro and Vuelta, an unexpected mounument through Iglinsky and Amstel Gold through Gasparotto, who I’m sure used to be a sprinter, was crowned with an Olympic Gold for Vinokourov to add to his Sydney Silver. They may not be liked, but they were certainly successful.

Head Boy: Fredrik Kessiakoff was their revelation of the year, winning the tricky Vuelta TT and holding the Tour’s KOM prize for a week. 5th in the Worlds TT and 10th at Lombardy gave the ex-mountain biker a season to be proud of.

Class dunce: Despite winning a stage of the Giro, it has to be remembered that Romain Kreuziger was aiming to win overall, and finished a dissapointin5 15th. He used to be lauded as a future Tour winner, but has turned out to be in the top 10-15 clan who can’t quite break through. Better is expected, although now he’s off to Saxo-bank, he probably won’t get many opportunities besides setting Contador’s pace.

Scandalometer: Surprisingly little for once, now that the bad eggs are banned or retired. Vino was a minor one for *horror* winning Blighty’s Olympic Gold, and was thoroughly scolded for coming back from a doping ban to win, whilst commentators ignored David Millar riding to help Cavendish win. Oh, and he might get stripped of Liege for buying it. But hey.

BMC Racing

UCI Ranking: 7
Major Results: Worlds Road Race (Gilbert), Vuelta stages (Gilbert x 2, Cummings), Giro stages (Phinney, Pinotti), Criterium International and Stage (Evans), 5th Tour de France (Van Garderen)

Victories: 21

Report card: Like Real Madrid’s old Galaticos, BMC showed that just because you buy lots of top talent doesn’t mean they’re going to win. I’d argue they people they’ve bought are on the downward slide anyway, but they’ve remedied that with a new policy of buying youth, but still, with Hushovd, Ballan, Evans and Gilbert, they’ll have hoped to have won at least one classic, when they ended up with none. In fact, it was the young guns in Van Garderen and Phinney who rescued their year, with the white jersey and various strong TT results from Phinney. Ballan helped give them some credibility in the spring, and Gilbert showed up to win the Worlds, which gives their year an undeserving gloss to be honest.

Head Boy: Taylor Phinney had a great year – winning a Grand Tour prologue and holding Pink at the Giro before taking 4th in both Olympic events and narrolying missing out on the world TT title.

Class dunce: Whilst not his fault, new signing Thor Hushovd barely recorded a result this year thanks to sickness. He was in the top 5 of a race just once, although he should feel aggrieved Gilbert captured the Worlds – otherwise he would have featured here.

Scandalometer: Problems with Ballan continue to rumble away in the background, and George Hincapie was revealed as a cheat who received zero comeuppance for his actions, causally retiring from the sport.

Euskatel Euskadi

UCI Ranking: 13
Major Results: Vulta a Pais Vasco (Sanchez), Giro stage (Izagirre), Tour of Britain stage (Urtasun)

Victories: 8

Report card: The final year of the all-Basque squad was ruined by Sanchez’s crash out of the Tour, as well as Anton’s failure to challenge for the Vuelta a la 2010. A stage of the Giro was scant consellation, although winning Pais Vasco was a good result.

Head Boy: Samuel Sanchez was yet again the lynchpin, with his 7th places in Amstel and Liege plus Pais Vasco giving the team a huge boost points wise. It’s a shame he couldn’t defend his KOM title at the Tour mind.

Class dunce: Romain Sicard was meant to be a future Tour winner, but with problems with the police, injuries and no real results, this looks to be far from the truth.

Scandalometer: The scandal was the fact the team has to admit none-Basques to compete in the new modern cycling world, as well as the firing of Amets Txurruka (well, none offering of a contract) just because he had no points, despite his excellent results through the years.

FDJ-BigMat

UCI Ranking: 18
Major Results: Vattenfall Cyclassics (Demare), Tour de France stages (Fedrigo, Pinot), 10th place Tour de France (Pinot),

Victories: 24

Report card: FDJ have been saved by their youth – sprinters in Demare and Bouhanni and climbers in Pinot. Add the return of experience in Fedrigo after he was injured last year, and they had a year that impresses far beyond their last place Proteam ranking. Bouhanni was one of the best of the rest behind John Deglenkob at the Vuelta, and Demare beat Boonen and co at Vattenfall – an impressive achievement given he’s a neo pro. Pinot though, is the man to rally around , assuming that as usual, they dont act as a talent feeder team for others.

Head Boy: Nacer Bouhanni – the impressive sprinter took the French national title and was frequently on the podium, showing his potential at just 22 alongside the younger Thibaut Pinot, who climbed to glory in the Tour with 10th and a stage.

Class dunce: Yohan Offredo missed three drug test. What a dope. No pun intended.

Scandalometer: Offredo’s missed tests were the only problem, and this was supposedly because he was forgetful.

Garmin-Sharp

UCI Ranking: 9
Major Results: Giro d’Italia (Hesjedal), Tour de France stage (Millar), Tour of California stage (Zabriske), USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Vandevelde), Het Niewsblad (Vanmarcke)

Victories: 23

Report card: A Grand Tour triumph, a Tour stage and various US victories would all have looked so much better if they hadn’t turned out to be at the centre of the scandal of the decade and simply acted like it was no big deal. So little of a deal apparently, that Vaughters causally discussed the details of his charges doping in an online forum, having obviously already worked out that his riders would be suspended for 6 months across a period where little racing takes place. But more on that later. Hesjedal won the Giro in better style then many suggested, as the final TT turn around shrouded his earlier mountain attacks, and he was a deserved winner despite the love for equally brilliant Rodriguez. There was even talk of a Giro-Tour double before he crashed out. From there, Garmin went downhill in more ways then one – their disastrous Tour saved by Millar, before only the USA races could prove a happy hunting ground, especially after Vaughters showed what a good manager and representatives of the teams he is by not allowing Sep VanMarcke to race once he revealed he was leaving. Classy.

Head Boy: Who else but Ryder Hesjedal? The unexpected Giro champion did it in some style, attacking in the Mountains and winning in the Time trials to secure Canada and Garmin’s first Grand Tour.

Class dunce: There could be plenty, but what on earth has happenned to Tyler Farrar? He won only in the US after a year drought, and with all the crashes he’s had, he’s surely due some luck at some point, but its hard to see him being the same man who beat Mark Cavendish in 2008-9.

Scandalometer: Where to start… Vaughters admitted doping, then shrugged off the fact that VandeVelde, Zabriske and Danielson all doped in an incredibly casual way, letting them ride on despite being embroiled in an investigation meant to clean cycling up, before stopping VanMarke riding a la Hushovd last year because Garmin wouldn’t get the points. Like they need them – their ex dopers have got the ”clean team” plenty to survive. David Millar then got on his high horse to moan about Rabobank not supporting clean cycling, which is impressive for a man whose only where he is to day because he doped then sold his story about it. Still my least favorite team by a mile.

Katusha

UCI Ranking: 2
Major Results: Tour of Lombardy, 2nd Vuelta a Espana + 3 stages, 2nd Giro d’ Italia + 2 stages, Fleche Wallone (Rodriguez), Vuelta stage (Menchov)

Victories: 30

Report card: A bit of a one man effort by Katusha, who are no longer seemingly a Russian team but a Spanish one, with Joaquim Rodriguez, Daniel Moreno and Oscar Freire being the core of the team. Rodriguez was but seconds off winning two Grand Tours, but the raft of stage wins, a monument and Fleche Wallone more then made up for that. Freire was his usual self, popping up when least expected (January) to win races and trying to win the worlds, only to fall short. The russian contingent was as usual dissapointing, but when they had ‘J-Rod’, it was no problem.

Head Boy: Joaquim Rodriguez, world number one.

Class dunce: We all suspected Denis Menchov was going to Katusha for one last payday, but aside from the Vuelta stage win, he was only living up to the first part of his ‘Silent Assasin’ nickname, especially at the Tour. He was 15th, by the way, not that you;ll have seen him (although we didn’t when he was third either)

Scandalometer: Denis Galimzyanoz tested positive for EPO, dealing Russian cycling a blow.

Lampre-ISD

UCI Ranking: 14
Major Results: Bayern Rundfart stages (Pettachi x 3)

Victories: 7

Report card: Lampre somehow still lurch on despite their continual background scandals. Pettachi, Scarponi and Cunego, their three stars, are all embroiled in them, and only one of them won anything this year, although Scarponi won the 2011 Giro, which was nice for him. Almost nothing to talk about. Next year’s signings such as Ferrari had better impress.

Head Boy: Diego Ulissi was probably their best rider, with plenty of top 10s and 21st in the Giro. Pettachi is the only other candidate, for winning some races – one of three men on the team to do so, the other being…Ulissi and Cunego.

Class dunce: Remember when Damiano Cunego won the Giro at 22? Despite a Tour top 10 the other year and 3 Lombardy wins, his career has a sense of under achievement about it that it probably wouldn’t have had that Giro win came at the end of his sporting life. Now 30, Cunego was 2nd up the Stelvio, but seems to be increasingly marginalized and under pressure from skeletons in the closet.

Scandalometer: Well, the team is under investigation, which is always a good start, and Scarponi has been suspended for working with Ferrari.

Liquigas-Cannondale

UCI Ranking: 3
Major Results: Tour de France stages x 3 and Green Jersey, Tour of California stages x 5, Tour de Suisse stages x 4, (Sagan), Tirreno Adriatico, 3rd Tour de France, (Nibali), Tour of Poland (Moser)

Victories: 38

Report card: Aside from the ridicule for their iffy Grand Tour tactics of burning off their entire team when they should be letting the leaders team do it, especially when the same thing hasn’t worked the last three days in a row, Liquigas can be very, very happy with their season. Whilst Basso couldn’t quite get on the Giro podium, prompting a promise to win either the Giro or Tour once more, Sagan kept the team chugging along in incredible style, seemingly in the top 5 of every classic before beginning an obscene winning run at the Tour of California, with 5 stage wins before he did the same at the Tour de Suisse, except (tsk) he only managed 4. 3 at the Tour and Green followed, whilst Nibali was the only rider taking the race to Wiggins and Froome to complete his Grand Tour podium set. They also had a season revelation in Moreno Moser, who won races in impressive style. The team may be losing some key riders for 2013 as it becomes Cannondale, but with Sagan, Moser and Basso, they have the foundations to repeat their success.

Head Boy: Well, it has to be Peter Sagan, who won time trials, up hill sprints, flat sprints, mountain stages….and all with a theatrical ease that endeared many to him.

Class dunce: It’s hard to pick one from a team that did so well, but more was expected from Ivan Basso at the Giro. His lack of acceleration finally told, and despite what he says, he’s surely on the way down now.

Scandalometer: Nothing to report, unless you want to make something of the Sagan ‘showboating’

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