2014 Team Previews: Lampre-Merida

Lampre - Merida 2014

Who are the sponsor? Lampre make prefinished steel products, Merida are a Taiwanese bike manufacturer.

Nationality: Italian

2013 Ranking: 14th

Amstel-Gold1

Past Stars: Alessandro Petacchi, Daniele Bennati, Alessandro Ballan, Gilberto Simoni, Danilo Napolitano, Michele Scarponi

Selected Team Palmares: 1st, Giro d’Italia 2004, 4 Stages, 2004 Giro d’Italia, 2 Stages, Vuelta a Espana 2009, White Jersey, 2006 Tour de France, Tour of Lombardy, 2004, 2007-08, Amstel Gold Race 2008 (All Damiano Cunego) 1st, Tour de Suisse 2012-13, Stages, Tour de France, 2011 & 2013, World Road Race Championships 2013, GP Montreal 2011, (Rui Costa), 2003 Tirreno-Adriatico, Stages, Tour de France 2004 & 2007, Stage, 2010 Giro d’Italia, Milan San Remo 2006 (Fillipo Pozzato), Stage, 2011 Giro d’Italia (Diego Ulissi), Stage, 2012 Giro d’Italia (Roberto Ferrari), 2013 Vuelta a Espana and 2 stages, 2011 Tour of California, 2010 Tour of the Basque Country  (Chris Horner)

Giro d'Italia 2013

Brief Team History: Formed in 1991, Lampre have been around in some incarnation for the past 23 years, although in 2005 it merged with the Saeco squad to become Lampre-Caffita, and since then has been a team of relative strength. In bringing in Giro champion Damiano Cunego and the man he had supplanted, Gilberto Simoni, the team looked like having its future assured. However never really produced any more Grand Tour magic, and whilst Cunego has won them the Tour of Lombardy twice as well as stages of the Vuelta and Amstel Gold, it is a running cliche that he has never returned to his 2004 levels. As a result, the team turned to men like Daniele Bennati, who won the team two stages at the end of the 2007 Tour, including one on the Champs Elysees, and Alessandro Ballan, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2007 before winning the World Championships the next year. However, the ‘Manatova’ scandal began to develop at this point, essentially an investigation into drug trafficking that supposedly involved the majority of the Lampre squad. Ballan has since been banned for his part, and further judgments will probably come the teams way at some point. Lampre have recently been looking to youth (Chris Horner aside) and also signed Pozzato to try to get them back into the classics arena.

GP Costa degli Etruschi 2013

Last year: The team won just two World Tour races – a stage of the Tour of Poland and the GP Plouay, courtesy of young star Diego Ulissi and Filippo Pozzato. Ulissi also won some good Italian races such as Milan0-Torino, but that was pretty much that aside from some podium places on Grand Tour stages. Michele Scarponi managed 4th at the Giro d’Italia, and also 15th at the Vuelta, but it speaks volumes that the best part of the season was their announcement that they had signed Rui Costa, the world champion and triple Tour stage winner, before they also announced the signing of Scarponi’s conqueror at the Vuelta in Chris Horner, generating much publicity. The team still has Manatova bubbling somewhere in the background however.

Transfer dealings: The world champion and the Vuelta winner are excellent additions in any year, although given the Vuelta Winner in 42, it needs to be kept in perspective. However add in sprinter Sacha Modolo and climber Nelson Oliviera and the team have certainly improved – Matthew Lloyd isn’t as good as he was, and is no loss, and Scarponi has been replaced by Costa/Horner. Andrea Malori might be missed however.

costa_merida2014

Who are the star riders? Lampre now have the Portuguese Rui Costa as their main man – the World champion, Tour de Suisse winner and Tour stage winner is after a leadership role, and should get that and plenty of publicity for the squad. Similarly, the 42 year old America Chris Horner shows the squads internationalisation, and they’ve taken a risk on his ability to be competitive in Grand Tours again. The team still has stalwart Damiano Cunego, as well as the diva esque Fillipo Pozzato, but the really exciting riders are the Paolo Bettini-esque Diego Ulissi and young sprinter Sacha Modolo.

christopher_horner_lampre_merida_ch_mallorca_pre_2014_rafacarbo

Fashion police: Lampre have always had a thing for fluorescent pink and blue, and this year is no different, even though the blue has significantly darkened and the pink has been removed a bit from previous years. Still, it’s smart and easy to pick out, although the Merida pea-green still doesnt really work with those colours.

lampre2014

What are their targets? Costa wants to try for the top 10 of the Tour de France, given he has never ridden a Grand Tour for the GC, whilst Horner will line up at the Giro and the Vuelta to defend his title. Ulissi and Cunego will team up for the hilly classics, whilst Pozzato will want to get back to his 2012 form and perhaps finally win a cobbled classic to add to his oft-forgotten Milan San Remo title of 2006. The team will basically just want to be more visible and actually win something worthwhile.

What are they likely to achieve? The curse of the rainbow jersey shouldn’t concern Costa, who has a one year deal with the team and is a rider on the way up rather than one already at the top/past their peak as other world champions have recently been. The top 10 of the Tour is a good bet, although the podium might be a stretch, although it will be nice to see the world champion riding for the GC for the first time since Cadel Evans in 2010. Horner, well, you just don’t know – he seems to spend half the season injured, and to be brutally honest, his Vuelta triumph seems more of an exception than the rule. True, he has won other week long stage races, but he’s hardly prolific and only one of them, the 2010 Tour of the Basque country, was outside the USA. Still, the best of luck to him – although he’d be better off keeping his mouth shut and letting his performances do the talking. Ulissi is due a breakthrough win, and Pozzato and Cunego are in a win-win scenario where they are expected to be average, so anything better will be a bonus.

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Components: Merida make the bikes, with quite a mixture of components including Shimano and FSA to finish them off.

The Big Question(s): Can Horner really crack the podium of the Tour? Is Ulissi the next big Italian classics contender? Was Horner’s 2013 a flash in the pan?

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