Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Three teams are flourishing so far - why?

The road season is back on track with season openings on far warmer latitude than I'm familiar with this early. Tour Down Under kickstarted it, while we now have the riders enjoying six-star hotels in Qatar and Oman. That said, racing took off in Portugal today too, with the Volta ao Algarve.

It pays to be a winner

Photo by Karim Jaffar/Afp, downloaded here.
 So far this season has been dominated by the two Belgian teams Omega Pharma - Quick Step (OP-QS) and Lotto-Belisol (Lotto), with Italian team Liqigas-Cannondale (LIQ) as the third team that made the headlines so far. It is a mix of both young and experienced riders who have claimed the podium. I like the fact that several young ones have developed further. LIQ riders Oss, Viviani and of course Sagan, have all raised the bar to a level few have been able to follow so far. The experienced Greg "Hendy" Henderson has taken charge of the lead-out train in Lotto, given Greipel the lead-out he was missing last year. Boonen is back looking as strong as ever, while teammate youngster Andy Fenn won in Mallorca.

Easy come easy goes
It is difficult to predict the future, if not impossible, but lets take a closer look at OP-QS. The merger last year when Marc Couke, the CEO of Omega Pharma, promised to keep the money in a Belgian team, has so far proved the critics wrong. Patrick Lefevere can smile all way to the team car with Couke's rumoured €4,5 mill tied into the team. Together with the sale of the majority stake to Czech businessman Zdenek Bakala, the finances seems to be working well.

The team has a great roster, including some riders from HTC who needed a contract found a spot in the belgian team. Not that those rider neccessarily is better than the others, but there is something that comes along for free, in a positive way when recruiting riders from the best team in decades; winning culture. Reporter Geir Økland, who reported for Norwegian TV2 in Qatar, spoke to DS Peeters to get the team's recipe for success, these are the key points:
  • The team is stronger than last year (riders)
  • Better mentality among the riders
  • "hungry" new riders on the team keep the pressure up during training
  • More chiropractors and physios have kept the injuries low
In addition to this, Brian Holm has arrived as DS. He played a vital part at HTC, where they cultivated the scientific approach that increased both the individual development of each rider as well as building the team super strong.

It is too early to say if the playing field will be leveled out, but for the other teams I do hope it. For what is worth, I believe these teams has been given an indication that their plan during the short winter has worked well. They are heading into the spring season with their head held high. But, now every rider has done the difficult, hard work, from now on it's all about racing to fitness. The season is still young.

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