Can you believe it’s already February? It seems like just yesterday that I was scouring the web looking for photos of new kits, bikes, and training camps. But here we are now and already we’ve seen the Tour Down Under, cyclocross Worlds, and the season-opening road races in Italy and France come and go. So while it’s perhaps a bit early in the game to go too crazy with prognostications, it’s never too soon to discuss what we’ve learned—so far. Let’s give it a go:
1. HTC-Columbia made the right choice in keeping Andre Greipel. Only time will tell for certain, but at this point in the season, Greipel’s won more races than the riders HTC let depart this past off-season—including George Hincapie and Edvald Boassen Hagen. Okay, that’s not saying much considering the latter have hardly raced. But keep this in mind: great riders win the races they’re expected to. In Greipel’s case, it’s fair to say he was expected to win several stages at the Tour Down Under. Anything less would have been major disappointment, sending choruses of “I told you so’s” echoing through the world’s online cycling forums. In the end, Greipel’s early success will prove nothing to write home about, but if Greipel can continue his winning trend with perhaps a win in Ghent-Wevelgem or several stage wins in some major stage races, HTC management will look as if it made all the right moves.
2. Old dogs still have some new tricks. When was the last time you saw Lance Armstrong or Cadel Evans on the attack in January? Armstrong’s riding the Classics (sans Paris-Roubaix) and Evans is riding the Giro—clearly they seem motivated to improve upon their results from last year. Will Evans finally get the Grand Tour that has eluded him for so long? Will Armstrong atone for years of disappointment in Liége and Amstel? All in all, it should make for some exciting racing over the next few months.
3. Cycling is on the verge of a sponsorship crisis. I’ve been saying this for weeks, but it continues to fall on deaf ears. Milram, Saxo Bank, and recently Caisse d’Epargne have announced they will not be sponsoring teams next year. As the ripple effect of the worldwide economic crisis spreads further and further outward, sponsors seem to be growing increasingly harder to find—unless your name is Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador. Sure, 2010 sees Team Sky and Team Radio Shack joining the Pro Tour, but those teams come backed by sponsors hoping to cash-in on the current popularity of homegrown talent. Those bubbles will burst once Armstrong retires and British fans grow tired of watching Brad Wiggins under-perform in the only race they really care about. When Team Astana begins to look like one of the more financially secure teams in the sport, we’ll know things are really starting to look bad.
4. The Czech Republic is challenging Belgium’s place as the Cyclocross Capital of the World. Did you see Zdenek Stybar’s ride on Sunday and his three compatriots in the top-10? Okay, it’s just one race, but when you factor in the inconsistent and sometimes lackluster performances of Belgium’s finest throughout the year, it’s clear to see a potential paradigm shift developing. Remember the late 1990’s when Holland—led by Richard Groenendaal and Adrie Van Der Poel—ruled the roost until a resurgent group of Belgians took control of European podiums? Don’t look now, but Stybar and Co. could be poised to do the same. There’s one thing they lack: a solid base of homegrown events in which to fine-tune their form. If the Czechs begin to promote races (and attract competition) on par with their Belgian counterparts, look out!
5. Louisville 2013! ‘Nuff said.
6. There are 23 days until the Belgian season opens with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
Enjoy the rest of your February!