Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
There’s no denying an underlying fact of this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a fact that even riders from other teams couldn’t avoid pointing out.
Team BMC and Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda are deep. Very, very deep.
Eight of the top riders were invited to be part of Saturday’s introductory news conference at the Fort Lewis College Community Concert Hall.
Five of them – BMC’s Cadel Evans, Tejay van Garderen and Taylor Phinney and Garmin’s Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde – were from those two teams.
Vande Velde was last year’s overall runner-up, just 11 seconds behind Levi Leipheimer.
Van Garderen and Danielson finished third and fourth, respectively, sitting within 21 seconds of victory, while BMC’s George Hincapie was fifth – and it’s no stretch to say those teams could replicate that success again.
Even Radioshack-Nissan-Trek’s Jens Voigt, the race’s elder statesman at age 40, couldn’t deny their depth, particularly that of BMC.
“I don’t say we feel intimidated, but we have the deepest respect for the team BMC puts out,” Voigt said. “I mean look at this gentleman right next to me (Evans), former Tour de France winner, and some great talent. ... There’s a whole bunch of great teams.”
Team BMC is chock full of both youth and experience, and its riders are on quite the roll of late, particularly Johann Tschopp, who won last week’s Tour of Utah.
Evans carries the title of 2011 Tour de France champion among a litany of other accomplishments, while 39-year-old American rider Hincapie, entering his final professional race, was the U.S. national road champion three different times. He has won four Tour de France stages and has completed cycling’s premier race 17 times, alongside his win in last year’s queen stage into Aspen.
Phinney finished fourth in both the individual time trial and the road race at the London Olympics.
“I’m excited to especially pay my friend and teammate Tejay van Garderen back for the work he did at the Olympics,” Phinney said. “We have an outstanding team here. ... This is a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for me.”
But it may be van Garderen who could be BMC’s top pick to take home the yellow jersey. After coming tantalizingly close last year, even holding the leader’s yellow jersey at one point, the 23-year-old has been riding strong of late. He was fifth overall at the Tour de France and picked up the crown of best young rider and took home fourth at the Tour of California.
Van Garderen, however, will have to wait and see how his busy schedule of late might affect him. He rode in the Olympics almost immediately after the end of the Tour de France before reluctantly skipping the Tour of Utah to rest up for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
“I had a pretty busy schedule from April all the way through the Olympics, which is why I decided to skip Utah. ... I had to be realistic. I was a little tired after the Tour and London ... so I had to take a little bit of rest,” he said.
For all of BMC’s depth, Garmin’s no slouch either, especially after taking the overall team victory at last year’s Challenge by 2:08 over BMC.
Danielson and Vande Velde both will gun for titles from the Garmin camp. Danielson was third at the Tour of Califoria, seventh at the Tour de Suisse and has bounced back nicely from two scary crashes that ended his Tour de France early, helping the team capture the team time trial at the Tour of Utah, where he finished 11th overall.
Vande Velde held the yellow jersey for three stages in Utah before losing it to Tschopp, thanks to a quality effort from the entire BMC team, and he took second in Stage 2 of the Tour de France.
Garmin’s top duo will have plenty of quality support. Durango cycling fans will remember Lachlan Morton for his win in May’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race.
Peter Stetina was 20th at last year’s Challenge and was part of stage-winning time-trial teams at the Tour of Utah and the Giro d’Italia.
David Zabriskie captured the individual time trial crown at the U.S. Pro Cycling National Championships and won Stage 5 of the Tour of California along with assisting in team wins in Italy and Utah. Tyler Farrar was on those rides, as well, and he was runner-up at the Tour of Qatar.
“We have great depth. ... Pete Stetina’s looking pretty good. ... The team’s great; we’re looking good, and we’re hoping to have the kind of success we had last year,” Vande Velde said.
None of these recent results guarantees that a member of either team will walk away with the yellow jersey, what with other contenders such as Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Rory Sutherland, Vincenzo Nibali, Andreas Klöden, Ivan Basso and others gunning for the crown.
And RadioShack-Nissan-Trek edged both BMC and Garmin for the team title last week in Utah.
But one thing’s for certain – the depth sure doesn’t hurt.
STeve Lewis/Durango Herald