Can you imagine if we didn't know which teams were going to be playing in the NFL, NBA or MLB just a few months before the season? Oh, the Giants are going to be a Minor League team this year? Really? I know cycling is a unique business and there must be some kind of rationale for such tardiness and ambiguity in the licensing process but I am consistently amazed by how shabby professional cycling looks in relation to other sports. Reading the UCI website is a rather fascinating, and oddly depressing endeavor.
In spite of this unfortunate circumstance, I will attempt to provide a brief overview of the 17 Pro Tour teams listed on the UCI website as of early January 2010. It should be noted that the teams are listed alphabetically, although many of them actually have the term "Team" as the first name (Team Columbia-HTC, Team Milram, etc) so there will be an inordinate amount of "T" listings. Again, I am basing this off of published information from the UCI so don't blame me for the confusion. There will be further analysis upon completion of this list but this will have to do for the time being.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 UCI Pro Tour Team Pre Preview:
• AG2R La Mondiale (FRA)
AG2R La Mondial 2009 is remembered for Rinaldo Nocentini’s run in the yellow jersey during the Tour de France, but they are also notorious for orchestrating one of the strangest mid-season kit changes in recent memory. Not really having any household names on their roster after the departure of Christophe Moreau, the French squad went about their pre-Tour business somewhat anonymously in a somewhat boring blue and white design. However, the team underwent a curious fashion transformation which somehow led to the inexplicable vision of the yellow jersey accompanied by brown cycling shorts. How this happened is still a mystery. A crazy French murder mystery. Brown shorts are better than white or yellow, but the whole thing just seemed awkward. Although strangely, I ended up thinking the splotchy white and blue jersey with the brown shorts was kind of cool.
Besides Nocentini and his Franco-Italian soul-patch, the squad is built around the Efemkin twins (I think Vladimir and Evgeni are the Russian names for Mary Kate and Ashley), the future of Nicholas Roche (and history of his father) and the ghost of Cyril Dessel’s yellow jersey from 2006. Sadly, the main thing I think of with Dessel is how many times his name was pronounced "Cereal" by the OLN announcers. We'll see if the brown shorts come back in 2010 because I'm not sure if I see another yellow jersey run in the near future.
• Astana (KAZ)
What do you get when you combine the government of Kazakhstan, the best bike racer in the world, the worst Tour champion ever, and a sketchy super-freak nicknamed after wine? You get Astana 2010, that’s what.
The UCI Pro Tour website continues to recognize them by the same name but this Astana team is a shell of the 2009 version and sadly, continues to keep the horrible baby blue and yellow kits. The only significant difference is the inclusion of a few large red Specialized logos which look like stickers.
Contador could probably finish on the podium of the Tour by himself but it will be interesting to see how he and Vinokourov share the load over the course of the year. Lance and Johan were going to leave and do their own thing anyway but they clearly realized that Astana is Vino’s team, the result being a severely weakened 2010 squad in almost every respect. The addition of Oscar Pereiro seems like a PR move, cashing in on his tainted Tour win yet again. Unless he crashes in spectacular fashion (yet again) I doubt he will be of much interest. He's like a guy who won the lottery but still needs to work. The motivation just isn't the same. It will be interesting to see if this attitude creeps into the rest of the team as well, especially Contador, who almost seemed ready to take 2010 off if Astana didn't come up with the dough.
• Caisse d’Epargne (ESP)
The Spanish team of Spanish riders won the 2009 Tour of Spain, which was good for them (but horribly bad for those who think that the Italian ban on Valverde should be enforced worldwide) and theoretically good for the country. I don't know though. Spain's reputation has not been enhanced by anything stained with Operacion Puerto blood and unfortunately, Caisse d'Epargne won the Vuelta with a guy who seems to be clearly involved. Unfortunately for cycling fans, he also happens to be really good and just won a Grand Tour while banned from racing in another country. This is not what the sport, or Spain's reputation for that matter, needs right now.
All Valverde issues aside, CdE does have other riders who deserve positive attention. Luis Leon-Spinks Sanchez is one of the sharpest and exciting young talents in the peloton and it will very interesting to see if he can continue his progression as a stage racer. After all, he is basically the only guy to beat Contador in the last few years with his victory in Paris-Nice. His tactical sense and time trialling are stronger than Valv.Piti's and he could be in a position to benefit from lying slightly off the main radar in a Grand Tour.
The signing of La Chien, Christophe Moreau was curious, but at the end of the day (and beginning of 2010) Valverde remains the gigantic elephant in the CdE bus.
• Euskaltel-Euskadi (ESP)
We knew Samuel Sanchez was good (2008 Olympic Champion - in case you couldn't tell from his gold-highlighted helmet and bike) but his performance in the 2009 Vuelta was quite impressive, and showed that he may be a Grand Tour contender as well. He just better hope that there are no more team time trials ever again because his stubbornly Basque team is stubbornly one of the most insignificant squads in the Pro Tour. I am beginning to think that their biggest contribution to most races is providing a nice splash of bright orange in Graham Watson photos.
• Footon-Servetto (ESP)
Even though 2009 was a barren, meager year for Fuji-Servetto, at least they got another sponsor with an "F" name for 2010. That was pretty convenient, and I can't wait for my spellcheck to suggest calling them "Futon" throughout the season. That will be fun.
After losing Juan Jose Cobo and his shinguards/socks to CdE, this team is pretty unremarkable. So unremarkable that I really can't think of anything significant they did last year or are likely to do this year. Personally, I will consider Footon-Servetto's season a success if they manage to be mentioned in North American cycling media more than five times the entire season.
• Française des Jeux (FRA)
The best thing that I can say about FdJ is that they are really loyal to their original jersey design. Other than having one of the most familiar kits in the sport, there is really not much else to say about this French team. Seriously, I really wish I had more to say about these guys but with the exception of Sandy Casar’s occasional stage win, there are very few big results to be seen.
Stay tuned for more shortly...