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Some say it will be called Team Leopard. Others hint it might be Team Panther (Team Cougar is taking things a little too far), but whatever name its jersey will brandish, the new Luxembourg squad anchored by the Schleck brothers is sure to be the major force in the peloton this season.
The Luxembourg team will enter the No. 1 spot on team rankings even before it lines up for its first race. With a power-packed lineup, the team is assured to be a contender throughout the season.
Led by Fränk and Andy Schleck, the team will have the firepower to contend for the grand tour and contain the favorites for the northern classics, with Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady. A legion of budding stars, such as Jakob Fuglsang and Brice Feillu, wait in the wings to get their opportunities.
The team will make its official entrée Thursday evening in a lavish presentation in Luxembourg where 4,000 free seats were gone within hours.
Though the team’s web site has been registered as Leopard True Racing since the fall, they’ve been mum on revealing the team’s name, something officials promise will be revealed during the presentation in the Centre National Sportif et Culturel d’Coque.
The team was born thanks to the backing from Luxembourg businessman and real estate investor, Flavio Becca, who approached former Saxo Bank and Team Sky press attaché Brian Nygaard in May about the possibilities of starting a team.
It will be backed initially similarly to Slipstream (later Chipotle, then Garmin and now Garmin-Cervelo …) got off the ground. That program enjoyed the early financial backing of Doug Ellis, who helped bankroll the team until major title sponsors could be secured.
While the Garmin model started with a smaller, low-budget team, the Luxembourg project backed by Becca is coming with a superstar lineup that includes such heavyweights as two-time Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck, older brother Fränk and Olympic time trial champion and northern classics powerhouse Cancellara.
It didn’t take long before Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis realized something was up. Longtime sport director Kim Andersen was let go before the start of the 2010 Tour when Riis got wind of the plans to start a rival team.
Much to everyone’s credit at Saxo Bank, they fought as a unified front throughout the Tour de France and nearly delivered victory for Andy Schleck despite the realization by Riis that many of his star riders were on the way out.
Fractures started to show through, however, and during the Vuelta a España a frustrated Riis sent Andy Schleck and O’Grady packing home early after they were out drinking beers one evening after a stage.
In all, seven former Saxo Bank riders left Riis to help form the core of the new team.
Following the Schleck brothers were former Paris-Roubaix winner and workhorse O’Grady, rising star Fuglsang along with prospects Dominic Klemme and Anders Lund. The ever-popular Jens Voigt also signed on as did Cancellara, who was the team’s last official signing.
The team also picked up key riders from folding teams, such as Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann from Milram and the ever-improving Stefan Denifl from Cervélo.
Brice Feillu and compatriot Maxime Monfort will add some firepower in the mountains while Daniele Bennati, Davide Vigano and Wouter Weylandts will carry the team colors in the sprints.
All that remains now is for the riders to deliver on their promise — and for the name of the team to be officially confirmed.
Luxembourg/Leopard for 2011
• Daniele Bennati (Ita), Liquigas-Doimo – sprinter, classics
• Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Saxo Bank – classics, TTs
• Stefan Denifl (Aut), Cervélo – climber, attacker
• Brice Feillu (Fra), Vacansoleil – climber, stage-hunter
• Jakob Fuglsang (Den), Saxo Bank – all-rounder
• Linus Gerdemann (Ger), Milram – all-rounder
• Dominic Klemme (Ger), Saxo Bank – worker, attacker
• Anders Lund (Den), Saxo Bank – worker, attacker
• Maxime Monfort (Lux), HTC-Columbia – climber, Ardennes
• Martin Mortensen (Den), Vacansoleil – worker, attacker
• Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita), elite – rookie
• Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Saxo Bank – classics, road captain
• Martin Pedersen (Den), Footon-Servetto – rouleur, worker
• Silva Peres (Por), Barbot-Siper – worker, attacker
• Joost Posthuma (Ned), Rabobank – TT, rouleur
• Andy Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank – climber, GC rider
• Frank Schleck (Lux), Saxo Bank – climber, GC rider
• Tom Stamsnijder (Ned), Rabobank – TT, rouler
• Davide Vigano (Ita), Team Sky – sprinter, worker
• Jens Voigt (Ger), Saxo Bank – attacker, team captain
• Robert Wagner (Ger), Skil-Shimano – sprinter, worker
• Fabian Wegmann (Ger), Milram – attacker, worker
• Wouter Weylandt (Bel), Quick Step – sprinter, worker
• Oliver Zaugg (Swi), Liquigas – TT, rouleur