By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor
A year ago this time I was predicting parity for the 2003 U.S. men’s road-racing scene. On paper, it looked like just about all the main U.S. teams had strengthened their rosters: Navigators had added Chris Wherry and Henk Vogels to a team that had a lot of success in 2002; Prime Alliance had signed a couple of Euro’ vets in Jonathan Vaughters and David Clinger; Schroeder Iron brought Chann McRae back to the U.S., to go along with Miguel Meza and young Aaron Olson; and Health Net looked on the fast track to respectability with the signings of Mike Sayers and Gord Fraser.
Well, we know what happened to those teams in ’03. To put it simply, Saturn kicked their collective butts. Saturn’s major signings — Chris Horner, Tom Danielson and Nathan O’Neill — trumped everybody else’s newcomers, and then holdovers like Mark McCormack, Tim Johnson and Viktor Rapinski had career years as well. And those other teams’ signings? How could so many bad things happen to so many people? Wherry had intestinal problems for most of the early season. Vogels had a violent crash at Fitchburg that cut his season short. Vaughters would retire at season’s end. Clinger was still recovering from off-season knee surgery. McRae ended his career after barely suiting up for Schroeder. And Fraser’s dispute with Threshold kept him out of just about every big race in the U.S.
So, after last season’s little disasters, and the seemingly overwhelming roster additions by Health Net-Maxxis, what’s my forecast for ’04?
Why? Call it the buddy system.
With the demise of Saturn and Prime Alliance, there’s been a dispersion of talent throughout the ranks of the U.S. D3 teams, with a number of squads vastly improving their prospects by adding at least two riders from those teams. Here’s this year’s argument for parity:
Colavita-Bolla adding Saturn’s McCormack, O’Neill, Will Frischkorn and Ivan Dominguez (as well as Schroeder’s Olson). Webcor signing Saturn’s Chris Horner and Charles Dionne. Jelly Belly-Aramark inking Prime Alliance’s Jonas Carney and Alex Candelario. Navigators adding Saturn’s Rapinski and Phil Zajicek (as well as Aussie David McKenzie). Sierra Nevada grabbing Trent Klasna and Eric Wohlberg.
Yes, Health Net-Maxxis will be a powerhouse, but with all the talent and experience that’s been sprinkled around the U.S. peloton, there will be plenty of teams ready to give them a fight.
Funny, that sounds an awful lot like my argument last year.
With Clinger joining Domina Vacanze and returning to Europe (where he did stints with Festina and U.S. Postal Service presented by Berry Floor before riding for Prime Alliance last year) and Danielson and Johnson following him, U.S. riders will be spread around on European teams more than ever. Here’s a partial list:
Tyler Hamilton, Phonak; Fred Rodriguez, Acqua & Sapone; Bobby Julich, CSC; Levi Leipheimer, Rabobank; Christian Vande Velde, Liberty Seguros; Clinger, Domina Vacanze; Danielson, Fassa Bortolo; Johnson, Saunier Duval.
For some reason, I feel I have to weigh in on the donuts/doughnuts debate going on among VN.com readers. According to Daylight and Dunkin’, they’re donuts. According to Krispy Kreme, they’re doughnuts. Who ya gonna believe? The company that spells “Krispy Kreme” with two Ks?
I’ll give Tim Hortons the final say, since it’s the biggest cycling sponsor among the bunch. According to the Tim Hortons site: donuts.
The new trend to look for in 2004? Touting mediocrity as evidence that you’re “clean.” In a recent report from Agence France Presse in the wake of the current Cofidis scandal, Fdjeux.com president Christophe Blanchard-Dignac asserted that his team is clean. His argument? “I can say that as a consequence of our results,” he was quoted. “We manage to win, but not often.”
Sadly, that may be something to aspire to these days.
Don’t look now, but the U.S. season is almost here. While some U.S. teams are getting a head start on the season, like Navigators at the Tour Down Under and Health Net-Maxxis at the Tour de Langkawi, things will get under way in earnest on American soil in just a couple of weeks at the Valley of the Sun stage race, February 13-15 in Phoenix. With Colavita-Bolla’s training camp set to coincide, it could be the season’s first showdown with Health Net.
And finally, the Tour de Georgia announced that it will be back for its second year, with Dodge returning as title sponsor. Good news — we’re headin’ back to Waffle House!