CALPE, Spain (VN) — A new co-sponsor, some new faces, but Garmin-Barracuda is hoping to hit the repeat button for 2012 following its best-ever season last year.
With victory at Paris-Roubaix and a great Tour de France that included four stage victories, a week in the yellow jersey and victory in the team prize, the U.S.-registered squad is expecting more of the same for 2012.
“We’ve reached a level where we are competitive with the best teams in all the races we go to,” said veteran team captain David Millar. “Last year was our best season ever, without a doubt, especially in the Tour. The only thing missing is trying to win the thing; maybe that’s something we can build on for the future.”
Winning the Tour might not be quite realistic yet for Garmin-Barracuda, but a shot at the podium is easily within reach, especially if Christian Vande Velde, Ryder Hesjedal or Tom Danielson hit their stride come July.
Following the somewhat choppy merger of the Garmin and Cervélo squads in 2011 and the exit of lead sport director Matt White, the team will be back on more solid footing for the coming campaign.
“It wasn’t easy last year. It’s not to say we were like two separate teams, but it took us a while to get everything clicking as a unit last year,” Vande Velde said. “When Sumi won Roubaix, that just seemed to get everything going in the right direction. Then we had that great Tour. In the end, it was our best season ever.”
New faces add to foundation
Ten riders leave the team, including six riders to GreenEdge and ex-world champion Thor Hushovd to BMC.
For 2012, 11 new riders come on board. There are no major stars, but include a nice balance of experienced pros and up-and-coming talent to round out the solid foundation that team manager Jonathan Vaughters has built over the past half decade.
Jakob Rathe, Raymond Kreder and Alex Howes make the step up from the Chipotle development team while riders such as Alex Rasmussen, Sebastian Rosseler and Fabian Wegmann will bolster the team’s classics program.
Robbie Hunter and Koldo Fernandez will help fill the void for team sprinter Tyler Farrar, who saw ace lead-out man Julian Dean make the move to GreenEdge.
One rider who will be drawing a lot of attention is Thomas Dekker, who rejoins the elite peloton following his controversial EPO positive dating back to 2007 with a ban that ended last summer.
Dekker has been given a second chance by Vaughters and the Dutch rider, now 27, wants to make the most of the opportunity.
“I admitted to everyone that I made a mistake and I want to prove to everyone I can be competitive again,” Dekker said. “I am very thankful that this team has given me a second chance. This is the ‘clean team’ and there isn’t a better place for me to make my comeback. I will not let anyone down.”
Behind the scenes, veteran director Allan Peiper joins from HTC-Highroad to give the team a strong leader atop its lineup of directors. Recently retired pro Charlie Wegelius also joins to give Garmin-Barracuda strong support behind the team car.
“I was ready to give up racing. The fact I haven’t touched my bike since my last race as a pro says it all,” Wegelius said. “I will be working in all the Italian races, because I know the roads, I know the history, I know the races.”
Gone is Dean, one of the most important allies for Farrar in the bunch sprints.
Stepping into that void will be Robbie Hunter, back on Garmin after a one-year experience with RadioShack. Alex Rasmussen and Koldo Fernandez will also be helping out what will be a bolstered set-up train for Farrar.
“I think we will have a strong team for the bunch sprints. I will miss Julian, but we have Robbie coming back,” Farrar said. “I am hoping that Robbie and I can rack up some wins this season.”
Farrar will hit both the Giro and Tour ahead of the Olympics. After a tumultuous 2011 season that included the highlight of winning his first-ever Tour de France stage but saw the horror of the death of best friend Wouter Weylandt during the Giro.
“I was pretty happy to turn the page on last season,” Farrar said. “It wasn’t easy dealing with everything that happened, but the team really supported me. I hope to stay healthy and pay back the team with some big wins.”
Garmin-Barracuda brings a solid classics core back for the Belgian and French classics. Johan Van Summeren will return as defending Roubaix champion, but he admits he will not be the pre-race favorite.
“We will have a strong team for the classics, but we will not be the favorite to win,” Van Summeren said. “We can bring our team to the front and have four or five guys in each race ready to be in position to win. That’s what we have to do.”
Key to the team’s chances is a healthy Heinrich Haussler. The German-Aussie roared through the 2009 classics season, finishing second in Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders, but he’s since been hampered with crashes and illnesses.
“I am finally feeling good again and want to go into the classics this season and have some good results, just to prove to everyone it wasn’t a one-off,” Haussler said. “For me this year, it’s all about the classics and the Olympics.”
Farrar, too, has some unfinished business with the classics. Races such as Ghent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprjis are ideal for his characteristics.
“I keep chipping away at them. I would love to win one of those races one of these years,” Farrar said. “Winning a one-day race is always complicated. Everything has to go right. We will have a strong classics team.”