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Garmin-Sharp hopes to salvage disappointing classics season this week

The 2013 classics campaign has not been fruitful for the U.S.-based squad

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VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Team Garmin-Sharp came to the classics with high hopes, fielding a roster that included 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) winner Nick Nuyens, 2011 Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Van Summeren, 2010 Scheldeprijs winner Tyler Farrar, 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, and a strong supporting cast capable of producing impressive results on their own as well.

But Nuyens abandoned the classics in March, citing complications in his recovery from a hip fracture sustained at last year’s Paris-Nice, and Van Summeren suffered an untimely puncture while chasing a second Paris-Roubaix win.

Instead, with just a week remaining until the close of the spring classics, the team has failed to live up to its promise in a campaign that yielded only a handful of top-20 results and a single top-10 by Farrar, who finished sixth at Scheldeprijs earlier this month.

At Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race, it was clear that Garmin intended to do everything possible to turn its luck around. Van Summeren jumped into a break that went clear just moments into the race and stayed away for more than 200 kilometers. Hesjedal, meanwhile, launched a fearsome bid to disrupt the race just before the final climb of the Cauberg, a few kilometers shy of the finish.

Neither move netted the team anything, though; Garmin’s top result came from German Fabian Wegmann, who was 12th on the day. In the Garmin camp it was hard to hide the disappointment.

“The spring classics for sure were not good,” said the team’s sport director Eric Van Lancker following the 250km tour of the dry, dusty roads that crisscross the short, steep slopes of the Netherlands’ Limburg province. “We cannot say it was good. So now we have here a good team, and we [tried to] play today and maybe we lose. We have no regrets, the team was there, and we’re hopeful for the next two races.”

Van Lancker said the team had tried to animate the race from the start in the hopes of neutralizing race favorite Peter Sagan (Cannondale). The effort may have succeeded, but he complained that other teams did little to contribute.

“That was the plan this morning,” he said. “We tried to go with an attack and we did it, because everybody was looking for Sagan, and you don’t want to come to the finish with Sagan. And I was hoping that other teams would do the same, and no other teams did it. Sagan was not so good when we came to the finale, but you don’t know that at the beginning of the race.”

Van Summeren, dirty, sunburned and a little unsteady on his feet by the end of his marathon breakaway effort, said much the same.

“I’m completely destroyed now,” he said, “[I was in the break] from kilometer three up to kilometer 230. We wanted to make it hard for the team of Sagan. I think it worked, but [it didn’t matter]. At least I didn’t ride anonymous.”

The lanky Belgian closed out his classics season on Sunday, heading next to the Amgen Tour of California in May. Like many on the team, he said he departs the classics with mixed feelings, positive about his form but dissatisfied with his results.

“I had really good legs [this season],” he said. “Last week I had better legs than when I won, but I had bad luck.”

Hesjedal, as he prepares for a defense of his Giro title, will have a few more chances to end Garmin’s spring of frustration this week with two punishing races in the Belgian Ardennes yet to come. Van Lancker said that Hesjedal’s improvised tactics late in the race proved the 32-year-old Canadian is on good form.

“The shape is good from Ryder,” Van Lancker said. “If you are there in the finale and can make an attack like that, then you know you have the legs. It was just, maybe, that he was not there with the seven [leaders], that was the only [problem]. But he was good and it’s good for the next races for Flèche and Liège, and his building up to the Giro.”

Hesjedal, obviously disappointed to leave with only 26th place after a strong ride, departed the race without talking to the media. But Van Lancker said he remains confident in his team leaders, Hesjedal and 26-year-old Irish rider Dan Martin ahead of Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The team, he said, is looking ahead to the final week of classics, focusing on their solid riding and good form rather than their spoiled efforts so far.

“There’s still one week to go,” he said. “I don’t know — we’ll try to win the race with Dan or with Ryder, that’s finally the plan.”

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