The “argyle gang” erased any doubt over the weekend that the new-look Slipstream-Chipotle was going to be competitive on the international stage with a strong start to the 2008 season.
Racing on three fronts, the team scored a spot on the podium in Sunday’s GP La Marseillaise to open the European calendar with Ryder Hesjedal in third. Chris Sutton, meanwhile, took fourth overall in the Tour of Qatar and others on the squad dominated at the Tour of the Bahamas with victories in all three stages.
“We have a strong team and I have no doubt we’re going to be competitive all season,” said sport director Johnny Weltz. “Some people look at us as a new team, but we have good riders and a strong organization. It won’t be a surprise to us that we do well. Maybe it will be some who don’t know us.”
In the Bahamas, several riders destined for the Tour of California revealed good form, with Dave Zabriskie taking victory in the opening prologue and Tyler Farrar taking two stage wins, including a solo 20km breakaway victory Sunday’s 180km road stage. Christian Vande Velde slotted in for second overall in the February 2-3 race.
The team was solid in the wind-blown, high-speed crash-derby otherwise known as the Tour of Qatar. Sutton scored two top 10s in the sprints and the squad was second in the team time trial behind eventual overall winners, QuickStep.
The team’s Qatar performance was overshadowed by a nasty spill in stage 5 that left Magnus Bäckstedt with a broken right collarbone. The 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion promised he’ll be ready in time for the spring classics.
Sunday’s ride at the 140km Grand Prix La Marseillaise in France to open the European calendar saw Hesjedal sneak away in the day’s winning 12-man breakaway in the hilly course around Marseille.
Cofidis’ Hervé Duclos-Lassalle – son of two-time Roubaix champion Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle – hung on to take the sprint ahead of the fast-charging peloton with Hesjedal slotting in for the final podium spot.
“Following the lead set by the boys in Qatar and the Bahamas, we started things on a high note here in France,” wrote Will Frischkorn on the team’s web page. “Talk about a great feeling in the bus afterwards! From here, most of us head north to the five-day stage race, Etoile Besseges. After today’s effort, and with a few guys fresh from Qatar, we’re hoping to keep the momentum rolling.”
The successes bode well for the team’s chances to get invites to Europe’s most important races.
With a Giro d’Italia invitation already in the bag, the team is hoping strong early season results will land invitations to major races including Paris-Nice, the spring classics and, of course, the Tour de France.