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Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. It’s tough to be a cycling fan. Riders jump around more than a loose cassette. Teams change kits like Sven Nys swaps bikes in a muddy ’cross race. So, here’s a guide to your new favorite team. Don’t like these guys? Stay tuned for more previews.
Your new favorite team: BMC Racing Team
Your team’s fan base: A team’s following is often determined by the national affiliation of its riders, management, or sponsor (Quick Step = Belgium). This is why defining BMC’s fan base — let alone goofing on it — is so challenging. BMC is like a lycra-clad United Nations. It has Swiss ownership and American management. BMC’s best results have come from Australians (Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis), and over the years it has spent heavily on Belgians (Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet), a Norwegian (Thor Hushovd), a Spaniard (Samuel Sanchez), and an Italian (Alessandro Ballan). To top it off, BMC has courted American fans with Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen, George Hincapie, and Brent Bookwalter.
BMC’s reputation used to be the team that overspent on star riders whose best days were behind them. Evans was a great get, but BMC whiffed on Ballan and Hushovd, and to a lesser extent, Gilbert. So yeah, BMC used to be the official team of fans who hated ROI.
That’s not the case anymore. Thanks to Van Avermaet and Porte, BMC has become the only team capable of challenging both Peter Sagan and Chris Froome. Yep, BMC has morphed into cycling’s scrappy squad of underdogs (who love luxury Swiss watches). By my rationale, if you like BMC, then I assume you identify with Daniel LaRusso, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, or the entire cast of “Cool Runnings.”
Also, does anybody else think that new sponsor Tag Heuer’s patch on BMC’s kit bears an uncanny resemblance to the Mountain Dew logo? Seriously, every time I see that patch I want to go skydiving with random sports equipment while jamming out to the brand’s hip ’90s rock jingle, “The Power of Dew.”
Your team’s star: Richie Porte was the second-strongest rider at last year’s Tour de France, despite his fifth-place finish. Porte is from Tasmania, and Tasmanian Devils are extra scrappy.
Here’s where things get controversial. As you may (or may not) know, Porte used to be a Speedo-wearing triathlete. I, myself, have dabbled in triathlon over the years, and am quite cognizant of the Transformer/Decepticon-like relationship that exists between our tribe and theirs. So if you’re looking for an excuse to goof on Porte, you can just say that Porte would rather be riding up l’Alpe d’Huez in a banana hammock with a dozen gels taped to the top tube of his Diamondback Andean while looking like this guy.
Then there is Greg Van Avermaet, who has become the only guy with the all-around skills to match Peter Sagan. GVA earned tons of scrapper points at last year’s Rio Olympics. In perhaps the scrappiest ride of the entire season, GVA hung tough as the grand tour guys tried to drop him on the Vista Chinesa climb, and then punked them at the finish line.
Aside from Porte and Van Avermaet, BMC still has Tejay van Garderen, the most genetically gifted American of this current generation. But alas, he was born without the scrappy gene, and has proven to be susceptible to bad legs and something called “the sniffles.” Van Garderen has all the tools to be a grand tour great — he can time trial and suffer his way up huge climbs — but he always suffers that one bad day during a three-week race. If van Garderen could eliminate that bad day, a podium spot is a reality.
Best-case scenario: Porte strings together a perfect build-up to the Tour and then executes a flawless 21 stages in July. Damiano Caruso, Nicolas Roche, and Sanchez are able to provide some support in the high mountains. The result? Second to Froome. That’s not to disparage the Tasmanian, but I think in a best-case scenario, he’s still a few watts behind his nemesis.
Van Avermaet must win a monument — preferably Flanders or Roubaix — in order to reach his peak. In a perfect scenario, he goes head-to-head with Sagan at Flanders and finds a way to drop the world champion on the Paterberg before soloing to the finish, where he is subsequently crowned Scrappy Emperor of Belgium.
I think the best thing for van Garderen is for him to get attacked relentlessly at the Giro — I mean really put into the hurt locker — and to weather the abuse, put in a consistent performance, and finish in the top 5. Of course this will require him to avoid the one bad day, which I believe he’s capable of. We’re still waiting for that performance where van Garderen gets punched in the nose, bleeds, and doesn’t fold.
Worst-case scenario: For Porte, the worst-case scenario looks like stage 2 of the 2016 Tour. He suffers some basic mechanical at the worst moment and watches helplessly as the peloton speeds off toward the finish line and his podium ambitions evaporate. His team is strong enough to keep him in contention, but he spends the rest of the race wondering what might have been.
Van Avermaet collects more second-place finishes at the classics before finally beating Sagan at smallish races that simply don’t matter. His wins earn BMC a few UCI points, but the entire cycling world knows that he’s an Andre Agassi, not a Pete Sampras.
A bad scenario for van Garderen? He suffers some illness or unexplainable malady that forces him into the gruppetto during a tough day at the Giro. I realize we cycling fans are a fickle bunch. We will cheer for a guy who grits his way to the finish line with blood streaming from his face, and boo his gruppetto companion who is suffering from the flu. But cycling is a sport where everyone endures a high level of pain. Sometimes, the optics of suffering is all we can rely on.
Likability rating: 9/10. In past years this rating was far lower, but 2017 appears to be a year to cheer for BMC. Van Avermaet can rival Sagan, Porte is the only grand tour rider who can derail Froome, and van Garderen has taken on a new challenge. Scrappy underdogs (who enjoy luxury Swiss watches) unite!