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The Livestream Diaries: For super teams it’s Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

Big money doesn't necessarily mean big results, as we've seen from BMC Racing and RadioShack-Nissan, but Sky has proven that it doesn't hurt

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Look, I’m not one to complain and I hate to even bring this up… but I believe we were promised super teams? Do you think I could speak to a manager or something? (A store credit would be fine.)

You see, 2012 was once ordained as the year that BMC Racing and RadioShack-Nissan would rule the Earth — with their respective backers assembling what looked (on paper, at least) to be cycling’s answer to The Avengers and The Justice League of America. Instead, the year has been surprisingly difficult, with each squad struggling to overcome its own fair share of bad luck.

BMC had an amazing 2011 with Cadel Evans snagging the team’s first-ever yellow jersey. What could make the American powerhouse even stronger in 2012? How about the addition of Philippe Gilbert (who ended 2011 as the UCI’s WorldTour points champion on the strength of his astounding classics run), Thor Hushovd (who held the maillot jaune for seven days last summer as a member of Garmin-Cervélo) and rising American sensation Tejay van Garderen?

Now that’s not a squad I’d bet against.

But wait — because just then came word that the forces of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek would combine under the leadership of nine-time Tour de France-winning director Johan Bruyneel. Suddenly Andy and Fränk Schleck, Fabian Cancellara and Jens Voigt would ride side-by-side with Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden.

The result would be a battle for the ages — a rivalry so potent, so star-studded, that we actually spent the winter debating whether cycling’s sugar daddies could ruin the sport. Surely, some insisted, we need salary caps to prevent a handful of big-budget teams from snatching up every marquee rider.

While the jury may still be out on the larger question, the answer — at least as far as 2012 is concerned — is that super teams are not always so super.

Both have had notable successes during 2012. BMC’s young guns van Garderen and Taylor Phinney have both shown huge promise, with the former securing the Tour’s white jersey and the latter snagging the Giro’s initial maglia rosa. RadioShack-Nissan won the Tour’s team classification on Sunday and the Tour of Luxembourg. But fate has also seemed cruel at times:

• BMC’s high-profile signings have produced surprisingly little to date, with Gilbert managing only a single podium place (finishing third at Flèche Wallonne) and Hushovd battling a form-eating virus that forced him to abandon both the Giro and the Tour of Poland.
• Evans meanwhile saw his defense of the yellow jersey slip away in the Pyrénées, ultimately finishing in seventh place, nearly 16 minutes behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins.

But BMC’s travails haven’t held a candle to RadioShack’s, with a plague of near Biblical proportions befalling the team:

• Cancellara, arguably the sport’s most dangerous classics rider, broke his collarbone at the Tour of Flanders and missed the remainder of the spring campaign.
• The Schlecks’ early season was marked by a string of abandons before Andy broke his pelvis and Fränk tested positive for the banned diuretic, Xipamide.
• Bruyneel sat out the Tour entirely after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency alleged his participation in a massive doping conspiracy while at the former U.S. Postal team.
• The squad has repeatedly aired its dirty laundry in the press — ranging from Bruyneel’s public criticisms of the Schlecks and initial exclusion of American Chris Horner from his Tour roster, to allegations of angry sponsors, late payroll payments and money laundering among its riders.

Could it be that the “super team” label is itself the kiss of death? While it’s possible that over-confidence may lead to some level of complacency, it’s equally likely that BMC and RadioShack have simply fallen victim to cycling’s complex array of hidden variables.

Were it not for a stray bottle here and a random virus there it’s entirely possible that each would be in a very different place. Success in cycling, after all, requires that elusive combination of talent and luck.

And who knows? Maybe the super teams will rise after all? As Britain’s Sky has shown, money may not ensure success, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Dan Wuori is the author of Velo Magazine’s monthly “At the Back” column. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.