Forget Sky, Radioshack or Quick Step, arguably Liquigas is the strongest team around. They’ve got Basso, Nibali, Pellizotti and Kreuziger for the overall honours in any stage race, they’ve got Bennati and Chicchi for the sprints, there’s Willems and Kuschynski for the classics and the likes of Quinziato and Szmyd to help make things happen. Plus the 20 year old Slovak Peter Sagan.
My only reservation is that they don’t have a number one rider who they can always count on. You’d back many of the riders to be protagonists… but you’d usually pick someone else to win a race outright. Whilst the depth of talent gives the team plenty of cards to play, the question is who is the ace? Without a dominant leader it might be hard for riders to work together.
My thoughts on this come after Milan-San Remo. As the race went over the Poggio the team strategy was to allow Nibali to attack. This was to give Lo Squalo his chance on hilly terrain, where he is at an advantage but also to put pressure on other teams and thus improve sprinter Bettini’s chances. But after the riders came off the Poggio, team orders were for all the riders present to start working for Bennati. Only Nibali’s radio didn’t seem to work! He attacked after the descent (see the photo). Now I’m not sure if this damaged Bennati’s chances, after all it forced other teams to chance, but it will have certainly have caused arguments on the team bus. Make no mistake, Nibali broke team orders.
Nibali was rumoured to be talking to Team Sky but stayed put 2010. With so many ambitious top riders wanting to have their way, Milan-San Remo gave us a glimpse at how enforcing team orders can be very difficult, whether it’s tactics in a one-day race or holding the group together through a whole season. It’s up to team management to ensure each rider has suitable goals and that the domestiques don’t favour of one rider or another. So much talent can be a problem, the risk is that the team spirit, essential for cycling, evaporates.