Following Samuel Sanchez’s aggressive win in the Queen Stage of the Tour of the Basque country yesterday, Omega Pharma-Lotto are now the only Pro Tour team not to have won a race this season.
You might ask “so what?”, there will always be a team that has to wait for a win, their time will come. But you’re probably not Belgian. Because the Belgian media is going beserk right now at the lack of wins. Even Quick Step is getting flak because it’s not won much but Omega-Lotto are the ones really feeling the heat. So here are some suggestions for the team:
Hire a sprinter
The team has stated this obvious idea already. Having a good sprinter on board should land you a couple of wins and this takes the pressure of the team. Their own Greg Van Avermaet hasn’t quite got the speed. But who is available? I’m not sure if there are many easy names out there. The team doesn’t do lead out trains, few sprinters would see a move to Lotto as a smart career move. Greipel might be available but he’d come at a cost and I don’t rate him unless he comes along with some of the locomotives of HTC-Columbia’s sprint train.
Change the management
For as long as I can remember, the Lotto team rhymes with chaos. In an era of marginal gains, this squad struggles to get the basics rights.
One example tells it all: look at last year’s Tour de France, Cadel Evans lost a lot of time in the team time trial. The team struggled to get anything right. They didn’t visit the course, they had one training session – on a wide and flat motor racing circuit, when the TTT course was twisty – and so things quickly fell apart. Even during the TTT things crumbled, they dropped Johan Vansummeren but sat up for him, only for Vansummeren to cook himself trying to get back on and consequently waiting for him was pointless. This was the stuff of amateurs, no in fact it was worthy of a junior team. But this was the Tour de France and a team with high hopes for the GC. Management needs a reshuffle.
Reposition the team
A look at the team roster reveals a list of good riders but few are winners. Daniel Moreno is a good rider for week-long stage races but he won’t win that much, although he could be used in February to land an early season win in Majorca or Andalucia. This appears to be a team built around Philippe Gilbert. Now Gilbert is a great talent but he can’t win by himself. He was nearly there in Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and other races but he’s caught between other riders, he can’t solo away like Cancellara and he’s not a sprinter, even if he scalped Boonen in last year’s Paris-Tours. He will win but the extra pressure on him won’t help. A team built on the shoulders of one rider means its placing all its eggs in one basket.
The winter signing of Jean Christophe Peraud looks like a masterstroke. In his first season on the road he’s proving to be an exceptionally powerful climber. It’s all a learning experience, he thought he could be in with a shout on the Paris-Nice stage with the ramp above Mende but was surprised by the accelerations of Contador. So he revisited his power data and if the wattage was there, he started adding some accelerations to his training. It’s paying dividends, he was seventh in the Tour of the Basque country’s biggest stage. One to watch on the Muur de Huy.
Deflect the blame
It’s sneaky but cycling is PR on wheels. So why not put Quick Step under extra pressure? They might have won five races this year but that’s only because Tom Boonen has won four times. Davide Malacarne won a stage in Catalonia and Boonen’s last win was in Tirreno-Adriatico, his other wins were in Qatar and Oman. That’s not exactly great either, Omega-Lotto can find safety in numbers.
Plus ça change
The Belgian media will always be on the team’s back. Last year the team didn’t win until the right at the end of March and by June they’d only won three races. But had they won a few races this year the critics would still be piling in, saying a win in the Tour of Majorca or even a Paris-Nice stage is nice but the team needs to deliver.
The team really has to win a classic to silence the media and nothing the squad can do will ever relieve the pressure that the Belgian media lumps on its home riders.