BMC get Gilbert… but what next?

Gilbert BMC
Phil prepares to tow a BMC car up to the bunch

If the headlines are about Gilbert, I just wanted to ask some questions about the move and the future of the BMC Racing team. Because if the answers are hard to come by, thinking aloud does allow some reflection on the matters ahead.

  • How much has Mark Coucke got? Gilbert had a year to run on his contract with Belgian pharmacist Mark Coucke of Omega Pharma although Gilbert’s side said the merger with Quick-Step voided the contract. With his points and his image, this is one of the most valuable riders around. Sky bought Bradley Wiggins out of his contract for a big sum of money, perhaps Gilbert has gone for even more?
  • Will the team recruit more managers? The squad is getting top heavy and it’ll take some planning to ensure everyone’s happy. Cadel Evans has already said he doesn’t want Hushovd in the Tour de France; but who can ensure things run smooth. Just planning the pre-season get together will be a big job.
  • Aside from the Tour de France, imagine the classics. Hushovd might be happy in Paris-Roubaix but maybe Van Avermaet was excited. But who will lead for Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders or the Ardennes races where Gilbert will want his say but Hushovd and Evans will also be up for racing some of these. Yes you can have two leaders on the day… but it’s easy for people start distributing blame after the race.
  • Is anyone else joining? Cadel Evans still rode much of the Tour de France by himself. That’s maybe his style but he could do with a climbing lieutenant. Where’s Matthew Lloyd?
  • Similarly, who else has Gilbert brought with him? His results were the result of excellent team work à l’ancienne with domestiques toiling in service of a sole leader. Plenty of guys at BMC could do this for him but we’ll see if any of his crew join with him. His protégé, the British rider Adam Blythe, has joined I believe.
  • What will the other teams make of this? I feel a touch uneasy seeing billionaires snapping up the best riders and of you view the transfer market as a zero-sum game then BMC’s additions are negatives for others. That might not the case, after all it’s possible Rihs is buying up today’s best riders rather than nurturing tomorrow’s best riders.
  • Where’s the money coming from, as surely BMC don’t sell that many bikes to generate all the money? This one I can answer. Andy Rihs is a billionaire with a substantial shareholding in Sonova, the hearing aid company he’s taken from start-up to global medical technology giant. He tripped up over insider-trading allegations and had to step down and his shares in Sonova have halved in value since earlier this year. But in mitigation the Swiss Franc has risen in value and either way, he’s still a billionaire. It’s like playing Velogames with infinite credits.

Finally, if we can only ask questions, it’s also because BMC aren’t ready to give us answers. There’s no press conference and the team has said it will not be offering interviews or additional commentary. But for all the backroom planning, it’s about what happens on the roads.

34 thoughts on “BMC get Gilbert… but what next?”

  1. Van Avermaet has said in the past he didnt want Gilbert at BMC because it will hinder his development and opportunities. He isnt in the class of Gilbert but there is a difference between super domestique and being burnt out with 50Ks to go and getting regular top 10s. Certainly financially if you get money on UCI points. Jelle Vanendert has done heaps of work at lotto for Gilbert but after his stage win will want more freedom and as you say could be guys at BMC that can do what he did in 2011. Evans mentioned being a domestique to Gilbert during the ardennes. He probably will be but Evans and Gilbert overlap when it comes to hard finishes. I think if Evans set his form to peak for the classics he would win but its not his goal. I have been a big fan of his for a while but another win at the TDF is a big ask for 2012, although this will depend on Contadors pressence and form. Hushovd and Gilbert want to have a tilt at Flanders and P-R but I suppose it just depends on whether Gilbert will build for the ardennes over those races and they can get him to work with Hushovd. It will certainly be interesting. I am sure the lawyers haggled and the cost would have been less than going to court, I imagine. From what I read Gilbert had a contract with a Coucke’s holding company and Coucke argued that since he was contuing with QS that he still had a contract with Gilbert. The details would have rested on how the merger with QS would have influenced the nature of Coucke’s holding company. Speculation.

  2. @ScienceTwitt: GVA can always change teams, if he was really unhappy BMC might let him go. But given he hasn’t won many races, as unhappy as he might be, I suspect BMC management are more excited by their new signings than him.

    Neil: “Look Jim, you want to bring a sprinter to the team, I don’t want to ride with a sprinter, because I’ve done that and I’ve done my share. If I do the Tour I want to do it for the win.”. That’s Cadel Evans, implying that anyone coming to the Tour is coming to help him. As I say it’s not impossible to work around this.

  3. Cadel said he wants the whole team to ride to help him win again, that’s all. I guess Thor can be an asset on the flatter stages, if he is willing to be so.

  4. …at least this will create some needed air and take away focus from the likes of Leopard-Trek and Team Sky in order to finally establish them selves as top-teams and start producing some serious BIG wins that live up to the money invested, instead of bulling on the “as team we are ranked as No 1 talk”. Cycling is about winning, not team rankings, and sometimes sacrificing careers and staff comes with the job. Hushovd & Gilbert, regular training partners in Monaco and close friends, will be a deadly cocktail in the 2012 spring classics. I say: 3 out of 4 classic wins go to BMC. And in the end, if the pay cheque is big enough – they will work as SUPER domestics for Cadel Evans in the TDF – just wait and see.

  5. While officially Evans bought himself out of his Silence/Omega contract to move to BMC his salary must have been big enough to cover that cost. Ergo they also bought Evans out of his last year with Couke.

    Sport has always been a rich people’s plaything – from local mill owners funding the team to today’s oligarchs football (soccer) has never been “self funding”. In football the most you can do is put your Oil company’s name on the shirt of the team. In cycling your oil company (or hearing aid company or prefabricated steel sheeting company or adhesives for the construction industry company) becomes the team. It’s inevitable that Cycling will head towards the “benefactor” model – actually, it always has been apart from a very few exceptions.

  6. Evans said on his website:-

    “Checking the news….. I so want Thor #godofthunder on our Tour team next year…. Why do people say otherwise?”

    Your quote re his aversions to sprinters I suspect related to specialist sprinters in general which Thor is no longer. Whichever way his specific comment in relation into Thor overrode any implication those words applied to him.

  7. I feel a bit bad for Cadel – it seems that for a long time he didn’t really dominate the team he was on (Lotto?), and I got the impression he was happy to finally get a team that was 100% behind him, even if they weren’t the strongest.

  8. Interesting analysis once again, thanks. The very nature of the TDF makes the creation of a sustained ‘winning’ team extremely problematic, as Radio Shack in 2011 demonstrated, sadly. Cadel (34) is old by TDF standards but Hushovd (33) and Gilbert (29) as super domestiques surely could do a great job of protecting him in the early stages of the next few Tours?

    Thor showed amazing spirit and endurance in many lumpy stages this year but surely BMC needs to recruit a younger mountain goat to help Cadel in the hills? (Notwithstanding Hincapie (38), again an old man in TDF terms.) Seems to me it is the age-old sporting team dilemma: old, expensive, injury-prone team of champions vs young, cheap and unproven champion team.

  9. When Cadel said he did not want a sprinter on his team, the context was about having to work on the flats for a sprint finish, and also having to work on the mountains. Similary to what he have done when in the Silence Lotto team. He will be happy riding along with Thor (and Gilbert) on the Tour, as long as they work full time for him. It looks to me that BMC wants to be on the spotlight since the beginning of the season, having a strong presence in the classics and in the Grand Tours. It most definitely will be fun to watch. What I still cant understand is how Sky is supposed to ride in next year Tour fighting for the GC with Wiggins AND the sprints with Cav (if they actually sign him).

  10. This team is overflowing.

    I was surprised by Thor’s decision to go there. I still think it’s a bad decision on his part.

    And now Gilbert on top of that ?

    Strange behavior from these two guys, imo.

  11. I think there’s less overlap on classics goals between Hushovd and Gilbert than it looks at first glance. PG has – according to Wikipedia – NEVER even ridden at P-R, so I doubt that’s one of his major goals whereas it’s been a stated goal of Hushovd’s for years now. Likewise, I doubt you’d ever hear Hushovd say that he’s a contender for Fleche Wallone or L-B-L. I can see there being some rivalry for the Ronde or MSR or Amstel, but in those instances you can ride with two leaders (a la Quick Step having both Boonen and Chavanel). There’s nothing wrong with having a superstar team. All you need is to have a strong General Manager to help plan the goals for a season and control the egos.

  12. Thanks for the comments, keep them coming! I’m glad the Evans-Hushovd piece is cleared up.

    And as I said above, for all the star riders, they’ll need a star manager too. John Lelangue is a nice guy but perhaps too nice to control things. But in the end it’s not easy to plan, if X and Y win big races then everyone’s happy. If someone misses their goal then morale can change suddenly.

  13. Chris: on the other hand, Gilbert has said publicly that he wants to win all five monuments, and he has a better chance of doing so than any other current rider. I don’t see him riding P-R for the win next year, but I would not be at all surprised to see him toe the line as a superdomestique for Thor.

  14. @Grolby: You are correct! I had kind of forgotten that Gilbert is that close to getting all 5. But as you suggest, he will need experience on the cobbles before he can pull off the win. No better way than to help out a teammate.

  15. How many sets of rainbow stripes does one team need? Cadel, Thor, Ballan, and my pick for this year, Gilbert. Ballan signed an extension in 2010, but if i were him, i’d be looking to leave.

  16. @ScienceTwitt – yeah I can see Van Avermaet being less than pleased. He is a poor man’s Gilbert at this point, he rode well this spring with likely his best form ever, but seemed at least a full notch away from winning something like Amstel. His attack at MSR was valiant, but futile. I would not be surprised to see Van Avermaet looking to leave, given his previous comments about his time with Gilbert at Lotto.

    @Tom – given Ballan’s messy situation with the Mantova investigation, BMC would be well-served to dump him if they can. It is not like he has done much for them except to get bad press.

    @Chris, @Grolby – Gilbert is still a ways away from the 5 monuments. In theory a win at Flanders should be relatively easy for him(!) but that still leaves Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo and those are probably the two most difficult for him to win. He’s been podium at MSR several times, but to win it he has to make sure he comes to the line without someone who can outsprint him and that is very difficult in the modern MSR. He has yet to even ride Paris-Roubaix with intentions, his only finish is 52nd in 2007.

  17. There just arent enough big teams for every ‘major’ rider to have a personal support squad for their chosen targets, the top 5-10 riders excepted. Everyone else makes a pragmatic choice based on financial reward and sporting ambition. Much the same as anyone else in team-based sports – if you arent the outstanding talent of your generation, you have to make some compromises.

  18. This makes for great conversation now but I think by the start of next season a lot of this will have be forgotten. Hushovd & Evans are great riders but both of them have peaked imho. Gilbert is a fantastic rider but is unlikely to win as much in the future.
    Can you really expect Hushovd to beat Cancellara in the classics?
    Evans is getting old where as Contador, Nibali and Schleck are still young. All 3 are now just reaching the peak physical ages between 27-32 where most athletes have their best success. I’ll put my money on Andy again nextyear.
    I’m a big fan of Peter Sagan. He might be 2012’s biggest star.

  19. No one has mentioned eddy bos. Another rider starting to realise his potential and a big danger in the classics next year. Likewise I’d expect Thomas to do well in the spring and I am also a big fan of sagan. As for the tour I fancy contador if he lines up. Still the most complete grand tour rider in the peloton. Evans had everything go for him this year.

  20. Not to re-open the matter but Evans didn’t say he didn’t want Thor going to the tour with him, quite the opposite. He said I want to be sole leader and have full support, fair enough. Thor and Gilbert will only benefit Evans as they can put themselves in a breakaway brilliantly and either take the stage themselves or then wait for Evans up the road.

  21. I also think a new DS will be required. I’d be interested to see who you think would fit well at BMC.

    In terms of riders, the team is now markedly stronger and the balance looks good. 2012 will surely bring BMC more wins, especially in the early part of the season.

    At 29, Gilbert is entering what should be his best years. Thor has just left them, as many have indicated above. Most flat sprints are now out of his reach but stage wins are still possible. We’ve seen this with sprinters before. Top end power starts to drop off in your early 30s but endurance remains a few years longer.

    As for Evans, he may be 34 but it’s hard to say whether he has already peaked yet or not. Chrissie Wellington is the same age and she’s broken two Ironman world records this year. The comparison is not entirely valid but there are many other endurance events where athletes in their late thirties perform well, such as the Marathon des Sables. Winning the 2012 Tour de France is certainly a possibility. Cuddles rode differently after becoming world champion: after that win he was less inhibited during the decisive moments towards the end of races. Perhaps this year’s TDF victory will have a similar effect on his confidence?

  22. I love how everyone continues to write Evans off. Still too old, despite still being less than one month after being crowned the TdF champion.

    Or has peaked.

    Or has a team still not strong enough (how many teams had team mates surrounding when sh!t got real? Aside from the Schlecks, none. And look how well that worked for them).

    Haters. Damn.

  23. On the subject of needing someone in management to help with a “top heavy” team, has anyone heard what Rolf Aldag is doing post HTC? Think we’ve heard/seen about most of the mgmt team but I hadn’t seen anything on him. Would he be a good fit?

  24. Inner Ring, love your blog & thoughtful as ever but think you’re adding 2 + 2 to equal 5, especially when you said “I’m glad the Evan Hushovd piece is cleared up”… by that I’m guessing that’s you admitting you were wrong?

    More than 30 seconds Googling brings up countless examples of tactful but direct comments from Cadel that show he welcomed Thor, but made it clear the team would be focussed around him (Cadel) to win another Tour. 9 days ago he tweeted “Checking the news….. I so want Thor #godofthunder on our Tour team next year…. Why do people say otherwise?”

    Same with Gilbert, with the Cadelephant Tweeting how glad he was to be joined up with Gilbert again. Mentioned something about being happy to be a Domestique for him…

    My personal views are that Thor is after the cash before he retires, but that with a roster of 28 or something riderd BMC can mix and match their squad to be competitive for the Classics and the Grand Tours. Cadel would probably just aim for the Tour, so the Giro is open to Gilbert to push harder for a GC spot (after he smashes the Classics again). The real pressure is on Thor & Gilbert, who is going to be the protected rider in the Classics?

    Little Timmy Roe might just step up to help Cadel in the hills, he’s a good kid and a great climber…

  25. Willie: good point on TJ Van Garderen, he’s joining.

    Jennifer: Rolf Aldag would be a good fit, yes. But we’ll see if Greenedge or Leopard are interested.

    Abdu Whereareyou: I saw the Evans quote and like I say, glad it’s been cleared up. I was using it as an example to show how things will change, the team will go from one clear leader to having several world-class riders.

  26. As a fan, I always like seeing the ‘big riders’ on different teams – so from that perspective, I’m a little disappointed. No Thor vs Gilbert in Milan-San Remo or Flanders. No Gilbert vs Cadel in Liege, Fleche Wallone or Lombardia.

    As a team decision though, it makes perfect sense. No longer reliant on Cadel’s performances, they now have a two-pronged attack for most (if not all) of the classics.

    Plus they have some old, experienced heads to guide youngsters like Taylor Phinney. Even Greg Van Avermaet, if he can check his ego a little, will hopefully be able to make the ‘next step’ riding with these guys to teach him a thing or two…

  27. Not sure why everyone is questioning the decision of Thor jumping to the same situation at BMC. This is a business, he has more years behind him than he does in front of him as a pro and he had an amazing 12 months – he went to the highest bidder based on these results. Akin to a baseball or football player raising their stats in a contract year. JV did not pay up – simple as that. All this talk about the culture of the team seems off – BMC and GC are American teams with similar philosophies if he wanted fit then he would have gone to a french team that was all the talk earlier – but guess what – they didn’t have the budget.

    Even if Cadel is in a position to win, how Thor rode this year, going off the front on mountain stages would be a boon to Cadel, not a hinderence.

    These guys are athletes they chase the money almost 100% of the time with the belief that they will make the difference and be able to win. You see it in Football (Euro and NFL) and other major sports all the time. Cycling is no different.

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