17 June 2013

Tour de France 2013: The Teams 1 Omega Pharma - Quick-Step

I'm keeping an eye on Twitter for the team announcements ahead of the 100th edition of the Tour de France. The first to catch my eye was Omega Pharma - Quick-Step.

There is no surprise that they are building their team around the world's most successful sprinter Mark Cavendish. The Manx man has a total of 23 stage wins in 6 appearances in Le Tour making him the fourth most successful rider, and the best sprinter in those terms. Last month he secured the points jersey in the Giro d'Italia which goes with his 2010 Vuelta a España and 2011 Tour successes to give him the full set of Grand Tour points jerseys, but he is hungry for more. A win on stage one would see him in Yellow which would complete the hat trick of wearing the leaders jersey in all three Grand Tours. But five stage wins (the same as he achieved in the Giro) would see him move to equal second with five time winner Bernard Hinault for most stage wins. Update he will at least start the Tour in the GB national road race champion's jersey with rainbow bands on the sleeves, but will be looking to upgrade that for a Tour jersey.

Who are the eight that are going to help him on the Belgian based team?

Tony Martin the German world time trial champion will be hoping for a stage of his own when the Tour leaves Mont Saint-Michel heading for Avranches for the flatter of this year's two individual time trails. But his key role in the tour this year is to have set up the OPQS lead out train with two men in his wheel between himself and Cavendish by the time they get to the Flamme Rouge and into the final km, something he did for years as part of the mighty Highroad train. He will be hoping to do it for a final time on the Place de la Concorde with the man at the end of the line wearing Green and going for a fifth successive win on the famous Champs-Élysées.

Another key part of that lead out train will be Gert Steegmans. His job will be to build on all the work that the other men in the team have done to deliver the Manx Missile to his launch pad, ideally 200-300m from the finish. He himself has won two stages in the Tour one in 2007 and on the Champs-Élysées in 2008. He came to fame outside his native Belgium as Robbie McEwan's lead out man in 2006, helping him to two stage wins.

The man who should be between Martin and Steegman is Italian Matteo Trentin. His nations former cyclo-cross U23 champion took to the road and was U23 Road Race Champion in 2011. This will be his first Tour but he was part of the successful lead out in the Giro that returned five stages for Cav from the five stages he had a chance to win. After Steegmans had to go home he was the last lead out man. So should anything happen to take Gert out of the equation there is another who has already stepped up to that task.

The first of two Frenchmen is Sylvain Chavanel. He has in the past worn both the national road race and time trial jerseys in his native Grand Tour, as well as two days in the coveted Maillot Jaune. He has won three stages and twice in 2008 and 2010 he won the super compative award for the most accressive rider when the field rolled into Paris. He will get a chance to be aggressive on stages that don't suit Cav, but when the road is rolling along flat this year he will be in the pack carrying out a team role, those chances may even start before the Tour gets off Corsica. Taking part in his 13th Tour he is the most experienced Omega Pharma rider. Update Chavenel will again be wearing the host nation's time trial champions jersey for the 'race of truth' having won it a record 5th time on the 20th.

Chavenel has one more start than his fellow Frenchman Jérôme Pineau. He is more of a classics specialist so will be one of the big engines employed to help bring back breakaways on the flat so that the lead out train can do their thing and delivery victories for Cav. In 2010 he spent a total of nine days in the polka dots including three days that a certain Manx man took stage victory. So he may well get a little bit of freedom in some of the medium mountain stages to do his thing.

Peter Velits from Slovakia was 2nd in the 2010 Vuelta a España and is another time traillist. In 2012 he took the national title off his twin brother Martin, who hasn't got the nod from OPQS again this year. He also won last years Tour of Oman. In 2011 he was another cog in the almighty Columbia-Highroad team that delivered the Green Jersey to Cav. He is a rider who potentially could make an outside go of the GC, but the team is built around one man, so his engine will also be utilised in the aim of delivering as many stages for Cavendish as possible.

Dutch rider Niki Terpstra is next up. Along with Chavenel, Martin and Velits he was part of the six man OPQS team to win the World Team Time Trail last year. Like Cavendish he has been a madison rider on the track. Winning his national title in that discipline twice. But he has also been the national champion on the road twice in 2010 and 2012. Therefore has spent most of this decade in the Dutch national colours (we have yet to see if he defend the title ahead of the Tour).

Finally we have Michal Kwiatkowski the second debutant after Trentin but having just turned 23 at the start of the month the Polish rider is a full 10 months younger than the Italian, making him the youngest on this team. Although he is young he is yet another good time triallist, so yet more power in the engine. Update He will be wearing the Polish national road race champions jersey having won that on the Sunday before the Tour.

Basically this OMQS team is designed to be able to hunt down breakaways if they are required to and then to set up the king of the sprinters for the stage.There are so many good engines in the eight riders supporting Mark Cavendish we shall just have to see if he can deliver. He did five times out of five in Italy, how many times will he do it in France?

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