With two consecutive seasons of running the world’s most successful cycling team under his belt, Bob Stapleton is already looking ahead to next year and the challenge the new teams will bring.
With 81 wins to date for the men’s team this year – following on from 85 wins last year – Columbia are sitting pretty. Can the likes of Team Sky and Team The Shack come in and take on the might of the Columbia train?
“It’ll be interesting to see what these new teams will do,” Stapleton said. “Sky has had 18 months to create magic. It’ll be fun to see how that shapes up and then what they actually do on the bike.” Team Sky will hold particular interest for Stapleton, after five of his riders left for the British team,
George Hincapie and Marcus Burghart left for the Swiss / American team BMC that is ramping up it’s program next year. “BMC have been consistently executing their plan to lift their status and build a good foundation for the program,” Stapleton said. “Jim Ochoviz is a very smart guy, he goes back to 7-11 and he was the behind the scenes guy at Discovery. I would never underestimate him.”
“Combine him with Andy Rhis’ money. He owns Phonak and Assos, and has broad business intersests. He’s an extremely wealthy guy. I think he owns some other companies that are real financial producers. It’s him and his brother, and they’re mad cycling fans, so I think that’s a pretty potent combination.”
Despite losing several key riders, Stapleton insists he’s not upset at any of the riders who have chosen to move on. “It makes total sense,” he said. “And these new teams should be looking hard at our riders. They’ve got good reputations, and they are good. I’m not offended by that or hurt at all.”
“One of the reasons our athletes are so sought after is that they’ve taken advantage of the tools. They’ve improved themselves and shown they’re credible and clean riders, that they work well as team mates and a bunch of them have won races, including veteran guys who hadn’t done much with other teams.”
“Our riders are among the most attractive because of this pedigree. The clean team work, proven good qualities. And the fact we’d won so many races.”
Stapleton was less worried about any perceived threat from Armstrong’s The Shack team. “I don’t think we run head to head much with Radio Shack [sic], they’re a totally different beast. We’re going to compete year round, every race have ambition, have somebody there who wants to do something. They’re exclusively a Grand Tour team. Their number one goal is guys to ride for Lance in the Tour de France, then they focus on the next Grand Tour and they don’t get much beyond that in terms of the roster.”
“They’ll have Levi [Leipheimer] for Tour of California and that kind of stuff, but they really only focus on four or five races and then they just compete generally the rest of the year. We’re very different and there isn’t much overlap between them and us in terms of competitive recruitment.”