With an eye to becoming competitive in Grand Tours within the next several years, the American-Swiss team BMC aims already this year to be among the top teams in the tough one week races. On Sunday they started what will be perhaps their most difficult stage race to date: the Crit?rium du Dauphin? Lib?r?.
Often referred to as the mini-Tour de France, the 2009 edition of the Dauphin? lives up to that billing in spades with over 50 kilometers worth of time trialling, and several stages which will take the riders deep into the Alps up some of the most difficult and revered climbs in France.
"The Dauphin? is always one of the toughest one week races of the year," BMC Directeur Sportif John Lelangue said. "And looking at the parcours, I think that this year might be more difficult than previous editions; over 50km of time trialling is very unusual for a one week stage race." With a Tour de France calibre roster and tracing over several of the routes which will figure in the July race, the Dauphin? will be a race only the fittest will survive. "That we have been invited and will be the only non-Pro Tour team at the race proves that the organizers believe in our riders and our philosophy as much as we do," Lelangue said. "We have selected the most efficient and complete riders that we can take on the roster since we don’t just want to participate, but rather we want to impact the race." Lelangue intends to make being the only non-Pro Tour team work to their advantage in the race. "We will have almost a free hand since we don’t have to control the race," Lelangue revealed. "The teams with the big names like Valverde, Contador and Boonen will have to control the race which means that we can work for ourselves and always be on the offensive."
Markus Zberg 2nd on Stage 2 Spint finish.
Missing out on the victory only by a whisker, the team is extremely satisfied with the recent successes not the least of which is this second place in a Pro Tour sprint. Edged out by Lampre’s Angelo Furlan but beating Tom Boonen to the line, Zberg is happy with the team work and his own well-timed sprint.
Successful day of conserving energy, protecting leaders
"It was a very good day for the team," Directeur Sportif John Lelangue reported. "We planned not to get into any of the breaks since they were extremely unlikely to succeed and we want to save energy for the coming stages." The team worked well to keep Brent Bookwalter protected and in good position through the early part of the stage, and then turned their attentions to getting Zberg into the mix for the final sprint. "Everyone did a good job watching out for Brent and Markus, always riding close together and keeping in position without using too much energy," Lelangue said. "This is the group that has been competing in European stage races together all year and it is possible to see how much easier it is for them now that they have really gelled together."
Letting the sprinters’ teams do all the work
"In the last 100km of the race or so, Lampre and Quick Step took over the pace making, so all I had to do was watch for their lead," Zberg reported. "The team worked extremely well for me getting me in position for the last 20km rush to the line." Though BMC is a team more focused on climbers and time triallists, having a sprinter like Zberg in the squad means that they always have a good chance for getting results in a stage like this. They are not a team to do lead-outs in a situation top heavy with sprinters, but they certainly know how to drop off a rider in good position. "Coming out of the last corner I had a really good spot right on Furlan’s wheel," Zberg said. "Furlan had a great lead-out and only started to slow his sprint in the last 50 meters which meant that I didn’t have enough time to come over the top of him." Nevertheless second place is quite a feather in the cap of the current Swiss National Champion. "It’s good for me to have beaten riders like Boonen and Steegmans," Zberg explained. "I had hoped to come over Furlan too, but he was really strong today. The timing was good though, and I have high hopes for tomorrow."
Potential for explosive racing into Saint-?tienne Tuesday
"The last 100km of tomorrow’s stage are really tricky with narrow roads and always going up and down," Lelangue warned. "The climbs are normally between 2 and 5 kilometers long which means that the guys will have to be very vigilant and alert." Though the parcours will accommodate breaks more naturally than the race into Dijon did today, there is still the expectation that the day should end in a bunch sprint. "There will always be the potential for splits and attacks, but we will not be wasting energy on useless attacks and only go with one if it looks to have GC consequences," Lelangue reported. "With the time trial coming on Wednesday, it will be important to save energy and we hope that Markus will be able to get over the climbs so that he will be available to make a good sprint at the finish." Zberg is the type of sprinter who can climb well, so perhaps Tuesday will present him with his best chance of a stage win for the entire Dauphin?. "The final tomorrow is not that easy so I hope that I can stay with the leaders," Zberg said. "My condition is good and I am taking the race day by day, but tomorrow I will definitely do my best to stay with the front riders so I can make a try again for the stage win."
BMC roster packed with good climbers, time triallists
"We have built what we consider is the most complete team possible," Lelangue explained. "For the first couple stages which will favour the sprinters, we have Markus Zberg. Otherwise we have been certain to bring our best climbers many of whom are top time triallists too." Filling out the roster are several riders who have had strong results in the past several races. "Guys like Jeff Louder, Brent Bookwalter, Ian McKissick, Mathias Frank and Thomas Frei have been riding so strongly that any one of them has real potential to come into the race and figure prominently in the mix," Lelangue said. "We will also have Alex Moos there who is always a strong team player, and Florian Stalder who is a very complete climber, though he may lose a little time in the long time trial." Lelangue feels he has at least six riders on the team who could emerge as the team leader for the race and finish in the top 10. "We are going to the race confident, without pressure and without a clear
leader," Lelangue said. "We will take the race day by day, and if we can leave the Dauphin? fighting for a place in the top 10, feeling as though we did a good race and that we were always present in the big moves, then I think we will be very happy with our performance."