Vélo Files: Great Expectations

Anthony Tan

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Can Matt Goss keep up? (Sirotti Images)
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This year’s Grande Boucle is blessed with a treasure trove of sprinters, including the fastest four of their generation. The question on Anthony Tan’s mind is: how can Matthew Harley Goss beat them?

Ever since Goss left HTC-High Road after two successful seasons and was courted to OGE for close to five times his previous salary, results, for one reason or another, have not gone his own way.

Was the hold up and ensuing calamity caused by the Orica-GreenEDGE bus crashing into the finish line signage in Bastia an omen of things to come from the team?

“While we’ve chosen a group that gives us more options in the medium mountains, we remain devoted to our sprint train,” Matt White, their recently reinstated sport director, said in his Tour de France preview, the Friday before the crash-plagued opening stage, won by Marcel Kittel of Argos-Shimano.

“Teams are committing a lot of money, time and talent to their sprint trains. Pair this commitment with the depth of the sprint field, and I can guarantee that we’ll witness some of the most competitive sprints that we’ve seen at the Tour in a long, long time. It’s exciting and daunting at the same time,” White said, adding: “With our support, Matt Goss can hold his own against any of these riders.”

Right now, I would say it’s more daunting than exciting for Matt Goss and OGE.

The question I keep asking myself is this: is Goss as fast – or, preferably, faster – than Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, Peter Sagan – taken out in Saturday’s pile-up – or maillot jaune Kittel, all at the top of their game, and who have all come to Corsica in top nick?

Even White admitted that, in this centenary edition of Le Tour, “I think we’re going to see the biggest depth in terms of the sprint group that we’ve seen in living memory.”

Ever since Goss left HTC-High Road after two successful seasons and was courted to OGE for what I understand to be close to five times his starting salary at HTC, results, for one reason or another, have not gone his own way. I’m not saying he’s been overpaid – Team Sky’s domination of stage races the past two seasons have meant sprinters are now very much in vogue, and are thus paid handsomely. (Compare this to the 2008 season, when High Road boss Bob Stapleton had Cavendish, Greipel, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Gerald Ciolek and Greg Henderson on his books – all snapped up for less than a million Euros.)

Thing is, OGE has little choice but to keep their faith in Goss, who, despite having a dedicated sprint train around him, has delivered just two sprint wins since January 2012: a stage in last year’s Giro d’Italia and another in Tirreno-Adriatico, the latter now four long months away. After he won the fifth stage of this year’s Giro, Kittel’s teammate John Degenkolb, who is targeting the hillier sprint stages in this year’s Tour, summed up a sprinter’s life as thus: “For a sprinter or a classics rider like me, every week, every month you don’t win, is pretty unpleasant.”

Imagine how Gossy is feeling right now.

While he exhibits a little extra versatility that pure sprinters like Cavendish, Greipel and Kittel lack, is he any more adaptable than Sagan or Degenkolb, or faster than they when it comes to a finish with a select group? I’d argue not.

Do OGE have themselves to blame? In men like Michael Albasini and the two Simons, Gerrans and Clarke, they possess some noteworthy opportunists, and their cobbled Classics line-up of Stuart O’Grady, Jens Keukeleire and Sebastian Langeveld is solid without being spectacular. But with each WorldTour team allowed to place up to thirty riders on their roster, why couldn’t they have begun their maiden voyage with a Grand Tour contender?

As it stands their most promising GC talents, Cameron Meyer and Luke Durbridge, are still at least three to five years away from realising their full potential, and, crucially, have no one to learn off; contrast this with Richie Porte, who, in the space of four seasons, has served under the tutelage of Alberto Contador, Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome, and is set to lead Sky at next year’s Giro d’Italia.

At the official unveiling of OGE at the 2012 Tour Down Under, in a piece for VeloNews, I wrote this: “Given the team will not vie for the podium in Grand Tours till at least 2015, GreenEDGE is placing plenty of hope on the likes of Gerrans and last year’s Milan-San Remo champion, Matthew Goss, to deliver them the results they’re after. At first glance, it seems like an awful lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a few.”

With little change to their complement between this year and last, I still feel that way. Sure, the team is doing well – thirty-three victories in 2012, twenty-two so far this year – but they need to do better in the races that matter most. “We’re looking for the stage win that eluded us last year,” admitted White of their Tour aspirations, “and we’ll take it however we can. I’m confident that the nine riders we have selected will get the job done.”

The stages in Corsica will provide an excellent indication of whether he’s right.

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