Don’t you love it when a complete underdog such as Enrico Gasparotto wins a race like Amstel Gold? Just goes to show big money does not equal big victories, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Thor Hushovd, $2.75 million. Cadel Evans, $3.4M. Philippe Gilbert, $3.85M.

Give
or take a few hundred thousand dollars or so, depending on our
ever-mercurial exchange rates, these are the annual salaries of BMC
Racing's Big Three. For billionaire owner Andy Rihs, that's exactly $10M
outlay for just three of the team's 26-rider roster contracted for the
2012 season.

Hardly mind-blowing relative to professional golfers
or NBA basketballers or English Premier League footballers; some might
even say pitiful for the monumental pain involved.

But aside from
Team Sky, a figure equivalent to anywhere between 50 to more than 90
per cent of the total budget for rider salaries at just about every
other team in the WorldTour. (Earlier this year, the UCI reported that
the average salary among professionals riding for ProTeams and Pro
Continental teams had increased from 190,000 Euros (approx. $A239K) in
2009 to €264,000 ($A332K) in 2012. The minimum wage, however, is far
less. UCI rules stipulate a minimum annual salary of €30,000 ($38K), or
€24,000 ($30K) for a first-year professional, on a ProTeam.)

Industry
pundits estimate the BMC bicycle company's 2011 turnover to be
somewhere around the $14M mark. So Rihs, with an estimated personal
fortune of $2.5 billion, clearly didn't set up this team of superstars
to augment his wealth, even if that's what he basically told me in
January 2010 when he came to Australia during the Tour Down Under.

"The
base logic [to selling] is that you must afford a certain (level of)
promotion. If you don't afford it then you'll never get an image," he
said. "We created the race team for the purpose of promoting our
product."

The bottom line is that Rihs is simply a bike enthusiast at heart. A very rich bike enthusiast at heart.

But
in paying his riders far above the norm ("You have to pay them right.
You give them a little higher value... that's what we try to do," Rihs
told me), two-thirds of his Big Three appeared to have become a little
lax. And they wouldn't be the first generously remunerated athletes to
fall foul of form; modern sporting history is littered with similar
cases in point.

In fact, the most notable thing about BMC Racing
this season is that, aside from Evans taking the time trial and overall
classification at the Criterium International last month, they have
recorded no other wins.

Hushovd was supposed to be good in
Flanders and particularly Paris-Roubaix but was not. Conversely,
Alessandro Ballan was solid in Flanders and finished third. But the
Italian's decision to skip a turn with 56 kilometres remaining in
Roubaix, just when eventual winner Tom Boonen latched onto the wheel of
his teammate Niki Terpstra who had flown the coop, cost him (as well as
Filippo Pozzato and Sebastien Turgot) any chance of victory.

Last
Sunday in the Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert, a two-time winner and the
defending champion, was supposed to be at or near his best. He was
permitted the best-possible run-in to the finish by two of his BMC
teammates to the foot of the Cauberg, the final climb of the day where,
after 256.5km and 30 climbs previous, 'the race of a thousand turns'
would end.

In the final 100 metres he would vacillate on its
slopes as eventual winner, Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), Jelle Vanendert
(Lotto Belisol), Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Thomas Voeckler
(Europcar) all passed him. Even late escapee Oscar Freire (Katusha) who
boldly attacked with 11km remaining and almost won the race, managed to
finish ahead of Gilbert, who could only salvage a sixth place.

"Let's
put it this way: right now it's not pleasant. Also because it is
difficult to find a way out, to analyse why I'm lacking shape," Gilbert
said before the race.

It's just become a little more unpleasant
and confounding for Philippe, who can take cold comfort in knowing his
form is on the rise, albeit not nearly quick enough.

If it were
not for Evans, BMC would be without a victory this season. Extraordinary
for a team boasting so much star power, so much potential and so much
money.

So why has Cadel not let the green get to him?

Maybe
it has something to do with Evans' missed opportunities at the Tour de
France, when, through no fault of his own, he should have ridden the
race at least two years earlier than he did (2005 was his first, where
he finished eighth overall to Lance Armstrong, the Texan's seventh
consecutive victory).

Instead, he found himself mired within the
toxic culture at Team Telekom; where malpractice and mismanagement went
hand in hand, where results would come at any expense, including a
rider's health. As his former mountain bike coach Damian Grundy told me
in an interview with Cycling Central last year, Cadel wanted no part of
it and was therefore not selected for the Tour in 2003/04, despite being
in top shape and one of their strongest riders.

It was not till
he turned 33 that Cadel found a team that understood him, that truly
believed in him, and one year later before BMC provided a motley crew
that could help him win La Grande Boucle, which he duly did.

Now
35, Evans has one, maybe two, more bona fide shots to win again.
Unsurprisingly, his 2012 sporting goal is to repeat his feat of
yesteryear. Though come July, you might see BMC being more assertive
than before.

"As we go in as favourites, we also sometimes might
have to take the race in our own hands more often than we did in
previous years. So we need an even more solid team for that," he told
the Herald Sun a week ago in London, over in the British capital
for some sponsor commitments, with a view to contest both the Olympic
Games road race and time trial straight after this year's Tour, slated
for July 28 and August 1, respectively.

An "even more solid team"
BMC is on paper in 2012, and likely will be when this year's Tour lines
up in Liege on June 30 for the Grand Depart.

Though
perhaps riders like Hushovd and Gilbert need to take a leaf out of the
Book of Cadel, who appreciates and understands the meaning of lost
opportunities.

For if he is to win again, all nine men need to be at their very best.