March 1, 2010 by Irish Peloton
Join Team Sky? Why should I?
One of the more anonymous transfers during the off season was Michele Merlo’s move from the now defunct Barloworld team to Footon-Servetto. The transfer was made more interesting by the fact that Team Sky had made an offer to Merlo which he politely refused. Merlo’s refusal to sign with Team Sky prompted this recent response from cycling expert Matt Rendell on his Twitter feed:
Whaaa?!! Michele Merlo, 25, “had an offer from British team Sky, but turned it down because Gianetti’s Footon better suited him” he said.
Rendell is obviously shocked that this young Italian turned down an opportunity to join the British super team. But why should he have signed for Team Sky? He’s a young sprinter obviously wanting to be part of a team where he’ll get opportunities to challenge for bunch sprint victories. With the flood of talent that Dave Brailsford has at his disposal where would Merlo get any chance to race for himself?
Merlot performed well at the Tour of Britain last year finishing in the top six on five stages including a stage victory on the final day in London. This is probably what drew the attention of Brailsford. Other regular top placed finishers at the Tour of Britian last year were Ben Swift, Chris Sutton, Russell Downing and Edvald Boasson Hagen, now all at Team Sky. Michele Merlo would find it very difficult to earn the right to challenge for stage victories if he was sharing sprint duties with those riders. In fact Team Sky is full of riders who have come from teams where they were either domestiques or were sharing leadership with many others, riders who are now in search of a leadership role and personal success.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and Greg Henderson have signed on from Team Columbia HTC where the focus has switched more and more on lead out trains for Mark Cavendish and André Greipel, widely considered to be the two best sprinters in the world. Having the two in the one team is difficult enough to juggle, trying to satisfy the requirements of Boasson Hagen as well would never have been sustainable, one of the three had to make way. Greg Henderson would certainly have continued to be employed in a lead out train at Columbia HTC. Chris Sutton, in a similar situation to Henderson, has come from a Garmin team which includes Julian Dean, Tyler Farrar and new signing Robbie Hunter.
Classics men Kurt Asle Arvesen and Juan Antonio Flecha have both come from teams with a strong classics line up. Arvesen from Saxo Bank where he was battling for leadership with Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O’Grady and Matti Breschel, and Flecha who had Nick Nuyens, Oscar Freire, Sebastian Langeveld and Joost Posthuma on his Rabobank team. Simon Gerrans left the Cervelo Test Team primarily because he wasn’t picked for the Tour de France team. The management saying that he wasn’t a domestique for Thor Hushovd’s Green Jersey quest nor was he considered a mountain domestique for Carlos Sastre. With the free role within the team falling to Heinrich Haussler, Gerrans was left in the cold. Now at Team Sky, he may find himself in a similar situation caught between Boasson Hagen and Bradley Wiggins.
Thomas Lovkvist has signed from Columbia-HTC, who along with having the world’s two top sprinters also boast strong stage race riders Tony Martin, Michael Rogers and Maxime Monfort. At the time Lovkvist signed for Team Sky he was under the impression that he would be leader for the Tour de France. Perhaps he has been slightly perturbed by the signing of Bradley Wiggins who himself was leaving Garmin in search of a sole leadership role. Had he stayed with Jonatahn Vaughters’ team, Tour de France leader duties would this year be shared with Christian Vande Velde.
Instead of joining a team full of riders attempting to fulfill personal goals, Michele Merlo has joined Footon Servetto, a modest Pro Tour team where he will be considered the top sprinter. The only other rider on the team with a strong finishing kick on the flat is the Dane Martin Pedersen. Merlo will be afforded plenty of opportunities to challenge for sprint victories and will probably be allowed dictate most of his racing calendar for the year. What also must have been preying on Merlo’s mind when deciding to join Team Sky or not was the fact that he is not British. Sky have signed plenty of foreigners to bolster their base of British riders. However Brailsford has made no secret of the fact that the team’s long term goal is to produce a British Tour de France winner. They want success right now with any riders and they want future successes with British riders. It’s a sound business plan for a brand new British team and if anyone can make it work it’s the meticulous Brailsford. But helping the progression of an average young Italian sprinter is hardly high up on their to do list. So far Dave Brailsford has been juggling his resources very well with four different riders already taking victories this season but in my opinion Michele Merlo is better off at Footon-Servetto where he can further his development as a bunch sprint stage winner.