The Giro di Lombardia was the last classic of the year and the last race for two ProTour teams. Leopard-Trek finished with a stirring and unexpected win by Oliver Zaugg, their first and last classic.
On the other end of the spectrum, HTC-Highroad, the winningest squad of the last few years and the number one ranked UCI team, hardly bothered to show up. They sent six riders for their final race and five of them abandoned before the Colma di Sormano.
Given the immense success of Bob Stapleton’s team over the last few years, it was a sad and unexpected end to an illustrious run. Only Kanstantsin Siutsou managed to cross the finish-line in 43rd. Perhaps Stapleton had planned a huge HTC-Highroad R.I.P party that evening and most riders decided to shower early and get dressed.
Still, five out of six riders taking a DNF felt like a sad capitulation for a team that deserved so much better. The end wasn’t a defiant bang but a soft whimper.
COntrast that with the teamwork of Leopard. Jacob Fuglsang and Zaugg worked a one-two punch that connected perfectly in Lombardia.
“It’s the end of Leopard Trek,” Fuglsang said at the finish, “but we showed at least that we could keep our spirits high and raced all the way to the finish.” That’s the kind of sentiment and fight you would expect from HTC-Highroad.
But then, the real end of the Highroad came several months earlier when team owner Bob Stapleton couldn’t locate a single sponsor for a team with an astonishing record of success, the fastest sprinter int eh world in Mark Cavendish, the most well-drilled train in cycling, up and coming talents like Tejay Van Garderen and two talented director sportifs in Brain Holm and Rolf Aldag.
That’s as shocking as it gets on two counts: it’s an indictment of the sports shaky financial model and damning proof that even the cleanest teams still suffer the collateral damage of doping.
It’s with sadness that we witness of the loss of a truly impressive and inspiring team like HTC-Highroad. We wish things had turned out differently — in Lombardia in particular, and in pro cycling in general.
“The team came me freedom to try. It’s fantastic,” he said at the finish.