Johan Bruyneel is being patient and it ain’t easy. With the world’s greatest stage racer, Lance Armstrong double retired, the glory days are over. Already those seven Tour victories are fading into cycling history as new stars like Alberto Contador have taken over.
But Bruyneel still dreams of a return to fame and fortune and another Tour triumph. He found the rider and brought him along slowly because he knew he had Alberto junior, Contador Lite. Tiago Machado is Bruyneel’s ride back into the sunshine, his ticket to that final podium in Paris.
Bruyneel just named Machado the Radio Shack team leader for the Giro and believes the Portuguese rider can manage a top 10. Not too bad for a young guy who is only 25.
“We believe in Tiago Machado,” said Bruyneel. “Tiago is still young, he has a lot to learn but he proved already in his first year with our team that he has everything in him to perform well in hard stage races. Last year he finished seven out-of-ten times in the overall top ten of a stage race. This year he has never missed the top ten. If he can do the same in this Tour of Italy, we will be happy.”
Overjoyed might be a better word. Machado has been Bruyneel’s not-so-secret project since he spotted him three years ago in the Madeinox-Boavista team. In 2008, Machado took second place in both the time trial and road race championships in Portugal. It’s not easy to find another Armstrong or Contador but the Belgian thinks he might have a diamond in the rough. He’s been polishing like mad ever since.
“Tiago can make a big step forward,” Bruyneel said. “He can be one of the protagonists of the Giro. Since we don’t know how he will perform in a race of three weeks we will not put any pressure on him. You can see this as an experiment, but sometimes we’ve been very lucky with similar experiments in the past.”
So Machado heads to the Giro where even the best stage racers in the world are scared of this year’s mountain stages. It’s a big experiment, one that Bruyneel hopes is a success because he wants to return to the Tour de France next year with a shot at the podium.