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Peloton Journal - January 12, 2012

by Joe Silva

In these economic times, carrying the sole financial burden for a professional cycling team can be too much to bear for one company alone. So during these times teams merge so they may continue for another season. As the 2011 season wound down, rumors started to swirl regarding a possible merger, financially and staff-wise, between Leopard-Trek and Team RadioShack. It quickly went from rumor to fact – Johan Bruyneel was bringing his “A” team and merging with select riders from Leopard-Trek.

Once the dust had settled and the contracts signed, the new team emerged. Initially branded RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, UCI rules (which maintain you can only have two names carry the title sponsorship…) prompted the Luxembourg-based squad to be officially named Team RadioShack-Nissan. Whatever you call it, the team has the firepower to be a threat in both the one-day classics and the Grand Tours.

Fabian Cancellara, the Swiss rider who has won Paris-Roubaix and is a four-time world time trial champion, is their go-to guy during the spring classics. On the Grand Tour side they have Andy Schleck backed up by his older brother Frank and wing man Andreas Klöden. Andy has already said that the Tour de France is his number one goal, which means he won’t be racing in the Giro d’ Italia (which is trying to step out of its French counterpart’s shadow by taking the difficulty knob and turning it to “11.”).

But another card in Bruyneel’s deck is Chris Horner, the American rider who stood atop the podium at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California. Having now recovered from his injuries that forced him out of the Tour de France last year, Horner has been paving the road to his recovery with a lot of solid, hard work.

“Well it was a long winter! It’s been eight months. I went to the Tour de France, and since I’ve been doing some training and working on my fitnessJust staying thin and staying motivated, and keeping everything in focus.”

Horner, who despite having reached the age of 40, has goals that range from a strong return to the Tour de France, another good showing at the Tour of the Basque Country (where he placed second last year…) to defending his California crown. He feels the newly merged team has plenty of options to help him do either.

“I think it’s a fantastic team. We’ve got guys who can sprint, we’ve got classics guys and we’ve got stage race guys, so it’s fantastic. To me it feels just the same as it always has in terms of the chemistry with the riders. It’s really smooth and easy going. We’ve got a stronger team is all. That’s the only thing that’s really changed.”

As for the Amgen Tour of California, Horner doesn’t want to underestimate the placement of this year’s Bakersfield time trial before the pair of queen stages up Big Bear and Mt. Baldy.

“This year is going to be a little bit different than it was last year. There’s a big change in terms of the time trial coming before the two significant mountain stages, so that will change a lot. A lot more than people think. In the time trial it’s possible that you could have wind conditions change and there could be 25 or 40 guys on the GC together and maybe Levi goes off early and then maybe I go off late or vice versa. So you could have a big wind difference.”

With the two camps uniting under the Team RadioShack-Nissan banner it will be interesting to see how 2012 plays out, both in California and elsewhere. But Johan Bruyneel hasn’t managed to rack up eight Tour de France victories without knowing how to get the most out of his riders. He is committed, and tactically astute. Whether this particular merger is a success will be tested many times in May, July and beyond.