I could be mistaken, but there appears to be a serious game of Team Launch one-upsmanship going on in the ProTour peloton right now. Perhaps in response to all the bad Lance Armstrong press that’s been flooding the media airwaves, squads on both sides of the Atlantic have been pulling out all the stops in order to impress the two-wheeled racing world.
For example last weekend, it was Cannondale Pro Cycling putting on a Hollywood-style red-carpet affair at Paramount Studios complete with faux paparazzi and a street party on a “New York City” movie set.
Then Omega Pharma-Quick Step got into the act, hosting its big shindig at the Eddy Merckx Velodrome in Gent. In addition to the standard quick Q&As on stage, the riders also put on a track racing show that include OPQS’s No. 1 star, Tom Boonen, battling the team’s top off-season addition, sprinter extraordinaire Mark Cavendish.
Boonen got the better of the Manxman in a drag-race showdown, but you have to wonder if that outcome hadn’t been pre-determined. After all this is a Belgian team launching on Belgian soil in front of a primarily Belgian fan base. Probably best to let the Belgian superstar win. Cav will get plenty of chances to do his thing once they start racing for real.
Moving ahead, you have to wonder about the new partnership of Boonen and Cav, who once upon a time were heated rivals. But Boonen’s sprinting prowess isn’t what it once was, so they probably can co-exist just fine as long as Cavendish doesn’t start making noise about winning a cobbled classic (which will never happen). “The classics are always the objective,” Boonen said.
The pow-wow included more than 100 media members, lots of big wig sponsor types, team management, some lucky fans, and Eddy Merckx himself, who was once provider of bikes until Specialized banged on the team’s door with an offer it couldn’t refuse.
After the team presentation, it was track racing time. In fact, OPQS is so big in Belgium, that the faux-fixed wheel contest was broadcast on live TV.
The slate of races included time trial, individual sprint, elimination, derny, and team sprint. Race highlights included a 30-plus lap derny race between track specialists Iljo Keisse and Niki Terpstra, and the most anticipated battle of the night, the individual sprint final, which of course came down to Cavendish and Boonen. The two battled neck-and-neck in the final stretch, but it was Boonen who managed to get the win. (Obviously.)
World time trial champion Tony Martin, another rider in the team’s loaded arsenal, called the unique team presentation a good time for all. “I like to be in my natural element on the bike like this, competing on the track with my teammates,” he said. “We all took it very seriously. We practiced this morning. This turned out to be a very nice day. I hope the supporters enjoyed it as we riders enjoyed the time we had.”
The answer was almost surely, yes. And at least for one night, a few folks probably forgot about the likes of Armstrong, Oprah, USADA and WADA.
All photos courtesy Omega Pharma-Quick Step/TDWsport.com