For some reason or other BMC always seems to be one of the first of our offseason teamanalysis-pieces. I wanna say it's for alphabetical reasons but clearly even I'm not that poor with the alphabet so it has to be something else. There is obviously something intriguing about Andy Rihs' well funded Swiss/American creation. So here goes the 2014 edition:.
What We Thought Coming In
Let's start at what Chris said a year ago:
As for Tejay and Taylor, 2014 should be the year BMC becomes their team. For starters, It's almost impossible to see them repeating 2013. Maybe Allen Peiper's goals of 40 wins, a classic and a grand tour are a stretch, but Phinney and van Garderen are as likely to rebound as anyone in the sport -- where anything can happen, but I like their chances. The classics team remains stacked, and if Phinney's knees will comply (something to watch for, knees have felled many a budding star) then something big will happen in 2014. Or 2015, or 16... eventually.
Well that was a reasonable expectation and after the sounds the team made in the offseason after the disappointing 2012. We were expecting the team to come out more focused on actually winning something near the number of races one could expect with the level of talent they have. At some point we expected to see them get their money's worth out of Gilbert and Thor and to see if Cadel had a last few kilometres of racing in him.
What We Got Instead
**Insert annual "Not much bang for the lots (and lots) of bucks"-comment here **
Well, that's probably a bit harsh this time. BMC really didn't have too bad of a season this year, maybe they didn't quite live up to the big budget expectations but they did ok. Gilbert got back to his winning ways, even if he isn't the all-conquering Ardennes-juggernaut he once was. But I think its fair to say he is putting the scare into the competition again when we get some hilly races. Even more impressive was perhaps the ever-likable Greg van Avermaet who took another step towards being a classics super-superstar. If he had been able to pull off a win instead of podium in just one of the big races he came close in he would have been there for sure.
The old dudes Thor and Cadel continued their by now predictable decline in a season that turned into their last. Both were far from their former glory but both had some shining moments that showed that they still had class. Thor made a brave last ditch effort to be a factor in his darling Roubaix and Evans started off strong in the Giro and then rounded off the season with some kick-ass stagewins in Colorado showing off his trademark grinta and smarts. Aaaaand then the Amurricans? Made it "their" team is probably a bit strong. Tejay continued his slow confirmation of being a near-top if perhaps not a top-top stageracer. With the drop-off of big names in the Tour he really had a wideopen chance of improving on his previous best but once again he had an off-day that pushed him out of the top podium-spots.Then once again he finished off strongly with an important win at home in the US. Not good enough in the high mountains say some, not just quite there yet say others. Time will tell but he certainly still has the confidence of the BMC management. Phinney is a sadder chapter. A Dubai win and a Roubaix ride that lived up to the hype until bad luck hit was as good as it got. Then it all went to hell in a handbasket at Nationals after a TT win. His injuries seemed pretty horrific and I think everyone at BMC will be happy if he just gets back on the bike and can do OK in 2015. Maybe not a bad thing either as the expectations of a lot of people could probably do with a bit of downward adjustment anyway?
Top Three Highlights
- Team Timetrialing World Champions
It's always been a competent team in the TTTs but I don't think anyone expected a squad without their biggest individual ace Phinney to challenge for the win. As everyone watched OPQS and Orica BMC finally hit the jackpot and claimed a signature win.
- Gilbert winning again
With the money they're paying they really need their big names to produce. Phil taking a big win at Amstel Gold (plus Brabantse Pijl) was much needed. All year it was clear that Gilbert is still a major major factor in hilly one day races.
- Greg van Avermaet cobbles almost
Van Avermaet has to be the biggest star-rider never to have won a big-big race yet? Near misses in Flanders and Worlds really underline that fact. Quality season that made him Flandrien of the Year even if the big win eluded him.
Bottom Three Lowlights
- Near misses
You can never escape the feeling that BMC are a big budget team and there should come more wins with that big budget, as good as honorable podium places are. Van Avermaet missed Ronde & Omloop wins from a groups where he was clearly the best sprinter. Tejay had a huge opening to improve his TdF best when AC & Froome crashed out. In that light they were clearly disappointing.
- Turns out Evans was old after all
Politics decided he's go to the Giro and not the TdF where Tejay was No 1 and it still looked really good for a long time. And then it didn't. Time waits for no man and it's rarely more obvious than in sports.
- Phinney's injury
He was on his way to a big season and a TdF debut before he got taken out by a motorcycle in the US national championships. Not what BMC had scripted for their golden boy. A lot is riding on if he can come back from that injury.
Who's coming and going?
In: Damiano Caruso, Alessandro DeMarchi, Rohan Dennis, Jempy Drucker, Campbell Flakemore, Stefan Kueng, Joey Rosskopf, Manuel Senni, Dylan Teuns, Loic Vliegen
Out: Cummings, Evans, Hushovd, Kohler, Lander, Morabito, Nerz, Sanchez, Lodewyck, Eijssen
Massive. Nay, make that MASSIVE, inflow of young talent. Teuns and Vliegen we already saw, then add TT demons like Flakemore and Dennis and U23 phenom Küng + more and it's crazy. The older guys from Cannondale are solid too and Drucker was impressive this year. Hard to see anyone missing the old World champs even a little bit.
What Happens Next?
Alan Peiper has been charged with righting the mighty Rihs-ship with his structure, planning and focus and it is obviously a work in progress. 2014 was clearly a step in the right direction and now there seems to be a move from the headless big-bucks signing to a more intelligent recruiting strategy. Yes they are still throwing lots of money around but they are hiring with an idea and they are hiring role-players that they can mold and build a team from.
For the coming year BMC have some strong pillars to count on for results with their Belgian star-duo. Beyond that this will be a crucial year for van Garderen. He needs to establish himself as a robust GC rider or BMC are no doubt going to look around for someone else to build their Tour-team around. They are simply too big to be happy not being a factor in July and hopes for fifth places if all goes right aren't going to cut it forever. No TTing doesn't play into Tejay and BMC's hands but he needs to deliver anyway.
With the addition of Caruso and DeMarchi they perhaps have a decent Giro alternative to take the pressure off. Adding a sprinter to grab some easy wins obviously doesn't seem to appeal to the team and that makes it a bit trickier to handle the Giro and Vuelta and appeasing those organizers. Realizing that you can't do well at everything is the hallmark of successful teams though so I don't think anyone really laments BMC's lack of sprinters. And adding even more timetrialing firepower should make the team a good candidate to defend their World TTT gold at home in Richmond too. Once again, there is some method to their recruiting these days.
(Photo: Patrick Verhoest)
For the classics, BMC looks brutally strong as always, they may need to rely on young talents to fill their rosters a bit more but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Gilbert, van Avermaet can deliver and if Oss returns to his top level, Dillier confirms the massive promise of 2014 and Phinney is ok then they are solid anyway. The way Gilbert sacrificed for GvA at Worlds was another strong indicator that this squad can do really big things. Spice it up with some hot talents and we could see a more interesting April than ever for BMC, I mean it's not as if they have transformed their previous strength on paper into overwhelming results so this could actually work better. Realistically the star U23 riders they have picked up won't deliver much already now but you never know, they have enough of them that one or two might turn out to be in the "great from day 1"-category.
All in all you can't help but that feel that BMC are on a steady, but not steep, upward trajectory. The team seems increasingly well run and combined with solid finances that should translate into results on the road too inevitably if they just stay the course. Now maybe "staying the course" perhaps doesn't sound like the sexiest thing in the world but in cycling where amateurism and loony schemes seem to be what is holding the sport back more often than not it could be a powerful thing.