What We Thought Coming In
Chris did this last year, and there was a lot of screaming about Sagan, mostly focused towards the Classics. Paris-Roubaix and E3 were especially talked about. He was expected to move them up to a top five team, along with added Contador support, making the team stronger for the biggest races of the year. Talking about that, Contador was making noises about the Giro-Tour double, and opinion was split on whether he could do it. Not split evenly, mind.
What We Got
Contador started off the season like a rocket on the Alto de Hazallanas, beating a struggling Froome seemingly decisively in the Ruta del Sol, only to be beaten by an extra second the next day, losing the overall. His next race was Tirreno-Adriatico, where he started to look a bit more vulnerable. As Nairo Quintana and Bauke Mollema rode away in the snow, Contador struggled in the group, behind them. After an ordinary Volta a Catalunya, his next race was the Giro, which he started well, with Tinkoff coming second in the team time trial and having little trouble finishing on the lead group in the first mountain top finish stage. He never won a stage in the race - he won it no where near his best form - but his most impressive finish in the race was in the time trial, where he charged through the wet weather to finish third, taking out three minutes on Aru, and four on Landa, all but sewing up the race despite not being the strongest climber in the third week. He continued winning when he rode the Route du Sud, actually winning the mountain stage against Quintana. Then it was on to the Tour. He never finished higher than eighth on any stage, on his way to a less than brilliant fifth. His lack of form was shown most starkly on stage 10, the first mountain stage. Contador brought nothing to the table, losing the wheel, and losing any hope of victory, finishing eleventh. He never made much of an impact on the race, and stopped his season after finishing fifth.
Peter Sagan had a more impressive season, or at least the second half of one. His classics campaign was perhaps not as good as expected, with best finishes of fourth in De Ronde and Milano-Sanremo. His worst race was E3, where in defending his title he cracked in pursuit of Thomas to finish 30th. Soon after though, he would ride one of his best all-round performances ever. Over the course of the Tour of California, Sagan won a sprint against Cavendish, won a time trial and came sixth on a mountain-top finish to beat Julian Alaphilippe by three seconds. He continued his form into the Tour de Suisse, winning two stages and the points classification before making his way to the Annual Peter Sagan Coronation, also known as the Slovakian cycling championships. He won the TT and the road race, as usual. His Tour de France fit into the formula from the last two years, with the near misses numbering in double figures, but no stage wins. He came home with a comfortable win in the points classification. He rode nine stages of the Vuelta, winning one, before going to worlds, attacking in the final throes to win alone in Richmond. It was a vindication of sorts for Sagan, answering critics (myself included), in the best possible way.
The rest of the team had less good seasons - there were wins, with Chris Juul Jensen winning the Danish TT crown and the Tour of Denmark, Chris Anker Sorensen winning the Danish road race, and Jesper Hansen taking the Tour of Norway. Rafał Majka even managed a Tour stage from the breakaway.
Top Three Highlights
- Sagan wins worlds: Sagan wasn't willing to risk a sprint; he took his destiny into his own hands, attacking for the win on the feared 23rd Street climb and taking his advantage to the line.
- Pink for Contador: While I don't think anyone believes that Contador hit anywhere near his best this year, the closest he came was in the Giro. An assured race ensured celebrations in Milan.
- Cali victory: I don't like the Tour of California or Peter Sagan for that matter, but I enjoyed watching one race the other. This was Sagan at his best.
Bottom Three Lowlights
- Riis leaves: Bjarne Riis, team figurehead and Friend of the Crotch Eagle, left in March, to widespread disappointment for some reason. For good or ill, he knows what he's talking about and was probably a loss, at least in the short term.
- Contador's Tour: Everything that could have gone wrong, did. The legs went at crucial times, there were crashes, and Froome seemed to always have smooth rides. A GT to forget for El Pistolero.
- Support problems: Roman Kreuziger came back from suspension this year, but a dearth of form left us wondering where the man who came fifth in the 2013 Tour had gone.
Comings and Goings for 2016
In: Oscar Gatto, Adam Blythe, Yuri Trofimov and Erik Baska, Michael Gogl, Felix Großchartner, Antwan Tolhoek
Out: Edward Beltran, Oliver Zaugg, Christopher Juul-Jensen, Bruno Pires, Michael Morkov, Chris Anker Sørensen, Matti Breschel, Ivan Basso
Nothing too major. Basso retires, Juul-Jensen, Breschel, Chris Anker and Morkov are part of the old Danish regime. Trofimov is to add Russian numbers. Adam Blythe will join the Sagan train, Oscar Gatto fulfills some purpose...probably.
What to Expect Next
Sagan to get even better. Next year, he'll be ineligible for the white jersey, which might stem sentences of this nature: he's incredibly young, and is only just entering what should be his "prime." I think he will win a Monument next year. Which one I couldn't say, but he is the ideal rider for a tough Sanremo. That or Flanders is probably his best bet, I don't think he can match Degenkolb or Kristoff in Paris-Roubaix. In the Tour, I expect more of the same. For better or for worse, the team will mostly concentrate on Contador, and leave Sagan to chase stages with only two team mates. He will do this well, but not well enough to do everything he's capable of with a proper team. One stage win, I'd say.
Contador says this is his last shot, never again, going out on a high after winning the Tour/Olympics/Vuelta/something. Sorry Bert, it's not happening. Froome is better than him on the climbs, better than him in TTs, and is younger. Second at best for him, but more likely third. He could win the Vuelta, but not the Tour, and definitely not the Olympics. Contador did not show an ounce of his 2014 form in 2015, and is there really any reason not to see that continuing? I write all this as a fan of Contador, and I truly believe that 2014 was as good as his legs are going to get.