Well this is new. There Trek were, plugging holes as they made their presence felt, going about their business, relying on Cancellara, calling themselves American, and then Cancellara retires, Contador goes on the market, Pantano makes a name for himself, a coffee company comes on board, and all of a sudden you have a totally new team.
What We Expected
In the words of Chris...
So, do we notice them more this time around? Probably, at least in the spring. Theuns and Jasper Stuyven can form a young hand of cards for Cancellara to play, if healthy. The usual suspects -- Arredondo, Frank, Yaro-Pop, Zubeldia -- can shepherd Mollema around France one last time. I suppose it could all fall into place. I'm not terribly bullish on the team's chances in a crowded field, but I have no doubt they will be in the middle of things, maybe even the top 8 if Cancellara delivers in the classics...as Trek Factory Racing get younger and further from their roots, they're a team with everything to gain.
What We Got
Cancellara had a good final season. He stole Strade Bianche, made a good effort at the classics, with a second place to an unstoppable Sagan at Flanders the highlight, won a few stages of big races and his national TTs, but then romped to time-trial success at the Olympics. So his career ended, it was his last race. Nizzolo won the points classification at the Giro, Theuns and Stuyven went around looking threatening in the classics and the team as a whole got a mid-table UCI ranking. Bauke Mollema contributed to that, as some great riding in the second week of the Tour left him fighting for the podium before a series of crashes on stage nineteen sent him tumbling down the GC. He bounced back a week later with success in San Sebastian.
Top 3 Highlights
- The team dinner on the 21st of July: Otherwise known as the day of stage eighteen of the Tour de France. Nothing special had happened that day, but Bauke Mollema was in second place in the Tour, and there was every indication he'd stay there, making this year's the best Tour for Trek since Andy Schleck still owned a pair of decent legs.
- Stuyven solos to KBK: Trek's only Belgian classic victory, with a young light shining brightly in the process.
- Cancellara brings home gold: Not in the colours of Trek, but Cancellara summoned his time-trial magic for one last time, and stuck it to his rivals on the roads of Rio.
Bottom 3 Lowlights
- The team dinner on the 22nd of July: Mollema had slipped down to tenth after a disastrous outing on the slippery Alpine roads.
- Cancellara fails to win a classic: This is harsh, but these are hard. Cancellara, as a classics rider, is held to a standard, and one he didn't quite meet.
- Nizzolo gets relegated: He finally crossed the line first in a Giro stage...but had it taken away from him. One day, Giacomo, one day.
Everything. The old guard are leaving, and there's a whole new set of riders, and a whole new set of objectives, on the way in.
In: Ruben Guerreiro, who's from Axeon so he's probably good, his compatriot André Cardoso, and his ex-teammate Greg Daniel, Tour stage winner Jarlinson Pantano, young Dane Mads Pedersen, Matthias Brandle, Koen De Kort, John Degenkolb for renewed classics strength, and then Alberto Contador and company in the form of Jesus Hernandez and Michael Gogl.
Out: Yaroslav Popovych (yeah, him!), Jack Bobridge, Ryder Hesjedal, Frank Schleck and Fabian Cancellara all retire. Julian Arredondo, Stijn Devolder and Riccardo Zoidl drop down one, two and two levels, respectively. (I put Devolder in the retired column almost instinctively. He's gone to Verandas-Willems, where he'll presumably make a spirited attempt at Nokere Koerse.) Finally, Niccolo Bonifazio moves to the Bahrain-Italy setup.
I can’t be the only one to think “nothing good.” There are three things that, if one is achieved, would constitute a successful season for Trek. The first one is Alberto Contador winning the Tour de France. The second thing is Bauke Mollema winning the Giro. And the third thing is
for the bloody coffee machines to work with the new Segafredo pods for John Degenkolb to rekindle his 2015 form and win a monument. In my opinion, not one of those things is going to happen.
Let's deal with the easiest one: Mollema isn't going to win the Giro. It's the 100th Giro — the country just had a referendum and I'm, like, 72% sure banning foreigners from winning it was mentioned somewhere. That didn't stop Nairo Quintana (better than Mollema) from announcing his forfeit of the Tour de France to chase after rosa for the whocaresth time. But even if he does show up on full form, true propriety declares that the 100th edition of the Giro must involve at least two Italians, in this case Fabio Aru (better than Mollema) and Vincenzo "better than Mollema" Nibali duking it out. If there's some more foreign interference, it'll come from Thibaut Pinot (meilleur que Mollema) and Steven Kruijswijk (living proof that Dutch people cannot win the Giro. In fact, I'm pretty sure that nobody from the Netherlands has ever done anything good in the Giro. At all. Not even on the Gavia. Ever). Mollema won't win, he had a good Tour last year, yes, but it's very clear what his limit is, and what this team's priorities are.
Now let's deal with the actual easiest one. (Disclaimer: Contador fan since the literal first day I watched cycling, this is painful, sorry, etc.,) Alberto Contador is not going to win the Tour de France. Ever again. Remember what his Tour de France record since 2010 is? I'll remind you — in that time he has won precisely -1 Tour de France. In 2016 he abandoned the race too many stages after crashing twice. In 2015 he finished well off the podium after overstretching himself in the Giro. I'll remind you he also had a crash. In 2014 he abandoned the race after crashing. In 2013 he was just inexplicably nowhere and finished off the podium.
In 2012 he was on a road trip sampling different sorts of Spanish steaks. In 2011 he finished well off the podium after overstretching himself in the Giro. I'll remind you he also had a crash.
Are you noticing a pattern? I'm noticing two. The first indicates that he's crashing a lot. In 2014 when Contador crashed out of a Tour I at least am convinced he would have won, I was shocked. Because as surely as the sun was hot, the rain in the Vosges was wet and the Tour would always cross the Peyresourde, Alberto Contador didn't crash out of Grand Tours. Now I would not be shocked to see him crash — if I were shocked every time he did I could get a job testing out defibrillators. He has crashed with varying levels of seriousness in the Vuelta and the Tour this year, the Tour, the Giro and the Volta a Catalunya last year and the Tour in 2014. The fact that he has won two Grand Tours in this time masks the severity of the problem, but for comparison, since the 2014 Tour, Chris Froome has crashed just once, in the 2015 Vuelta. Even still, his brief period of skittishness in 2014 has earned him a reputation for being crash-prone which he proved in the Tour this year that he doesn't deserve.
The second pattern is a series of flops. In 2013, Contador was just nowhere, and had no crash to excuse himself with. In 2015, it was clear long before his crash on stage seventeen that he had nothing in his legs, and this year, none of his performances indicated any chance of standing up to Froome. It's not like he's won nothing for the last three years — since his crash in the Vosges in 2014, he has won a Vuelta and a Giro. The Vuelta...was a Vuelta, and in the Giro, he managed to win zero stages, get slightly cracked by Landa and Aru, crash, have a brief scare of a penalty because he took his helmet off, show off his team's utter inferiority to Astana and do the very unfashionable thing of winning a Grand Tour because of a time-trial.
All in all, I can't help but come to the conclusion that Contador is done. He should have retired this year, when he said he would, and this two-year contract at Trek cannot end soon enough. All thought of finishing his career on a high is gone, and if he doesn't crash out of the big races he attempts, he won't have the legs to stand up to even second-tier GC riders. He wouldn't win even the Giro any more than Mollema would, and Trek are wasting their money.
There's one thing they aren't wasting their money on though, and his name is John Degenkolb. In moving to Trek, he finds a pretty decent classics team waiting for him, in the form of Edward Theuns, Jasper Stuyven, and Edward Theuns, and Jasper Stuyven, and...oh wait, that's it. Just two young, talented Belgians who were waiting for the previous classics leader to retire before they took over the show. That's probably not a recipe for disaster. But if everything goes well for Degenkolb, there's another problem. He's called Peter, he’s from Slovakia and you can distinguish him by his mane and striped coat. Because Peter is a faster sprinter than Degenkolb, he's figured out how to win classics and he's better over the bergs. I genuinely think that Degenkolb has no chance of winning anything in Belgium next year. That leaves Italy and France, where he's gotten two trophies from. In Milano-Sanremo, it's impossible to make a prediction, but given how many faster sprinters there are than Degenkolb, and how many people can now get over the Poggio, I think he would be extraordinarily lucky to win again, and as for Paris-Roubaix, Chris has that one reserved for Boonen, but I can see him winning it.
You might think from reading this that I think that there are only three riders on the entire team. This is not so - I have been over-rating Fabio Felline for some eighteen months now. I have also noticed Giacomo Nizzolo coming second in things, but can either of those guys, or anyone else, make Trek's season a success? I don't think so. Only three people can, but then only one person can.