What We Expected
Nobody looked at BMC last year, but some infighting between Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen looked like it was on the horizon as they warred to see who was better at making a mess of good form in Grand Tours. The fact that they were riding similar programs aimed at the Tour de France made this even more likely. Of course, some of us thought that Richie Porte would finally make good on all his climbing talent and challenge for a Grand Tour, while Van Garderen's stage racing skills would contribute to a TDF challenge.
Greg Van Avermaet was heading into yet another classics season with a firmly cemented reputation for getting nothing but close misses. During the 2015 season, he managed a second place in Strade Bianche, the bottom step of the podium in both Flanders and Roubaix, fifth in Amstel, fifth in Vattenfall and third in Paris-Tours, with no one-day victories. The status quo looked set to be maintained in that situation.
Those three riders looked set to be the stars of BMC, with a cast of more experienced riders and younger talent waiting in the wings. By the first I mean Philippe Gilbert, and by the second I mostly mean Floris Gerts. Four people picked the former for VDS, one hundred and seventy-three picked the latter, and I think that says it all. Oh, and Taylor Phinney's return to prominence, we all expected that too.
What We Got
Greg Van Avermaet delivered, finally. A win in Omloop het Nieuwsblad and an unexpected GC victory at Tirreno-Adriatico saw him go into the Tour of Flanders as a top favourite. However, a cruel crash took him and most of his team out before the real race got started, stopping him from competing in Paris-Roubaix. Not to be deterred, a solo victory in the Massif Central gave him the yellow jersey for three days. he continued his form on to August, where he succeeded in taking home an Olympic Gold Medal. He was back for the Canadian races, taking second in Quebec and first in Montreal.
Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen had exactly the Tours de France we cynics would have expected. Porte lost practically nothing to Chris Froome in the mountains and looked like he could really challenge his former team mate, but yet another unlucky incident for the Australian — a puncture on stage two — lost him almost two minutes, and he shipped another two to Froome on his bad day. It is characteristic of Porte to have a bad day, but it is uncharacteristic of him to have one when it came — the time-trial. Remember: Porte was only one minute and twelve seconds off second place. With even slightly better luck he would have a Tour de France podium to his name, as befits arguably the second-best climber in the world.
Tejay van Garderen cannot claim that title, but he can still claim to be a well-rounded Grand Tour package. He came close to a podium in the 2015 Tour, but sickness struck him on stage 17. This year he rode a similar first two weeks, and going into stage fifteen he was only half a minute off the podium with an uphill time-trial expected to suit him on the horizon. However, he cracked on the roads of the Jura and lost a minute and a half. His capitulation was not complete however, and on the stage to Finhaut-Emosson, he was dropped early on the first climb and lost twenty minutes.
Elsewhere, Darwin Atapuma got a top ten in the Giro, Rohan Dennis finished second in the Tour of Britain, Jempy Drucker beat a meagre field of sprinters out on stage sixteen of the Vuelta, Phinney won his national TT championships, Gilbert won the Belgian road race, Samuel Sanchez nicked a stage of the Vuelta a País Vasco and Joey Rosskopf won the Tour du Limousin.
Overall, it wasn't a great year for BMC. Porte did alright in the Tour, but he could hardly have been said to have hit his targets for the season. Van Garderen certainly couldn't, and while Van Avermaet did have his banner year so far, his biggest win wasn't in BMC colours. The supporting cast didn't exactly shine either. However, they were rewarded for their efforts with twenty-nine victories and fourth place in the UCI rankings.
Top 3 Highlights
- Van Avermaet breaks his duck: Omloop was Greg Van Avermaet's first ever spring classic victory, and it couldn't be said to be undeserved. He got away in a group, got to the finish with them and, just for good measure, outsprinted Sagan to take the victory. Not a bad first win.
- Van Garderen makes a mark: I neither like nor really watch the Tour de Suisse (I have no idea why, I just can't stand the bloody race, I'll talk about it at some point) but I did see the last few minutes of stage seven, when Van Garderen won on what was probably the hardest summit finish in a big race this year. It was then that I thought he had a shot at the Tour de France podium.
- Van Avermaet takes yellow: Yes, it's Greg again. His performance in the Massif Central to take yellow was truly amazing, and his defence of it on stage seven almost equally so.
Bottom 3 Lowlights
- Van Garderen cracks: And there go my expectations. He can't ever seem to knit together twenty-three days.
- Flanders pile-up: Van Avermaet was set up for an excellent Holy Week, but a crash in the Tour of Flanders put paid to his chances in the biggest classics.
- Losing their crown: Yes, Etixx-Quickstep stole BMC's time-trialling championship. Hey, the UCI says it's important, who am I to disagree?
Nicolas Roche comes in from Sky, new Aussie champ Miles Scotson moves up to World Tour, Martin Elmiger hops off IAM's sinking ship, Fran Ventoso arrives from Movistar and Kilian Frankiny makes the jump from the development team.
BMC lose Rick Zabel to Katusha, Darwin Atapuma to UAE Abu Dhabi, Marcus Burghardt to Bora and Peter Velits to retirement. Bigger moves come in the form of Taylor Phinney's departure to Cannondale-Drapac and Philippe Gilbert (who really has taken a LOT of Andy Rihs' money without much of a return on investment) going to Quickstep.
The new jersey is similar to BMC's tried and tested style, but with rather...ahem, eye-catching Tag Heuer logos on the sleeves.
In the short term, Richie Porte is going to win on Willunga Hill, that's pretty much a given. But in the long term, he is riding a programme aimed at - once again - the Tour de France, while for the first time since making a splash in 2012, Tejay van Garderen goes to the most hotly contested Giro for some years. I expect neither to do particularly well. This year's Tour does not overly suit Porte, with its lack of time-trialling, difficult mountain finishes, and cushioned roadways. However, he very well may be the second-best climber in the world. He is the man who - twice now - has come closest to Froome when he made a devastating attack. He has won control of BMC from Van Garderen and a grand tour podium is the logical next step on his career path. If he doesn't eat tarmac in July, I think he is going to achieve it.
The same is true of Van Garderen, and the one hundredth Giro d'Italia is the place for him to do it. It has sixty-seven delicious kilometres of time-trialling, he has shown himself capable of - if not sticking with the best - staying close to them when it counts and being consistent enough to stay in the upper reaches of the GC...until he isn't. If he can cut out the horrendous bad day that he always seems to have, a podium in the crowded Giro field is not beyond his reach. That "if," however, is larger than the mountains he'll have to conquer to do so. Whether it's illness, bad legs or any number of other things, the bad day has plagued him and prevented a successful race. I just can't see him knitting together a flawless Giro.
Now for Van Avermaet, who really should be Sagan's main challenger in the classics. His problem, however, is that he can't sprint quite so well as the Slovakian in most (note the most) circumstances, and there's little to suggest that he can drop the world champion on, say, the Paterberg. After all, Cancellara couldn't do it. Sagan can't win all the classics though (wait, can he?), and Van Avermaet is more than capable of beating him in any of them. I expect him to score his first monument this season.
Elsewhere on the team, remember when Nico Roche used to lead his own team into the Tour de France? Yeah, he's given up on that. I would imagine he'll be the closest thing this team can manage to a superdomestique for Porte in the Tour — the two are buddies, if I remember correctly, and this team is really short on climbing domestiques as it is. Perhaps he will then take a shot (and miss it) at the Vuelta. Rohan Dennis is another interesting prospect — he's down to ride the Giro in support of Van Garderen: can he hold out on the biggest climbs to help his team mate out, or will he just focus on winning time-trials? Oh, and Joey Rosskopf will fly the American flag. I don't know what he'll do, but I expect it involves racing in America a bit.
Overall, there's not a whole lot of real change going on at BMC. Their overall targets and their capacity to achieve them are not changed very much at all from the 2016 season. The second chance to achieve those targets may help them more than any real changes to the team's personnel. Basically, the sum of BMC's parts makes them the fourth best team. That's a good start. Can they do what they have never done, and grow to more than that sum? That is up to them.