Another offseason, another busy time for the guys in the striped jerseys. This is the new iteration of Giant-Alpecin and there are plenty of changes on the bike as well as in the advertising department. I see a team with oodles of talent and just enough star power that we can expect to see them at the front of some big races.
What We Said Last Year
Chris did the honours, and he was bullish…
If 2014 was the breakout season, then 2015 was the pressure-laden letdown, right? Considering what happened, and considering the loss of Kittel and Mezgec, it's hard to see how this team is under much pressure in 2016, beyond the ever-present helping that comes with a World Tour license. Whether they break back out again or not, however, depends on some of the last wave of young talent continuing to make progress. The team has its stars Degs and Doom, and a good core of complementary pieces like Geschke, Tom Veelers, and veteran Dutch and Belgians galore. They have Ramon Sinkeldam capable of winning smaller classic races of many types. And yeah, Lars van der Haar for some winter fun. They know Degenkolb has arrived on the spring classics stage in the biggest way, and that Dumoulin gives them a bulldog in every fight.
What they could use is for Barguil to crack the Tour top ten, for Arndt and Waeytens and Ludvigsson to snag a few more wins, for Chad Haga and Carter Jones to make a splash in the American events (assuming they attend them again). They need their stars not to feel like they have to do it all themselves, and they need to be getting results on a steady basis to keep the pressure manageable in the world tour events. This is not a team capable of dominating, and with their success Doom and Degs will have a harder time going unnoticed ever again. But with youth, depth and cohesion, they can fly high this season, and maybe stay up there for a while.
What We Got in 2016
The first thing we got was some truly horrifying news on the 23rd January, that 6 riders had been hit by a car whilst training in Alicante. As is the way with these things, it took a while for news to come out, and it was hard not to think the worst. Fortunately, all survived and were able to resume riding during the season. Losing Degenkolb until May, and with Sinkeldam well below par until Paris-Roubaix effectively lost them a spring when much was promised. The psychological impact for the six riders, the support crew on the camp, and the rest of the team may only be guessed at, but it was doubtless a shadow over the whole season.
Elsewhere, Tom Dumoulin picked up an Olympic Silver, wore the pink jersey throughout the Giro’s stay in the Netherlands, and picked up a slew of other fine results. Warren Barguil rode very nicely for top 10s in Liege, Lombardy and the Fleche, but disappointed with 23rd in the Tour. The kids progressed, with Sam Oomen and Max Walscheid representing enormous promise in climbs and sprints respectively.
1. Dumoulin’s victory in the opening stage of the Giro (by a hair), pulling on the maglia rosa in front of his delirious home fans.
2. Degenkolb’s victory in Munsterland Giro may not have been his biggest ever win but it was an important, healing victory.
3. Sam Oomen, three days before his 21st birthday, taking the Queen stage of the Tour de l’Ain. He’d wrap up overall victory the following day, putting a bow on a wildly promising season.
1. That crash. Ugh.
2. Barguil rolling into Paris 52 minutes down on the leaders was a big step in the wrong direction for a man the team must have been looking to as a grand tour leader for the present and the future.
3. It feels unfair to criticise much else, under the circumstances. Despite his successes, Dumoulin must be frustrated that he wasn’t able to get gold in Rio, although Cancellara was probably unstoppable that day.
Comings and Goings for 2017
A lot of change for next year, beginning with the team name, as Giant-Alpecin become Team Sunweb. The jerseys are similar enough that I’ll probably be able to work out what’s going on. Unfortunately, Alpecin are now supporting Katusha, so we still haven't seen the back of those damn silly shampoo adverts.
In terms of riders, Degenkolb has gone to Trek and there isn’t an obvious replacement as a cobbles leader. Others departing are retirements and a few riders dropping to non-WT teams. Coming in, the headliners are Michael Matthews and Wilco Kelderman. Bling gives them a new dimension and relevance in a lot of the hilly classics, as well as taking over from Degs in the tougher sprints. Kelderman is another GC man with similar skills to Dumoulin, and managing their respective programmes may cause some tension.
This also appears to be a team with an eye for an excellent name, as both Phil Bauhaus and Lennard Hofstede (who I’m almost certain is a character from The Big Bang Theory) join the squad.
So What Happens Next?
It is easy to be optimistic about Sunweb, and much of what Chris said last year remains true. There are plenty of young and talented riders – name jokes aside, Hofstede is another red hot talent from the Rabobank Development production line, and in Chris Hamilton they might just have stolen a good one from under Orica’s nose. Oomen and Walscheid should continue to progress. The cobbles team looks like a bunch of maybes and no certainties, but de Backer, Sinkeldam and Waeytens have all shown flashes of talent in recent years.
Matthews leaves a somewhat crowded Orica squad and steps in as a clear leader. He’ll target Milan San-Remo, Amstel Gold, and Tour stages and has earned his position among the favourites for all of those races and more.
The GC squads will be lead by Kelderman, Barguil and Dumoulin, in some order. Dumoulin is probably their best chance of overall success, and he aims for the Giro. Given the Tour starts in Dusseldorf, it is hard to imagine his German-based team not wanting him to at least start that race. He will also enjoy the World TT course, which has a big enough hill to eliminate most of the competition (though not Froome). Kelderman gives a consistent threat in the shorter stage races, especially ones with lengthy time trials, and has top-10 ability for the grand tours. Barguil badly needs to bounce back, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he’s trusted to lead in France or works as a lieutenant for Doom and Kelderman.
This won’t be the top-ranked team but it is stocked with talent and looks set to be involved at the highest level for a long time. In 2017, Bling, Doom and Wilco will keep them relevant and rack up some wins.