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Best and Worst of Transfer Season

Le Tour de France 2016 - Stage Eighteen Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Now that we are past all the announcements, it’s time to... hang on, I have an announcement. The 2017 FSA Directeur Sportif Competition is expected to open on time, roughly February 1, like it always does! Deadline might be a bit tighter than usual but we will get to that in a bit.

Anyway, we’ve covered a lot of teams via the capsule technique, where you take an opponent and bludgeon him down into a tiny capsule. It’s a time-honored journalism technique. And with that out of the way mostly til next year, maybe we can pick apart some of the highlights and lowlights of the most interesting storylines from the offseason, the transfers.

Every time a rider transfers, he chooses a new team and ditches the old one, meaning there are actually two stories to tell. The rankings here are based on the move to the new team... but I’ll talk about the one that got left behind, to the extent there’s anything interesting to say. Naturally it’s largely about money, and for some truly idiotic reason we don’t have any real information there to work off of. Even though cycling is essentially in the entertainment business and contracts are part of the intriguertainment. Yet another way the sport could maybe get its shit together. So yeah, the real story behind every transfer is largely hidden.

What to do then? Fill in the blanks. Allow me.

Five Great Fits

We’re talking here about transfer where the new team is clearly going to benefit, assuming a normal performance from the rider (as opposed to seasonus interruptus). These are well-conceived on both sides, the rider’s and the new team’s, in ways that make you forget for at least a moment that it was still probably just about the money.

Tony Martin to Katusha

How It Probably Goes Right: I’m not the biggest fan of the Lov’n Rockets, but my best year of FSA DS in a while was when I built a team around Alexander Kristoff, because that’s a thing that can pay off, in fantasy land as well as in real life. Kristoff saw about 30 percent of his scoring disappear from 2015 to ‘16, and while much of that has to do with his relative strength compared to, I dunno, Peter Sagan, one wonders if the loss of Luca Paolini from the classics team had a negative impact as well? Martin isn’t much of a cobbles guy, as we know, but he’s a great teammate in almost any circumstances, and the other objective for the big Norwegian would be some Tour stage wins, something Martin is legendary at helping to arrange.

How It Could Still Go Wrong: Struggling to think of anything here. With no Olympics, Martin will be on a typical race schedule in terms of his ITT championship objectives. Illness and injury are always a potential problem, such that they hardly bear mentioning. Otherwise, however, Martin has been the picture of consistency. So I guess if there’s any way he can be less consistent, then yeah, it won’t have worked out. Maybe pushing him too hard on the cobbles? Lots of seasons go awry there.

Sep Vanmarcke to Cannondale-Drapac

How It Probably Goes Right: For a moment I struggled with saying his whole name or just “Sep,” since he hardly needs any introduction to you guys. Thus, I won’t insult you by listing off all the great performances he can and should execute this spring. It’s bad enough I caved on the last name thing.

How It Could Still Go Wrong: Simply put, if Sep and the team aren’t on the same page about leadership in the Classics. In his past stint at Garmindale, he famously won the Omloop after haranguing management to give him a shot at it, then left the team for a clearer role with RaboBlankinLotto, where despite Lars Boom’s presence Sep clearly got to go for the wins in the Monuments. Things should be simpler this time, as Cannondale-Drapac are looking for redemption in the classics after some fallow years, rather than thinking they belong with the best teams. [But showing they belong is a possibility. TBD.] Anyway, unless he’s gotten wiser with age, any flinching in their support of Sep could threaten the arrangement in a hurry.

Naesen to AG2R

How It Probably Goes Right: Naesen was hardly under the radar when he got scooped up by AG2R from the implosion of IAM Cycling. Well, unless they struck a deal with him before he won the Plouay race but he’s a rider on the rise in the classics, and he’s off to a team where they are becoming interesting all of a sudden. Alexis Gougeard has flashed major potential, at age 23, and Stijn Vandenbergh is a known quantity, as well as a Belgian Draft Horse of the type you can picture surviving to the end of Paris-Roubaix. That he could also play center for the Belgian national basketball team is another skillset. Anyway, it’s interesting, and Naesen is (like VDB) getting that first big shot to show what he can do.

How It Could Still Go Wrong: Nothing coming to mind. AG2R aren’t heavily reliant on the classics, Naesen will probably get a chance to chase his own result, and the pressure will be lower than if he’d stayed at Lotto-Soudal, no matter how many times I talk up his chances. I guess the mix of incoming Belgians might not work with the French guys, but that seems unlikely.

Michael Matthews to Sunweb

How It Probably Goes Right: Right rider for the right team. Fun fact! Bling is only 26 years old, which isn’t super-young for a sprinter but hardly old, and on the early end of his prime as a hilly(ish) classics rider. His resume is pretty great, notwithstanding expectations: in the last three seasons he’s won stages of all three grand tours, while threatening to win in places like Montreal and Quebec, Amstel, Brabantse Pijl, Milano-Sanremo, and a host of smaller races that suddenly the UCI is forcing everyone to attend even though nobody cares about them yet. Sunweb, meanwhile, just finished running off all their expensive veteran sprinters, save for Nikias Arndt, and while he’ll do in a pinch, the team could use a rider like Matthews to scoop up the wins that kids Bauhaus and Walscheid maybe aren’t ready for.

How It Could Still Go Wrong: By not winning sprints. Unlike a classics guy, there is no such thing as an awesome second place for sprinters, and I’m sure Sunweb had to drop some real coin on a veteran known winner like Matthews. Also, he and Dumoulin need to be on the same page about who helps whom in the Ardennes. Amstel is Bling’s best event, but it won’t be easy to say no to a Dutch star like Dumoulin there.

Roman Kreuziger to Orica

How It Probably Goes Right: Excellent GC depth signing. Which is a bit uncomplimentary toward a guy who just finished tenth at the Tour, but he’s over 30 now, and there are loads of youngsters moving into that category, ready to bounce him out. Also, among those young riders are Esteban Chaves (not actually that young) and the Yates brothers (seriously young). Still, Kreuz has been fifth at both the Giro and the Tour, meaning he can handle either style of racing, so it will be very easy for Orica to plug him into either pathway, which they won’t announce until next week, for really annoying reasons. None of their stars is a full-on captain either, so Kreuziger can at least have a hope of being the main man.

How It Could Still Go Wrong: He could say that Chaves has a small motor? OK, enough of that. It was interesting to read his comments that he wanted to go to Bah-Meh because he and Nibali are good friends. So any inference that Kreuziger isn’t a good team player is probably false. And that’s how this could fail — if he doesn’t accept a supporting role — but all indications are that he will. This, Sep and Matthews are my three favorite moves, possibly in that order.

Five More that... I totally Get

Stijn Vandenbergh from Quick Step to AG2R: Partially covered above. They need him. The only question is whether he can win on anything less than a loaded team? If his dream win is Paris-Roubaix, he’s going to have to put paid to the entire peloton to get it, because he won’t have a teammate at AG2R who’s scary enough for people to let Stijn off the leash. He and Sagan at Bora, now that could have gotten interesting...

Hugh Carthy from Caja Rural to Cannondale-Drapac: Another I’d partially covered in the C-dale Capsule, but the American squad will presumably be a healthy place to grow a young climber, surrounded by established guys and slightly-older up-and-comers. No downside really, just that he’s frightfully young so we may not see too much from him right out of the gate.

Scott Thwaites from Bora to Dimension Data: One team we’ve said almost nothing about this offseason is the African squad, in part because they made so few changes to their 2016 team. Thanks to Cavendish’s good form and a strong start from Boasson Hagen, the team racked up a healthy number of results last year. But they made little dent in the classics until Boasson Hagen’s fourth in Roubaix, while Thwaites was pretty solid early on (second in Le Samyn, 8th in Dwars, etc), so he can either ride for himself in some of the smaller events or play co-captain with Boasson Hagen, while Farrar and Eisel try to make the whole thing work. I’m not blown away by his potential in his age-27 season, so this is maybe more like a depth deal, but no downsides, and there’s more here for Thwaites than at Bora.

Michael Valgren from Tinkoff to Astana: Is it me or are Astana becoming rather Nordic nowadays? I guess that’s less weird than them being 50% Italian. Anyway, Valgren had to go somewhere, he’s about to turn 25, and it makes some sense for him to hit his prime with a handful of countrymen like Jakob Fuglsang and the ghost of Matti Breschel. In the former’s case, he can team up to try to revitalize Astana’s hilly classics hope, Valgren having taken second in Amstel last year and Foogs tending to show up either in spring or fall. But this would have been a lot more attractive for Valgren if Astana had kept Rosa and Nibali. That roster is kind of a giant mess, honestly, and while Aru has Giro and fall classics chops, I don’t see him doing anything in the Ardennes.

Lars Boom from Astana to LottoNL-Jumbo: Nice story, as Boom comes full circle back to the remains of his old (turns out, pretty corrupt) Rabobank project. But it’s lineage in name only, and while the Dutch accent undoubtedly suits the Vlij-man fine, it’s not the real point. The real point is that this is a team that would very much like to do something down south in Belgium, or France, and having lost Vanmarcke they needed a standard-bearing veteran, desperately. “What a coincidence, you are desperate to buy and we are desperate to sell!” They’re still a veh-teran outfit with only Boom as someone who once almost won the big one, but Timo Roosen might already be their second-best classics hope, and legit star Dylan Groenewegen will benefit from some shepherding by Boom in the sprintable classics and the Tour.

Five That Do Nothing for Me

Philippe Gilbert from BMC to Quick Step: Can this work? Gilbert turns 35 at the Tour and has long since dropped off from his competitive peak from 2009-11. I like the guy and was fine with his iconic winning streaks, but at BMC he got paid (presumably a ton) for past performance. So what are Quick Step paying him for now, long gone past performance? Whatever, he probably fits in OK with Alaphilippe, Martin and Brambilla, and it’ll probably end up working out just fine.

Team UAE drops Gang Xu and Chun Kai Fung: So basically there were two Chinese riders on the team that was formerly Lampre, Fung from Taipei and Xu from the PRC, but since the sponsorship changed they both got kicked to the curb. Seems a little harsh, no? Or was the Chinese sponsorship dedicated specifically to paying their salaries?

Most of the Bah-Meh transfers except Colbrelli: The average age of this team is like 34, except for a handful of really young kids. Colbrelli I get there, it’s a partly Italian team and he doesn’t seem to need a lot of help (apart from basic teamwork) to go for the kill. He’ll be fine. But why is David Per there, after winning the Ronde voor Beloften? They barely have a semblance of a classics team. What uniting principle brings Pellizotti, Brajkovic, Haussler and Visconti together, besides all being guys we stopped following at least five years ago? Yes, Nibali has assembled a decent climbing squad, but I just think the hard-core cycling fans of Bahrain are going to insist on more sensible roster construction going forward.

Diego Rosa from Astana to Sky: Much as I have some discomfort with Astana, I’d rather see Rosa teaming up with Valgren and some vets to see what they can do together than going on to be another cog in the Sky machine. It’s actually a downright brilliant roster of climbing stars, but for that very reason I really don’t see how adding Rosa does much for either.

Alberto Contador from Tinkoff to Trek: Really? Back to Lance’s old team? Whatever. I guess if Guercilena’s goal of being #1 includes everyone’s past performances, adding the generational star Contador was a good move. But back in real life, it generally matters more to a team that just signed him what he does next, and I just don’t know if he will ride for Mollema, or even what happens if he does.