A year of two halves for the big-money American squad, with Greg (and Richie) delivering all spring, and then disappointments in the Grands Tours.
What we said last year
Conor wrote our BMC capsule last year, and goodness me, he did a nice job. He foresaw Porte winning TdU, establishing himself as the second-best climber in the world and risking eating tarmac. He foresaw van Avermaet winning his first monument. He (along with literally everyone else) foresaw disappointment for Tejay van Garderen.
Check, check, and check.
What we got in 2017
Van Avermaet put together his best Classics campaign yet, with wins in Omloop, E3, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. Throw in podiums at Flanders (despite bad luck) and Strade-Bianche and excellent rides in the Ardennes and you have the world’s best rider of the spring.
At the same time, Porte was establishing himself as a serious contender for Tour glory, winning Down Under and in Romandie, with excellent performances in the Dauphine and Paris-Nice. However, he fell badly on stage 9 of the Tour and only recently returned to his bike. It was another disappointing finish to a Grand Tour for this immensely talented rider who still has only two top-ten Grand Tour finishes, and is now 32.
Elsewhere, BMC picked up numerous wins in time trials, both individual and team, with Rohan Dennis unquestionably the world’s finest prologue rider. This squad will have been frustrated to miss out on rainbows when Sunweb sneaked past them. Dylan Teuns enjoyed an excellent season but much of this squad will be disappointed with their year.
FSA-DS Ranking 2017
3rd – but closer to 9th (AG2R) than second (Sky). A decent return, but not what Jim Ochowicz would expect.
1. Greg van Avermaet capped a great spring by picking up a first monument to go along with his 2016 Olympic Gold and help him to drop forever the (unfair) tag of talented loser.
2. It has to be something from Richie Porte’s Tour preparations. I’ll go with his win in the Dauphine TT, as that was the moment I started to believe there might be something special here. Not many climbers can claim to have taken more than 30 seconds off Froome in a medium-length TT.
3. Dylan Teuns wins the Tour of Poland overall. This was his first World Tour win and arguably the highpoint of a season that also included overall wins in Norway and Wallonie and 3rd in Fleche-Wallone. Aged 25, he’s always been talented but the results weren’t quite there until this year. He’s a rider with a very bright future and he took a huge step forward in 2017.
1. I don’t have to think hard here. Porte’s crash on stage 9 was terrifying and it was a relief to see him recovered and riding (if not finishing) in Japan at season’s end. The premature end to his Tour was gutting for the rider, the team, and those looking for a competitive race, but it was far from surprising.
2. Sammy Sanchez was the latest rider with links to the bad old days to pick up a suspension for using an illegal substance. He was shocked, can’t explain it, etc, etc, etc. Ugh. Let’s move on.
3. Stage 11 of the Vuelta. Despite Sanchez being dropped from the Vuelta team, the first half of this race went brilliantly, with Roche in third and van Garderen in 5th at the halfway point. Many of us didn’t think it could last, but even the most cynical had to be disappointed by how suddenly hope ended. The pair were dropped like stones and finished the day nearly five minutes back. At the end of the race, van Garderen clung on for 10th place, which represented the team’s highest finish in a Grand Tour in 2017. Simply not good enough.
Comings and goings for 2018
Ins: Albert Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac), Patrick Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac), Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott), Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal), Nathan van Hooydunck (BMC Development).
Outs: Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale), Ben Hermans (Israel Cycling Academy), Amaël Moinard (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), Manuel Quinziato (retired), Manuel Senni (Bardiani-CSF).
Renewals: Brent Bookwalter, Damiano Caruso, Alessandro De Marchi, Jean-Pierre Drucker, Richie Porte, Joey Rosskopf, Michael Schär, Danilo Wyss, Tejay van Garderen, Francisco Ventoso.
I was shocked to learn during our latest podcafst that Gerrans has been signed, but I don’t think it changes my general point, which is that this squad has got notably weaker in the offseason. They are a rich team in a sport where the rich, typically, get richer, and I can’t see much progress here, which is surprising and may speak to larger pressures in the background. The argument that with smaller races they can drop from 29 to 24 riders makes sense, but doesn’t explain the overall drop in quality.
On the cobbles, Roelandts can do much of what Oss managed in support of Van Avermaet, and Gerrans will be helpful with whatever he has left, but there is little here to get the pulse racing. Dillier and Oss, in particular, will be missed.
Most intriguing rider
There’s no doubt that van Avermaet is the most talented rider on the squad and a clear leader, but it is Porte who continues to intrigue me. He needs to demonstrate, first of all, that he’s recovered from injury, but if can manage that then he remains on a short list of world class climbers who can time trial. Given the cobbles and competition, he’d be well-advised to skip the Tour in favour of a Giro with three TTs, but I suspect management will push him towards France (which also gives him another month or so to prepare). Next year could be anything from brilliance to obscurity, and whatever price Ursula puts on him will have us all thinking.
So, what happens next?
Well, this isn’t a squad with any significant youth movement. Of the three stagiares from ‘17, only Nathan van Hooydonck stays with the team. Back at the start of the year, Miles Scotson took a shock Aussie national title win in his first pro race and is a very talented time triallist, but he’s got track commitments and won’t ride a full European summer. Otherwise, this is a squad made up mostly of riders who are at the peak of their career, or falling off the far side of it.
Teuns is the big exception to that, and he’ll look to build on his brilliant 2017 season. Continued focus on hilly classics and week-long races is probably the programme for him and it is a sensible approach. It is hard to think of an appropriate comparison amongst older riders – perhaps Simon Gerrans has partly been brought in to mentor a rider with a similar, and rare, skillset?
Golden Greg will renew his rivalry with Sagan and will be among the favourites for every race from Omloop through to Roubaix, and he is likely to pick up some big wins and perhaps double his monument tally. Van Garderen will flatter to deceive. What Porte manages is anyone’s guess, though given the severity of injury he picked up in July, I would be surprised to see him return to his form of early 2017 next year.