The gentlemen sporting the ugliest jerseys in the peloton put together another season in which they won a few races and justified their WT status, but remained determinedly underwhelming.
What we said last year
We didn’t. Which may not have been too big a loss, really. They weren’t top of anyone’s list of priorities.
What we got in 2017
The good news is, the team was led by two emerging talents who’ll be back for more in 2018.
Primoz Roglic was the highest scorer. Based on other journalism, I’m obliged to remind you that he used to be a ski-jumper. Now that’s out of the way, we can talk about a breakout year in which he won a stage at the Tour and three other WT stages, as well as picking up second in the world ITT. He’s 27, but (sorry) the former-ski-jumper thing means that he’s still developing as a rider and there’s doubtless more to come. He’s always been a decent time-trialler but he’s proving he can climb, too.
Dylan Groenewegen, meanwhile, continued to develop as a sprinter who isn’t far below the top rank. In a race that shed sprinters seemingly daily, he survived to the end of the Tour and won the Champs Elysees stage. That was the biggest of his nine stage wins, capping his most successful season to date.
Other Lotto-ers enjoying good years included Lars Boom (disappointing in spring but came good with a TT win and the overall in Britain, and a stage at BinckBank), George Bennett (won California and was unlucky to miss out on finishing the Tour when flirting with a top 10 finish) and TT specialists Campanaerts and Jos van Emden.
Other than Gesink, crashing out of the Tour for the third time in his career, and perhaps Kruijswijk, who was down in 9th attempting to repeat his Giro heroics of 2016 when he fell ill (he did manage 9th in the Vuelta) it is difficult to point at any rider who’d be disappointed with their season. However, the team that was once Rabobank have always had a strong association with the best Dutch riders. That being so, it must be galling to watch Dumoulin (once on the Rabo development team) in particular thriving outside of their setup. Add in Kelderman, Mollema, Poels and many more and we see Dutch cycling enjoying the long-awaited golden generation… which is mostly passing this squad by.
FSA-DS Ranking 2017
11th – Below average, without being obviously terrible. Yup, sounds about right.
1. The Paris stage of the Tour is the unofficial sprinters’ world championship. Yes, the list of riders who didn’t make it to Paris in 2017 is long, but Groenewegen won a race he’ll have dreamed of for years, and it was an iconic moment for the team.
2. Roglic’s whole season was fantastic, but winning into Serre Chevalier, solo, gives us a highlight moment.
3. Another highlight, another win in the concluding stage of a GT. Jos van Emden was the only man quicker than Dumoulin on the time trial into Milan. This was the first GT win in the 12th year of his career, and whilst it was overshadowed by his countryman winning the overall, it was a great achievement.
1. Bobo Gesink crashing out of the Tour, again. This year he fractured vertebrae and ended his season (and resulted, apparently, in him wearing a corset for a while). His best finish in a GT was waaay back in the 2010 Tour (4th, after a couple of retrospective adjustments), since when he’s been plagued with injuries and other problems. It remains to be seen whether he’ll come back to his best but the odds must be against him.
2. There weren’t many who thought Steven Kruijswijk would return to the Giro in 2017 and complete the victory that he was a snow-bank away from picking up in 2016, but 8th place even before the stomach troubles began was a disappointment. After a promising build-up, he only managed 9th in the Vuelta, which was worse than expected.
3. Basically the entire classics campaign. This team aren’t set up for glory in these races, but a Dutch team need to do better than 11th (with Lobato, of all riders) in Amstel, and need to do better than 33rd (van Emden) and 58th (Tankink) at Paris-Roubaix and Flanders. Other than Boom, if you must, it is hard to see where success is coming from in these races, either.
Comings and goings for 2018
Ins: Pascal Eenkhoorn (BMC Development Team), Sep Kuss (Rally Cycling), Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagens Berman), Danny Van Poppel (Team Sky)
Outs: Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal), Steven Lammertink (Vital Concept)
Renewals: Koen Bouwman, Tom Leezer, Bert-Jan Lindeman, Paul Martens, Primoz Roglic, Bram Tankink
The big victory here was agreeing a renewal with Roglic, but there’s an impressive youth movement here, too. Powless was a big signing and there was competition for him, but don’t overlook Eenkhoorn or Kuss, who bring big engines and serious potential to the squad. Danny van Poppel is still young and is another Dutch sprinter who can pick up some races Groenewegen misses. He might manage some results on the cobbles, too. This is definitely a stronger squad, but they are gearing up for the future more than for 2018.
Most intriguing rider
With all due respect to Roglic, a lot of us will have our eyes on Powless, who is the next next big thing from the USA. He only joined Lotto-NL Jumbo when the Vaughters train jumped off the rails temporarily, but is clearly someone they will look to hold onto and to build around. His results from 2016 speak for themselves, and if you can climb and time trial you’ll go far in cycling. You wouldn’t expect him to be thrown too far into the deep end in ’18 (he’s only recently turned 21) but he’ll be one to watch.
So, what happens next?
2018 probably looks a lot like 2017, but maybe a hair better. Groenewegen will be competitive in sprints, and will win his share (though not, perhaps, when the likes of Kittel and Sagan are firing on all cylinders), whilst van Poppel will be on hand for tougher sprints and easier classics, though the spring will be a tough time for these boys.
On the GC side, Kruijswijk is a top-ten contender at GTs but a podium seems unlikely, whilst Roglic is perhaps more of a week-long stage racer, but he is the one with the potential to join the elite. He might benefit from targeting the Giro given the increased TT kms, but that’d be a change of programme for both of their leaders. Youth will be given the chance to shine in every race they turn up for.