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Offseason Capsule: Bora-Hansgrohe

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Is this a cycling revolution that I smell cooking?

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There were a few high-profile disappointments, but looked at in the round, this was a solid year for the first-time World Tour team, with plenty to build on for 2018 and beyond.

What we said last year

The Boss did the honours as we assessed the new-boys of the World Tour. He talked Sagan, Majka, Konig and optimism for the future.

What we got in 2017

Bora’s spring, as we said last year, was always going to be about Sagan. After a red-hot start (a win and a second in Belgium’s opening weekend, two stage wins and the points in Tirenno-Adriatico) he went to Milan-San Remo as favourite, and was narrowly beaten by Kwaitkowski, having gone clear with the Pole and Julian Alaphilliipe as he animated the race and set up a pulsating last half-hour. That wasn’t the last not-quite story of his spring, as he led a big group home in Gent-Wevelgem, failing to get help to pull back Keukeleire and old adversary van Avermaet. Even worse, he fell when tangling with a jacket by the barriers on the Kwaremont when looking ominously good in Flanders. All of this meant he finished the spring without a monument win and with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne his only classic victory. Heady stuff for most riders, but not Sagz.

His Tour saw another impressive start, with a win on the tough sprint finish at Longwy (stage 3). The next day, however, he was controversially disqualified for cutting across Cavendish’s line in a sprint, and was sent home, ending his streak of green jerseys. The season finished on a defiant high as he picked up stages in Poland and Binck Bank, the win in Quebec, and most importantly of all, his third consecutive win in the World Champs. The year wasn’t quite vintage Sagan, but he had his share of bad luck, something that you couldn’t say in 2015 or 2016, and still picked up some very prestigious wins.

Leaving Sagan’s ten wins aside, the rest of the squad picked up 23 wins, more that any of us would have anticipated. True, some of these were egg-and-spoon affairs (four sprint stages in Turkey, Juraj winning the Sagan Invitational Slovakian National Championship, etc) but there were plenty of signs of life. Sam Bennett was one of the surprises of the year, backing up a win in Paris-Nice with nine other wins and three Giri podiums. He still struggles with positioning and timing but he’s demonstrated he belongs as a WT sprinter, which I didn’t think he’d manage, and at 27 isn’t necessarily finished with his development.

After a decent start to his season, falls and injuries came close to wrecking Rafal Majka’s GT season, but he managed to take a win in a Vuelta mountain stage, solo-ing to the top of Sierra la Pandera. I wrote at the end of the Vuelta about how nice that was to watch. Youth was also served, more of which later. Of the riders Chris covered coming into the year, Konig was disappointing, with another season derailed by persistent knee injuries. It was good to see him back on the bike at the end of the season in Guangxi and Turkey, giving hope for the coming season.

FSA-DS Ranking 2017

7th – Top-half, and apparently trending upwards. Good stuff.

Top Highlights

1. It didn’t happen in a Bora jersey, but Peter Sagan picked up a third consecutive rainbow jersey. Only four other men have won three road races, and none managed them on the bounce. It further underlines what we already knew; he’s one of the greatest cyclists around, and he’s versatile.

2. If you tell me that you knew who’d be wearing pink after the first stage of the Giro, I’d assume you were either lying, or Lukas Postlberger’s mum. First win outside of Austria, first win for two years, first World Tour win… and he puts on the maglia rosa. Good lad.

3. Rafal Majka expected more from his season but I can’t say often enough how impressed I was with his win at Pandera. He’s a strong climber and he’s as mentally tough as anyone riding at the moment.

I really enjoyed this moment.
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Bottom Lowlights

1. Sagan would have wanted to add to his monument tally this season and, even though GVA and Naesen were on his tail and Gilbert was up the road, I think he would have done so at Flanders had he not tied his wheel up with a jacket. Six and a half hours in the saddle, eighteen hellingen, and one moment of lack of concentration turns glory into anonymity.

Oops. Sorry, Greg.
Tim de Waele/Getty Images

2. With Majka coming off a win in Slovenia and Sagan having picked up the last five green jerseys, hopes were high for the Bora team as they left Dusseldorf. With one stage win and a highest-placed rider in 15th, the squad made more headlines for the polemica surrounding Sagan’s DQ than they did for their performance. Not entirely their fault, but July is a bad time to have an off month.

3. Squads trying to make a splash at the top level can’t afford to waste their limited budgets, and unfortunately Konig looked like a waste in 2017. He’s a talented rider and looked a justifiable bargain at the time, but questions have to be asked over the medical screening. Perhaps they just got unlucky but I suspect they could find places they’d rather have invested.

Comings and goings for 2018

Ins: Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Drapac), Felix Grosschartner (CCC Sprandi-Polkowice), Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Daniel Oss (BMC Racing).

Outs: Shane Archbold (AquaBlue), Silvio Herklotz (Burgos).

Renewals: Sam Bennett, Christoph Pfingsten, Michael Schwarzmann, Rüdiger Selig, Matteo Pelluchi.

This gets my vote for the most impressive transfer market of the year (and, for once, there are a number of teams who have behaved very sensibly this year). Shane Archbold will be missed as a leadout man but is replacable. Meanwhile, there’s some serious talent coming in, which dovetails nicely with their existing roster. Daniel Oss will join Bodnar et al in supporting Sagan through the spring, with what might be the strongest team he’s led. If he has personal ambitions, they lie in Roubaix, a race Sagan doesn’t enjoy and doesn’t always race. Grosschartner is a young TT specialist with a big engine who could develop into another helper if he steps up effectively from CCC.

Majka and the climbers get two more very useful riders in Kennaugh and Formolo, either of whom could serve as a lower-tier GC leader or upper-tier lieutenant. Formolo remains weak, to say the least, in chrono stages but is a decent climber and is only 25, although I feel like he’s been around forever. Kennaugh leaves Team Sky and the range of potential outcomes is huge.

Most intriguing rider

That’ll be Peter Kennaugh, then. I first noticed him back in 2010, when he was riding track (sorry) as a prominent part of the British cycling set-up. I was in the crowd at Manchester when he bossed the points race against some older and more experienced riders, and wasn’t at all surprised when he was part of that phenomenal 2012 Olympic pursuit team. Even back then, we could see he was putting up the kind of track numbers that British cycling need, and he was enjoying success on the road. Since 2012 his track ambitions have taken a back seat (although he and Cav teamed up in the London 6-day this autumn, finishing second) and his road career has been… spotty? weak? declining?

I think I’ll settle for mildly disappointing. There have been moments, but he hasn’t had the results you’d expect of a top-tier rider. Against that, he’s been typically cast in a support role. It’d be easy to blame Team Sky at this point, and we’ve debated their development strategy often enough. The truth is, though, their best lieutenants do tend to rise to the top, and get leadership chances either at Sky or elsewhere. Kennaugh is three years younger than Geraint Thomas and came on to the road full-time at roughly the same stage. Of the pair, I’d have given him a better chance of turning into the GC contender at that time (Thomas, of course, is a miscast Classics rider, but everyone has heard me on that topic at least three times too often) but the Mamxman has only made the Sky Tour squad twice and didn’t ride a GT in 2017. He’s clearly fallen out of favour and performance and numbers are at least part of that.

It remains to be seen whether a change of scene and tactics revamp his career. Bora’s acquisition of Konig makes me somewhat dubious of their ability to buy low from Team Sky, but I think this is a second gamble worth taking. At 27 you’d hope his best years are ahead of him, and he’ll have plenty of chances to ride for himself and others in the biggest races for Bora. He’s a talented enough climber and time-triallist and he’s got bags of experience. He might do nothing at all, but I doubt it, and I hope he proves Brailsford wrong.

Will life be better outside the Sky Train?
Joan Cros Garcia/Corbis/Getty Images

So, what happens next?

2018 is a year of three goals. Given what Bora (and NetApp Endura, back in pro-conti days) tend to achieve, I’d back them.

The first is simple: support Sagan as best as possible, and through him expect to pick up a team’s worth of wins and prestige. It’d be extraordinary if he were to win a fourth rainbow jersey in 2018, given the parcours (though I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m applauding him in Yorkshire in 2019) but I’d expect more than one classics win next spring, and the commissaires are the only men who can keep him out of the green jersey in July. His rivalry with GVA is one for the ages and I think he’ll continue to edge it, whilst doubling as a more than capable sprinter.

The second is to improve their performance in GTs and the many WT GC races. In 2017 they picked up no top-10s, and only two top-25s across the three GC races. With Majka hoping for better luck and Konig for better health, with Formolo and Kennaugh to bolster the numbers, and with a range of youngsters developing nicely, they can be optimistic.

The third and most nebulous goal is development. A good 2018 in part means setting up for an even brighter 2019. This is a team that most would envy for the range of talented riders who haven’t yet reached their peak. It’ll take someone either smarter than me or with better data to assess average ages, but there can’t be many WT teams with fewer riders over 30 (6) and more under 27 (10) coming into the new season. That youth group doesn’t even include Kennaugh or Bennett, who I do see improving. Among the youngsters who showed talent in 2017 and will bear watching in 2018 are Emmanuel Buchman (third in the white jersey and 15th overall in the Tour, eye-catching 7th in the Dauphine, potential GC leader) Pascal Ackerman (2nd in 2016 U23 worlds, 5th in Schelderprijs, powerful sprinter emerging on big stage) and Gregor Muhlberger (winner of Rund um Koln, time-trialling all-rounder, potentially best Austrian cyclist since, uh, well, for a while).

Don’t tell Ursula, but I rate Herr Ackermann
Khalid Desouki/Getty Images

I admit it, this team have won me over. There’s a logical process of development, a nice pipeline of talent, and some serious star power at the top to ensure plenty of points in the immediate future. Now, if they could just stop those bloody adverts…