The longish gap between offseason capsules has been because of real life getting in the way, not because of an epic case of writer’s block. I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe that. There isn’t a lot to say about this squad, and what I will say isn’t positive.
What we said last year
Conor covered these boys last year. Like the rest of the media, he was focused on Cavendish, and saw him winning some races. He also had some hopes for the likes of Lachlan Morton, Nathan Haas, and Kristian Sbaragli. All of which was entirely reasonable, though it bore little resemblance to what we actually saw.
What we got in 2017
I mean… yuck.
Let’s start with the positive. Eddy Boss-Hog is a rider who has managed to frustrate all of us at some point in his career. He was with Sky from their inception in 2010 and has always picked up results, but that’s not the same as winning big races or performing consistently. He also finished 2016 on a low note, seeming to be unwilling to help Kristoff in the finale of the Worlds in Qatar. This year looked like being more of the same, with yet another year of failures in the spring classics. However, he turned things around in no uncertain terms, parlaying expected dominance in Norwegian racing into unexpected prominence in the Tour.
After Cavendish’s injury, he picked up a stage win and five other podiums as the second-string sprinter, adding a strong Tour of Britain performance to score double-digit wins for the first time 2009, for Team Columbia. Elsewhere, there was success in the Giro for Omar Fraile, winning stage 11 and leading the mountains classification for a time. Serge Pauwels won in Yorkshire, and there were a few stage wins and national championships. That, though, is just about that. Most things that could go wrong, did go wrong.
I mentioned Cavendish’s injury. Whether or not Sagan should have been thrown out, losing the Tour and having limited form for the end of season was a real shame for the team’s most prominent rider. There’s also no denying that, before the injury, he was a long way below his best, with a sole win coming in Abu Dhabi before the season truly began. He failed to stay with the main peloton in Milan – San Remo and didn’t start the spring races where he’s enjoyed recent success. A year to forget for the Manxman.
Expectations were high for Cav, but nobody expected Cummings, who turned 36 in March, to reproduce his results from 2016. Still, he managed only three wins, picking up both UK titles and an afterthought victory in Toscana. No world tour points for any of that, and no GT glory, either. Riders such as Kudus, Haas and Debesay may have enjoyed good development but very little appeared in the results. If one looks at the squad as a whole, there is a whole lot of anonymous endeavour and very little to show for it.
FSA-DS Ranking 2017
18th – Despite the Boss-Hog’s 1520 points, this is a team that finished closer to Androni (4th of the Pro-Conti teams) than they did to the 17th-placed world tour team, UAE-Dubai. Last by a margin.
1. Edwald won a Tour Stage, for the first time since 2011. It was a highlight of his recent career and of the team’s season, and the shining moment in his admirable tour as he moved seamlessly from helper to leader when Cav was lost.
2. I don’t want this to turn into a list of GT stage wins, but nothing else is more of a highlight than Omar Fraile’s Giro stage. He helped the squad get more publicity by backing that up with a few days in the mountain leader’s jersey.
3. I dunno. Cummings’ wins in the UK Champs were great, but Serge Pauwels took a more competitive race in the three stage Tour of Yorkshire. Let’s go with that.
1. Cav. I’ll say it was the injury, but he’ll need a good 2018 to demonstrate that there isn’t a broader and longer-lasting problem too.
2. Conor mentioned Lachlan Morton as the team’s best shot at GC success in the grand tours. That should probably have been a red flag. Morton managed 90th in the Vuelta, in which Anton’s 35th was the best finish. In the Tour, Pauwels picked up 19th, whilst the Giro “leader” was Jacques Janse van Rensburg in 36th. Simply not good enough.
3. This is a results business. The team was worst in the WT by any statistical measure worth looking at, and the FSA-DS scores tell a story. Simply not good enough overall, and one that will be reflected in their chances with sponsors and future riders in coming years.
Comings and goings for 2018
Ins: Scott Davies (Team Wiggins), Nicholas Dlamini (Dimension Data Continental), Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Drapac), Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors), Tyler Farrar (retired).
Outs: Omar Fraile (Astana), Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin).
Renewals: Igor Anton,Steve Cummings, Jacques Janse van Rensburg, Jay Thomson, Jaco Venter, Johann van Zyl.
There’s a pleasing sense of purpose to this set of transactions. Meintjes gives the team a GT leader and some pretty safe World Tour points, whilst reinforcing the team’s African roots. Slagter, Vermote and Davies bring potential and versatility.
On the other hand, losing Fraile is a shame, and losing Haas potentially a very serious blow. I’m happy to say at this stage that I expect big things from the Aussie, who is well positioned for a career year that could easily include multiple podiums in the Ardennes. I’d say that we’re seeing improvement, but it is evolution not revolution.
I’ll take this space, too, to wish happy trails to Tyler Farrar. I’ve been mean about his lack of results in the last few years, but he’s a true gent, a talented rider, and he went out of his way to bring all of us at this site closer to the sport we love. Enjoy the next stage, Tyler.
Most intriguing rider
There are a few good answers to that question. My pick is Tom-Jelte Slagter, who seems to have become 28 overnight. I’d say it happened when I wasn’t looking, but I’ve been looking. I like him and I think he’s got more talent than he’s really shown, and in my head he’s still a young Dutch rider recently away from Rabo/Belkin/Lotto NL. He went to Garmin/Canondale/EF (ugh, cycling sponsors) back in 2014 and he’s been fine, without really developing.
He was enjoying a strong finish to his season as the mass exodus from Canondale was hitting hard, with his new squad benefiting from a 3rd and 6th on the Canadian swing, among other results. At Dimension Data, he’ll get access to more or less his choice of WT races, you’d think, and you’d think he has it in him to pick up some more solid results in the hilly classics, and possibly as an animator in world tour stages.
So, what happens next?
This is a squad that needs a lot of things to go their way for them to return to the middle of the pack. Cav needs to stay healthy and pick up wins in bunches. There’s no doubt he’s capable but it he’s 32 and even at his best isn’t guaranteed to dominate. Still, he’s likely to win some prestigious races, even if his recent claims that he’s targeting Roubaix sound somewhat fanciful. Boasson Hagen has rarely put consecutive strong seasons together but is a second valuable card if he can maintain his 2017 form. He’ll be one for the tougher sprints and maybe he’ll finally live up to his Classics potential this year.
Meintjes may be unlikely to pick up a Grand Tour podium but he’s finished in the top 10 three times, and brings credibility and visibility in the biggest races. There is stage-hunting potential galore with the likes of Kudus, Vermote, Slagter and the ageless Stephen Cummings. Eisel and Renshaw know exactly what’s needed to help Cav and will continue to do their thing.
There’s youth to develop and plenty of African riders, and we have to hope for some sense of a returning identity, as well as greater success for 2018. That’s possible, but if Cav doesn’t bounce back, 2018 will be another season with mediocrity as a pipe dream.