2017 saw tumult off the bike, as Vaughters’ project prepares for another new sponsor in 2018. The boys who will be EF Education First – Drapac did enjoy a pretty decent year on the bikes, but the outlook isn’t great for 2018 and beyond.
What we said last year
The boss covered the squad in 2016. A couple of years previously, Douglas provided a masterful summary of the evolution of Vaughters’ project through to the merger of Garmin-Slipstream with Canondale. That’s still worth a read.
Chris’ piece was a blend of enthusiasm (Carthy, Bettiol, cobbles) and realism (small budget, underdog mentality, consistency, Vanmarcke) that wasn’t far wide of the mark. The trouble with predicting this squad is that Vaughters likes to throw a lot of darts. You can be pretty confident that some will hit the target and others won’t. Working out which ones are which is much harder.
What we got in 2017
Off the bike, we had a sponsorship crisis that led to a mass exodus (more of which later) and a crowdsourcing campaign before the eventual agreement with Education First, leading to the 2018 reincarnation as EF Education First – Drapac. I’m writing this before the new team colours are announced, so please do use the comments to provide snark if/when it is awful.
More importantly, racing. As Chris said, this is a squad that have always valued the cobbles, and Sep started things well, animating Omloop and pulling clear, only to be joined by superior sprinters Sagan and van Avermaet, who predictably ate his lunch, leaving him third. His injury weakened him for the heart of cobbles season, but Langeveld picked up third in Paris-Roubaix, after van Baarle turned heads with top-10s in Dwards, E3 and Flanders.
Later in the year, it was a story of Uran resurgent, with a stage win and second overall in the Tour. He was criticised for a lack of animation but was one of very few riders who could climb with Froome, and his incredibly narrow victory over Barguil was a thrilling moment. He added a win in Milan-Torino, third in Emilia, and a top-10 in Tirenno-Adriatico to produce his best season since 2014.
Elsewhere, Michael Woods emerged as a late-blossoming talent, the lanky Canadian was in the top ten at the Vuelta and Liege. Pierre Rolland was a frequent animator in the Giro and was rewarded with a stage win, something he hadn’t managed at a GT since the 2012 Tour. There were a few other wins, but nothing to write home about. Andrew Talansky flashed his best in California but disappointed in France and retired to focus on triathlon and a life (in part) away from elite sport. Bettiol never quite delivered on the promise he’d showed and didn’t repay Chris’ faith, whilst Slagter was looking better towards the end of the year but his sole win was an irrelevant stage in Austria.
FSA-DS Ranking 2017
12th – A few guys chipped in with points, and 15 hit three figures. However, only Uran scored heavily enough to make a serious impact, leaving this squad in the bottom half, and around 1000 points south of the mean WT squad score. Solid enough, I guess.
1. Rigoberto Uran carried few expectations moving into the year’s biggest race, and he promptly delivered one of his best ever GT performances. For those of us who thought those days were gone forever, it was a lovely thing to see. History will show that he finished within a minute of Froome, though that says more about the parcours and Froome’s approach to the race than about Uran’s chances. Still, a podium was a massive result and his win in Chambery the icing on the cake.
2. A cobbles team with a keen sense of history, Paris-Roubaix is a race that is important to these boys, and with Sep missing the start they must have thought their chances were gone. Sebastian Lageveld produced his best ride in a Canondale jersey to stick in a very tough lead group all the way to the velodrome, where he beat Moscon and Stuyven to claim third. It was his best result since winning the 2011 Omloop and a reminder of the talent that this team always bring in spring.
3. Dylan van Baarle’s spring was also stellar. There must be a small part of him that is frustrated to lose out on a podium place in a monument to Nicki Terpstra, but to be in the elite group at Flanders as a 24 year old is a rare and wonderful thing. He will have got management extremely excited, right up until…
1. … he left, just one of many big name riders to leave. The transfer section is coming, but there’s no doubt that the worst part of 2017 for this squad was the mass exodus.
2. Sep Vanmarcke hit the deck on the Paterberg, ruling him out of contention in Flanders and eventually, thanks to a broken finger and serious road rash, taking him from the Roubaix startlist. It was another year of what might have been for a man who is now in his peak and still hasn’t won a classic since 2012’s Omloop. I know that I saw this coming last preseason, but I would have loved to be wrong.
3. Thank goodness for the Tour of Alberta, because 3 of the team’s 14 season victories came there. Two were in Irish national championships (chapeau, Mr Mullen), one in Coppi e Bartali, one in Colorado and two in Route du Sud. What I’m saying is, the underdog card, podiums, and promise can only take you so far. This is a World Tour team that have picked up four wins that I consider vaguely prestigious (Milan-Torino, stages in the Tour, the Giro and California). Must do better.
Comings and goings for 2018
Ins: Logan Owen (Axeon Hagens Berman), Dan McLay (Fortneo-Oscaro), Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates), Matti Breschel (Astana), Mitchell Docker (Orica-Scott).
Outs: Albert Bettiol (BMC Racing), Patrick Bevin (BMC Racing) Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), Kristijan Koren (Bahrain-Merida), Ryan Mullen (Trek-Segafredo), Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Dylan Van Baarle (Team Sky), Woter Wippert (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Davide Villella (Astana), Andrew Talansky (retired).
Renewals: Simon Clarke, Rigoberto Uran, Michael Woods.
I mean… yikes. August was, to say the very least, a bad month to have serious doubts over the squad’s inability to continue. If you read Michael Woods’ blog, it is clear that even those who are sticking around were pretty nervous. Still, let’s start with the good news. The team held onto Uran and Woods, two big names who were up for new contracts. If they’d been lost, things would be truly dire. Logan Owen is a promising young American rider of the sort Vaughters works well with. He’ll need to start picking up results outside of Bountiful, Utah, but he can. Modolo had a poor year in 2017, to say the least, but he’s only 30 and there’s no reason he can’t pick up some points. He’s also, unexpectedly, proved he can handle cobbles.
On the other hand… well, look at the departures list. In VDS teams, every rider who was 4th-9th on the team scoring list is leaving, and so are the 13th-16th. Dylan van Baarle is perhaps the biggest loss, taking cobbles-winning ability to Team Sky after his big year in 2017. Formolo is a totally different kind of rider, and didn’t have a great 2017, but he’s a massive loss, too. There aren’t many better (or more experienced) climbers knocking about who are youth-jersey eligible in 2018. I could keep going, as most of the guys on the list above have the potential to make some serious noise in their new homes (I’m particularly sweet on Ryan Mullen, whilst Bettiol and Slagter will be tough to replace). Winning a new sponsor saved the team and is great news, but the delay came at a savage cost. Also, as detailed elsewhere, Neilson Powless would have been an intriguing addition, but he’ll be at Lotto-NL Jumbo.
You’ll notice I haven’t talked about Dan McLay. I noticed that, too.
Most intriguing rider
I think it is Hugh Carthy, simply because, unlike the bigger names on this squad, I don’t know where his ceiling is.
2017 wasn’t a great year for the young Brit (he’ll turn 24 on stage 3 of the Tour. As he’s an EF rider, not being in a TTT might be a nice gift) but the list of riders who excel in their second year in the WT is long and storied. He also might benefit from the removal of some of the bigger names ahead of him. I admit to rooting for Brits who come up away from the British Cycling/Team Sky route and moving to Caja Rural was excellent, so there’s some bias here. Still, we know he can climb. That’s worth a huge amount. In 2018, we’ll discover if he was a prodigy of climbers who won’t get much better than he was at 22, or if he’s destined for the top. My guess is closer to the latter than the former.
So, what happens next?
Don’t look round! Be subtle, be cool. Now, sneak a quick peek… this isn’t a bad cobbles squad, amirite? No van Baarle, which is a serious gap. On the other hand, Sep will be back, and although I remain doubtful about his ability to win, he proved at Omloop that he’s one of a very few who can ride with GVA and Sagz. Langeveld rode nicely last year and needs to continue in the same vein, whether as a team leader or strong helper. Phinney is another year on from his injury woes (his 2017 Tour was the first GT he’s finished since 2012, and wasn’t it great to see?) and is a big engine. Throw in Docker and Breschel (stop sniggering at the back) as well as Modolo, and there’s something here to work with in most races in March and April.
For those of you who are still paying attention to cycling in the period after Roubaix, things aren’t looking so hot. There’s a reason that this capsule has spent longer on comings and (especially) goings than I have previously. The GT squads will be awfully reliant on Woods and Uran, who can’t expect a lot of quality support. There are bits and pieces (Carthy, Rolland, Dombrowski) but this isn’t a vintage Vaughters squad. I think we’ll see a few wins, and I think we’ll see some improvement from the younger riders. What we need to see, however, is stability, and that means that this 2018 team need to impress the sponsors and get the results to allow the team-building to recommence.