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Offseason Capsule: Team Sunweb

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Strap in for some serious praise!

NurPhoto via Getty Images

I’ve written a few of these things recently, and often the hardest part is filling the “top three highlights” section. That will not be a problem after a barnstorming year for the boys in the zebra tops.

What we said last year

Hey, this was me! My first offseason capsule and my predictions were… pretty bad. I saw Matthews having a big spring and didn’t mention him for the rest of the year, which was wrong in both parts. As far as Grand Tours were concerned, I badly underestimated Doom’s chances in the Giro. I saw more coming from Oomen than we saw (at least in terms of results). Still, it was an upbeat piece in general, and I’m glad we covered them.

What we got in 2017

We got a whole bunch of glory.

Oh, you want details? Well, Niklas Arndt got the winning started early, picking up the Cadel-stupidly-long-name-for-a-bike-race race. That was an unusually low-profile win, as the team crow-barred some serious prestige into their 19 victories for the season. It was a slowish start, and cobbles were not the strongest suit for this squad. Matthew’s 8th in Gent-Wevelgem was probably the highlight of the cobbled season, and they’ll look to improve on that next year.

The Ardennes brought stronger squads and greater success. Matthews picked up 4th in Liege on the back of 10th in Amstel and a stage win in the Basque Country. However, there was still no sign of the deluge of wins that were to come. That really kicked of in May. Tom Dumoulin had looked in fair form through the spring, with a fifth in Milan-San Remo and matching that result in Tirenno-Adriatico, but he was an afterthought to Quintana as we prepared for the Giro.

Once things got serious in Italy, however, a slimmed-down Dumoulin proved surprisingly hard to shift on the mountains and was in touching distance of Quintana ahead of the first time trial, which he dominated to take pink. He’d hold the leader’s jersey until stages 19 and 20, when a “bathroom incident” and plenty of steep hills cumulatively knocked him off the top spot. However, he needed to make up just 53 seconds on a fast 30km time trial into Milan, which he did with some ease to take the win. This was the Dutchman’s first GC podium and a massive breakthrough. Adding climbing ability to a world-class time-trialling engine means he’ll be a force in the biggest races for years to come. It was also by far the most prestigious win of his young team’s existence.

Far from a season with a single peak, Doom won the Dutch TT and came 4th in San Sebastian before winning the BinckBank tour (Eneco, as was) and headed to Bergen with high hopes. The hill in the ITT was to his liking and he won his first rainbows comfortably. Of more surprise was that he and his mates picked up the team time trial as well, making it a glorious week for Dumoulin, Dutch cycling and Team Sunweb.

Doom wasn’t the only one enjoying a great season. Warren Barguil headed to the Tour with free rein, and rewarded management’s faith with two stage wins, a mountains jersey and the most combative award, as well as a top 10 overall. Matthews took advantage of multiple sprinters falling from the race to grab himself a couple of stage wins and the green jersey. By the final week, it felt like every stage had a Team Sunweb storyline.

Green, pink, stripey and dotty. 2018 was a year of collecting jerseys.
Getty Images

After all that, the Vuelta could only be a disappointment, and it certainly didn’t reach the giddy heights of the Giro or Tour. Still, Welderman led the team and was attempting to bounce back from a Giro in which he crashed into a stationary moto, causing a pile-up that led to multiple riders losing their chances. He rode well if not spectacularly, finishing fourth overall and with a pile of podiums in stages, though a win remained elusive. It was the best GT finish of the Dutchman’s career, and it is easy to forget he’s only 26, as he seems to have been around forever.

FSA-DS Ranking 2017

4th – Pretty impressive stuff. They were also the only team to have two 2,000 point scorers, stats fans.

Top Highlights

1. That’ll be Dumoulin wining the Giro. Huge for the rider and huge for the team.

2. Building on the momentum of the Giro to win two overall jerseys and four stages at the Tour demonstrated the depth of the GT squad at Sunweb. There must have been some party on the Champs-Elysees that night.

3. After the Tour and the Giro, the Worlds could easy have been a let-down. Nope. Team and individual time trial champions saw them swapping vertical stripes for horizontal. Less slimming, but hugely satisfying.

Impressive stuff, for what appears to be a team mostly comprised of children
Corbis via Getty Images

Bottom Lowlights

1. I described their cobbles squad as “a bunch of maybes but no definites” and those possibles didn’t come through for them. It was a weak start to the season, and whilst they wouldn’t have expected glory they must have hoped for more.

2. We’ll come onto this, but Warren Barguil’s departure was handled in a manner that left a bad taste in the mouth and suggested that not all was rosy inside the team environs.

3. I’m definitely nit-picking and possibly being harsh, but I expected more from Sam Oomen. Let’s hope this was a beneficial development season, because the results weren’t amazing.

Comings and goings for 2018

Ins: Jai Hindley (Mitchelton-Scott), Michael Storer (Mitchelton-Scott), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Martijn Tusveld (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Soudal).

Outs: Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Bert De Backer (Vital Concept), George Preidler (FDJ), Ramon Sinkeldam (FDJ), Sindre Skjøstad Lunke (Fortuneo-Oscaro), Ziko Waeytens (Verandas Willems-Crelan).

Renewals: Søren Kragh Andersen, Nikias Arndt, Tom Dumoulin, Chad Haga, Sam Oomen, Laurens Ten Dam, Max Walscheid.

Which jersey have I had enough of? This one here.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

It is ins and outs that make the headlines, but that list of renewals is great news for Sunweb, who are a young and successful team, who wouldn’t want to lose that crowd of talented riders. Dumoulin is, of course, the most significant of all.

Some good riders are leaving, and Warren Barguil is particularly talented. I don’t often direct people to Cycling News, but their transfer mechanics series was good, and they covered Barguil well. My summary would be that they’ll miss him as a rider, but he wanted to be a bigger part of the squad than he was able to be. Once he refused to follow team orders I lost a great deal of respect for him. He’ll have lots of chances at Fortuneo. Sinkeldam is a decent engine and cobbled rider who Demare will enjoy at FDJ but who will be missed by Matthews in particular at Sunweb.

On the other hand, the rich get richer with young riders. Edward Theuns is a hardman sprinter who will become the best cobbled hope in the squad on day one, and who is only 26. He’s a potentially significant hire. There’s help across the board from young but experienced riders in Vervaeke and Tusveld, whilst Hindley and Storer are very talented and very young. Expect development rather than glory in 2018, but keep an eye on them. They’re also both Aussies, and their signing with a team who isn’t Orica/Michelton is another blow to a rival WT squad who are struggling to secure “home” talent.

Most intriguing rider

This has to be Sam Oomen. I have said above that his results weren’t all I’d expected them to be, but that speaks in part to my expectations. He came into 2017 as a 21 year-old who’d won the Tour de l’Ain as a neo-pro and, in 2015, finished fourth in a decent Avenir (behind Soler, Haig and Mamykin) despite being two years younger than the podium trio. 2017 wasn’t a bad year, with top tens in California and Poland, 11th in Lombardia and a part in the TTT win at the Worlds.

He’s clearly a very talented rider. Either I need to rein in my expectations and remember he’s only 22, or he needs to kick on next year. I think he should. The time is right to see him head for his first grand tour, and he should also be looking to make a mark in a WT stage race or a hilly classic. He’s a punchy climber and a rider who could go a very long way in this sport. I’m fascinated to see how far 2018 will take him.

Lead it again, Sam.
Corbis via Getty Images

So, what happens next?

This squad will be aiming to be competitive across a wide range of races with lots of riders, but we have to start with Dumoulin. He took a huge step forward last year and goes into 2018 as among the most feared riders in the grand tours. That was true even before the news of Froome’s positive test. It isn’t clear whether he’ll go for the Tour or Giro, but this was covered masterfully by m’colleague Conor. It remains to be seen what impact l’affaire Froome will have on all of this, but I still think he’ll line up for the Tour. In either race, he will be among the favourites. The hills of Innsbruck give him an excellent chance of backing up his TT world crown, too.

Matthews’ plans will presumably depend on Dumoulin’s, as I can’t see them both aiming for France. He will be competitive in the Ardennes and Milan San-Remo, as well as in the tougher sprints at whichever Grand Tour he takes on. He may struggle to match his results from 2017 but has demonstrated his abilities in a first year away from the Orica crowds and needs to match that level of performance.

The rest of the squad will fill in around these two. Kelderman has the potential to pick up another top-5 in a grand tour and can probably combine personal ambitions with providing some help to Doom. Theuns will enjoy a chance to lead a classics squad and has top-5 potential in the biggest races.

Elsewhere, there’s youth and development galore. Walscheid and Bauhaus impressed last year and can win races in 2018, and I have the feeling we haven’t seen Niklas Arndt’s best year yet. That gives them three more fastmen who can get over the hills and the rough stuff. I wouldn’t blame you if you threw Soren Kragh Anderson in and made it a quartet, with Arndt closest to his pension at 26. I’ve talked about Oomen, and about the Aussie duo, and all three will be worth watching. So will Lennard Hofstede. Mike Teunissen is a talented rider who’ll keep improving on cobbles.

Look, you get the idea. This is a very young, very talented world tour team, that has been carefully constructed with an eye to the future as well as the present. 2017 came earlier than anyone expected but success was always on the cards. Going into 2018, the present is Dumoulin (27 years old), Matthews (27) and Kelderman (26), with plenty of help. The future is brighter still.