Picture me, dear reader, minding my own business on a Tuesday evening, when m’colleague Conor tweeted me this story. I responded calmly and professionally, as you’d expect.
Genuinely don't know whether I'm thrilled or saddened. This is HUGE— Andrew (@EdredonBrowny) July 11, 2017
I can’t pretend that the shock passed quickly, but I rallied, and I was just beginning to think about how I might turn this into a story, when m’colleague tweeted me again, with this story. Again, I responded calmly and professionally.
But... I can't... does this... I mean...— Andrew (@EdredonBrowny) July 11, 2017
Send help, please. I might be broken.
If you’re skilled at reading between the lines, you might see that this news left me somewhat confused. The thing is… I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. I can’t be happy or sad, because I don’t know whether this is good or not.
There’s more to come on Podium Café on transfers more generally, and will provide far more valuable coverage once the facts are known. At that point, we’ll try and be objective and rational. For now, I just want to talk about this particular rider, this particular set of rumours, and why it is that I’m confused.
Why do I care?
Before I started writing here, I wrote a piece about Sénéchal. I’ve bet on him, put him on both my ed’s league and my standard VDS team. Basically, any time I was asked to give an opinion on Classics riders (and on several occasions when nobody was asking) my message was the same: buy.
This is, I think, a common condition for the dwellers here in the café. We glom onto cyclists early in their careers, for whatever reason, and then follow them passionately. It is the nature of fandom, and in cycling in particular the idea of following a team has never really caught on. Jerry Seinfeld refers to team loyalty as “rooting for laundry” and when teams are fluid and (mostly) a-geographical, it is particularly difficult. Still, we have our favourites. He’s one of mine. I don’t have a good explanation except I feel he’s a really good rider and I like the sense of “investment” that I get from that feeling.
Obviously, him moving on is enormous news in his career. The two teams who are alleged to be involved are both WT teams with bigger budgets, better team-mates, better support and a better track record than Cofidis. Both are also Belgian, and we’re talking here about a Classics rider, make no mistake. By extension – and yes, I do know this is ridiculous – this feels like big news for me. A promotion of sorts for “my guy” validates the confidence I’ve had in him, and means I (might) get to see more of him on the biggest stages.
What am I worried about?
Of course, I might not see too much of him. One final comment from Conor:
It's alright. Doesn't matter who he works on the front for, Benoot or Stybar.— Conor (@LaVelocipede) July 11, 2017
As you’d expect by now, my response was entirely professional and totally calm. Fortunately for all of us, I didn’t tweet it.
The problem is, though, I think he might be right. As good as Florian (I feel like I can call him Florian, we’re bros) has been, he isn’t yet in the top few names you think of for the big Classics races, and arguably still hasn’t had a bigger win than the Paris-Roubaix Juniors back in 2011. Unquestionably he’ll be a valuable assistant, but there’s a question as to whether you can prove yourself fully whilst riding in the service of others. Support rider in the Classics is a more visible, independent role than “wheel four in the Sky train” but it is still a support rider position. There are plenty of strong, talented riders who have never risen above worker status as these teams, and that’s not what I want to see happen.
What’s the upside?
C’mon, now. Do I have to spell it out? At either team, there’s an opportunity, particularly in Paris-Roubaix. You might have heard that Tom Boonen’s retired. With Terprsta and Stybar aging, there are some possible replacements as Quick-Step leaders, but none of them are slam dunk picks. Over at Lotto-Soudal, Tjesj Benoot has proved exceptional but is still yet to win a race, and is looking more climber and less flat-cobbled star.
There’s a world in the multiverse in which Senechal learns from the stars at one or other squad, benefits from the training, the improved living conditions (and income), the chance to recce the courses more frequently, having a car nearer the group, and all the other advantages, and continues to develop into a superstar, soon leading his team at Roubaix and working as a valued second option at Flanders. You guys hadn’t forgotten he’s 24, right?
Where are we?
Well, I’m waiting to see which “scoop” is right, and which is fake news. I think I’d rather see him at Lotto-Soudal, as it feels like he’d be given more opportunity there. However, it is important to realise that I know next to nothing about the rider experience at either squad, or the promises that have been made to him.
I think we’re also looking at a couple of years of consolidation. Hopefully he uses that time to get tactical nous, get stronger, and learn the courses. By that stage he’ll be 26, and I continue to believe he’ll be a team leader for Paris-Roubaix. For Flanders? Maybe not, but he’ll be in the squad and helping. He’s also the sort of wind-eating rouleur who Greipel/Kittel/Gavirai/whomever will be very happy to see chasing down breaks and delivering the leadout men in sprint stages through his home Tour.
Ultimately, the key variable is simple, but unknown. If he’s one of the best three or four guys in the world at what he does in the next 5 years, and he’s leading at a top Belgian squad, this move will make his career better. If he isn’t, it probably won’t.