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Offseason Capsule: Mitchelton-Scott

Great Scott!

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A reminder: this was written and scheduled before Lombardia. So if Adam wins a monument, or the team folds, or aliens invade… I’m sorry I didn’t cover it.

I bet Orica wish they’d hung on for another year. Mitchelton’s first season with the Australia-based outfit was a resounding success, with a first grand tour victory in Spain the culmination of a well-executed plan.

What we said last year

Yeah, I’d rather not link to this. I wasn’t totally down on the Yates boys, and I said that we could hope for GT podiums between them and Chaves. Still, my expectation was that they’d stop their development a rung or two below the very best. That prediction has not aged well.

Otherwise (how was the play, Mrs Lincoln?), I was happy enough with this. I liked the infrastructure and the support, and I had doubts about Ewan and Chaves, correctly. I was a little too positive about the cobbles season.

What we got in 2018

A hot start with Daryl Impey impressing in the Southern Hemisphere summer, followed by a tepid spring. Little of note from the cobbles season and the Ardennes, more to the liking of these climbers, provided no more success. However, the fire came back under the team with the emergence of stage racing, and both Yateses won stages of their tune-ups in Paris-Nice and Catalunya (Simon) and Tirenno-Adriatico (Adam).

The fun, though, was just beginning. The Giro story has been told often enough, but Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates came out blazing, grabbing a 1-2 on the Etna stage, where Simon also took pink. He held it (despite Chaves’ fade) from stage 6 until stage 19. On stage 19 he cracked spectacularly, and finished 21st. However, he returned to form to win a stage in Poland, and then put in a supremely assured performance to pick up the Vuelta, winning stage 14 for luck.

Meanwhile, Matteo Trentin won the Euros, Impey and Adam each took a stage of the Dauphine before the latter flopped (by Yates standards) in the Tour, Michael Albasini won the Tour of the Fjords and, most importantly of all, the team took the honours in the Hammer Series races in Limburg and Stavanger.

When all is said and done, the team have racked up thirty-four wins, including a Grand Tour. So, while we can worry about Ewan or Chaves (and we will), this is a team with contributions from a wide range of riders. In the likes of Robert Power and Jack Haig they have promising young Australian talent, and in the Yates brothers they have team leaders who have the best years ahead of them. We got a very good year indeed.

FSA-DS Ranking 2018

5th – at time of writing, a hair behind BMC and a distance behind Bora. Still awfully good company for a team without the biggest budget.

Top Highlights

1. There are some wins that put you right at the top of the list of highlights. No, Michael, not the Tour of the Fjords. Simon Yates, Vuelta champion. I’ve written plenty about the impact he’s had on the sport, but let’s just look at the riding. For 90% of the Giro and 100% of the Vuelta he looked like the best rider in the Grand Tours. Climbs extremely well, aggressive, has a kick, seems to have improved his time trial… there’s just a lot to like, and the Vuelta win makes him the youngest grand tour winner we have.

2. It seems like a long time ago, but the World Tour season kicked off with Darryl Impey winning the Tour Down Under, edging out Richie Porte. He’d add 3rd in the Cadel Evans Stupid Name For A Bike Race That I Refuse to Look Up Again Because It Is Too Unmemorable For Words and wins in both South African Nats for a season that was already successful before most guys had got off the beach.

3. I really have a soft spot for Mikel Nieve. Seems like a beloved teammate everywhere he goes, a loyal helper and a very talented climber. He must have been through the wringer watching Yates’ Giro chances crater in stage 19. He responded by going out and winning solo on stage 20. A great moment for an unselfish rider and a positive moment for a team that needed it.

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Bottom Lowlights

1. I’ve got to mention it just once more, you know. Stage 19 into Bardonecchia. The jour sans to end all jours sans, in pink, just a couple of days from glory. Tough to watch, and you can only admire Yates’ ability to turn around and win in Spain just four months later.

2. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on with Caleb Ewan’s results. “Didn’t get enough big results, didn’t get big entries” vs “how can I win big races if you don’t put me on the startlist”. Whatver the cause, this is a messy divorce at the end of a year far less impressive than we’d all have expected. Around January of 2017, I thought he’d be at the top of the sprinter’s tree by now. His biggest win was a stage of the Tour of Britain. Or possibly Down Under.

3. Esteban Chaves, we ‘ardly knew ya. Looked like old times (well, 2016) for the first few stages of the Giro, but tumbled through the GC and was barely a domestique by the end of the race. A diagnosis of Mono / glandular fever made some sense and we didn’t see him on the road again. Definitely some bad luck in here, but after a poor 2017 neither he nor the team needed this. Let’s hope he’s back in 2019.

This wasn’t actually that long ago
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Comings and goings for 2019

Ins: Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-BikeExchange), Callum Scotson (Mitchelton-BikeExchange), Nick Schultz (Caja-Rural), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Edoardo Affini (SEG Racing Academy), Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)

Outs: Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Carlos Verona (Movistar), Roman Kreuziger (Dimension Data), Roger Kluge (Lotto-Soudal), Robert Power (Team Sunweb), Svein Tuft (Rally Cycling)

Renewals: Simon Yates, Adam Yates

As Tom Cruise says in Cocktail, everything ends badly, or else it wouldn’t end at all. Farewell to Caleb Ewan, who’s going to a team that ought to be able to offer him more consistent support in the biggest races. He takes his leadout man with him in Roger Kluge, whilst experience (Kreuziger, Verona, Tuft) also head out the door. Plenty of losses.

On the other hand, the names coming in aren’t chopped liver. In Stannard, Affini and Scotson they have wrapped up three of the most impressive young riders around, all of whom can be expected to develop and broaden their skills (three chrono guys who may, to varying degrees, turn into climbers) as part of a team that’s done a good job of supporting young riders. More immediately, Smith and Schultz are pulled back to an Antipodean squad from the European pro-Conti ranks where both have had good but unspectacular seasons. That’s good solid recruitment. Bookwalter comes from the ashes of BMC to help fill the gaps in road captaincy and veteran savvy.

The biggest names on that list, though, are in the renewals column. This was pretty simple; you keep the Yateses, you win. You lose them, you lose. Their offseason gets a passing grade on those two signatures alone.

Most intriguing rider

The time has come for me to acknowledge that I don’t understand the career of Matteo Trentin. You don’t get his palmares (seven grand tour stages, two Paris-Tours, 4th in a hilly worlds) without being a more than handy rider. He had a fantastic 2017 and then left a crowded house at Quick Step to head for the land of Crowded House and more opportunity at Mitchelton. It was a move that made sense, and I expected a big year from him. Not so much.

He did very little in Mitchelton colours, and looked to be off form coming out of Poland… whereupon he pulled on an Italian jersey on a foul day in Glasgow and won the European title pretty cosily.

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Clearly, Simon Yates’ emergence as a GC threat means Trentin won’t ride many Grand Tours with a sprint train, but in 2019 there’s no Ewan around to get in the way. You’d think he’d have his pick of GTs, as well as having free rein in the Classics. In my mind, he’s a rider with elusive confidence and form, but with undeniable talent as a hardman-sprinter. If he hits form at the right time, he could have a massive year. Equally, he could underwhelm again.

So, what happens next?

I wouldn’t have said this before 2018’s glories, but this team can put out competitive teams in every grand tour. Simon Yates is currently talking about returning to the Giro instead of tilting at the Tour, and we can expect him also to make a spirited defense of his Vuelta crown. If that happens, we can expect Adam to be pointed at the Tour once again. Whether or not you believe in the power of sibling rivalry, a step forward for Adam seems reasonable.

In support of the Bury boys, we have Nieve, Haig, Chaves, and a large number of talented youngsters and powerful rouleurs. What they can’t call on is a mountain train to match Sky, Astana or Movistar. We’ll see if that becomes a problem, but until it does, expect continued success from Simon and a bigger year from Adam (who’ll have his chances in the hilly classics as well as the Tour).

Esteban Chaves’ form will be watched and he could be extremely valuable if back to his best, Nieve will do his very good thing, and I hope management will be able to get something out of the underrated Tsgabu Grmay, too. Darryl Impey is likely to win some races and animate even more. The cobbles season looks like Trentin or bust, which is a shame, but there isn’t enough money in the bank to cover every race. There are also youngsters aplenty, with Haig, Stannard and Hamilton among those I’m looking forward to watching.