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Offseason Capsule: Bora-Hansgrohe

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Sagan and the sideshows? Or something more?

Towards Zero Race Melbourne Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Bora-Hansgrohe are in the lucky position of being guaranteed a decent number of wins every season. This is what comes with employing Peter Sagan to wear your colours, something at which he is ironically dreadful. Yes, Sagan was always going to provide a respectable season for the kings of the kitchen counter, but the more pertinent question for this team is what else can they achieve, and who can provide those achievements.

What we said last year

Andrew did the honours and backed the German outfit to support Sagan to a decent classics season plus his yearly green jersey. Also expected were a notable improvement in their stage racing performance plus the continuation of their young stars’ development.

What we got in 2018

It’s the sensible thing to start with Sagan. He started well, opening his account only days into the season on stage four of the Tour Down Under, but his next wins came when it really counts: in Flanders, as he took another Gent-Wevelgem, and in the Roubaix velodrome. Sagan’s Roubaix win brings him his second Monument, and an affirmation that yes, surprisingly the world’s best classics racer can win the world’s best classic. I’ll admit that I took notice of the fact that he had often found himself out of the shakedown in the Hell of the North but that was proven to be nothing more than bad luck as he made the race his own by attacking an unfathomable distance out, the result a foregone conclusion with kilometres remaining as the Fastvakian had only a rapidly tiring Dillier to outsprint. He now has both cobbled Monuments to his name and repeats seem inevitable. A tilt at Amstel Gold and some minor stage wins, plus picking up his national title led to July and the next big target, where three stage wins plus the obvious green jersey were his reward. He wouldn't win again all season but his work was done, with any defence of his rainbow jersey doomed.

Sagan Dillier Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The size of Sagan’s paragraph is a sign that if you want the limelight when riding for Bora, you’d better do something special but with Sagan taking only eight of the squad’s thirty-three wins this year, there was a chance for more than just him to shine. Sam Bennett was beyond a doubt their pleasant surprise of the season and there’s no better time than now to react to a season where he delivered on his promise to a very impressive extent. I’ll be the first to admit that I was shocked. Despite my relentless Irish-centric optimism, I was never convinced about Bennett. Even at the start of the Giro this year, I had a suspicion that the top-three finishes of the 2017 Corsa Rosa were as good as it got for him. I’m delighted to say I was wrong, as he displayed a better sense of positioning in the final kilometre than I ever thought possible, leaving him in the right place to deploy his speed and beat, among others, the ever more impressive Elia Viviani, Andrew’s 2018 sprint king. The Giro was of course his highlight, but further wins followed in Germany and Turkey, the flats of which the Carrick man dominated.

Most of the side’s other wins came from a source that was, to all but the most perceptive, somewhat out of left-field as Pascal Ackermann came into his own with nine sprint wins in stage and one-day races alike, with his own national championships, the RideLondon Classic and a stage of the Dauphiné particular highlights. He won’t be a two-pointer any time soon. Other notables included Emanuel Buchmann who got high placings throughout the season as he continued to strive to transform potential to stardom. His contemporary Davide Formolo (they’re twenty-six, where did the time go guys?) did much the same, netting a top ten in the Giro, which I find sounds a lot better than it is. Nicolas Roche was fifth in the Vuelta. And even I’ve seen past his disguise to realise that that guy is Nicolas Roche. Anyway, both of those guys had decent years — Formolo won me the Eds’ League.

I won’t focus on the disappointments but Rafał Majka was one of them, suffering a winless year and failing to impose himself on any stage race of real consequence (suck it, California). Andrew namechecked Peter Kennaugh as the side’s most intriguing rider last year and he failed to provide any as he struggles to deliver on the watts he put out in Sky’s mountain train. And...then there’s Leopold König. Injury is cruel.

FSA-DS Ranking 2018

3rd - which surprised me when I checked it. And Sagan only had a quarter of their points. They’re much closer to Sky in second than Michelton in fourth.

Top Highlights

  1. Sagan’s Roubaix win has been spoken about above, but it of course comes out on top. If it were possible for him to have a hole in his palmarés, that was it and it has been well and thoroughly dealt with. He’s Saganing his way through the classics calendar, seemingly unstoppably.
  2. Again, the team’s Giro has already featured prominently but three Grand Tour stage wins doubles their yearly haul, with the other contributor being, of course, Sagan. Patrick Konrad’s seventh place made the Italian race into even more of a success.
  3. Speaking of whom, I really don’t want to downplay the other twenty-six guys in black-and-green but this is Sagan’s team, so getting him to renew his contract through 2021 is a huge victory for Bora.

Bottom Lowlights are Back, Baby!

  1. In the world of property, it’s all about location location location. In cycling however, it’s general classification, general classification, general classification and Bora struggled here, Konrad excluded. Even he was thirteen minutes down in the Giro, and unconvincing as far as future Grand Tour contenders go. Even in one-week stage races, they generally weren’t very near the business end.
  2. When a rider wins a Monument, calling the races they didn’t win a lowlight sounds a little bit of a stretch. That’s because it is, this was a really good year but Sagan’s pair of sixth places in MSR and Flanders will sting at least a little — he no doubt had the legs to win either or both of those races had circumstances not thrown the brave attacks from Nibali and Terpstra in his path. MSR especially has continued to get away from the Slovakian and it should be top of his wish list.
  3. On stage thirteen of the 2014 Tour Rafał Majka and Leopold König attacked together on Chamrousse and damn near stayed away to fight out the stage. Both of them, König especially will have been pining for the ability to do something similar this year as Majka had his worst year since 2012, when you’d never heard of him. König however remained depressingly stable, on zero VDS points and zero signs of improvement.

Comings and goings for 2019

Ins: Maximilian Schachmann (Quick-Step Floors), Oscar Gatto (Astana), Jempy Drucker (BMC)

Outs: Michael Kolář (retired), Aleksejs Saramotins (Interpro Stradalli), Matteo Pelucchi (Androni-Sidermec)

Renewals: Peter Sagan, Patrick Konrad, Lukas Pöstlberger, Rafal Majka, Pawel Poljanski, Jay McCarthy, Juraj Sagan, Felix Grossschartner, Erik Baska, Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt, Christoph Pfingsten and Gregor Mühlberger

Not much to see here. Schachmann is the biggest news and he’ll be a good addition without becoming their biggest star. Speaking of whom, the renewals is the most important section. They’ve retained the majority of their talent for a couple of years to come. Is market-savviness a thing that cycling teams have? If it is, Bora come top of the pile.

Most intriguing rider

There’s a few options, Buchmann and Bennett among them, but I’m going to pin this one on Majka. He’s a multiple-time Tour de France stage-and-KOM winner, and ever since 2013 he’s been knocking around the top end of one Grand Tour or other. He remains Bora’s top GC threat and 2019 will have to be the season in which his fortunes turn around if he wants things to stay that way. He’s going to the Giro next year, which can be viewed either as a demotion or the freedom to tackle a race that better fits his true status as a second-tier GC contender, which is not a dig by any means. Majka is twenty-nine, not past his peak by any measure and in fact should be in prime condition to tackle the Giro should he find the form. His form, of course, is the real issue. He’s lacked the stuff for quite some time but in 2014 he managed to be a major player in, admittedly, a less talented Giro field than he will face this time.

Jose Jordan/Getty Images

To be honest, I must say I’m pessimistic. The Giro has gotten more competitive since Majka was last a GC contender and Majka will need a huge step-up to face Dumoulin et al. I hope he can do it but so far he’s another advertisement for Andrew’s theory of climbing skills being at their best at a young age.

So, what happens next?

Sagan goes on being Sagan. He’ll be bookies’ favourite to win MSR, Roubaix and Flanders and statistically will probably pick up at least one of them. As I’ve said, MSR should be his main target to take the trifecta of Monument classics suited to his skillset but another Flanders win seems likely and would not go unappreciated. Obviously a Tour green jersey and a couple of stage wins will follow but a prime target should be Yorkshire worlds, where rainbow number four should be very much on the table. But there’s not a whole lot of point in talking about Sagan, he’s as consistent in brilliance as he is in bad haircuts.

More interesting is the extent to he’ll overshadow the rest of the side. Ackermann will no longer be a surprise to anyone and his greatest fear should be the dreaded second-season syndrome. He’ll have bigger targets and a different sort of target on his back which is a cocktail that has not gone down very well on numerous occasions in the past. Hoping to avoid the same problem will be Schachmann so it’ll be interesting to see how they get on. They’re both German, both had breakout seasons and are only eight days apart in age so it’s easy to compare them and how they deal with the added pressure brought by success. I am hopeful but they’ll continue on an upward streak but I know how hard that is to do.

Buchmann and Formolo is the next duo — big prospects who aren’t classified as young riders anymore. Formolo will hit the Giro with Majka while Buchmann will lead what is likely to be a paltry GC setup at the Tour. This year is make-or-break for both of them as real GC prospects, though the Ardennes could be an option for the Italian especially. Again, I’m not confident. Top tens in the Giro and Vuelta? Absolutely. But top tens in the Giro and Vuelta aren’t going to cut it. Konrad can be put in this bracket as well and I’m intrigued to see how he gets on.

Tour of Oman - Stage Two Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Bennett will try to follow his 2018 season, but three Giro wins is a high bar and even a good season for him might find him failing to match that. Are you noticing a theme? If this were a buy/sell/hold piece, I’m saying sell. But I’m qualifying that. This is a really good team with really good riders but third out of all the teams in the World Tour is a high benchmark and a lot of their riders had banner seasons that they’ll struggle to back up, plus they don’t have too many other guys who can break out. Mühlberger is their best option for that sort of thing.

To sum up, Bora have a lot to do to equal their 2018 season and though they’ll be one of the better teams in 2019, it will be difficult to achieve as good a year as they’ve just had.