Managing a pro continental team must be tough. No sooner you develop a young, promising rider does he get scooped up by a World Tour team, while the guest list to the super-exclusive World Tour events gets shorter and shorter each year (and likely more expensive as well). Meanwhile, your entire operating budget is less than the salary of many WT riders, leaving you with a selection of geriatric sprinters and burnt out riders to form your team around. Worst of all, PdC all but ignores shining the spotlight on you in their off-season capsules.
If the UCI reforms for 2020 go through, times will get even tougher for the pro-conti’s. For the grand tours, the 4 open spaces for invites from the organizers will be reduced to the 2 best Pro Teams (the other inexplicable change is Pro-Continental Team being changed to Pro Team) having the right to participate and only 2 invites going out. The 3 best Pro Teams will have the right to participate in the one day race Classic Series and other World Tour events. In other words, the likes of Cofidis and Wanty are likely going to be fine while the less well-funded pro-conti’s are going to have to find a new strategy other than the ol’ “hey, we’re Italian, your race is Italian, c’mon!” strategy of yore.
The tragic tale of Aqua Blue Sport folding last year may presage what’s to come for the pro-conti ranks. (Or alternatively, it might just be a tale of bad management as I still thought their sponsor was an off-brand cologne that could be purchased at Kmart rather than an online bike store up until the team collapsed).
At any rate, let’s correct at least one of the woes of being a pro-conti team and take a look at each and every one of the 25 pro-conti teams and see what they are doing in a bid for relevancy in 2019.
25. Team Novo Nordisk
I have nothing against athletes with diabetes, but making a team where a prerequisite for inclusion is having the disease is self-limiting for success of the team-- the pool of potential riders is just so much smaller. Furthermore, any highly successful cyclist with diabetes is also highly unlikely to join Novo Nordisk. However, the success of this team is not defined by wins but by promotion of a cause. Sure, the “changing diabetes” cause is on its face a good one, but let’s not forget that this team is a PR move by a multi-billion dollar a year, multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer whose main product is insulin. The cycling team mascot is probably a slightly better look for the company than Wilfred Brimley propped up on a bike.
24. W52/FC Porto
Deciding that 2019 is a good year for a continental team to move up to pro-conti status is like buying Bitcoin when it was at $16,000 a share. You’d have to think that this move by W52/FC Porto is not so aimed at taking on the other PCT teams, but rather in ensuring that they have the pick of the best Portuguese talent among the pool of other Portuguese continental teams. Thus, look for future domination of the Volta a Portugal.
23. Manzana Postobon
The move up in ranks for Manzana Postobon is a little more explicable. Columbia is having another moment in cycling, with the latest development being the bidding war for Ivan Ramiro Sosa. You have to believe that Gianni Savio got paid nicely for Sosa so it’s hard to fault a Columbian continental team from wanting to get in on the action and provide a homegrown stepping stone to the big leagues. They’ve got some young talent to try to nurture along with a World Tour veteran in Jhonatan Restrepo.
22. Rally Cycling
They stepped up in rank last season and found some limited success at the expense of the usual success on the continental circuit. Robin Carpenter took the mountains jersey at the Deutschland Tour while Colin Joyce won a stage of the Arctic Race of Norway and Adam De Vos won a stage at the Tour de Langkawi. Most promising for the team, however, was the development of the next great American hope, Brandon McNulty, who at 20 years of age, came in 7th in GC in the Tour of California while finishing outside the top 10 but with the first group in Quebec and Montreal. If his progression continues, Rally will soon be losing him to the World Tour ranks.
The jump up in rank did not go as smoothly for Burgos last year, who found themselves at the bottom of the pro-conti rankings (only ahead of Novo Nordisk and the-returned-to-continental-status Holowesko) as well as facing a suspension at the beginning of 2019 for three doping violations. (And a brutal punishment it was-- 21 days from January 16th to February 5th - I’m sure they’ll think twice about doping again). Besides the whole strategy of looking-the-other-way to doping, their rider acquisition strategy has not been too bad but has not resulted in success yet. In 2018, they picked several prior up and coming riders who had wilted a little at the WT level-- Silvio Herklotz and Matvey Mamykin. While they did not have good luck with those riders last year, this year they’ve brought in Nuno Bico, who previously rode as a neo-pro for Movistar, the winner of a stage of Tour de l’Avenir last year in Matthew Gibson, and wily veteran Angel Madrazo.
Ostensibly a feeder team for Katusha-Alpecin and part of the Russian Global Cycling Project-- there’s been a famine lately. Katusha’s Russian signing this year was Dmitry Strakhov, from the Lokosphinx continental team and the last big signing from Rusvelo to Katusha was Zakarin back in 2015. Part of that famine might be a result of Katusha being scared of what it might be fed (which would explain while Alexander Foliforov was never elevated to the WT after his Giro mountain time trial victory). This year, however, at Gazprom there’s been a bit of a changing of the guard with a young and promising team, including Aleksandr Vlasov, winner of the baby Giro and 4th at the Tour de l’Avenir. Then again, maybe not, as Gazprom has apparently hired Dennis Menchov as a DS.
19. Euskadi - Murias
Eduard Prades turned his successful season last year for Euskadi into a contract with Movistar. Surprise Giro stage winner Oscar Rodriguez still has a contract through 2019, however, and there are a number of riders on the Euskadi roster who can surprise-- including Fernando Barcelo and Juan Antonio Lopez-Cozar. If new signee Benat Intxausti can recover from his multi year suffering of mono, this could be a team to have a few more surprises up its sleeves.
18. Bardiani - CSF
There’s an argument to be made that the new pro-conti reforms, which will have merit-based invitations to the biggest races will result in an incentive for teams to dope. Bardiani provides the rebuttal to that argument-- riders are always going to have the incentive to dope, particularly in the often cut-throat fringes of the sport where one good result is the difference between a contract and working at Pizza Hut. The most recent issue for Bardiani was Michael Bresciani, who was given and served a 2 month ban last year. Of note, Bresciani argued he didn’t intentionally take the diuretic, but rather his mom was using the cutting board on which she would cut Michael’s braciole to chop up her own medication, resulting in contamination. Bresciani apparently sent a video of his mom cutting meds on a cutting board to the UCI as proof, which is either proof that all Italian mothers are in fact not good cooks or that the UCI doesn’t understand the definition of the words “relevant” or “evidence” and will accept any damn excuse offered.
17. Hagens Berman Axeon
The team that is most likely to sue Novo Nordisk is also the team that is most likely to celebrate their victories with Shirley Temples instead of champagne, as most of the team is not of legal drinking age in the US. Their focus on under 23 riders means that there is a lot of yearly turnover with many of their riders leaving for the pro ranks, including graduating Jasper Phillipsen, the Oliveira twins, and Will Barta this year. Still there is plenty of talent on this team. Joao Almeida will be a top contender at the Tour de l’Avenir while Mikkel Bjerg is one of the most exciting prospects not named Remco.
16. Delko Marseille Provence
Originally, prior to writing this post, I was thinking about writing a post-long team capsule for each pro-conti team. Delko Marseille Provence quickly put paid to that idea. It’s hard to even write a paragraph much less an entire post about a team that is about as exciting as a team time trial in January. Last year, Delko was ranked almost exactly in the middle of the pro-conti ranks, finishing 13th out of 27 teams. The only win of any note, however, was Javier Moreno taking stage 2 of the Tour de l’Ain. The rest occurred in the likes of Qinghai Lake and La Tropicale Amissa Bongo. They’ve still got Javier Moreno as their premier stage race rider and Brenton Jones, who this year, like last year, is rumored to be looking fast, as their sprinter. They’ve signed Ramunas Navardauskas, presumably at a bargain barrel price, as well as Eduard Grosu, and have a 29 year-old neo pro in Fabien Schmidt, positioning themselves well for more victories at Qinghai Lake or perhaps even the bluer waters of Taihu Lake.
15. Caja Rural - Seguros RGA
Sergei Chernetsky went on a tear at the end of last season, taking the GC in the Arctic Race of Norway and 3rd at the Tour of Guangxi and was rewarded by moving down from the World Tour level to sign a one year contract with Caja Rural. It’s kind of an inexplicable move for the rider, but should benefit Caja Rural. They also picked up Alan Banaszek from CCC, who is only 21 years old and has the promise of a good one day racer. Adding to their sprinting capabilities and complimenting their Colombian sprinter, Nelson Soto, Caja Rural also picked up Matteo Malucelli from Androni and Jon Aberasturi from Euskadi and signed the young neo pro Xavier Canellas. While the signings aren’t showy, they are solid working within their presumably modest budget.
14. Wilier Triestina - Selle Italia
The big story of the off season was the retiring of Filippo Pozzato, but like his tacky tattoos, got more attention than it deserved. Pozzato had been all but retired on the bike during the last two seasons. The actual story of the off season is that Wilier looks like a team on its way out. As of this post, there are only 10 confirmed riders on the team. 8 of those 10 riders are only signed for this year. 3 of their riders from last year-- Ilia Koshevoy, Alex Turrin, and Marco Coledan have announced their early retirements from cycling after not getting re-signed and not finding other teams. Their best rider, Jakub Mareczko, who accounted for 13 of their 19 victories, was signed by CCC. Still, they did sign Giovanni Visconti and Dayer Quintana. Perhaps there was a mix up and they thought they were getting the other Quintana, which would explain their shortage of other riders. At least Visconti will sweep up some points for them in the Italian cup, but I’m not sure that he has the star power to get them the much sought-after Giro invite, unless there is some here-to-unknown-to-me group of Visconti maniaci in Italy.
13. Riwal Readynez Cycling Team
Riwal Readynez makes the leap to join the ranks of alliterative pro-conti teams (joining Correndon - Circus and Novo Nordisk, but unfortunately there is still only one rhyming pro-conti- the next to be previewed- Nippo Vinini Fantini Europa Ovini). A fun game I like to play is trying to guess the business of the sponsors of these teams (It’s no Baby Dump, but still). For Riwal, my guess is that they design video games starring Sammy Sosa. In actuality, they are a rental service of mechanical lifts and according to their website are very thorough in their lift inventory which includes, “scissor lifts, telehandlers, articulating boom lifts, telescopic boom lifts and spider lifts.” For Readynez, my guess is that they are the world’s largest producer of neti pots. However, according to their website, “Readynez provides Talent Enablement services that empower you to advance faster and gain more from digital transformation”, which I assume means they are developing cyborgs.
As for the riders, they look like they can form one hell of a Danish death metal band, with Rasmus Quaade on vocals, Torkil Veyhe and Alexander Kamp shredding on dueling guitars, and Rasmus Bogh Walin’ Wallin on the drums. And in some stunt instrumentation, Andreas Kron and Mathias Norsgaard will be on the tambourine and triangle respectively. We’ll call them Kron: the Norse Guard.
12. Nippo Vini Fantini
If they played their cards right, they could have been called Nippo Vini Fantini Europa Orvini featuring Andrea Guardini and Edoardo Zardini, but fortunately for them they didn’t make their hiring decisions based upon rhyme schemes. With the retirement of Il Piccolo Principe, whose signing was a royal mistake anyway and was not enough to get them an invite to the Giro in the last 2 years, the team focused on youth in the off season-- adding neo pros Ruben Acosta, Alejandro Osario and Giovanni Lonardi. They’ll be looking for some Savio-like discoveries with the 2 Colombians, with Osario looking particularly promising with a 6th in the baby Giro and mountain jersey in l’Avenir last year. They also picked up Moreno Moser from Astana, who along with Marco Canola and JuanJo Lobato can score points on the Italian circuit. Lobato in particular picked up some steam at the end of last season and could fulfill a Colbrelli-esque role in the pro-conti ranks next year as a sprinter who can climb.
11. Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise
Back in 2015, this team was a producer of top young Belgian talent to the World Tour and producer of one-point vds wonders, including the likes of Yves Lampaert, Tom Van Asbroeck, Victor Campenaerts, Edward Theuns, and Oli Naesen. That vein of talent has dried up lately, with only Floris De Tier, Tim Declerq, and Gijs Van Hoecke making it to the World Tour level since 2016. That trend may be due to World Tour teams signing top young talent early and developing the riders themselves, but whatever the reason, Sport Vlaanderen has been fielding a roster of decent but not great riders during the last several years. In 2015, they won 10 races. In 2016, they won 2 times. In 2017, they won 3 times. Last year saw but a single victory and a stage victory at the Ras Tailteann 2.2 Irish stage race. Amaury Capiot looked okay at times, coming back from an injury in 2017 and taking a 2nd place at Nokere Koerse and 6th at Driedaagse Brugge. Perhaps Robbe Ghys, the sole winner aforementioned winner of 2018, can further his development and bring some victories outside of Ireland (He was 4th at the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 2017). Or perhaps Milan Menten can build on his 5th place at Paris-Bourges last year. Sasha Weemaes looks like a promising neo pro, but may be a few years before he starts delivering results in the pro ranks. But perhaps 2019 is going to be a lot like 2018 for this team, who lost one of their more promising riders, Aime de Gendt to Wanty Groupe and only signed 2 neo pros during the offseason.
10. WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic
The winner of the great veranda wars of 2018 and the last remaining veranda manufacturer sponsored team, this is a team that will look a lot different this year. Nine riders either left the team or retired in the offseason, with the only real loss felt by Alex Kirsch moving to Trek. Seven riders were brought onto the porch to join Kenny Dehaes, Justin Jules and company. Baptiste Planckaert gets back to where he belongs-- the pro-conti circuit-- after a less than stellar stint at Katusha and will be hoping to replicate his 2016 season. WBAPV made a great signing with Aksel Nommela who immediately will bring results on the Belgian circuit and may end Rein Taaramae’s reign of terror as the best Estonian rider in the pro ranks. Also, Emils Liepins looks to be a neo pro who can start getting results immediately for the team.
9. Corendon - Circus
There is one rider who is the alpha and the omega of this team. One rider on whom all the team’s hopes, expectations, and dreams depend. One rider that can on his own estimable legs carry this team to the top of the pro-conti ranks. That rider is of course Roy Jans. Despite Jans being the sun around which the rest of the team revolves, here’s an insider tip-I’ve heard that there’s a young, little known rider on this team that may be pretty good. That rider just happens to be a national road race champion. Keep your eyes on the young upstart Stijn Devolder.
8. Roompot - Charles
The merger of Roompot and Verandas Willems-Crelan went about as well as an Elizabeth Taylor marriage. Hiyo!!!! In the race to obtain Wout Van Aert’s services, Aqua Blue Sport first announced that they would be acquiring Verandas Willems. That, like Aqua Blue’s financial solvency, turned out to be a fantasy. Then Roompot stepped in, with the news going over about as well as building a porch with a toilet. Van Aert quickly sued to get out of his contract, and the winner of the entire deal ended up being Jumbo-Visma who got Van Aert for three years.
Besides Van Aert, the team also lost the (taco)bellwether of Roompot, with Senor Van der Hoorn also going to Jumbo. So, why should this Dutch-Belgian chimera of a team still be placed so high in the rankings? Because with a Wout sized hole in their budget, the team did not go quietly into the night, but brought the Boom- Lars Boom that is. I’d like to think the inclusion of Boom into the team will go over better than the last sentence. Boom was brought in to be a team leader in the Spring. And Roompot probably got him cheap after his Bouhanni-esque season last year.
7. Androni Giocattoli - Sidermec
In: Matteo Montaguti (AG2R), Matteo Pelucchi (Bora), Matteo Busato (Willier), Julian Cardona (EF), Leonardo Fedrigo (Team Wiggins), Miguel Eduard Florez (Willier), Mattia Viel (neo pro), Daniel Munoz (neo pro)
Out: Rodolfo Torres, Luca Chirico, Davide Ballerini (Astana), Ivan Ramiro Sosa (Sky), Matteo Malucelli (Caja Rural), Raffaello Bonusi.
Last year was Gianni Savio’s most successful year during the three decades of existence of this team. The most prestigious of those victories came from the most recent incarnation from the Colombian Whisperer - Ivan Ramiro Sosa -- and kicked off a bidding war and a battle between agents, which first saw Sosa ostensibly signing for Trek but ended with him signing a fortuitous one year deal with Sky. The discoveries of first Egan Bernal and then Sosa have definitely been profitable for Savio, both in success and payments from Sky to buyout their contracts, but the question is whether he can keep digging gold. He’s got the connections, as former coach of the Colombian national team, but many other teams are now scouting Colombian talent and Manzana Postobon just moved up to the pro-conti ranks, meaning Savio will now have competition and there is only so much he can do with a purported 2.5 million dollar budget. Miguel Edward Florez and Julian Cardona did not show much during their stints with their prior teams, while Daniel Munoz is a true unknown quantity, having only a soupcon of race experience.
On the other hand, this team is not just about the Colombians. Mattia Cattaneo, Manuel Belletti, Marco Benfatto, Francesco Gavazzi, Fausto Masnada, Andrea Vendrame, and new signee Matteo Pelucchi can all win races, though perhaps not at the highest level of competition. Savio’s most promising project is not a Colombian, but rather a Costa Rican in the 20 year old Kevin Rivera. This could be the year where he starts getting some results. While this team won’t reach the lofty heights of the Bernal and Sosa years, with the signing of the Pelooch, this is a team that will still score a lot of points and be high up in the pro-conti rankings.
6. Vital Concept - B&B Hotels
In: Pierre Rolland (EF), Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Cyril Gautier (AG2R), Jimmy Turgis (Cofidis), Maxime Cam (Fortuneo).
Out: Tanguy Turgis, Erwann Corbel.
Vital Concept had a productive transfer season in building their team as not solely focused on Bryan Coquard. Unfortunately, they lost Tanguy Turgis, a promising neo pro after a heart defect was discovered. While the youngest Turgis brother should be considered lucky that the heart issue was diagnosed, PdC’ers are also lucky that he never made it into the spotlight, as I had been waiting all year to start calling him George Hamilton Turgis.
It was a rough year for Vital Concept, as Coquard never really rose to the occasion, though they did get wins from Lorrenzo Manzin and Jonas Van Genechten. Pierre Rolland will give them a rider who can potentially go for a top 20, the mountain jersey, or a stage victory in a grand tour, while Arthur Vichot is a sneakily good grab that makes them competitive in the one day races that don’t involve a bunch sprint.
5. Israel Cycling Academy
In: Tom Van Asbroeck (EF), Matthias Brandle (Trek), David Cimolai (FDJ), Rudy Barbier (AG2R), Riccardo Minali (Astana), Alexander Cataford (UnitedHealthcare), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), Matteo Badilatti (Vorarlberg), Itamar Einhorn (neo pro), Clement Carisey (neo pro).
Out: Luis Lemus, Tyler Williams, Jose Manuel Diaz, Aviv Yechezkel.
During the offseason, Israel Cycling Academy acted like a deranged vds player by picking up every low cost sprinter that they could. To their roster, which already included Sondre Holst Enger and Kristian Sbaragli, ICA added Rudy Barbier, Davide Cimolai, Riccardo Minali, and Tom Van Asbroeck. Are they mad geniuses? Is the owner of the team actually Holmovka? Never before has such a painstakingly average group of sprinters been assembled!
Their most exciting rider is Krists Neilands, whose attacking style helped Vincenzo Nibali win Milan-Sanremo last year. It’ll be interesting to see whether he can build on his success last year and become something greater than a Steve Cummings-esque sneak attacker.
4. Direct Energie
In: Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step), Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain), Pim Ligthart (Roompot), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis), Mathieu Burgaudeau (neo pro).
Out: Sylvain Chavanel, Jeremy Cornu.
The team has done well despite losing Bryan Coquard to Vital Concept and Thomas Voeckler and now Sylvain Chavanel to old age. And now with the signing of Niki Terpstra, which looks like it could be the best transfer of the year, they are primed to expand out from the French circuit into the Belgian circuit while getting a rider that can be competitive in most of the Spring classics. For Terps, while he won’t have the Quick-Step juggernaut to support him, he will have sole leadership and could have done worse than having Adrien Petit and Damien Gaudin as support riders.
While Lilian Calmejane did not repeat the success of his 2017, he still took two victories and provides Direct Energie with a rider that can do well in a variety of terrains and formats. Rein Taaramae quietly had a decent season last year-- picking up top 5 placings in some of the smaller races. And let’s not forget about Niccolo Bonifazio or Thomas Boudat who provide both classic support and sprinting prowess.
3. Arkea Samsic
In: Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Robert Wagner (Lotto Jumbo), Alan Riou (neo pro).
Out: Arnaud Gerard, Armindo Fonseca, Pierre-Luc Perichon (Cofidis), Michael Carbel (Waoo), Sindre Lunke (Riwal).
Arkea Samsic are the winners of the biggest (but perhaps not best) signing from the World Tour, with the 36-year old gorilla in the room being whether Andre Greipel is too far past his prime. The signing does provide a nice symmetry to Greipel’s career, where he will be once again competing in SSRs. Whether the Gorilla is all washed up probably is not that big of an issue for the team, as the combination of him and Warren Barguil all but guarantees them of an invitation to the Tour. While the team has two young riders with potential in Alan Riou and Bram Welten as well as former u23 road race champion Kevin Ladanois who has yet to fulfill his potential, their season rests upon the wheels of Greipel and Barguil. It’s a high risk but potentially high reward strategy.
2. Cofidis, Solutions Credits
In: Darwin Atapuma (UAE), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data), Jesper Hansen (Astana), Zico Waeytens (Verandas Willems), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fortuneo), Damien Touze (St Michel - Auber93), Filippo Fortin (Felbermayr - Simplon Wels), Marco Mathis (Katusha), Emmanuel Morin (neo pro).
Out: Daniel Navarro (Katusha), Michael Van Staeyen (Roompot), Daniel Teklehaimanot, Anthony Turgis (Direct Energie), Guillaume Bonnafond, Jimmy Turgis (Vital Concept), Dorian Godon (AG2R).
Cofidis are the Team Sky of the pro-conti ranks, but only in money and not in team cohesiveness. There was a lot of movement in the off-season, but nothing to address the Nacer Bouhanni drama. Bouhanni will be fighting for a contract next year, figuratively and likely literally, and it remains to be seen how he will get along with Christophe Laporte, Hugo Hofstetter, his team car, or any other mofo that gets in his way. At the very least, the team has diversified its talent pool and has moved away from their past almost-sole reliance on Bouhanni for victories. Darwin Atapuma should pair up nicely with the Herrada brothers for the hillier races, while Jesper Hansen, Zico Waeytens, and Marco Mathis bolster the support. Damien Touze is their most promising signing, but will the young sprinter get much opportunity in 2019 when there will be a three-way battle for opportunity at the top?
1. Wanty - Groupe Gobert
In: Loic Vliegen (BMC), Aime De Gendt (Sport Vlaanderen), Alfdan De Decker (neo pro)
Out: Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (CCC), Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott), Frederik Backaert, Mark McNally, Simone Antonini
Wanty are the quintessential successful pro-conti team, fielding a diversely talented team, without any real superstars, that can win and pick up points throughout the season, resulting in invites to some of the biggest races, where even if they don’t win, they certainly show themselves. While 2018 saw them take 13 victories, their main success was being competitive in almost any race they entered.
Smartly, they’ve retained the services of Guillaume Martin through 2020. GMart has been been successful in the hilly one day races and is also growing into the role of a GC rider. Timothy Dupont is a lock for a top 10 in any Belgium SSR and provides Wanty with a way to get points throughout the season. Andrea Pasqualon provides another great sprint option. Odd Christian Eiking feels like he is on the cusp of a breakthrough season. They have a great all-around talent in Xandro Meurisse, who can place well in a one day race or one week stage race. Loic Vliegen looks like a good grab from BMC, where he never seemed to live up to his potential. Even more promising is the first year rider, Alfdan De Decker, who took 2nd at Schaal Sels after leading out Dupont. Nor does it hurt the team to have the sexy consistency of team manager and Alfred Hitchcock cosplayer, Hilaire van der Shueren, who has been directing sports for longer than any cyclist on his team has been alive.