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Offseason Capsule: Trek - Segafredo

21st Santos Tour Down Under 2019 - Stage 2
The Battle Action Richie Porte (tm) now comes with a pre-broken collarbone!
Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Desperately seeking a GC star after a season in which they couldn’t even manage a Zubeldia-esque placing at any of the grand tours, Trek’s signing of Richie Porte got most of the attention during the offseason. What really deserves the attention, however, is the reinvigorated and reinforced classics squad that should be the centerpiece of 2019 for Trek.

What we said last year

Andrew’s general predictions-- that development of the retained riders would lead to a better 2018, that Trek was weak in the stage races, and that they would rely on Stuyven and Degenkolb-- were on the money, but praising Andrew for being right is boring. Let’s see if he correctly answered the multiple choice question he posed to himself regarding John Degenkolb. That multiple choice question was what was going on with Dege and what will 2018 show us with the following possible answers:

Degenkolb is:

a) A prodigious talent who reached a peak early and has maintained it, a level below Sagan and Kristoff. He’ll be on the fringes of podiums for the rest of his career.

b) A man caught between sprinting and classics who has got worse as his career developed because he never quite maximises his potential in either area.

c) A rider behind only Sagan as a hardman of the sport who was derailed by that crash, and still wasn’t quite right in 2017 but will dominate in 2018.

d) Overrated and lucky to win weak Vuelta stages, a lottery of a Milan San-Remo and a sunny Paris-Roubaix lacking superstars.

Andrew picked a). I’m not sure if Degenkolb’s 2018 season really answered the question, though, with his win of the Roubaix stage of the Tour being like the Magic 8 ball answering “Answer hazy, ask again later.” I’d have gone with a combination of a, c, and d— He was derailed by the crash, is probably getting back close to where he was previously, but has a stacked field of hardmen with very similar talents that will make prolific winning impossible for Dege.

What we got in 2018

Trek started the season hot, with Ruben Guerreiro netting a top 10 in the Tour down Under and a 4th overall at the Herald Sun Tour, Jarlinson Pantano getting a top 10 in San Juan, and 3 wins in the Mallorca races (2 by Degenkolb and 1 by Toms Skujins). They followed that up with a spring classics season that saw them with a number of strong finishes but without getting a win, including Jasper Stuyven’s 5th place at Roubaix and Mads Pedersen’s 2nd at Flanders. Trek continued to do well in the one day races and would even win some during the fall, including Pedersen’s win at l’Eurometropole, and Bauke Mollema’s and Skujins’ back-to-back wins at 2 of the Italian fall races. They never really showed up however in any overall placing in the grand tours. Being scrappy in the one day races helped make 2018 to be relatively successful for Trek.

FSA-DS Ranking 2018

13th with 7,643 points. Not a great ranking, but the point total put them in the bottom of the midpack of teams, so not a total letdown of a season.

Top Highlights

1. Degenkolb winning the Roubaix stage of the Tour.

The win that meant a lot for the team, but even more for the rider had to be Degenkolb’s victory on Stage 9 of the Tour. Sure, the state was 100 kilometers less than the actual Roubaix and had less cobbled sections, but the victory over Van Avermaet, Lampaert, Gilbert, Sagan, and Stuyven was much needed for Degs, who it had appeared that after his training accident would never again find his form that netted him two monuments in 2015. He wouldn’t win again for the rest of the year, but a 2nd on the Champs-Elysees as well as a few other podium places throughout the fall appeared to show a Degs with his groove back.

2015 Paris - Roubaix
Once you kiss the big cobble, the smaller cobbles can’t deliver the same thrill.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

2. Mads Pedersen’s classics’ breakthrough.

So much for the old canard that one needs to get experience at Flanders before hoping to be competitive. Pedersen finished 2nd, at 22 years of age, in his first time on the startlist. Not only that, he was also close to victory. He had made a break at about 50 kilometers remaining to get up the road in the hopes of helping either Stuyven or Degenkolb, but was clearly stronger than either. When Terpstra came storming through, he was the only one of his break companions that could stick with him and just didn’t have enough in his legs after being in the break for 30 kilometers.

3. Jasper Stuven’s one-day consistency.

If the predictions of the PdC can be believed, Stuyven is on the verge of a monument victory. Those predictions are based upon the consistency that Stuyven showed in the Spring-- not finishing outside the top 10 from Milano-San Remo to Roubaix. Nor did Stuyven pack it in after those races-- winning 3 times in the latter third of the season, including a stage of Binck Bank while getting several other podium places. For Stuyven, life is not like a box of chocolates, as with him you always know what you are going to get (and it’s always that good dark chocolate with nougat and not that milk chocolate with jelly crap).

Bottom Lowlights

1. No GC contention in the grand tours.

It’s one thing to be a team like Quick Step, who have shown absolutely no interest in the grand tours. It’s another to be Trek who have been so desperate as to throw money at any washed up GC rider on the market. 2018 was an inbetween (washed up rider) year for them, with only Mollema and maybe Gianluca Brambilla available to try to fight for GC results. The best they could manage was a 16th at the Vuelta with Brambilla, a sub-Zubeldian result.

2. Suicidal mice and bum knees.

Injury and illness curtailed the seasons of both Giacomo Nizzolo and Fabio Felline. Nizzolo’s recurrent knee issues kept him out of contention during the first half of the season, while toxoplasmosis continued to keep Felline from reaching top form.

3. Ivan Sosa ganked by Sky.

Trek almost did it! They almost signed the newest Colombian up-and-coming superstar, even giving Gianni Savio his payoff and with Sosa providing a quote that Trek tweeted regarding his excitement at joining the team. Not so fast, though, as a new agent swept in, argued that Sosa’s ostensible current agents’ contracts were expired, and signed Sosa with Sky for presumably a higher salary.

Comings and goings for 2019

Ins: Richie Porte (BMC), Edward Theuns (Sunweb), Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani), Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect), Will Clarke (EF), Matteo Moschetti (Polartec).

Outs: Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data), Gregory Rast (retired), Matthias Brandle (Israel Cycling Academy), Boy Van Poppel (Roompot), Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton), Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha), Laurent Didier (retired), Eugenio Alafaci (EvoPro), Gregory Daniel (DCBank).

Renewals: Bauke Mollema, Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven, Jarlinson Pantano, Peter Stetina, Koen De Kort, Markel Irizar, Fumiyuki Beppu.

Can you buy yourself a GT title? Looking at the statistics going back to 2015, the answer is obviously no. The average years that a GT winner has been on the same team when he won a GT is 6.4.

Grand tour winners by years on team

2018 Giro Froome 9th
2018 Tour Thomas 9th
2018 Vuelta S. Yates 6th
2017 Giro Dumoulin 6th
2017 Tour Froome 8th
2017 Vuelta Froome 8th
2016 Giro Nibali 4th
2016 Tour Froome 7th
2016 Vuelta Quintana 5th
2015 Giro Contador 5th
2015 Tour Froome 6th
2015 Vuelta Aru 4th

While Froome’s dominance certainly skews that average, the least number of years of a rider winning a GT was 4-- Aru at the Vuelta in 2015 in his fourth year with Astana and Nibali at the Giro in 2016 in his fourth year with Astana. Those stats don’t look good for Trek’s signing of Porte. However, realities of an actual grand tour win notwithstanding, at least Porte puts Trek in the conversation, something that they did not have last year. All the same, it feels similar to their signing of Contador-- Trek should be looking to grow their talent into grand tour contention rather than buying an aging rider. They did so after the retirement of Cancellara, with the emergence of their classics riders like Stuyven and Pedersen, but seem uninterested to do that in the GC context, particularly with the rumours swirling already of signing Nibali for next season.

Edward Theuns feels like a good signing to bolster their classics team after he had an off year at Sunweb where he didn’t seem to jibe with their strict management style. Even better was their signing of Giulio Ciccone from Bardiani, who already has a Giro stage victory to his name.

Giacomo Nizzolo leaves the team after knee issues have curtailed his success in the last two seasons. They, however, get some up and coming sprinting talent in the signing of Matteo Moschetti. Their biggest loss was probably Ruben Guerreiro to the Katushan wastelands (both for Trek and for Guerreiro). Guerreiro looks to be a developing versatile rider, picking up a 5th in the Bretagne Classic as well as a 6th overall GC placing in Turkey last year.

Most intriguing rider

There’s only one rider on this team that beat Viviani in a bunch sprint last year-- neo pro Matteo Moschetti. However, it was Attilio, the younger brother of Elia, so I guess that means we need to talk about Richie.

A la Andrew’s multiple choice question re Degenkolb from last year, let’s try the same thing with Porte.

Porte can’t get a good result in the grand tours, despite his physical prowess, because:

a) he’s just been unlucky. Look what happened with Geraint Thomas this year. With lady luck by his side, he can still win a grand tour.

b) he’s very good at physical fitness, but not so good at riding a bike. While there’s a certain randomness when it comes to crashes and being out of place at the wrong time in a race, there’s also the requisite bike handling skill, positioning skill, and ability to read a race that can significantly decrease one’s chances of having a race destroying issue.

c) he ain’t got the grit to be a grand tour winner. When you ride a bike thousands of kilometers over 21 days, things are going to go wrong. A winner knows how to be resilient and bounce back when things go wrong. Porte is about as bouncy as a stack of wet newspapers.

d) he was a triathlete. ‘Nuff said.

Okay, that was a trick question. The answer is “all of the above.” While Porte has undoubtedly been unlucky, a rider and their team make their own “luck.” You do that by minimizing risk and decreasing the odds of a catastrophe, no different than a poker player playing the percentages. Porte has not been very good at doing that and part of that, undoubtedly, comes from not being great at racecraft. Some of that can be chalked up to lack of experience. He comes from a triathlon and swimming background and only began focusing on road racing in 2007. During that career, which is now going into its 13th year, he’s only towed the start line at 50 one day races-- you know, the kind of races that teach you how to ride and read a race. Porte had DNF’d nearly half of those races-- 24 in total. While he’s won a single one day race, it was a 1.2 category race early in his career. His best finish at a professional level one day race while riding for a trade team was 10th in the 2010 Clasica San Sebastian. That was his best finish in any such race by a country mile.

Relatedly, if you stick Porte in a Zwift trainer competition, he’d probably be the best Zwift rider of his generation. The road, on the other hand, throws many other problems at riders other than just their fitness level. And when you are riding for five hours a day over three weeks, you are guaranteed to have lots of problems. A great grand tour rider needs to have resiliency— to deal with the problems when they inexorably arrive and to rebound from them. Doom’s runs didn’t stop him from winning the Giro. Froome’s run didn’t prevent him from wearing yellow. Porte’s run used to come after his bike ride, and he’s never shown the grit necessary to defeat the obstacles that 21 days on a saddle throw at a rider.

All that being said, even with all the impediments against him winning a grand tour, with a little luck on his side, Porte could win a grand tour. It’s just not very likely.

So, what happens next?

The inclusion of Porte on the team almost guarantees that Trek will improve from last year, where they were absent in GC rankings in the bigger one week stage races, with Porte already providing Trek with a 2nd overall at the TdU as well as his guaranteed win on Willunga.

With a top class classics team consisting of Stuyven, Pedersen, Degenkolb, and Theuns, Trek needs to take a step up and start delivering wins in the spring classics.

Herald Sun Jayco Tour
It’s a Mads Mads Mads Mads world in 2019
Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images

All together, they now have a nicely rounded out team that can compete across the year in most races, with Porte for the one week stage races, Mollema for the hilly classics, the aforementioned cobbled classic team, and some young talent including Moschetti for the sprints and Niklas Eg and Giulio Ciccone for the mountains, with a number of opportunistic riders like Felline, Brambilla, and Skujins who can pull off some surprises. I’d expect a marginally better year than 2018.