Today we wrap up our offseason capsules series with the nineteenth report. CCC have picked up a World Tour license for the first time this season, and are born of a combination of the pro-Conti CCC team and the now-defunct World Tour BMC team. That’s two TLAs* for the price of one. I hate HTEA.** They bring ambition, bright orange jerseys, and a sprinkling of talented riders.
What we said last year
What we got in 2018
I’ve no desire to rake through BMC’s year again, but will turn briefly to CCC, who had a quiet year. In VDS terms, their 1,309 points would have ranked 27th as a rider, and they were paced by Jan Tratnik and his 429 points (a very decent return for one point, incidentally). They did manage 20 wins but the majority of these were in the lesser events of Poland and around eastern Europe. Tratnik crowned his best season to date with a comfortable time trial win in Settima Coppi e Bartali, the most prestigious win he or the team enjoyed. He won’t join the new squad but has headed over to Bahrain Merida.
Let’s skip over the team rankings and highlights and get on to looking at the 2019 prospects for the new carrots.
The 2019 roster
The twenty four men who’ll make up the new squad, with their 2018 team in parentheses:
Laurens Ten Dam, Simon Geschke (both Sunweb); Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data); Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Wanty); Jakub Mareczcko (Willier); Riccardo Zoidl (Felbermayr); Lukasz Wisniowski (Sky); Victor de la Parte (Movistar); Gijs van Hoecke (Lotto-NL Jumbo); Josef Cerny (Elkov); Will Barta (Hagens); Lukasz Owsian, Kamil Gradek, Amaro Antunes, Pawel Bernas, Szymon Sanjok, Jonas Koch (all CCC); Greg van Avermaet, Michael Schar, Nathan van Hooydonck, Patrick Bevin, Alessandro de Marchi, Joey Roskopf, Francisco Ventoso (all BMC).
There are two easy observations to make about this squad. The first is that nobody would chose to build a team in this way, with parts of two existing teams and numerous riders from elsewhere (I think that 11 2018 teams are represented here?) pushed together. Building team unity and common purpose will be challenging, and developing effective rider schedules and programmes even tougher. A lot is riding on the management and DS crew, many of whom were involved in a group at BMC that underwhelmed. The second is that there has been a significant exodus of talent from the BMC squad. Greg van Avermaet is retained but Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis are two established stars who’ve moved on. Younger and promising riders like Kung, Frankiny, Bettiol and Teuns, and key cogs such as Drucker, Roelandts and Caruso will all be missed.
Given the roster churn it is more helpful to think of this as a new squad rather than a BMC update. What do we see when looking at the team? Clearly there’s a huge gap in talent and achievement between Greg van Avermaet and his teammates. GVA is the unquestioned star of this squad and we all know he’s good enough to win any cobbled race in 2019. Beyond golden Greg, there are clearly riders who can go well on their day, as Paddy Bevin proved with a dynamic start for the new squad, but there aren’t any other nailed on winners in the line-up.
That might be more understandable if the squad was young, but it really isn’t. In fact, the average age is nearly 29 and just four of the riders are youth-jersey eligible. That’s a major oversight in a new set-up and speaks to the delay in securing funding and to the hangover of the old regime. When we revisit this squad in the 2019/20 offseason, I really hope we’re talking about a clarity of purpose, a youth movement, and a focus for the team’s development. I’m not optimistic.
Most intriguing rider
In truth, I struggled to think of anyone who intrigues me, which is perhaps the most damning indictment of this team. Names matter, though, and I continue to wonder about the chances of Nathan van Hooydonck, who has one of the most spectacular names in the peloton. He also has serious potential and is one of the youngest members of this ageing team (he won’t turn 24 until October). The expectation is that he’ll ride as part of the cobbles squad and I will be keeping a weather eye on his performance.
He was impressive as a young rider, grabbing the U-23 nationals (a bigger deal for Belgians than most nationalities) when just 20, and joining BMC in his aged-22 season. He’s yet to pick up any major results in the bigger races, but has shown promise in varied races (4th in the Dubai Tour with consistent finishes on sprint stages, and 17th in Guangxi on much hillier terrain). He’s marked himself out as an old-fashioned Belgian cyclist – a racer first and foremost, who’ll go eyeballs out on any terrain and scrap for bonus seconds and minor places. In a weakened team he’ll be given his chances and I like his moxy. I think when the chances come he’ll take them. We should get a sense of just how good he can be this year.
So, what happens next?
We have to begin with the cobbles, and if this team is going to make noise it’ll be in Belgium and on the Roubaix cobbles. Van Avermaet has never led a team of exceptional talent on these stages but he’ll miss Kung, Drucker and Roelandts this year, as those three were solid in support (Kung perhaps better than solid). Van Keirsbulck, once a promising young wunderkind at Quick Step, has earned his return to World Tour level and has completed his metamorphosis into an experienced rider and a handy lieutenant. Wisnowski rode very well at times whilst at Sky and could blossom in a squad with more focus on one-day racing. In short, Greg’s support on the road is weakened but could be much worse, and he knows his off-bike support well. He can improve on his 2018 results with similar performance and for this team, he’ll need to. A big win or two in March is more or less essential.
For the rest of the year, I see a team with lots of possibilities but no obvious stars. I talked about Bevin in looking back on the Tour Down Under and was rightly chided for being too pessimistic. There are plenty of races where a rider with his skills can make some noise. Alessandro di Marchi wins more races than I expect every year, and if I were hoping to win any hilly race I’d want to know where Serge Pauwels was at all times. If the team are hoping for wins in bunches then they need Jakub Mareczcko to prove worthy of a delayed call-up to World Tour level (though he’s only 24, it just seems like he’s been around forever) and pick up some sprint wins. I’m not hugely optimistic as the sprinting field is pretty packed this year but he has a chance.
Ultimately, I think this will be judged with an eyeball test. A good year means that we’ll see lots of orange in breaks, stealing stages, taking part in tough sprints and making lots of noise on the cobbles. A bad year means near total anonymity and continued worries about the long-term viability of this project. I think Greg will win something meaningful (E3, say) and be relevant all spring, and I think that will be about all she wrote for this rag-tag bunch.
* Three letter acronyms
** Having to explain acronyms.