Merry Christmas (today) and happy holidays to all! Cycling is right around the corner, so I think I’ll kick off the season with a look into Bora-Hansgrohe’s fortunes. I haven’t been the closest watcher the last couple years during my break from the Editor’s role, so some of the looking back might be a bit superficial. But going forward I’m all in.
I picked Bora because I’m intrigued by the teams in the muddled middle of World Tour cycling, By one estimate, only three World Tour teams could claim to have at least half the budget that INEOS had available last year, and some seven teams whose budget was a quarter or less of what the UK juggernaut had. Those teams are in various stages of struggling against the awful financial reality found in there, including Alpecin-Fenix (not WT) which was terrific last year, but they are the exception and their relatively poor brethren mostly have a hard time competing in top races. At the upper end, Jumbo, Quick Step and the like can certainly deal with INEOS, budget or no. In between the poles are teams like Bora, who can run with the best teams if they assemble and deploy their roster with utmost care.
For several teams, the way out of the grasp of the wealthier teams is to catch the next rising star or stars and ride those young fresh legs to success. Bora didn’t do it that way. They splurged on signing Peter Sagan away from Tinkoff in 2016, for some 5 million Euros, and captured the glory of Sagan’s last couple truly great campaigns, notching a Paris-Roubaix, two more Tour de France green jerseys, and printing plenty of rainbow stripes in the process.
The bet that the rising Sagan tide would lift Bora’s collective boats absolutely paid off. The team was outside the top 10 before the contract was signed, but inside it the rest of the way, rising as high as third in the world and sitting at sixth or better for four of the five years with the Slovakian on board. They developed other reliable sources of points in Pascal Ackermann, Emanuel Buchmann, Patrik Konrad, and Nils Politt. They developed Sam Bennett into a winner. It was never really just the Sagan Show.
So, with Sagan and his salary departing, it’s not hard to see Bora’s needle pointing straight up.
What We Thought and Got Last Year
These had been two separate discussions in the past, but without 2020 capsules to reflect on, I won’t insult you by trying to go back in time and divine what we would have collectively been thinking about Bora’s upcoming 2021 season. I’d guess we were enthusiastic about some of the non-Saganites taking a step forward, in anticipation of Sagan himself maybe taking a step back.
FSA DS Ranking
We had them sixth overall with 9009 points, well back of winners Deceuninck Quick Step (20,326) and a cut below Bahrain Victorious which rounded out the top five. Ackermann was 28th in the individual standings.
Top Three Highlights
- Pollitt takes tough Tour stage win. Nils Pollitt escaped for a solo win on a rugged stage of the Tour de France through the deep river gorges of the Ardeches. It was a day for crosswinds and breakaways, and that was really Bora’s biggest opportunity for making their presence felt in the Tour this year.
- October 7: Jordi Meeus wins Paris-Bourges from a big bunch, within minutes of his teammate Matthew Walls winning Gran Piemonte. Both could be considered breakthrough wins for the young riders, not shocking but a step forward in their development for sure. No doubt there were big smiles at team headquarters that week.
- Sagan sprints to Giro stage win in Foligno. The Sagan connection to Italy is a bit more understandable than his American thing, which was always weird? Like, he didn’t live here or speak the language? Anyway, Sagan had never raced the Giro before 2020, and hadn’t raced a normal one until this year, so I would expect he enjoyed it when he took the sprint on stage 10 and grabbed a lead in the points competition he would never relinquish.
Bottom Three Lowlights
- The January training crash that put three riders in the hospital and several more on the ground, undoubtedly a very frightening moment, and when the shock wore off, a huge annoyance for a team trying to get ready for the upcoming season. The main victims were Wilco Kelderman and Rudi Selig, both of whom went on to seasons which more or less fit expectations, but honestly, I don’t know how all these guys don’t have PTSD.
- Sagan’s run with Bora fizzles out. Actually it flamed out, with Sagan leaving after being rumored to do so, and then dropping out of his final Tour appearance, and finally having the public learn of his drunken arrest in April for violating curfew in Monaco, during which he proceeded to punch a cop. These are all separate things, but sorta feel related? Like things were just coming off the rails a bit?
- San Sebastian dreams fizzle. Bora had Kelderman, Matteo Fabbro and Giovanni Aleotti in good position heading into the final climbs, only for a touch of wheels to take all three riders down. Crashes and bad luck are a regular thing in cycling, of course, and you could just as easily add Buchmann’s Giro crash to this list instead, given that he was a podium contender. But a triple-hit-the-decker is a bit much.
Comings and Goings for 2022
Departures: Sagan, the other Sagan (Juraj), Bodnar, Oss
and Specialized all leave for Total Direct Energies. Ackermann to UAE. Schwartzmann and Selig to Lotto. [*Specialized are following Sagan to TDE but also re-upped with Bora.]
Incoming: Sam Bennett returns from Quick Step with Shane Archbold. ITT beast Ryan Mullen comes over from Trek. Climbing team nabs Alexander Vlasov, Sergio Higuita and Jai Hindley. Massive acquisition on the youth side with Cian Uijtdebroeks — the next Remco — and German climber Luis-Joe Lührs.
So What Happens Next?
OMG... I LOVE THIS ROSTER! This is basically the part of the post where I really begin having fun, and the whole reason I wanted to start with Bora. Maybe they don’t have Pogacar or Roglic or Bernal, or INEOS’ fire hose of money to blast at any rider they want. Picking a Bora rider to win a grand tour in 2022 is a dicey proposition. But they are going to be a problem for a lot of teams in a lot of races.
Let’s start with the Grand Tours. Buchmann is two odd years removed from a fourth place finish at Le Tour, and Kelderman just took fifth after leveling up at the 2020 Giro, which just barely slipped through his fingers. Speaking of, Hindley — just 25 — showed promise in that same Giro and surely has more to offer than we saw in last year’s campaign that was wrecked by really bad saddle sores. Vlasov was fourth in the Giro last year on his first attempt. Higuita, 24, has flashed his huge talent at us a few times but hasn’t put anything massive together... yet.
The stage race team features plenty of depth too, with the Austrians Grossschartner and Kamna, plus Fabbro, Politt and others to help out or take their chances when they come up. The classics team, on the other hand, might be left out in the cold. Politt was sensational on the cobbles in 2019, but hasn’t got a ton of help right now. Sagan’s Guys all leaving create something of a void there. Meeus has talent in these events, but it will be hard for Bora to make much noise in April.
Finally, the sprint squad trades out Ackermann for Bennett. I would rate that a loss since Ackermann is more productive and four years younger. Bennett, though, has a green jersey in his closet, which makes up for a few missed sprints. Walls and Meeus can help in some smaller races, unless they make the leap to the big time and take some of the pressure off Bennett.
And then there is Uijtdebroeks. The kid is just 18, so when people say he’s “the next ___” you have to take it with a giant boulder of salt. Even more so when Belgians and their media are involved. But the hype machine is in full roar, and Bora took him over Quick Step and other suitors, so I’ll be VERY curious to see what sort of a program they lay out for him in 2022.
I’ll stop there. Overall they are one of the muddled middle for sure, as is everyone who doesn’t have one of the elite-elites on their team, but among their strata they are loaded to the brim with talent. It should be a pretty exciting time as the roster turns over from Peter’s Team to a whole new project.