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Offseason Capsule: Trek Hopes for Bigger Splashes Will Require Luck and Patience

Classics squad is stacked but stage race improvement may take time

17th Benelux Tour 2021 - Stage 1 Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

With my second offseason review, I want to turn to Trek-Segafredo, the American outfit with the Italian core known best for its efforts in the northern classics, of late. I guess I am intending to hunt around the muddled middle of cycling, and based on loosely-sourced budget info from 2021, Trek are right there, or even a bit low down the list. Of late, one might wonder if they are getting bang for their buck, although when you see the bucks and compare their results to similarly situated teams on the men’s side, it’s not so bad. Then add in the work of their women’s team, and things start looking pretty positive.

Trek-Segafredo seem like they have a longer history, but they are the outgrowth of the short-lived Leopard Schleck/Cancellara vanity project that then merged with the last vestiges of the Bruyneel post-Radio Shack team. The Shack then left, and Trek bought the license, refreshed things a bit, brought on the Italian coffee mega-producers Segafredo, and have been operating under this identity ever since 2016.

74th Tour of Spain 2019 - Stage 3
Luca Guercilena and Kiel Reijnen
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

General manager Luca Guercilena is the common thread that traces back to the Leopard days, and his work as a director in cycling began with Mapei and the early-aughts Quick Step teams, which explains the outfit’s knack for the Classics. Guercilena was not a pro himself, an exception in the cycling management world, but his success in the sport is very respectable. So when he announced last August that he was afflicted with lymphoma and needed to step away from the sport for an indefinite time, the sport responded with an outpouring of love and support. There have been no recent updates in the media, that I can find, so for now we just hope he is on the road to recovery.

I wouldn’t overreact and call this a new era, however; the GM role is not exactly the micromanager for every aspect of racing, and Trek will continue to rely on a large, experienced staff from around Europe, including Kim Andersen, who has been with the project since the beginning and was originally the top man before trading places with Guercilena when Team Schleck (aka Flavio Becca) sold the license. So in terms of leadership, I would say that Trek are continuing on their path, relying on continued steady challenges in the classics and hoping for some bigger breakthroughs in the mountains... and if the men don’t deliver, they are a safer bet to hit the heights on the women’s side.

118th Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Men’s Eilte Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

What We Thought and Got Last Year

Like I said with Bora, we didn’t do capsules last year, but probably would have wondered where the stage race wins were going to come from. We also would have put some serious expectations on the Classics team, which continued to feature perennial favorites Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven along with a reasonable supporting cast. We might have made a snarky remark about their Tour de France hopes jumping ship with Richie Porte’s departure, as if his third overall placing in 2020 were something to bank on from year to year (it isn’t).

We got... about what you can reasonably expect? If you think all Monuments are created equally, as they most certainly do not in Stuyven’s native Belgium, then you could hail his breakthrough win at Milano-Sanremo as the redeeming win that’s barely eluded him over the last six years. Pedersen’s win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne added to the sense that this was a strong classics season, and Stuyven had to go into a deep, dark tunnel of pain to scratch out a best-ever fourth in De Ronde. From there, the wins fizzled out a bit, with one huge exception — No, not Vincenzo Nibali’s win at the Giro di Sicilia, where one wonders who would have the temerity to attack him — no, it was at the Tour de France, where Bauke Mollema continued to extend his career legacy well past expectations with a solo victory on stage 14, his first breakthrough at Le Tour since 2017. The women lifted the organization’s spirits all year, primarily through Elisa Longo Borghini and Elizabeth Deignan, who served up book-end wins at the Trofeo Binda and Paris-Roubaix with plenty of other top results in between.

So that’s what life can look like in the muddled middle, even on the lower-budgeted end of things. Pirelli are coming on board for 2022 as a major sponsor, and with the loss of Nibali plus few expensive signings for this year, they may be in position to strike it big in the next transfer market. But they have retained their cornerstones and are counting on guys trending upward for a big year in 2022.

1st Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Women’s Elite Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

FSA DS Ranking

Trek were outside the top 10 on the Podium Cafe rankings and 9th overall at the more inclusive CQRanking, meaning they were a bit better in races or race placings we don’t bother scoring. [Their women’s team were a clear second overall in both compilations.]

Stuyven ranked 19th overall, tops for TFS on the men’s side. Longo Borghini was third for the ladies.

Note: from this point forward, I am just focusing on the men’s team. I mention the women’s squad as part of the organizational overview, since Trek have prioritized their women’s racing and achieved brilliant success, which I am sure is a major point of pride for everyone there. But continuing to drill down in this post, it’s a lot cleaner to look at the men’s squad, particularly since my expertise on the women’s side is... not great.

112th Milano-Sanremo 2021 Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Top Three Highlights

  1. Stuyven wins Milano Sanremo. Sometimes you don’t get the Monument you want, but rather the Monument you deserve?
  2. Mollema takes Tour stage. That was their goal from the start, stages, and they chased it day after day, finally breaking through after two weeks.
  3. Nibali leaves Trek in style at Sicilia Tour. I could have gone with more of an oncoming story in Quinn Simmons taking the Tour de Wallonie, but Nibali is an all-time cycling star and his win on home soil might be one of his last. So let’s just nod our caps to the Shark one more time.
104th Giro d’Italia 2021 - Stage 16 Photo by Sara Cavallini/Getty Images

Bottom Three Lowlights

  1. Pedersen’s lost season. I guess he crashed a lot. Like all year. Hopefully it just makes him stronger.
  2. The demise of the Giro squad. It started with Nibali’s training crash in April which barely left him time to get ready for the Giro d’Italia, let alone try for the win. Then Giulio Ciccone got hot and found himself in actual contention, only to start hitting the deck himself and going home after stage 18. The malocchio was in full effect last spring.
  3. Reaching a bit, but I will say Stuyven’s worlds campaign. Not that much was expected, but the Belgian national team built itself around the fortunes of Wout Van Aert, who wasn’t on form that day, leaving one to wonder what might have been had they focused more on the chances of Leuven native Stuyven, who ended up fourth, a/k/a third in the bunch finish behind Alaphilippe.
94th UCI Road World Championships 2021 - Men U23 Road Race
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Comings and Goings for 2022

Departures: Vincenzo and Antonio Nibali, Ryan Mullen, Niklas Eg. A few retirements.

Incoming: Lots of steady pros like Dario Cataldo, Tony Gallopin, Simon Pellaud, Markus Hoelgaard, and Antwan Tolhoek. As for younger riders, there are U23 world champ Filippo Baroncini, Daan Hoole and Asbjorn Hellemose, all top talents (and just maybe belying my previous comment about not making a big transfer splash for 2022).

So What Happens Next?

Things should be in a good position for 2022, although perhaps only marginally better than last year, and relying on reasonable injury luck to even match their 2021 output, let alone exceed it. The ceiling is rising with the young talent coming on board, but they might not contribute much right away.

Pedersen and Stuyven remain focused on the Classics and working in tandem to put a dent in the considerable armor of the Van Aert-van der Poel duo that are atop everyone’s list of favorites. It’s a fair fight now, with the two ‘crossers having the pedigree to dominate but Pedersen, the former world champion and runner up in Flanders, plus the perfect-for-P-R Stuyven, ready to pounce. Maybe one of the kids — Hoole or Simmons or Jakob Egholm — add some extra punch to their cobbles squad. Simmons struggled in his first go-round, as one does at age 20 in races that favor veteran hardmen, but his breakthrough in Wallonia might push his confidence to the next level. Big things are expected of Hoole, especially in the time trials, but his size makes him a valued asset in Paris-Roubaix. Egholm is a talented Dane whose first two years were scrambled by the pandemic, so we shouldn’t rush to judge his middling results. They won’t quite be on Quick Step’s level in terms of depth, but Trek will be a top five squad in Flanders this spring.

The same cannot be said for their grand tour ambitions, as former winner Nibali follows former third-place Porte as ex-Trekkers. That leaves only Mollema and Cataldo as known entities, both on the down slope of their careers. The hope though is that Ciccone is ready to take the next big step, with one complete and two truncated Giri in his legs, plus the 2019 Tour where he wore yellow for three days. The Abruzzese matched Giro winner Bernal on home soil on the stage to Rocca di Cambio, climbing into fourth overall, before trying for greater glory, attacking two stages later but failing to make it stick, steadily conceding more time until crashes put him out of the race. It’s hard to look at that and pronounce him ready to make a big splash this year in his Giro-Tour program, but if everything comes together and the Giro isn’t dominated by the big talents in the sport, he could grab a podium there, then go stage-hunting with Mollema and Pedersen in the Tour (which, Pedersen is quick to note, starts in Copenhagen).

81st Skoda-Tour De Luxembourg 2021 - Stage 4
Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

After that, a victory would be signs of development from their many young riders. In addition to the incoming talents, there is Antonio Tiberi, a climber and time triallist in the Nibali mold if not in anything close to his accomplishments, a given at the young age of 20 years. There is Mattias Skjelmose, another Dane, only 21 and having flashed his considerable talent by taking 6th overall at the UAE Tour and 15th in the Tour de Romandie — two massive results at that stage of his development. Marc Brustenga, another incoming rider, is a notable classics talent from Catalunya. Juan Pedro Lopez, only 24, has a 13th place at the Vuelta and looks like the kind of steady rider who can build toward some valuable placings.

Overall, the team is deep in veteran talent from the middle range of the sport, but short on top-flight winners after Pedersen and Stuyven, something they hope the new kids can turn around. That may happen, but huge leaps from Skjelmose, Baroncini, Hellemose or Tiberi in 2022 is a bit too much to expect. Their goals for 2022 undoubtedly include, in no order, good health for Guercilena, big seasons from their classics leaders, and steady improvement in the younger guys. That could have them thinking bigger in 2023.