I started this post like three weeks ago — interrupted by real life family stuff** — and it was going around in circles a bit. Like, lots of teams had roster shakeups, like every year, plus a few new sponsors and whatnot. We almost had MergerMaNiA take over, but then we didn’t. It was just kind of a swirling mess of news. If only there was one news item that could make it clear who the big winners were...
Oh. Oh my god! Yeah, I think that will do it! The biggest team, reorganized, merged and then unmerged and then rebranded and where was this all going? Oh, right, they just picked up the one true new Belgian Climbing Sensation (BCS) and put a big giant exclamation point on the entire sport of cycling.
Of course, that’s assuming you can believe everything you read on Twitter. And even if you do, well, here is another thing.
Statement concerning today's news from Jumbo - Visma regarding our rider Cian Uijtdebroeks— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) December 9, 2023
Cian is and will remain a member of BORA - hansgrohe, also in the coming 2024 season. He is contractually bound with us until 31 December 2024.
Hot Damn!! We have ourselves a spicy conclusion to 2023, and I’m not just talking about the upcoming Kerstperiode Cyclocross Showdown! Clearly BORA knows if they have a contract or not, and as a lawyer I can tell you, you don’t tip your hand like this unless you are sure it’s actually your hand. It may just signal the start of a negotiation — Jumbo too aren’t stupid and probably know how this ends — but buckle up and don’t unsubscribe from any Belgian sports media accounts you follow. Especially the ones that now say that things may have gotten rather divisive behind the scenes at BORA.
Thijs Zonneveld: BORA riders had an ''anti-Cian' app group during the Vuelta. ”Without Uijtdebroeks in it, so they could gossip about him."— Katy M (@writebikerepeat) December 12, 2023
Not surprised he wanted to leave if this is the case. Bullying is not cool especially when they're grown ass men. https://t.co/X8mpmocoZ4
Oh, and maybe this is all a needless Belgiophilic distraction from the real news:
One of pro cycling’s next megastars— Velon CC (@VelonCC) December 8, 2023
Albert Withen Philipsen will ride for Lidl-Trek in 2025 after signing a four-year deal - the Dane was crowned the youngest ever junior men’s road race world champion at just 16 years old earlier this year pic.twitter.com/fRY6jA1mA0
Cool! Although we should all probably give the kid a few minutes to make the adjustment, since he just turned 17 in September.
Anyway, let’s dive in a little deeper before we hand over the Offseason Winners’ Trophy. Here are some teams with critical changes happening, and what it all means. Oh, and winning the offseason is very often code for “making a big stink for attention only for it to blow up spectacularly once the actual races begin,” so yeah.
[** As for me, I’m OK; just have aging parent stuff to work through. Probably just about all of you know what it’s like.]
Who at least Tried To Win The Offseason?
Lots of teams. Everyone has a bunch of roster changes, and we will just barely skim over the biggest names involved here. Everyone has a new kit and we will spend plenty of time obsessing over fashion later. But in a rather summary manner, here is what stands out from the offseason, from the teams who had enough change to warrant even talking about.
Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale
- Decathlon becomes title sponsor
- Added development team
- Incoming: Sam Bennett, Victor Lafay
- Outgoing: Greg Van Avermaet
The Decathlon major sponsorship is a big deal, a five year move involving the sporting goods retailer putting... well, it’s not clear as usual, but the vibes suggest a firm investment, with chatter about Decathlon becoming a global brand. [Apparently they’re already ubiquitous in Europe.] Adding a formal dev team is also a big benefit to the top guys, not only as talented kids get with the program and eventually join the World Tour fun, but just for filling out some of the smaller race rosters. Van Avermaet’s retirement was more or less due, and Sam Bennett will get them a few palmares, but mostly the team seems set up for the long term.
Astana Qazakhstan Team
- Vino’s kid gets the call-up!
- Lots of old guys move on out
OK, this might not be enough to win the offseason. They did actually bring in a lot of riders, including point-scoring vets Ide Schelling and Lorenzo Fortunato, plus a boat-load of kids. We will get into the newbies later in winter. Astana do get a point for turning over a large part of their roster because, well, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
- B&B Hotels becomes secondary title sponsor
- Also added development team!
- Claims Arthurian Legend as team vibe
- Incoming: Vincenzo Albanese, Raul Garcia
- Outgoing: Warren Barguil, Hugo Hoffstetter
I cannot emphasize this enough... this team’s mission is to reclaim Arthurian legends for Brittany! Everyone has a story to tell, but these guys are going big with it. They are not — repeat NOT — messing around:
No transfer could possibly feel like a bigger story than basically the biggest story in Christendom since Adam and Eve.
- Incoming: Alberto Bruttomesso, Finlay Pickering
- Outgoing: Mikel Landa, Johnny Milan
Next year has to be better than 2023, which consisted largely with the team coping — sometimes beautifully — with the tragic death of Gino Mäder. Some nice pickups on the youth side, which follows on the mid-season acquisition of Antonio Tiberi, who put up good results after getting bounced from Trek for killing a cat. It’s safe to say that just changing the conversation and turning the page is the highlight of the offseason right now. Oh, and Alberto Bruttomesso’s surname translates to either ugly mess or bad situation. Maybe hiring him is a way to exorcise the team’s demons. Last summer they unveiled their “pearl” look which will continue and sponsor Bapco Energies will either use the sport’s humanizing forces to elevate its transition from oil and gas to sustainable (solar) energy... or to at least sportswash their sins.
Blanco (a/k/a Visma-Lease a Bike)
- Flirted with QS merger
- Replaced sponsor Jumbo with Lease a Bike
- Incoming: Matteo Jorgensen, Ben Tulett, Cian Uijtdebroeks
- Outgoing: Primoz Roglic, Sam Oomen, Tobias Foss
It was a wild media ride, if not in more concrete terms, for the former Jumbo Visma team, who are conveniently and somewhat nostalgically licensed under “Blanco.” Jumbo supermarkets ended their commitment, which led the team to contemplate the mega-merger with Quick Step that everyone was talking about, only for that to fizzle and for the Pom Group conglomerate to offer up its holdings like Lease a Bike, Cervélo, and probably some car brands they import to the Netherlands on a sleeve somewhere. Meanwhile, they did the necessary work of splitting with Roglic before he went completely rogue, only for his arrival at BORA (and assorted other hostilities) to nudge Uitdebroeks out the door. Now the 20-year-old Belgian can hone his craft at the world’s greatest team, with great leaders and minimal pressure — a trade that could keep the V-LAB’s Tour de France window open indefinitely. Oh, love the Jorgensen signing too.
- Incoming: Primož Roglič, Dani Martinez, Matteo Sobrero
- Outgoing: Sam Bennett, Cian Uijtdebroeks
This is a pretty extreme makeover, in the parlance of modern pop culture, but mostly people will talk about one thing: the arrival of Primož. The decorated Slovenian grand tour specialist and his new German squad go together like oil and vinegar — which is to say, brilliantly, with some extra ingredients and a vigorous shaking. Everyone knows it will take heroic team support to push the somewhat predictable (for my taste) Roglič past his former teammates and other Tour challengers, at age 34 and with no results in France since the 2020 disaster. But there is little question that he will be among the top riders and very hard to dispatch, especially with experienced, high level support from maybe DaniMart or Ale Vlasov. The loss of Uitdebroeks might be sensational and painful down the road, but for now, BORA have a happier story they are ready to tell. Interesting note about how they haven’t done any new sponsor deals to bring in Rogs, they just used cash they had squirreled away in recent years. Cycling teams save money?!?
- Valgren returns
- Incoming: New kids Mikel Beloki, Darren Rafferty, Archie Ryan
- Outgoing: Magnus Cort Nielsen
It’s been 18 months since Michael Valgren, former Amstel and Omloop winner, fractured his pelvis in a crash at the Route Occitaine, and after a year of easing himself back in via the EF development team, the Danish all-rounder has returned! This should give the otherwise lightly-changed EF team a morale boost? Oh, and yeah, that’s Joseba’s kid coming on board.
- Management changes
- Futile chase for more stars
- Outgoing: Ben Tulett, Tao Hart, Dani Martinez, Lucas Plapp, Pavel Sivakov
This is a bit more of a courtesy entry than a case for them actually winning, but nobody can say they didn’t try. INEOS for sure tried to lure Roglic to take their lead spot in the grand tours, and at least some people were anxious to contemplate Remco Evenepoel jumping ship, if maybe not Evenepoel himself. They may have also been in the bidding for Uijtdebroeks. In the end the biggest actual news was who left, from director Rod Ellingworth to the quintet of solid riders listed above.
- Incoming: Nairo Quintana, Pelayo Sanchez, Javier Romo
- Outgoing: Matteo Jorgensen, Carlos Verona
Wait what?! The ReNai(ro)ssance certainly counts as one of the offseason’s more colorful stories, even if nobody (including team boss Eusebio Unzue) thinks it will make a big difference. Enric Mas needs all the help he can get, however, and maybe Quintana has a few big days left in his legs, after last year’s idling. And then there are always some Spanish kids to dream on, including the Vuelta’s big stage-hunter Sanchez.
Team dsm-firmenech - PostNL
- PostNL sponsors squad for 3 years
- Incoming: Fabio Jakobsen
- Outgoing: Alberto Dainese, Andreas Leknessund
Probably still not as good as their women’s squad, although Jakobsen will give them a real sense of purpose. The PostNL money helps them level up, be it as Jakobsen’s squad or something more diverse.
Soudal Quick Step
- Evenepoel stays; merger fizzles
- Incoming: Mikel Landa, Gianni Moscon, William Lecerf
- Outgoing: Fabio Jakobsen, Andrea Bagioli
Firming up what they felt good about is as big a win as this team is going to see right now. They warded off a raid of their prime asset, Evenepoel, who was occasionally rumored to INEOS in a move that was only possible in the case of a merger. When the Jumbo-Quick Step merger fell apart, Evenepoel’s contract remained intact, and he shut down the speculation that didn’t really come from him in the first place. Moscon and Landa should give him a bit more protection in grand tours, specifically the Tour de France, which Remco is supposed to finally take on next year. Lecerf is a major prospect and could be a climbing asset sooner rather than later. Even Jakobsen’s departure just clears up the obvious role for Tim Merlier. Lefevre is fighting a losing economic battle but for now the team has held its still-lofty position in the peloton.
- Lidl sponsorship last summer
- Another new development team!
- Incoming: Albert Philipsen, Andrea Bagioli, Tao Hart, Johnny Milan, Carlos Verona
- Outgoing: Filippo Baroncini
It happened six months ago, but Trek’s sponsorship deal with German supermarket chain Lidl has really rejuvenated the franchise, which was a big player a decade ago under the Leopard and Radio Shack names. Both the men’s and women’s teams were able to add quality riders, and even if Tao Geoghegan Hart isn’t likely to beat Pogs aind Vingo, he will give the team a presence in the GC at the Tour. Bagioli, meanwhile, is already a climbing classics ace, capping his age-24 season with second in Lombardia. But as noted above, the biggest get may be the Dane Philipsen, a junior world champion on both the road and MTB, and European ITT champ to boot. He profiles as an all-round type who some are already calling the next Pogacar, as if that were at all a responsible thing to say. Given that all the big WT squads wanted him, Lidl-Trek sealing the deal is for sure a big win.
UAE Emirates Team
- Another new development team... UAE Emirates Gen Z!
- Incoming: Antonio Thomas Morgado, Nils Politt, Pavel Sivakov
- Outgoing: George Bennett, Davide Formolo, Pascal Ackermann
Morgado was the runner-up at the U23 worlds. Politt and Sivakov give some depth to Pogacar as he chases his next monument or maillot jaune. Having a development team is a wise use of their considerable funds.
So Who Won?
I’ll let you guys vote, but for me the contenders are Jumbo, Lidl-Trek and BORA.
Who won the 2023-24 Cycling offseason?
This poll is closed
Arkea B&B Hotels
Soudal Quick Step