We’re starting our coverage of the 2016 season with a detailed look at the 18 World Tour teams involved and their key rider’s ambitions for the year ahead.
In this first part we look at AG2R, Astana, BMC, Cannondale, Dimension Data, Etixx-Quickstep, FDJ, IAM & Katusha
Head over here to read the second half of our 2016 preview.
AG2R La Mondiale
In: François Bidard, Nico Denz, Cyril Gautier, Jesse Sergent.
Out: Carlos Betancur, Lloyd Mondory (fired after testing positive), Rinaldo Nocentini.
Romain Bardet will still be the focal point for the boys in brown and blue next year, having repeatedly proven himself a true G.C. candidate. He secured a stunning victory on stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, showcasing sublime descending skills to rival those of Vincenzo Nibali or Peter Sagan. A crash the following day cost him his shot at the overall podium. In the Tour de France, he lost handfuls of time early on and so set his sights to stage victories instead of the G.C. After two 3rd places, on stages 12 and 14, he finally found his sought-after win on stage 18, courtesy of another masterclass in descending. Could Bardet be a new hope for French cycling? It’s possible, but he’ll have to work on his relatively weak time trial, as well as focusing on staying on his bike. Expect some big stage wins in 2016 though.
The departure of Carlo Bentancur is a shame, as he’s previously shown great ability when both fit and motivated (consider Paris Nice 2014), but it’s fairly clear that his heart wasn’t in AG2R. Here’s hoping he can shine amongst his Colombian compatriots over at Movistar. If not, expect commentators everywhere to make more completely unfair fat jokes.
Old stalwarts Jean-Christophe Péraud, Domenico Pozzovivo, and Christophe Riblon must be looking at one or two more seasons before hanging up their cleats. Pozzovivo looks like his Giro hopes might have evaporated, and JCP’s second place in the Tour de France in 2014 was thanks to the misfortune of others as much as his own skill (a harsh truth). But between these three, there are excellent blueprints for Bardet to follow, and experienced mentors to guide him towards Grand Tour victory.
Jan Bakelants looked like he was beginning to find some form towards the end of 2015, with wins in some of the smaller Italian one-day races as well as a 4th placing in the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. If he’s still on the up in 2016 then he might well surprise a few in one of the more rouleur-friendly one-day races. Expect him to also target stages wins from a breakaway or late attack, as in Stage 2 of the Tour de France in 2013.
Alexis Vuillermoz will be another one to watch. He had a strong Tour De France in 2015, a 3rd place on stage 3, and a win on stage 8. At 27, these next few seasons are where he needs to make a name for himself and continue to capitalise on opportunities, or be resigned to playing super-domestique for Bardet.
Astana Pro Team
In: Eros Capecchi, Gatis Smukulis,
Out: Borut Bozic, Alexandr Dyachenko (retired), Mikel Landa, Rein Taaramäe.
The Kazakh team will once more centre itself around two leaders: Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali. Aru is set to be leader for the Tour de France this year, with the more experienced Nibali opting to focus on both the Giro d’Italia and this year’s Olympic Games in Rio. We can assume that if either man misses his targets this year then he will be given another shot at success in the Vuelta.
Nibali’s relationship with team director Vinokourov is known to have soured, and there are rumours that he is growing increasingly keen to find a new home; a move to Trek (now with its Italian lead sponsor) in 2017 is on the cards.
Nibali’s replacement might eventually come in the form of Diego Rosa. Rosa won in Milano-Torino, and had strong top 5 placings in Il Lombardia as well as Strada Bianche. He’s certainly one to watch, and he’ll no doubt have his eyes turned to the big Italian one day races again this year.
The team’s extraordinarily strong roster of domestiques, lead by Jakob Fuglsang, Andriy Grivko, Samuel Sanchez and Michele Scarponi, will once more provide support and shelter for their captains throughout the 2016 season, and new faces swell the ranks in place of the significant loss of Mikel Landa. Eros Capecchi (who rode with Nibali in his Liquigas days) and Gatis Smukulis are signed up to join the light-blue train that has become a fixture of grand tour climbs.
The anomaly in the team, which is built for G.C. races and hilly or mountainous one-day events, is Lars Boom. He is a hard Dutch Classics man who should be at a team that will fully support him in the spring classics. At 30, these next few years are where we should see him hit his peak, and, with no cobbles at the Tour this year, he’ll be wanting some good results this spring.
BMC Racing Team
In: Tom Bohli, Floris Gerts, Richie Porte, Loïc Vliegen.
Out: Cadel Evans (retired), Campbell Flakemore (retired), Klaas Lodewyck (retired), Peter Stetina.
The main story at BMC will be the relationship between Richie Porte and Tejay Van Garderen. Both have yet to deliver a big win in a grand tour, but have always promised to do so — with Tejay finding success in the American week-long stage races (the Tour of California in 2013 and the USA Pro Challenge in 2013 and 2014) and Porte doing the same in the traditional European week-long stage races (Paris Nice in 2013 & 2015, Volta a Catalunya in 2015 and Volta ao Algarve in 2012).
Both seem to have the same target for 2016: the Tour de France. Previously, it was thought that Porte would again target the Giro and Tejay the Tour, but Porte has since made it clear that The Tour is also his aim for 2016. Tejay has said that he and Porte as co-leaders will be to the benefit of the team’s overall chances, but history shows that co-captaincy at the Tour doesn’t always work that way. The rivalry between LeMond and Hinault in 1985 and 1986 is a prime example, as are Contador and Armstrong in 2009, and Wiggins and Froome in 2012.
BMC’s other focus will be the one-day classics with Greg Van Avermaet aiming to shake off his bridesmaid status in the spring. He was on the podium at Flanders, Roubaix and Strade Bianche last year, and has the ability to win a big race. A change in luck is what he needs (unlike in last year’s San Sebastian race!). He won a stage at the Tour, in a battle of the second-placers against Sagan, but a win on the cobbles of Northern Europe is what he dreams of. Expect Philippe Gilbert to be after the same thing; despite not finding his past form these recent years, he is a hard rider to write off.
We also think that Daniel Oss and Jempy Drucker are set to reach their respective peaks this coming year. Oss rode brilliantly for GVA at Strada Bianche, and Drucker took the win in London at the Surrey Classic; both show huge promise. The minor spring classics should be a suitable target for the both of them.
Cannondale Pro Cycling Team
In: Patrick Bevin, Matti Breschel, Simon Clarke, Lawson Craddock, Phil Gaimon, Ryan Mullen, Pierre Rolland, Toms Skujiņš, Rigoberto Uran, Wouter Wippert, Michael Woods.
Out: Janier Acevedo, Tom Danielson (fired after testing positive), Lasse Norman Hansen, Nathan Haas, Ryder Hesjedal, Ted King (retired), Daniel Martin, Matej Mohoric.
New name, new kit, new signings – this team barely resmbles that of the blue argyle days dominated by David Millar, Daniel Martin, and Ryder Hesjedal.
The team has lost a previous Giro winner in Ryder Hesjedal. But they might well have gained a future one in Rigoberto Uran. Twice a runner up in the Italian grand tour, could 2016 be third time lucky for Rigoberto? The mix of time-trialling and mountains should suit him well and with the likes of Aru, Contador and Quintana focussing on the Tour, 2016 could well be the year in pink for Uran.
For the Tour de France, Andrew Talansky should be the Cannondale man. He has shown that he can produce the kind of exceptional form needed to match the world’s best (for instance, the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné), but he has also imploded spectacularly during some of the tougher stage races (as in the 2014 Tour de France). A top 10 this year should be his aim. Pierre Rolland will be around to support Talansky’s bid, but he’ll also want to target some stage wins of his own. Always one to try his luck on an Alpine ascent, or else to slowly accrue KOM points in breakaway’s, the move to Cannondale — up from the second-tier Europcar team — should suit Rolland well.
We’re really looking forward to seeing Wouter Wippert go head-to-head with the other world tour sprinters. He’s been on the radar for the last few seasons, and he delivered last year with a win in the Tour Down Under. He’s an opportunistic sprinter who doesn’t always rely on a sprint train to deliver him to the line – which is a good thing, because Cannondale are short of the full locomotive. A messy sprint or a minor one-day race may not be beyond his grasp this year.
Cannondale also have two exciting hopes for the future in Joe Dombrowski and Davide Formolo. Dombrowski took an emphatic victory in “America’s toughest road race”, the Tour of Utah and Formolo raised eyebrows with a stage win in the Giro — he’ll be a marked man in Italy this year. Formolo may well want his own shot at a G.C. title in the coming years, and his experience working for Uran will have trained him well.
In: Igor Anton, Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, Omar Fraile, Nathan Haas, Cameron Meyer, Mark Renshaw, Kanstantsin Siutsou.
Out: Gerald Ciolek, Matthew Goss, Louis Meintjes, Andreas Stauff.
In case you’ve not been following the cycling news intently, Dimension Data is the new name of the up-and-coming world tour team MTN-Qhubeka. Bigger news than the name change, though, is that Dimension have secured the talents of Mark Cavendish for themselves as well as his long-serving right-hand man Mark Renshaw.
Cav has set himself the ambitious targets of a yellow jersey on the opening day at the tour, a gold medal on the track at the Rio Olympics, and another rainbow jersey in the (likely to be boring) World Championship race in Doha, Qatar. He’s also reunited with old friend Bernard Eisel, which is sure to help his chances. But a yellow and rainbow jersey is a tall order, and Cav’s successes are far fewer and further between than his former glory days.
Eisel will also be called upon to support his old Sky teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen in the spring classics. EBH had a great end to 2015 with an unexpected G.C. win at The Tour of Britain, so the minor week-long stage races (provided the profiles aren’t too bumpy) will also be on his to-do list. Meanwhile, Steve Cummings will be looking to repeat his breakaway victory trick, despite being more of a marked man than ever since his stage win in last year’s Tour de France.
The Spanish duo of Igor Anton and Omar Fraile will, we think, take up the job as the team’s G.C. leaders following the departure of Louis Meintjes. However, stage wins in the mountains are more likely for these two, and Dimension Data may not yet have found their dream Tour de France G.C. squad.
Their stand out rider in 2015 was Daniel Teklehaimanot, now a national hero in Eritrea. He’ll want to upgrade his polka dot jersey at the Dauphiné for one at the Tour de France, and maybe pick up a stage win along the way.
In: Rodrigo Contreras, Laurens De Plus, Fernando Gaviria, Marcel Kittel, Bob Jungels, Daniel Martin, Davide Martinelli, Maximiliano Richeze.
Out: Mark Cavendish, Michal Golas, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mark Renshaw, Rigoberto Uran.
This really is the team of one-day stars, and, on paper, there isn’t a race that they couldn’t win. But as last year showed, Etixx’s strength in numbers often fails to make up for some massive tactical oversights, and they will need to (quick)step up their game in 2016.
The big unknown is Marcel Kittel, and we think Etixx have taken a bit of a gamble on him, in the hopes that 2015 is just a streak of bad luck. We don’t think he will be the sprinter he was in 2013 and 2014, but with a new team and, hopefully, an injury-free season, he’s got a good opportunity to prove the world wrong. But Etixx also have the young sprinter Fernando Gavira, who got the better of Cavendish at last year’s Tour de San Louis, and who is one to watch on the flat finishes this year.
The recent news about Tony Martin‘s plans for Paris-Roubaix or Flanders comes with the promise of great one-day racing. Martin seems to have recently discovered a Wiggins-like ability to power across the cobbles, and with a tried and tested ability to solo away after a hard day in the saddle, Martin looks like a good outsider bet for the rougher northern classics.
Dan Martin is also a rider looking to forget 2015 and to use his new team as a spring board into more monuments and GT stage wins. We really think that on his day he is one of the best riders in the peloton, and we hope to see him challenging for the Ardennes classics at the start of this year. He might also be a good outside bet for a gold medal in Rio…
2016 could also be the final year of Tom Boonen. On paper another cobbled monument as well as a rainbow jersey on the sandy flats of Doha would be his dream – the reality will be different, we think, which could mean he postpones his retirement until after the 2017 spring classics. However this year works out for him, his performances over the last ten years will mean he will be remembered as one of the true greats of one-day racing.
For us, though, the most exciting Etixx rider at the moment is Julian Alaphilippe. His second-placings in both Liège–Bastogne–Liège and La Flèche Wallonne, and his second-place on G.C. in the Tour of California, show that it is only a matter of time before he takes a huge title. Could he replicate Gilbert’s clean sweep of the Ardennes in 2011? We think yes, and we’d like to see those odds.
In: Odd Christian Eiking, Marc Fournier, Daniel Hoelgaard, Ignatas Konovalovas, Jeremy Maison, Sebastien Reichenbach.
Out: David Boucher, Mickaël Delage, Anthony Geslin (retired), Arnold Jeannesson, Francis Mourey, Jussi Veikkanen (retired).
FDJ really do have all their oeufs in one Pinot-shaped basket. Thibaut Pinot‘s 2015 Tour de France was a rollercoaster, as he suffered a terrible first week, showed courage in his return in the latter weeks, but misjudged most of the crucial moves (as when he lost the stage to Steve Cummings). However, he came up trumps in the Alps, and took a little something home for his French team. This year’s goal is to make podium, but if that’s going to be a realistic target he will have to prove that he’s worked on his descending skills — previous downhill runs have seen him shed massive amounts of G.C. time, and he is renowned as one of the weakest descenders in the pack. Top 10 and another stage win is more likely.
Kenny Elissonde eventually showed what he could do on the penultimate stage of last years Vuelta and, like one-day hopeful Arnaud Demare, he’s only 24 and has time on his side. But that big win back in 2013 is starting to look like a fluke, and he’s be riding to prove himself in 2016.
In: Leigh Howard, Oliver Naesen, Vegard Stake Laengen, Oliver Zaugg.
Out: Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Degand, Jerome Pineau (retired), Sebastien Reichenbach, Patrick Schelling.
What with the departure of Sylvain Chavanel, IAM are, it is not unfair to say, now a team with no real standout riders or superstars. But that doesn’t rule them out of a few stage win possibilities.
Jérôme Coppel will be eager to show that his third in the World Championship time-trial was deserved, and it will be interesting to watch the young Frenchman go in the coming time-trials this year. He’s also tried his hand in breakaways in the past, and stands some chance of making it all the way with the right roll of the dice.
If you’re looking for a star man, then the closest you will get at IAM is Matteo Pelucchi. His two stage wins at last year’s Tour of Poland, although not against the all-out world-class names like Cav and (an in form) Kittel, were nevertheless well deserved, and he might find a dedicated train forming for him in many races this year.
In: Matvey Mamykin, Michael Mørkøv, Nils Politt, Jhonatan Restrepo, Rein Taaramäe, Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
Out: Giampaolo Caruso (fired after testing positive), Alexander Kolobnev (retired), Daniel Moreno, Luca Paolini (fired after testing positive), Rüdiger Selig, Gatis Smukulis, Yuri Trofimov.
Katusha will once again be about two men in 2016: Alexander Kristoff and Joaquim Rodriquez. The sprint powerhouse and classics man Kristoff will find it hard to repeat 2015’s impressive tally of victories. He’ll be squaring up against John Degenkolb and a returned-to-form, rainbow-stripes-wearing Peter Sagan. Flatter stage wins at this year’s Tour will be hotly contested, more so than in recent years, and we can’t see Kristoff taking the lion’s share of wins. He’ll also miss his wingman Luca Paolini, who’s out of the professional circuit due to cocaine usage.
Rodriquez, meanwhile, is still without a G.C. win (it seems almost unbelievable, given his stature within world cycling, but it’s true). He came pretty close at last year’s Vuelta though. We’d expect for him to aim no higher than for the polka dots in the Tour, before heading to Rio for the road race. This will leave him relatively fresh to target the Vuelta overall, and, as other main GC rivals seem to be targeting Giro or Tour, this might finally be Purito’s big year.
Last year’s Tour of Romandie G.C. winner, as well as a Giro stage winner, Ilnur Zakarin is going to be one to watch in 2016. He also had top 5 G.C. finishes at the tour of Poland and Arctic race of Norway. He’s a rider that took most people by surprise last year, given that it was his first season at the world tour level.
Jersey Images from Pro Cycling Stats
Transfer Info from Cafe Roubaix