A quiet week on the calendar so a quick moment to take stock of the stats and look at the teams and the news around them especially as the transfer market begins to warm up. Riders can’t sign for another team until August but they can agree terms and sign pre-contracts, for example Matteo Trentin’s move to Mitchelton-Scott was done around this time last year, the year before John Degenkolb’s move to Trek-Segafredo was done in the spring too and many more riders shake hands in March and April before signing the official document later this summer.
Quick Step have 19 wins from ten riders: they win a lot and a lot of them win. That’s 19 wins and nine second places, nine third places, a statistical oddity in that they win much more often than they place. Why? It’d be easy to cite a single unique factor but it’s surely a mix. For starters they recruit the right kind of riders, they’re not aiming to win a grand tour and so save precious resources by not having a contender; witness how they let Dan Martin go rather than match UAE Emirates. In races it’s rare they have a single leader accompanied by a mix of flat terrain bodyguards and mountain lieutenants who ride in the service of their leader (more the model at Movistar or Bahrain-Merida). There is the “wolfpack” mentality too where all riders are encouraged to have a go, what’s called a flat hierarchy in managerial jargon. But is the right strategy? It might sound odd to ask but does it sell laminated flooring? It probably does and the team’s budget is significant but less than the likes of BMC, Team Sky, Katusha and now UAE Emirates.
Team Sky lost Elia Viviani to Quick Step but haven’t quite given up on sprinting because they recruited Kristoffer Halvorsen and Chris Lawless, the latter winning a stage of the Coppi e Bartali over the weekend. Otherwise Egan Bernal has been impressive, even for a rider who expected to impress. As well as the road they’re still hoping for victory in the hearing of Chris Froome, whenever that comes. L’Equipe (€) suggested recently that the case could go to a tribunal in early May.
Astana are on eight wins and over their financial woes for now with a shake-up in the Kazakh sporting scene unblocking the funding they need. So it was right to read Alexandr Vinokourov’s interview as a move to stir things up back home. But it won’t be without consequence because would a rider want to sign for Astana knowing the funding issue could crop up again?
Meanwhile at Movistar Alejandro Valverde keeps on winning. Say what you like about him (subject to libel laws) but if he can give his rivals the slip, he can’t escape his past. You can admire his racing brain, he never seems to make a wrong call out on the road but the past makes enjoying his success harder. But that’s our problem not his. Otherwise Movistar’s story this season is that of its captains because Valverde has won and so have Marc Soler and Mikel Landa (pictured)… and if Quintana’s one it’s Dayer rather than Nairo. In part this does reflect the team’s hierarchical ways but it’s also the result of losing several lieutenants over the winter and just a bit of luck too. Still can the team retain all four of these riders?
Mitchelton-Scott are on 11 wins with Simon and Adam Yates both winning recently. It’s not so much what they’ve done but what they’ll do that’s interesting whether Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves in the Giro or Adam Yates and Caleb Ewan in the Tour de France. Also the contracts Ewan and the Yates are up this year, can the team find the money needed to retain them? If so would they want to? It’ll also be interesting to see how Jack Haig and Rob Power fare.
BMC Racing‘s future background theme to the season with the bike manufacturer due to stop title sponsorship and management searching for a replacement. The latest according to cyclingnews.com is that the team rides in 2019 but the sponsorship and therefore the budget and future roster is still in doubt. There’s an element of management having to say this, Slipstream were renewing rider contracts without the sponsorship inked for 2018 last year party in the hope that securing star riders would reassure sponsors that the assets were in place. Remember riders cannot sign with another team until 1 August but that there are many ways around this, they can sign a contract agreeing to the offer of a contract of employment so that all that needs to be done is ink the deal in August. It all makes for a delicate balancing act with a team needing to secure top riders to attract sponsors and why searching for the new sponsor when team’s leading riders are out of contract for 2019 only makes it harder.
Lotto-Soudal are still searching for that big northern classics win, a huge target for a team sponsored the Belgian lottery. Tiesj Benoot delivered in the Strade Bianche but the rest of the squad doesn’t look likely. Still they deliver in other ways and it’ll be interesting to see Tim Wellens contest more stage races. Thomas de Gendt took an impressive win the Volta Catalunya, pure De Gendt via a long range breakaway and then riding his rivals off his wheel before a taking the solo win. But with seven or eight rider squads in stage races can the team afford to have a rider doing as he pleases? Perhaps not on other squads but it works well for Lotto-Soudal.
Bahrain-Merida have three wins but will be delighted with Vincenzo Nibali’s Sanremo success, as much as the team is supposed to project Bahrain around the world it’s got an Italian leader, Italian management and and Italian HQ and the win got a lot of traction in Italy. Matej Mohorič has a win and keeps making a name for himself as a descender. It’s one thing to know he might try a move on a descent, another to try and follow him thanks to his famous aero tuck and cornering skills and so when he’s in form it’s bringing added excitement to racing.
Bora-Hansgrohe remain an odd squad, capable of winning so much thanks to Peter Sagan but still very top heavy, a super star with fewer support riders in orbit around him than we might expect, even if they’ve added some balance to the classics team. But perhaps it’s no bad thing because to have Sagan surrounded by six classics contenders would throttle the life out of many a classic where rivals are shut down and the Slovak either goes clear or aims to win from the sprint. When he and the other classics contenders take their break from April into May management will hope the likes of Davide Formolo and Rafał Majka step up.
UAE-Emirates have made big signings in Alexander Kristoff and Dan Martin but not got much to show for it so far. Kristoff looks off the pace and while Martin would normally have got a win by now but has time to collect something in the Basque Country or the fast-approaching Ardennes.
At the bottom end of the table all 18 World Tour teams have a win now but Ag2r La Mondiale, Dimension Data and Education First-Drapac are still chasing a World Tour win. Oliver Naesen threatens to win a classic but it’s a crowded field and there are only three cobbled classics left this spring; the same for Sep Vanmarcke.
In the Pro Conti ranks Direct Energie lead by a long way and better still had two jackpot stage wins in Paris-Nice, especially as World Tour wins for cycling’s smaller teams are very rare. Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia have five wins but none in Europe but should be happy to export their sponsor’s Italian branding. Cofidis are on three wins but Christophe Laporte has been one of the revelations of the season, not for his win but for making the front group in Sanremo and if he finished 13th it was after tangling his front wheel in someone’s rear mech and finishing on a front wheel with very few spokes and then he finished fourth in Gent-Wevelgem. Otherwise the likes of Rally Cycling and Aqua Blue Sport may not have big results but they often enliven the races they’re invited to.