Etixx-Quickstep still top the table but a charge by Movistar sees the Spanish team go from five to 18 wins since the last look at the rankings at the end of March. April has more race days than any other month with plenty of chances for teams big and small to start collecting the trophies and bouquets.
As well as the stats it’s a chance to review some wins, lob in some transfer gossip and explore the problems at Cofidis.
Etixx-Quickstep still top the table but “only” added four wins since the last look at the rankings. Once again we often see April as Etixx-Quickstep’s season highpoint but they didn’t land the big wins they crave. However we should be reappraising them as they’ve become far more than a Belgian superteam pointed at the classics although as ever they lack the big stage race contender, they’ve swapped Rigoberto Uran for Dan Martin, the latter is bringing in more wins than the Colombian but doesn’t seem to offer the chance of a podium finish in a grand tour that the Colombian can.
If the rankings were music charts then Movistar would be the hit band of April, rising up the charts with 18 wins when they stood on five at the end of March. The Flèche Wallonne is probably the most memorable because it was on TV but they swept the Vuelta a Castille y Leon with Carlos Betancur taking a stage and Alejandro Valverde winning the other two stages and the overall while Nairo Quintana took two wins in Romandie, the overall and that contested sprint against Ilnur Zakarin. J-J Lobato took a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe too, a small win but he seized one of those many wins that April can offer up.
FDJ might surprise in equal fifth place but they were there the last time too. There’s been some more quality too, Thibaut Pinot’s March win in the Critérium International was expected to the point where second place would have been a failure but his podium finish in the Tour de Romandie was more the result he’s been aiming for, indeed Pinot won the time trial stage. A sentence you might not have expected to read but all the signs were there, he’s been placing well in time trialsa. The Romandie course was almost designed for him with a tough climb and then a descent with few obstacles where some riders hit 90km/h. Interestingly he only lost a handful of seconds to Tom Dumoulin on the descent which suggests Pinot’s aerodynamics are almost as good as the Dutchman.
Orica-Greenedge only had three wins to add but that included Paris-Roubaix thanks to Mathew Hayman and they came very close to winning a second monument with Michael Albasini in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In fact they could – not should – have won the Amstel Gold Race too and certainly worked hard for it but the ongoing differences between Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans made things harder. Talking of green, Cannondale are still on three wins. Have they lost their mojo? Once upon a time they were the quirky team with a strong anti-doping vibe, proudly proclaiming their clean ways in a time when to say this out loud was disturbing to others; when asked about doping rivals teams and riders would say “next question” or “I’ve never failed a test”. Now this topic is less taboo it’s taken away an element of the team’s identity but they’ve never been prolific winners, bagging big races like the Giro, Paris-Roubaix and Dauphiné. They’re about to start the Giro with a shot at the podium and a roster built for summer stage races.
Giant-Alpecin are still on zero but have come close with Nikias Arndt trying his best in the sprints; he’s often worth watching for his seated sprints when others stomp out of the pedals. John Degenkolb is back in the bunch leaving only neo-pro sprinter Max Walscheid still on the mend. “Dege” is counting on his freshness for the Tour de France but it’s a big ask for him to contend in the sprint stages against Kittel, Kristoff, Cavendish, Greipel and all the others, among such competition even one stage would be a coup. Not to knock Degenkolb’s abilities but he’s more of an all-rounder as his wins in Sanremo and Roubaix showed last year making him a valuable classics contender; indeed Birdsong says he’ll be the one recruited to replace Fabian Cancellara at Trek-Segafredo, the US team took three wins in April, all in the Tour of Croatia and including two by Giacomo Nizzolo who’ll they’ll count on to win a stage of the Giro d’Italia and win the maglia rossa again.
Lampre-Merida took two more wins and are now in the headlines for saying they want to sign Alberto Contador. Show me the team that doesn’t. As ever victory rankings and the UCI points system are not the same. Dimension Data sit mid-table above but are last on the World Tour rankings while Astana are near the top of the table but second last in the UCI rankings.
On to the second division, the Pro Continental teams and Direct Energie’s good season continues. As entertaining and educational as Thomas Voeckler’s recent win in the Tour de Yorkshire was, it’s not so valuable to the sponsor which offers energy to households and businesses in France and Belgium and Thomas Voeckler’s sitting out this week’s 5 day Four Days of Dunkerque race to rest and rebuild for the Dauphiné and Tour. They surely want regular wins throughout the year but the grail is a stage win in the Tour de France amid the bright media glare. For all their wins Bryan Coquard was impressive in the spring classics where he didn’t win but came close, he’s only just turned 24 and was hanging with the best at times.
Wilier-Southeast is the new name of the fluo yellow Italian team as another bike manufacturer joins the peloton with title sponsorship and for them all the early season races are great but the Giro is the big deal. Caja Rural-RGA meanwhile are proving to be more than a replacement for the old Euskaltel-Euskadi team, not only do they populate the breakaways but they’re winning too including Hugh Carthy’s stage race wins and World Tour performance.
Cofidis have internal spats that have become public with several gripes. First there’s a split between some riders and the management and talk that manager Yvon Sanquer could be shown the exit soon. Unlike most teams Cofidis the team is owned by Cofidis the sponsor and so they’ve hired and fired managers over the years with the corporate human resources director being in charge of the team in the same way they’d oversee any subsidiary department. Another reported gripe is the dominant role of Nacer Bouhanni around whom the team is built and orientated with the inevitable frustrations and tensions this causes. That’s inevitable, the photo above shows Bouhanni winning a World Tour race as he leaves Kristoff, Greipel and Matthews trailing, nobody else on the team can do this. Sanquer’s got a difficult job, as he told La Voix du Nord he’s got one of the youngest teams going and other riders get their chances be it Julien Simon or the revitalised Arnold Jeannesson while Anthony Turgis is their only winner beyond Bouhanni, he won the Classique Loire and you might have seen him in the winning break in Yorkshire too.
Fellow French team Fortuneo-Vital Concept picked up a couple of wins in April, you might remember Dan McClay’s sprint win as he surged through the peloton and passing rivals like they were slalom poles on a downhill ski course (enough to launch “did he have a motor?” articles). But the team had a real electroshock when manager Emmanuel Hubert blasted his team’s lack of success in public and singled out riders one by one for their faults, for example McClay had “manque d’implication” which translates as he wasn’t getting involved enough.
Wanty-Gobert have just one win but it’s quality thanks to Enrico Gasparotto’s win in the Amstel Gold which he dedicated to Antoine Demoitié and his family. Among the others One Pro Cycling won the Tro Bro Leon thanks to Martin Mortensen… and the French teams marking each other out which let the Dane just get on with putting the power out in the finish. Bora-Argon 18 have only one win but can comfort themselves with wildcard selections for the Tour de France and Vuelta, they do have a good squad but the win rate is low. The wildcard invitations are becoming problematic as there are few “must have” teams and instead picks are given on the basis of nationality. This makes sense in that a grand tour needs home teams and the domestic riders are doubly motivated and will pack the breakaways, for example Bardiani-CSF will enliven the Giro. Yet it also shows how almost all the talent is concentrated in the World Tour, no sooner does someone begin to shine then they’re in a top team with only a handful of exceptions.