We’re already one third of the way through the season if measured by race days. As ever here’s a chance to review the wins and take a look at the teams and some of the stories around them from the Catalonia team time trial fiasco to Peter Sagan’s tactical woes and why Astana’s image as peloton villains doesn’t work if they can’t win a single race.
17 wins and from nine different riders. Is Quick Step the most under-rated team in the sport? Certainly they are visible at this time of year but because they don’t challenge for the overall classification in grand tours they’ll always miss out on this media bonanza. Not that a team can fight on every front, choices have to be made. Quick Step still collect wins across the grand tours with multiple stage wins in the Giro and Vuelta and backing Marcel Kittel in the Tour de France.
If you like it’s a case of “grand tours, sprints, spring classics: pick any two” and even the wealth of Team Sky can’t cover all the fronts, house sprinter Elia Viviani doesn’t match the height of their ambitions elsewhere. Katusha are probably the closest but have to compromise, Ilnur Zakarin is still aiming to finish on the podium rather than win.
BMC Racing try to win the grand tours and the spring classics but opt out of sprinting. Their 17 wins include eight from Australians thanks to Rohan Dennis, Richie Porte and Miles Scotson. They also count three wins from team time trials including the recent one in the Volta a Catalunya where their protests saw the initial result of Movistar’s win overturned only for the UCI commissaires to read their own rules wrongly and apply the wrong sanction. After a good night’s sleep clearer heads – or an urgent phone call from Aigle – resolved things. As well as the regulatory reversals, it was also unusual for the way the protests appeared across social media as riders and team staff shared their frustrations by posting video evidence, as if trying to convict Movistar in the court of popular opinion. Trek-Segafredo also protested but via the usual, official channels rather than in public view. It’s been a storm in a teacup event but every BMC breach of the rules caught on TV will haunt them, they only have to drop an energy bar wrapper in the countryside and there will be calls for the UCI to fine them immediately (rightly so perhaps, littering is a continual problem). Indeed Tejay van Garderen had only to remove his helmet to take a cap off for Movistars J-J Rojas to call for the American to be disqualified from the race for breaking the rule about wearing helmets which in turn means Nairo Quintana will be fair game if he dares to unclip his helmet if, say, a hornet is buzzing there. The lesson is that we have commissaires to resolve this and they need to know their own rules. As it happened van Garderen cracked under pressure and the evergreen Valverde won the race.
Budget-wise FDJ are punching above their financial weight with seven wins, the latest in Catalonia with Davide Cimolai pipping Nacer Bouhanni but arguably their sixth place in the team time trial was just as valuable because it was a high place for a team with three neo-pros and validation of all the work their coaching staff do. One of those neo-pros was David Gaudu, tipped early this year as one to watch and already confirming his abilities and promise but as ever some riders can burn bright only to burn out. FDJ will need to manage him carefully but they know this.
Among the other teams Trek-Segafredo get marks for effort thanks to the persistence of Alberto Contador. One question is whether this effort sells bikes and the answer is unknown. It makes for great TV but it doesn’t deliver the wins. They’re a split team with a core of stage racers and another of classics contenders, all teams do this but it seems particularly pronounced here. They’ve been visible at times but haven’t had a result in the classics, driving the pace in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad just as the race was splitting but they missed the move. John Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven are visible in the heat of the action but have yet to translate this into a win.
Bora-Hansgrohe are proving to be more than Team Sagan with Sam Bennett’s stage win in Paris-Nice but only just. Sagan’s star status ensures attention regardless of wins but he still has to play the part, the Sanremo showman was more waspish in Wevelgem yesterday. The team is still top heavy and you wonder if Sagan’s attempts to play poker against Niki Terpstra and Quick Step would be advanced by having a stronger team in the final stages of the race. Certainly it would provide more cards to play but at the same time who would want to sign for this role? Finding a rider capable of making the grade in the final of a race but ready to lay down their chances isn’t easy; besides Sagan has Marcus Burghardt only he punctured just when it mattered on the way to Wevelgem. It’s questionable whether this would work anyway, Sagan now occupies a similar role to that endured by Fabian Cancellara where riders queue on his wheel and teams are happy to stop him from winning before making their own plans to win.
Bahrein-Merida have two wins and are a team built around Vincenzo Nibali but according to his coach Paolo Slongo he’s two kilos over his racing weight and if there’s time to shift this for the Giro it’s risky as it means running a calorific deficit just when he needs to be working hard and nurturing his body.
Who’s won races for Lotto-Jumbo? It’s easy to imagine Dylan Groenewegen but their Dutch champion has yet to get a win, he’s come close but the success has gone to Jos Van Emden, Victor Campanaerts and and Primož Roglič instead. Steven Kruijswijk is quietly improving, 21st in Abu Dhabi, DNF in Paris-Nice and now seventh in Catalonia which suggests all is on track for his Giro bid.
At the bottom end Astana are officially Team Gooseberry as they’re the only team without a win. If sport is to have heroes then it needs villains too and the Kazakh team has often been only too willing to supply scandal after scandal over the years thanks to multiple doping cases, UCI audits and other moments such as the Saint Augustine time they had to decide whether to abide by the MPCC rules or not and duly baled: “oh Lord, grant me chastity… but just do not give it yet“. Only this bad boy image needs wins to underpin it, to be fearsome rather than fodder. They ought to have had a win or two but their team has suffered losses over the winter leaving a roster with more second fiddles than the Berlin symphony’s storeroom plus a core of Kazakhs where several probably owe their place on the team to the accident of birth rather than the fruits of a global talent scouting scheme. Fabio Aru is their hope for the Giro but had a torrid time in Tirreno-Adriatico and Miguel Ángel López might be “superman” but he’s yet to fly… to Europe as he hasn’t started a race this season. Both will surely deliver and whatever you think of the team they’ve always been one of those solar powered squads who thrive in the summer stage races.
In contrast to Astana Cannondale-Drapac have nurtured a saintly image and were a team founded with the express purpose of riding clean, a statement that you might think should be assumed but a decade ago this was revolutionary and taboo-breaking to declare. Only today they seem to have lost this mojo. The win in the Coppi e Bartali will help but they were bottom fishing in a 2.1 race where Team Sky and Dimension Data were the only other World Tour teams, and the British squad sent its C-team of youngsters on a busy weekend with the Flemish classics and Catalonia. Sep Vanmarcke’s still got time to turn things around for Paris-Roubaix but the clock is ticking.
Direct Energie top the Pro Conti tables in part because they turned the tables on World Tour teams in the Coppi e Bartali thanks to Lilian Calmejane taking a stage win and the overall plus Thomas Boudat’s stage win too, he’s just turned 23 and is an exciting sprint prospect. Still by some measures they’ve have had a disappointing start to their season with Bryan Coquard only taking two wins when it would be reasonable to have expected more, especially as he was almost invisible during Paris-Nice, a vital early season target for the team.
If Direct Energie missed Paris-Nice so did domestic rivals Cofidis with Nacer Bouhanni quitting in the cold but he’s since redeemed himself with the Nokere Koerse and a stage win in Catalonia. He’s now in contract talks and a renewal seems likely but surely on reduced terms, or at least a smaller salary and large win bonuses.
Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM have more reasons to celebrate thanks to signing a five year deal with Delko, an auto parts retailer. The Pro Conti scene doesn’t have long term licences and if the likes of Cofidis are fixtures but many more teams come and go, Delko now looks to be on a solid footing and we can expect more recruitment and possibly a Vuelta wildcard invitation later this year.
Look at the slim pickings in cycling’s second tier where there are 32 wins so far, that’s fewer than Quick Step and BMC combined. So wins are rare but sometimes visibility counts, simply getting airtime is valuable but even that’s not easy, take Wanty-Groupe Gobert who rode in Catalonia last week only they suffered and you wonder how they’ll cope in the Tour de France.
Methodology these are .1 races and higher. This is to ensure professional wins count rather than victories taken in pro-am races, for example Fortuneo-Direct Concept won a stage of the Tour de Normandie and the overall last week with Anthony Delaplace but it’s not counted because it’s a .2 level race and the field is packed with U23 and development teams. Also on a subtler point note the rider has to be racing for their team so Jack Bauer’s win in the New Zealand time trial championships counts towards Quick Step’s tally because he rode in the team jersey while Astana are still on zero because Dmitri Gruzdev’s win in the Asian championships was done under a Kazakh jersey and not the Astana one.