Five Star Riders Headed to New Teams, but Will They Succeed?
Tony Martin's days of off-season pillow fights are over as he leaves Etixx for Katusha in 2017. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com (File).
We cycling fans may struggle to recognize our favorite riders this coming year, as many of them will be flying new colors for different teams. Peter Sagan in Bora black? Tony Martin in Katusha red? Aside from the updated wardrobe, what do the transfers mean for these riders and their new teams? Let’s consider five of the biggest moves for the coming year, and how they might — or might not — work out.
Best-case scenario: Based on his exploit at the Rio Olympics mountain bike race, Peter Sagan is getting a little sick of racing road bikes. He certainly likes to have fun and keep things fresh, so a change of scenery with a team that lacks a maniacal overlord (ahem, Oleg Tinkov) might help him stay focused on winning more monuments and other big races.
Worst-case scenario: Although Sagan is capable of racing like a Lone Ranger (and he does love Americana) he really could use a strong team to support his ambitions in the season’s biggest races, like Tour of Flanders and Roubaix. Bora is on a shopping spree, picking up at least six of Sagan’s henchmen from Tinkoff, but will that be enough when they face off with WorldTour mainstays like Etixx – Quick-Step?
Unexpected perk: Between stovetop manufacturer Bora and faucet company Hansgrohe, the Sagan household should be able to do a real nice kitchen remodel in 2017!
Alberto Contador to Trek – Segafredo
Best-case scenario: Okay, so Trek hasn’t officially confirmed Contador’s signing for 2017, but it’s the worst-kept secret in the peloton. [Well, one day after we published this story, Trek confirmed that he’ll race in the pinstripes next season -Ed.] For Contador, this is a chance to really harness the team’s firepower to support one last bid for a grand tour title. He doesn’t have to share the spotlight with Sagan any longer — will the theme of next season be “El Pisolero … Reloaded?”
Worst-case scenario: Oh, wait, we forgot. Contador doesn’t share a team with Sagan any longer, but there’s John Degenkolb (see below) to take some of the limelight and resources. Will that make the leadership situation murky for Contador? It might not matter if he just crashes in the first week of every grand tour he tries to win — like he did in the Tour and the Vuelta this year.
Unexpected perk: After befriending Herman the sheep, Trek’s Tour mascot, Contador swears off meat entirely and never has to worry about a clenbuterol positive again.
Best-case scenario: “The Shark of Messina” wins a few major one-day races, and perhaps a Tour stage. Let’s face it, Nibali won the Giro on the back of a strong Astana team and a healthy dose of luck (good luck for him, bad luck for Steven Kruijswijk). A newly organized team, backed by a Sheik with questionable character, directed by Brent Copeland, who has never led a team to an overall grand tour victory, doesn’t seem like a surefire way to take Giro pink, let alone Tour yellow. Maybe the Vuelta would be possible.
Worst-case scenario: The UCI doesn’t grant Bahrain – Merida a WorldTour license, due to public outcry over Sheik Nasser’s past. Nibali races some of the major events, but gets left out of the Vuelta, which might have been his best chance at an overall win.
Unexpected perk: Timeshares in Bahrain’s opulent palaces during the offseason (blackout dates apply).
Best-case scenario: Martin and Alexander Kristoff both get their grooves back. Martin has won only two time trials so far this season, German nationals and stage 7a at Tour of Britain. While Kristoff has 12 wins, he hasn’t notched a big one (read: WorldTour) since GP Ouest France in 2015. Wait, do we even really count that as truly big? No, Martin needs to rediscover his TT and stage-winning form, and he also needs to put that massive horsepower to good use, supporting Kristoff in the classics.
Unexpected perk: After five years of compulsory pillow fights with Etixx – Quick-Step in the off-season, Martin will be able to devote himself entirely to cycling when Katusha meets for winter training camps.
Best-case scenario: It’s unreasonable to expect the German to return to his monument-winning ways after fighting through 2016, recovering from January’s traumatic crash and subsequent surgery to reattach his finger. The good news is, this is the team that buoyed Fabian Cancellara to two Flanders wins and one Roubaix victory. Degenkolb should be back at the spring classics in 2017, but whether or not he’ll be able to compete is up to his recovery. We’re not hand surgeons, so we can only send good vibes his way. Perhaps it’s more realistic for him to aim for another cobblestone trophy in 2018, or farther down the road.
Worst-case scenario: Degenkolb’s recovery stalls out and his injured finger doesn’t improve any more. He might never get back to the magic form that earned him an unprecedented Sanremo-Roubaix double in 2015.
Unexpected perk: He opens up a German location for Jasper Stuyven’s family chocolatier — talk about diversifying!