The holiday is over and it is time for the professional riders to start their serious training for the 2017 season. After the team building activities at the first team meetings in November, the month of December is traditionally the time for the first real training camps where the first drafts of the season schedules are made. Just a few weeks later, the cycling season is in full swing at the Tour Down Under. During the next few weeks, CyclingQuotes will prepare you for the coming season in a series of analyses where we take a detailed look at each of the 18 WorldTour teams and what to expect during the next 12 months.
Below we take a look at the Bora-hansgrohe team
Shane Archbold, Jan Barta, Cesare Benedetti, Sam Bennett, Emanuel Buchmann, Silvio Herklotz, Patrick Konrad, José Mendes, Gregor Mühlberger, Christoph Pfingsten, Lukas Pöstlberger, Andreas Schillinger, Michael Schwarzmann, Rüdiger Selig
Pascal Ackermann (Rad-net Rose), Erik Baska (Tinkoff), Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Michal Kolar (Tinkoff), Leopold König (Sky), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff), Matteo Pelucchi (IAM), Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff), Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM)
Riders leaving the team
Phil Bauhaus (Sunweb), Zakkari Dempster (Cycling Academy), Bartosz Huzarski (retires), Ralf Matzka (?), Dominik Nerz (retires), Scott Thwaites (Dimension Data), Paul Voss (?)
Analysis of the transfer campaign
As soon as it was announced that Oleg Tinkov would leave cycling and that his Tinkoff team was likely to fold, Peter Sagan became the hottest prospect on the transfer market. The world champion was a natural target for many of the biggest teams and so it came as a massive surprise for many that it was the small Bora team that managed to win the battle for the world champion’s signature. The arrival of hansgrohe as a new sponsor and with Specialized providing valuable support in securing the deal, manager Ralph Denk convinced Sagan that his team can offer him the best chance to continue his impressive run of success.
The signing of Sagan obviously means that Bora-hansgrohe are maybe the biggest winners of the transfer season and they are guaranteed a huge amount of success in their first year at WorldTour level. With the move to the elite division, the team has been forced to increase the size of the roster significantly and a big goal of their transfer campaign has been to make sure that they are ready for the heavy strains of the finest calendar. No less than 13 new riders have been signed and as seven riders are leaving, the team has undergone a massive change.
The transfer campaign seems to have had two goals: to increase the level of support for Sagan in the classics and to make sure that the team is also able to make an immediate impact in the GCs at the grand tours. Surprisingly, the team has had a luckier hand in the second aim while their classics team looks relatively weak.
Most of new signings for the one-day races are Sagan’s former teammates at Tinkoff. Compatriots Erik Baska and Michal Kolar are pure sprinters and have never had much of a say in the hard one-day races – apart from Kolar’s surprisingly good ride at last year’s Worlds. Maciej Bodnar is brutally strong and has always been a solid domestique but he is still to make it into the finale in a monument. That makes Sagan heavily reliant on Aleksejs Saramotins and Marcus Burghardt. The former has had some good rides in Roubaix but he has never been a contender in the hillier races in Flanders. Burghardt is the key signing for Sagan and the hugely versatile German has proved to be reliable in almost every terrain. Nonetheless, the lack of lieutenant is obvious and Sagan could very easily find himself a bit lonely in the big classics.
The signing of Sagan would make it natural to focus fully on the classics and sprints in the first year at WorldTour level but surprisingly the team has opted to bet on two horses. Most of their remaining transfer budget has been spent on grand tour riders instead of classics domestiques and the team will be a contender in the GCs at the three-week races already in their first year in the elite division. Rafal Majka has shown that he can finish on the podium in a grand tour and despite an injury-plagued 2016 season, Leopold König confirmed in the Vuelta that he can still be regarded as one of the greatest stage race talents. The team has done little to sign climbing domestiques though and even though Pawel Poljanski and Jay McCarthy are decent climbers, they will have to look to returning riders like Emanuel Buchmann and Patrick Konrad to step up in support of the captains.
For the rest, the team has added to its sprint contingent by signing the hugely promising German Pascal Ackermann while they are hoping for a resurgence of Matteo Pelucchi after a disastrous 2016 season marred by health issues.
With three big signings, no one can argue that Bora-hansgrohe’s transfer campaign has been negative but they will still regret a few of their departures. The loss of Scott Thwaites stands out as the Brit would have been a valuable support for Sagan in the classics. Phil Bauhaus was finally showing improvement in the sprints but just as he was knocking on the door for a big bunch sprint win, he opted to head to the German rivals at Sunweb. On paper, the loss of talented Dominik Nerz is huge but due to his many health issues, he never reached his full potential in the team. Surprisingly, the team let veterans Bartosz Huzarski and Paul Voss go and the absence of both could be felt in the hillier races.
What to expect in the classics?
Whenever Peter Sagan is in the team, it will be all about the world champion. It will be up to the Slovakian to make the first part of the first year at WorldTour level a success and there will be very little room for the rest of the team to shine. Sagan will again tackle the full classics schedule from Strade Bianche to Paris-Roubaix – it remains to be seen whether he will again ride in the opening weekend – and he can win any race in that period. After his dip in form during from 2013 until May 2015, he has been better than ever during the last 18 months and his past tendency to fade at the end of long races has been overcome. If one adds that he has matured tactically, Sagan will be the obvious favourite for every race in Flanders and everybody will be looking at him and his team.
That favourite tag means that the classics will be no walk in the park for Bora-hansgrohe. As said, their transfer campaign has been far from impressive when it comes to building a team around Sagan and only Burghardt can be expected to regularly feature in the finale of the hard races. If one adds the fact that the team has lost the standout performer on the cobbles in 2016, Scott Thwaites, the heavy burden of being the favourite means that it will be an uphill battle for Sagan to dominate on the cobbles to the extent that his talent makes him capable of.
While he is the obvious favourite for the Flemish races, Sagan is still looking for a breakthrough ride in Roubaix. The flatter course suits him less but he has never tackled the race in perfect conditions. After his early attempts, he skipped the race during his first peak in 2012-2013 and only returned in 2014 and 2015 when he was far from his best. Last year he missed out due to the big crash early in the race so it remains to be seen whether Sagan will have a real shot at victory. Team tactics play less of a role in Roubaix and nothing suggests that the world champion can’t win the most prestigious classic.
Bora-hansgrohe is less stacked with talent when it comes to the Ardennes. Sagan targeted the Amstel Gold Race in his first years as a classics rider but has skipped it since 2013. The course suits him down to the ground though and this year he already played with the thought of making a return to the Dutch classic. Depending on his level of fatigue, he could make his comeback in 2017 and that will give Bora a real shot at the win. For Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the team is likely to play a more anonymous role. Leopold König and Rafal Majka are likely to lead the team but none of them are real classics riders. The same goes for young Emanuel Buchmann. Patrick Konrad is a lot punchier and has a solid potential for the future. He was 15th in Liege in 2016 and could build on that result in 2017. It will also be interesting to see what Jay McCarthy can do in these races. His performance at the 2016 Tour Down Under suggests that he can get far in the hilly one-day races.
Apart from Il Lombardia, Sagan can win every WorldTour one-day race in the second half of the year and if he skips the Vuelta, Bora-hansgrohe will be a dominant force in Hamburg, Plouay and the Canadian races. Again the level of team support will make it a challenge but if he goes for the one-day races, Sagan is likely to win at least one major one-day race in the autumn as he builds form for another bid at the rainbow jersey on a course that suits him perfectly. For the hillier one-day races in Italy, the team will have fewer chances and with König being tired after a Giro-Tour campaign and Majka likely to do the Vuelta, the team could be less visible in the hillier races.
What to expect in the grand tours?
The transfer campaign is a clear sign that the team wants to have an impact on the grand tours right from the beginning. The signing of Rafal Majka and Leopold König means that the team will have genuine podium candidates in all the three-week races which marks a significant change compared to 2015 and 2016 when they were fighting for top 20 spots with the likes of Emanuel Buchmann and Jose Mendes.
Majka was expected to deliver the goods in the Giro while König was signed as the Tour captain. However, an analysis of the courses for the Tour and the Giro forced the team to change its plans and now König has been chosen as the leader. The Czech has finished in the top 5 whenever he has started a grand tour as a leader and he is still improving. At the 2016 Vuelta, he was probably better than ever and if it hadn’t been for a bad day on the roads to Formigal, he could have joined teammate Froome on the podium. He will be pleased with the huge amount of time trialling and the many kilometres against the clock is the main reason for the late change of plans. The field will be strong but no reason that he can’t finish in the top 5 and maybe even on the podium.
König’s level of support is questionable and he could find himself pretty lonely in the mountains. Pawel Poljanski will probably follow Majka closely but the team could also line up talents like Patrick Konrad and Silvio Herklotz. However, it will be up to König to deliver the goods if he wants to finish on the podium. In addition to the captain, the team could go into the race with either Sam Bennett or Matteo Pelucchi for the sprints as both are likely to be left off the team for the Tour de France.
In France, the team will have a two-pronged goal. A big part of the roster will be devoted to Peter Sagan’s attempt to equal Erik Zabel’s record of six green jerseys. Sagan’s presence also means that the team is very unlikely to leave the race without a stage win and barring disaster, it seems very unlikely that anyone will be able to stop him from stepping onto the podium with another green tunic on his shoulders.
The second goal is to get another top 10 finish with Majka. The Pole showed how far he can get in a three-week race when he finished third in the 2015 Vuelta. His fifth place in the 2016 Giro was a bit of a disappointment but his ambitions have to be lower in his first attempt as a GC rider in the biggest race. The small amount of time trialling is ideal for the Pole but he would have preferred a more mountainous course. The top 10 must be the goal and that should be doable.
With a start in Germany, the team will also line up Emanuel Buchmann who will get valuable grand tour experience by playing the role of key domestique for Majka. König is also scheduled to ride and he could be an alternative option for the GC. However, the Giro-Tour double is a very difficult challenge and it is very unlikely that he will be able to finish in the top 10 in both races.
The plans for the Vuelta are less clear but the time seems to be ripe for Majka to go for GC in two grand tours in a year. Sagan could also do the race like he did in 2015 and his presence would automatically make the race a success. If the world champion skips the race, it could be a chance for Sam Bennett to prove his potential in a race that has often allowed sprinters from the second step in the hierarchy to get a breakthrough win.
What to expect elsewhere?
Sagan’s presence means that the team will be in the mix in every race that the world champion will attend. In addition to the classics and the Tour, we can expect the Slovakian to take his usual stage wins in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse. He will make his season debut in the Tour Down Under but history shows that he is rarely at his best at that time of the year and so he is unlikely to win the race even though the course suits him down to the ground. From Omloop Het Nieuwsblad until the end of the season, we can expect Sagan to win something in almost every race he attends.
Jay McCarthy could have another shot at victory Down Under and then it will be up to König and Majka to deliver in the week-long stage races in the spring. König is likely to focus on the Giro and so may be less ready for those races but Majka has the potential to do very well in races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Volta a Catalunya, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour de Romandie even though the many time trials and their huge importance makes him less suited to one-week races. Those races will also be a chance for Patrick Konrad and Emanuel Buchmann to take the next step and go for a top 10 in one of the big stage races.
The team has a roster stacked with sprinters and so they will be a force to be reckoned with in every bunch sprint. Sagan and Sam Bennett are likely to have separate schedules and the Irishman is clearly ready to take the next step. His potential is huge but his health has been fragile and his positioning poor. If he can avoid his many health issues and improve his ability to fight in the hectic run-ins to the finish, he can win at the highest level. With the likes of Shane Archbold, Michael Schwarzmann and Rudiger Selig, he still has most of his lead-out train at his side.
Matteo Pelucchi has proved that he can win at WorldTour level but it remains to be seen whether he can return to his best. If he can, the team will have three sprinters that can win almost everywhere. Erik Baska has also shown his potential but it will be hard for the former European champion to get many chances in a team that is stacked with sprinters.
In general, it will be hard for most of the riders to get much freedom in a team that has some clear leaders. Maciej Bodnar is lucky that he will be allowed to take his chance in the odd time trial and his fourth place at the Worlds is confirmation that he is able to win TTs at the highest level.
Who’s ready to surprise?
As said, it will be difficult for most of the riders to carve out much space so there won’t be many surprises in a team that is led by Sagan. However, Patrick Konrad and Emanuel Buchmann have both shown that they have potential as climbers. Konrad seems to lack the consistency in the longer stage races but with his decent punch, he could deliver a surprise in some of the harder one-day races. Buchmann seems to be more of a stage race rider and as he gradually continues his progress, the next goal must be to make it into the top 10 in one of the big WorldTour stage races.
Jay McCarthy has already been riding at the highest level for many years but he still has a huge potential. His performance at last year’s Tour Down Under was impressive but unfortunately the rest of his year was marred by health issues. If he can finally get a season with fewer problems, a breakthrough in one of the hilly classics could be in store.
Silvio Herklotz had a very difficult first pro season but his performances at U23 level proves that he has a huge potential as a stage race rider. However, 2017 may still be a bit too early for him. The same goes for Pascal Ackermann who will make his pro debut. The German is a very talented sprinter but he probably needs some time to adapt to the highest level.
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