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CyclingQuotes gives a detailed analysis of Cannondale-Drapac

Photo: Sirotti

CANNONDALE-DRAPAC PRO CYCLING TEAM

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28.12.2016 @ 18:19 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

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 Vovember, the month of December is traditionally the time for the first real training camps where the first drafts of the season schedules are made and just a few weeks later, the cycling season is in full swing at the Tour Down Under. During the next few weeks, CyclingQuotes prepares 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 Cannondale-Drapac.

 

Returning riders

Alberto Bettiol, Patrick Bevin, Nathan Brown, Simon Clarke, Lawson Craddock, Joe Dombrowski, Davide Formolo, Alex Howes, Kristijan Koren, Sebastian Langeveld, Ryan Mullen, Pierre Rolland, Toms Skujins, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Andrew Talansky, Rigoberto Uran, Dylan Van Baarle, Davide Villella, Wouter Wippert, Michael Woods

 

New signings

Brendan Canty (Drapac), Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural), William Clarke (Drapac), Taylor Phinney (BMC), Thomas Scully (Drapac), Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo)

 

Riders leaving the team

Jack Bauer (Etixx-QuickStep), Matti Breschel (Astana), Andre Cardoso (Trek-Segafredo), Phil Gaimon (retires), Ben King (Dimension Data), Alan Marangoni (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Moreno Moser (Astana), Ramunas Navardauskas (Bahrain-Merida), Kristoffer Skjerping (Joker),  Ruben Zepuntke (?)

 

Analysis of the transfer season

Looking at the number of wins, Cannondale-Drapac had a very bad 2016 season. However, the team did a bit better than the general perception says. In fact they finished 8th in the WorldTour, just behind a big team like Etixx-QuickStep and ahead of Astana that won a grand tour. This shows that the team was often thereabouts even though they didn’t win much.

 

Nonetheless, the first two years after the merger with Cannondale have been difficult and the team is still finding its feet. However, now they seem to have built a solid team for the stage races and the  next step is to become stronger in the classics, especially as their grand tour leaders Andrew Talansky and Rigoberto Uran showed lots of promise in the second part of the year. The team don’t have one of the biggest budgets on the WorldTour and so manager Jonathan Vaughters has had to carefully decide where to invest. For 2017, it has been all about becoming a major force in the cobbled classics where the team barely played a role in 2016.

 

Impressively, the team have made one of the coups of the transfer season. It is not easy to attract one of the select few that can actually win one of the cobbled monuments, but that’s what Vaughters has managed to do. The signing of Sep Vanmarcke is one of the best of the 2016-2017 transfer campaign and in one stroke, the team goes from an outsider status to a favourite role on the cobbles.

 

Vanmarcke may not have won a monument yet but the many near-misses are not due to a lack of talent. If you look at the Flemish classics and Paris-Roubaix as a whole, Vanmarcke is probably the most talented rider of the new generation. While riders like Sagan, Stybar and Kristoff seem better suited to the hillier courses in Belgium, Degenkolb has had his best results on the flat paves in France. Vanmarcke has been close to victory in all races and only needs to gauge his effort a bit better and make better tactical decisions to get that big victory. At LottoNL-Jumbo, he was often alone but at Cannondale-Drapac he may have more riders at his side in the finales. This may allow him to stay calmer and so Vanmarcke could be the man who gives Cannondale their first big win with the current sponsor.

 

The new signings can be split in two groups: young talents and riders who can support Vanmarcke on the cobbles. Tom Van Asbroeck and Taylor Phinney fall in the latter category and have clearly been added with the very specific purpose of doing well in the spring.

 

Phinney is of course a big-name signing but he is also a bit of a wildcard. It still remains to be seen whether he can return to his former level following his broken leg. He has shown signs of progress in the short time trials but he is still not nearly as strong in the longer TTs as he was before. It will probably take even longer to become competitive in the classics and honestly, he never really seemed to live up to his promises even before his injury. It is doubtful whether he will take that massive step in 2017 that will allow him to feature in the finales. Nonetheless, his progress in shorter TTs still make him a valuable addition and he can definitely achieve solid results throughout the season, mainly in the short opening stage of the Tour de France.

 

Van Asbroeck was signed on Vanmarcke’s request but he doesn’t have the endurance to feature in the deep end of the biggest classics. However, he will give the team an extra sprinting option for some of the smaller classics and in stage races. Unfortunately, he no longer seems to have the speed that he once had and his progress has clearly stalled.

 

Among the new signings, Hugh Carthy stands out. It is another coup for Vaughters to have attracted one of the hottest prospects on the transfer market. The Volta a Catalunya clearly had the strongest field of the stage races in the spring but Carthy was unfazed by the level of the competition. The talented Brit finished in the top 10 and he went on to win the Vuelta Asturias overall. He never hit the same form in the second part of the year but his talent is evident. He needs to improve a lot in the time trials but his climbing skills are exceptional.

 

The team picked up three riders from the Drapac team and only one of them stands out as a solid reinforcement. Like Carthy, Brendan Canty is a pure climber and his white jersey at the Tour of Oman and stage win at the Tour of Austria show that his potential is big. He still lacks a bit of consistency and also had some disappointing performances in 2016, most notably at the Volta a Portugal, but he definitely has the potential to be the real deal. The other signings, Tom Scully and William Clarke, will mainly be domestiques even though Clarke has proved to be a very good prologue rider.

 

The team have clearly become stronger during the transfer campaign but they have also lost some important riders. In a year when they have strengthened their classics squad, it is a huge shame to have lost Jack Bauer. In 2015, the Kiwi indicated that he has the potential to be in the top 10 in the cobbled monuments and after injury prevented him from building on that in 2016, he is ready to improve again in 2017. For the cobbled races, they have also waved goodbye to Matti Breschel but the Dane seems to be past his best and that loss will be felt less.

 

Another major loss is Ramunas Navardauskas. The Lithuanian is one of the most loyal teammates and also capable of big results on his own in almost every kind of race. His work will be missed a lot in the stage races. They will also regret the loss of Moreno Moser as the Italian is finally starting to deliver on his promise. Andre Cardoso has been a loyal domestique in the mountains of the grand tours and there is little doubt that he would have been able to do a good job for Talansky and Uran if he had stayed in the team.

 

The rest of the departing riders are mainly domestiques and their absence will be less noticeable.

 

What to expect in the classics?

As said, the classics are where the team really hope for a marked improvement and so the team will place a huge emphasis on the spring. The team are still not among the favourites in the Ardennes but in the cobbled races, they have to go for the victory with Sep Vanmarcke.

 

Several years ago Vaughters took the decision to turn away from the sprints and the team don’t have the kind of strong sprinter that can be competitive in Milan-Sanremo which is again leaning towards being a race for the fast finishers. Hence, the team will have to wait for the cobbled races before leaving their mark and here it will be all for Vanmarcke. As said above, the Belgian is probably the most versatile of the cobbled classics specialist and he will be one of the big favourites for E3, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. It won’t be easy to beat Sagan in the Flemish races and Degenkolb is a hard nut to crack on the French paves but if he can make better tactical decisions, Vanmarcke has the skills to do so.

 

The support team is solid. Sebastian Langeveld was once one of the most talented riders for these races and even though he is no longer at the same level, it is still too early to write him off completely. However, the main rider for Vanmarcke will be Dylan van Baarle who is slowly starting to come of age. It has taken some time for him to reach the right level but he is slowly getting there. His performance at last year’s Tour of Britain indicates that he will be even stronger in the classics in 2017 and he is on the verge on a big breakthrough. As said, Phinney is a bit of a wildcard and it remains to be seen what kind of role he can play. Tom Van Asbroeck will also make a contribution – and will even be the protected sprinter in some of the easier races – as will strong guys like Toms Skujins and William Clarke. Vanmarcke is still not surrounded by a team like QuickStep but overall he seems to be in a better place than he was in his previous team.

 

For the Ardennes, the team will be more of a joker but they have some very interesting cards to play. Alberto Bettiol and Davide Villella both took a huge step in 2016 and were close to the best in the hilly races in Canada and at Il Lombardia respectively. Especially, Villella’s ride in Lombardy is very promising and if he can continue that progress, he can deliver a surprise in the Ardennes too. The team should at least have the freedom to take their own chances.

 

Michael Woods is a huge talent who confirmed his potential with his excellent performance at the Tour Down Under. Unfortunately, his season was destroyed by injury but his second place in Milan-Turin again showed his class. He may not be ready for the very long races yet but he has the kick to be the big surprise at Fleche Wallonne – at least if he can handle the fierce fight for position for the Mur de Huy.

 

The team also have Tom-Jelte Slagter but you never know what you will get from the Dutchman. He had a bad 2016 season but as he has been in the top 10 in both Fleche and Liege, his history shows that he can be competitive even though he is unlikely to ever win one of the big races. Simon Clarke has also done well in hilly one-day races and he is clearly enjoying the freedom he has at Cannondale.

 

Finally, Rigoberto Uran could be tempted to do at least Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The Colombian must have been inspired by his great performance in Lombardy to see what he can do in these races. As it is likely that he will focus on the Giro, it won’t be easy to have the best form but he has the skills and endurance to do well here.

 

In the second part of the year, the team will again focus on the hillier classics. Uran, Slagter, Bettiol, Villella and Woods are suited to the Canadian classics and they all have the potential to be on the podium there. Uran must also be keen to finally get that Lombardia win and if Villella can continue his progress, the team will have at least two cards to play in the final monument.

 

What to expect in the grand tours?

For the 2016 season, the team had three grand tour leaders: Rigoberto Uran, Andrew Talansky and Pierre Rolland. Uran’s Giro campaign was destroyed by illness and a crash robbed Rolland of his chance at the Tour. Talansky saved the grand tour season with his great 5th place at the Vuelta and clearly got back on track after his many years of misery.

 

For 2017, Rolland has made it clear that he wants to shift his attention away from the GC to focus on stage wins at the Giro and the Tour. This leaves it to Uran and Talansky to take care of the GC aspirations together with Davide Formolo who finally managed to finish in the top 10 in a grand tour at the Vuelta and so confirm the talent that everybody knew he had. Cannondale have not made an official announcement about how to distribute the roles but it is very likely that Uran and Formolo will lead the team in the Giro while Talansky has confirmed that he will be the protected rider in the Tour. As the team don’t have a top sprinter, their focus will be fully on the harder stages in the three-week races.

 

Uran’s last two Giri have been marred by illness but as he has been on the podium twice in the past, he has proved that he has the endurance to handle three weeks of racing. Unfortunately, the TT which was once a big asset, is now a clear weakness. On the other hand, his great end to the 2016 season is an indication that he has stepped up his climbing a further notch. We doubt that he will ever win a grand tour but with a bit of luck, another podium spot is within reach.

 

Formolo is the next big Italian grand tour rider. His debut season in 2014 was exceptional but unfortunately his progress stalled in 2015 and 2016. Towards the end of the year, he finally seemed to take another step with a great ride in Poland and a top 10 at the Vuelta. He still needs to improve his TT skills before he can realistically win the Giro but we have big expectations for his performance in May.

 

The rest of the team will be fully devoted to the two captains but there should be room for aggressive riding for Rolland and some of the other climbing domestiques like Joe Dombrowski who was very close in 2016 and is one of the biggest climbing talents. The American could also go for GC in one of the grand tours – his schedule hasn’t been revealed – but he will probably have to wait until the Vuelta. Davide Villella and Alberto Bettiol are also able to win a stage in their home race.

 

At the Tour de France, Talansky will take centre stage. When he almost matched Froome on the climbs at the 2013 Dauphiné and won the race one year later, everything suggested that the American was on the verge of a big breakthrough as a grand tour rider. However, he crashed out of the Tour de France and for the next few years, nothing went right. In an open-hearted blog post, he recently revealed that he had cracked under the pressure due to a risk of failure but now he is in a much better mental place. The first signs came at the Tour of California and since then he has gone from strength to strength at the Tour de Suisse, the Tour of Utah and most notably with his fifth place at the Vuelta.

 

Talansky has officially confirmed that he will return to the Tour and when he announced his decision to skip the 2016 edition, it always looked like it was a one-year absence. Hence, he will be the leader in 2017, especially with Rolland’s decision to focus on stage wins. With the lack of time trialling, the course is far from ideal for him and he still doesn’t seem to be at his previous level. Nonetheless, he is capable of a top 10, maybe even a top 5, and in any case he deserves full support from his team.

 

It is unclear what the team will look like but it is likely that Taylor Phinney will be present for the stage one time trial, that Lawson Craddock will be on hand for the mountains and that guys like Sep Vanmarcke, Sebastian Langeveld and Dylan Van Baarle will shepherd the leader through the flat stages. Rolland will ride aggressively in the mountains and maybe even go for the mountains jersey. It will also be very interesting if Dombrowski gets his chance at the biggest race as the American is definitely capable of a stage win in the mountains.

 

The plans for the Vuelta are a bit up in the air. In theory, Uran should go for the Giro-Vuelta double. However, the Colombian has clearly enjoyed the late-season classics in recent years and he may be tempted to focus on the one-day races. Talansky is a big diesel engine so it seems more likely that the American will do two grand tours in a row – unless he gets tempted to target the new American races in Colorado and Virginia. It also seems likely that Formolo will try to make it into the top 10 again and as said, it may also be time for Dombrowski to test himself as a GC rider. Hugh Carthy is also likely to return to the grand tour for the second year in a row and even though he is probably still too young to go for GC, history shows that young climbing talents really have room to excel in the smallest grand tour. In any case, the team will again bring a team focused on the mountains as they will at all three three-week races of the season.

 

What to expect elsewhere?

Cannondale-Drapac clearly have a big focus on the cobbled classics and the grand tours and they usually have a pretty light schedule. However, it would be natural for Talansky to return to his former strength in the one-week races on the back of his great end to the 2016 season. With his solid TT skills, the American is tailor-made for races like Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse and depending on the course he can podium in all of them. Uran has traditionally not shown much in the spring as he has eyes on the Giro but he has often been good in Catalunya and Romandie where he can target a good GC result.

 

Talansky can’t cover everything so there should be room for some of the young riders like Formolo, Dombrowski and Carthy too. However, the trio are all poor time triallists and this will make it hard for them to be in podium contention in the WorldTour stage races. Michael Woods has the climbing skills to match the best in those races but just like his three teammates, his TT skills will make it difficult. Instead, the time seems to be ripe for Lawson Craddock to finish in more top 10s at the WorldTour level after his 9th place in Pais Vasco in 2016. The American is a very versatile rider and his climbing skills have improved massively. In general, the many climbers in the team mean that they can go into almost every single stage race with numerous cards to play.

 

Woods was close to winning the Tour Down Under in 2016 and he will be keen to return to a race that suits him well. Former winner Tom-Jelte Slagter and Patrick Bevin will also be on hand for that race and this means that the team is likely to hit the ground running. The team will also be keen to target the American races, most notably the Tour of California which is a perfect race for both Talansky and Craddock. Dombrowski could go for a second win at the Tour of Utah where there is no time trial.

 

The team won’t have a big-name sprinter but Tom Van Asbroeck and Wouter Wippert will probably get their chances. The latter had a pretty disappointing first year at WorldTour level where he didn’t really live up to what he showed at Drapac. Van Asbroeck’s progress has stalled a bit and without much support, it will be hard for him to win much.

 

Finally, the team have usually done a lot of one-day races in Italy. Those hilly races suit Alberto Bettiol, Davide Villella and Patrick Bevin well and they could all pick up some good results there.

 

Who’s ready to surprise?

The most exciting part of the Cannondale team is probably the fact that they have numerous young talents and many of them are starting to come of age. Regular followers of CyclingQuotes know that we have always regarded Davide Formolo as one of the biggest climbing talents after his fantastic first season in 2014. Unfortunately, the move to an American team didn’t seem to suit him well and he suffered in 2015 and the first part of 2016. However, his top 10 at the Vuelta indicates that he is back on track and he has the potential to be the big grand tour revelation of the 2017 season.

 

As said above, Hugh Carthy had a remarkable 2016 season as he finished in the top 10 at the Volta a Catalunya which had one of the best fields of the entire season. The young Brit lacks a bit of consistency and he needs to improve his time trialling significantly. However, he is capable of big things in the mountains and is destined to show it at some point during the season.

 

Davide Villella impressed during his final time as a Cannondale stagiaire but he has been riding surprisingly poorly during his first time as a pro. However, he is starting to show the talent that he has always had, most notably with his top 10 finish at Il Lombardia. He has all the skills to become a great rider for the hilly classics and he is also capable of a stage win on a mountain stage in a grand tour.

 

Joe Dombrowski was regarded as maybe the biggest talent among the pure climbers until his first pro years at Sky turned into a real disaster. However, he finally solved his leg issues when he joined Cannondale where he won the Tour of Utah during his first year. In 2016, he was climbing excellent at the Giro and he should be even better in 2017. Whether he will test himself as a GC rider remains to be seen – he may still lack some consistency to do that – but he should produce a big ride in the mountains somewhere.

 

Honestly, we were a bit confused when Alberto Bettiol was maintained by the team as Cannondale and Garmin merged in 2015. The Italian hadn’t shown much during his first years as a pro but now he has shown why he deserves to be a pro rider. The Italian rode remarkably at the Tour de Pologne, finished second at the WorldTour Bretagne Classic and finally nearly won one of the Canadian classics. With his fast sprint and solid skills on shorter climbs, he can become a very good rider for hilly one-day races.

 

Michael Woods has a very special history as he only recently turned to cycling after his time as a runner. The Canadian proved right from the beginning that he has the engine to climb with the best and the kick to do well in hilly classics. He impressed everybody at his first WorldTour race, the Tour Down Under, where only Sergio Henao and Richie Porte were climbing better than him. Unfortunately, his season was destroyed by health issues but at the end of the season, he felt good again, showing himself with a second place in Milan-Turin. He still needs to learn a lot about positioning in the European races but he definitely has the talent to deliver a surprise in 2017.

 

Finally, we will conclude our long list of Cannondale talents by highlighting Ryan Mullen. We had huge expectations for the young Irishman at the start of the year but apparently the jump to the pro scene was hard. Nonetheless, he slowly improved during the autumn and capped it off with a fantastic fifth place in the TT at the Worlds. It is still doubtful whether he will be more than a good time triallist but he definitely has the potential to become one of the best in flat races against the clock.

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