Giant-Alpecin may adopt a more all-round approach to the Tour de France next season in the absence of marquee sprinter Marcel Kittel whose contract has been dissolved.
Kittel was the leader of the Tour team from 2012-2014 amassing eight stage victories but terminated his deal with the squad a year early stating its goals at the race no longer married with his own.
“The focus on the GC brings of course a new direction to how the team is composed. For me as a pure sprinter there comes the question of whether my ambitions will be given enough room. In the end, we were not able to agree on the definition of our goals. I have therefore decided to change teams,” the German wrote on his personal website earlier this month.
On paper the triple Scheldeprijs champion appears to have a point with, for example, himself and fellow fast-man Luka Mezgec leaving the squad and climber Laurens Ten Dam signing on specifically to help in the classifications.
However, Giant-Alpecin CEO Iwan Spekenbrink, who defended a decision to not select a previously virus-stricken Kittel for the 2015 Tour team, has said that is not the case.
“What happened is the team has grown,” Spekenbrink told Cyclingtips in a phone interview.
“The main chance of success was Marcel [but the team has] developed more world stars. We cannot deny that also John Degenkolb is a chance for success and in the future Warren Barguil and Tom Dumoulin will also be chances for success. But it does not mean we [fire] all the guys who were in the lead-out of Marcel. The guys who supported him in the sprint train are still the core of the team.
“In the WorldTour you need a few guys who can be in the right position and make the difference.”
The squad has certainly embodied that philosophy this year. Although it felt the absence of Kittel in the early season, marking considerably less victories, Degenkolb’s barnstorming run at the spring classics, in which he won Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, Simon Geschke’s Tour de France stage win and Dumoulin’s stint in the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a Espana, attested to a ‘quality over quantity’ approach.
Its opportunistic focus at the Tour this year, compared with almost exclusive attention on Kittel and flat stages, may provide a short-term blueprint going forward.
“Marcel had not a good enough level to go to the Tour so we had to go without him,” Spekenbrink reflected. “It meant that we went with another set of goals and in this case we had to be more all-round.
“You saw it was a team that was riding in the final of much more stages, nearly in all stages we were going for the win,” he continued.
“Thanks to the same good team work we almost each day created chances and had many, many good results, so from an all-round team perspective we did even a better job than the years before because it was not focused on the sprints but nearly all stages.
“The past year we did it for much less stages, on the flat sprint stages, but then it was easier, with Marcel, to win the stage. This year it was more difficult so we had a lot of second places, third places, fourth places but ultimately through Simon Geschke we achieved a great and emotional day for the team.”
Giant-Alpecin has quietly worked on multiple performance areas from sprints, to the classics and general classifications, which can be seen in its signings in past years.
Spekenbrink speculated that the team would give versatile sprinter Degenkolb, who achieved two minor placings and was third in the points classification at the Tour, a greater run in sprints at the race next season but also support climbing talent like Barguil and Dumoulin.
“Whatever I say now is an assumption and not yet the final plan but we have a guy in the team, John Degenkolb, who is quite a guarantee of scoring results in the Tour,” Spekenbrink said.
“This year Warren Barguil made his debut and it was just to learn about the Tour and how he would react if he gets tired, if he gets all the attention, all those things. We hope he will make the next step in development at the Tour next year and that we can give him some more support there. But that support can also help in the lead-out.”
Giant-Alpecin still has signings to announce and is due to hold a press conference this week to elaborate on its future direction.
“It’s basically the ancient sport law,” Spekenbrink said. “We are trying to be stronger where we have the best chances. The work on becoming a successful sprint team started before we had Marcel Kittel.
“We really tried to optimise all the teamwork and look at how to improve the sprint train. Then when you have all of a sudden a world class sprinter in your team, who also gets connected with the sprint train, it then becomes visible for the big world.
“Of course we put more emphasis where there are champions so we will keep working on the sprint train and on the team work there. It’s not that we skip it and say we will only take climbers in the team, not at all.
“Yes, we don’t have a sprinter for the pure flat sprints. We had the number one sprinter in the world, we don’t have now the number two or three – that’s a fact. But we’re working on it and we still keep focusing on improving that field, and the same with climbing.”
Kittel has confirmed a deal with Etixx-QuickStep after negotiating an exit from the stable he came to prominence with.
“It may be an uncommon decision but when his request came, people are normally very defensive to keep riders, we said let’s be cooperative. It’s also a big thank you for what Marcel has done for us the last years,” Spekenbrink said.