The best and worst of 2016’s new rider-team pairings
Transfer season is an exciting time in the peloton. A change of scenery can be all it takes for a rider to reach new career heights, just as one savvy signing can be all it takes for a team to fill a glaring roster deficiency. But not all transfers work out as planned.
While some riders find themselves perfectly positioned to thrive on a new squad, others arrive with loud fanfare but fail to meet high expectations. It’s worth taking a look at a few of the new arrangements that are a great ‘fit’ for rider and team alike — and also a few of the transfers that may come with question marks.
Three new rider-team pairings that are built for success
Daniel Moreno to Movistar
The last two months of Daniel Moreno’s five-year stint with Katusha offer a perfect illustration of what he has brought to the table over the past several seasons. He was a crucial lieutenant in the 2015 Vuelta a España for runner-up Joaquím Rodríguez while placing ninth overall on his own. He also proved a capable alternative to Rodríguez at Il Lombardia, nabbing runner-up honours.
Now, Moreno will make a return of sorts to the organisation formerly known as Caisse d’Epargne, the team that paid his wages back in 2008 and 2009. The Spaniard headed to the Spanish Movistar squad will link up again with several former teammates, including Alejandro Valverde.
Valverde and Nairo Quintana will be glad to have Moreno’s stalwart support in the Grand Tours, and Moreno should continue to thrive when given his own opportunities.
Wouter Wippert to Cannondale-Garmin
Cannondale netted fewer WorldTour-level victories than any other WorldTour team in 2015. What better way to remedy a low win total than by adding a capable sprinter to rack up stage victories?
The talented Wouter Wippert immediately becomes the top sprinter on a team that hasn’t had much in the speed department since letting go of Tyler Farrar and Steele von Hoff last year.
Wippert, who won a stage at the 2015 Tour Down Under, will now get far more chances to shine at the highest level than he did with Pro Continental Drapac. He should fit right in at Cannondale-Garmin, a team whose recent Grand Tour campaigns have prioritised the hunt for stage wins over concentrated GC efforts.
Rubén Plaza to Orica-GreenEdge
Orica-GreenEdge is heavily invested in the development of young climbing talent for the future. Esteban Chaves is a budding Grand Tour star, Adam and Simon Yates could be at that level soon, and Jack Haig and Robert Power are among cycling’s most exciting prospects.
It makes sense to surround those up-and-comers with veteran stage racing specialists, but the roster has been lacking in that department for some time.
Enter Rubén Plaza, a two-time Grand Tour top-10 finisher who will be able to offer climbing support and plenty of pro experience (15 years of it) to the youngsters. At the same time, Plaza should be able to deliver wins of his own, especially in the breakaways, which have always been a focus for GreenEdge.
Three marriages that may require some counselling to work
Mark Cavendish to MTN-Qhubeka/Dimension Data
The signing of several well-known non-African riders last season signalled a changing approach for MTN-Qhubeka, but the arrival of Mark Cavendish heralds a brand new era for a team whose heart and soul has always been the development of African talent.
Fans found it easy to cheer for the scrappy squad with a worthy mission and a good cause in the name, but as the team focuses more on winning big races with established stars, it might not be able to count on that same level of support.
All eyes will be on the new signee to deliver and prove that the team transformation was worth it. At the same time, Cavendish isn’t exactly filling a gaping hole in a roster that already included several speedsters.
If he doesn’t rack up the big wins in 2016 (after a so-so 2015), team morale could quickly head south.
Marcel Kittel to Etixx-Quick-Step
Kittel had a rough go of it in 2015. Injury, sickness, and a lack of fitness kept him from performing at his best, and his relationship with Giant-Alpecin appeared to deteriorate during the season. In 2016, he’ll dive into the high-visibility environment of Etixx-Quick-Step, where he will be expected to replace one of cycling’s most recognisable names (see above) in the sprints.
Kittel has tried to deflect this reality, but there’s no way to avoid the Cavendish connection.
Despite all the pressure this likely entails, Kittel won’t have the same sort of lead-out support that he has had in the past, as Koen de Kort and co. are staying put at Giant, and Mark Renshaw is headed to Dimension Data.
Kittel is a big talent, but he’ll have to put in a lot of work under a very bright spotlight to get back to his winning ways.
Michal Kwiatkowski to Sky
Given Kwiatkowski’s elite ability in hilly one-day races and Sky’s relative lack of success in the Ardennes, this should be a match made in heaven. But it could be more complicated than that.
It was widely reported that Kwiatkowski’s dissatisfaction at Etixx-Quick-Step stemmed from the team’s disinterest in his prospects as a Grand Tour rider. If the 25-year-old from Poland is looking to further his GC ambitions, he picked an odd landing spot for 2016.
Between Chris Froome and Mikel Landa, Sky should have leadership in all three Grand Tours covered. The team is apparently committed to the development of Geraint Thomas as a Tour contender as well, and Leopold König, Nicolas Roche, and Mikel Nieve all make capable alternatives.
Sky is an excellent place for talent development, but Kwiatkowski’s GC aspirations may have to wait in line.
Which new partnerships for 2016 are you excited to see unfold? And which ones are you unsure of?