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As the 2016 road cycling season nears its end, with the world championships just a few weeks away, for many thoughts have turned to the 2017 season.
And while signings are now being announced on a weekly, if not daily basis, there are still many riders whose end of the season comes with a question mark.
Two Americans on the U.S-based Cannondale-Drapac squad, Ben King and Phil Gaimon, are without contracts and have yet to announce their plans for the coming season.
King and Gaimon declined to comment when asked about their plans for the 2017 season; Cannondale-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters did not respond to request for comment on whether either rider might be in green and red next year.
Gaimon returned to the WorldTour this year after a one-year absence. After making his WorldTour debut in 2014 at age 28 with Garmin-Sharp (now Cannondale-Drapac), he raced the 2015 season with the Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies Continental program (now Optum). The merger between Garmin and Cannondale left him on the outside looking in for 2015, but he was able to ride his way back onto the team this year.
Another merger, this time between Cannondale and Drapac, may again have similar consequences. Though the team’s 2017 roster is unannounced, at least one Drapac rider, Brendan Canty, will be making the jump across to the WorldTour team next year. The team has also signed British climber Hugh Carthy, from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA.
Gaimon’s options for 2017 are unclear. While he has shown his climbing ability on an international stage — he was second overall at the 2014 Tour de San Luis, behind Nairo Quintana — his experience at the sport’s biggest races has been limited.
In two seasons with the Slipstream Sports program, the scope of Gaimon’s WorldTour experience has been Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, GP Montreal, GP Quebec, and the Tour of Beijing, all in 2014, and one race this year, a last-minute call-up to Paris-Roubaix. Instead, he spent much of the 2016 season at North American stage races such as California, Utah, and Alberta, in a domestique role, with few high-place results to speak of. Arguably his best result this year was 11th overall at Critérium International.
Like Gaimon, King also signed with the Slipstream organization in 2014, after three WorldTour seasons with RadioShack. His lack of a contract for next year is somewhat surprising, considering the season he’s had. Although he broke his fibula in January on a training crash, he returned to form to win the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California in May out of a two-rider breakaway, taking the leader’s jersey. He also finished third on a stage at the Vuelta a España, in August, while riding in support of Andrew Talansky.
A finisher of three Grand Tours, including the 2014 Tour de France, a stage winner at Critérium International, and a former U.S. national road champion, King, 27, should have considerable market value, particularly for U.S. WorldTour programs BMC Racing and Trek-Segafredo.
Asked for comment about his future, King could not disclose where he would ride next year, but was quick to thank Cannondale-Drapac for the support it had shown him this season.
“I was given a lot of opportunities by the team, by the directors, Charlie Wegelius, and JV,” King said. “Even though I wasn’t selected for the Tour de France, I was given a good race program that enabled me to build up to the Tour of California. I think without Catalunya, the Ardennes, those race miles, it would have been a lot harder to train myself and to get back up to that level for the second half of that season.
“It’s definitely a team sport, not only working with your teammates in the race, but it’s one of those things that’s out of your control and we don’t always pick the races we want to do, and a lot of us are told what races we are going to and what races we can target, so I’m grateful for the team in continuing to believe in me and giving me these opportunities to finish.”
Cannondale-Drapac raced the 2016 season with eight North Americans on the squad — U.S riders King, Gaimon, Talansky, Alex Howes, Joe Dombrowski, Nathan Brown, and Lawson Craddock, and Canadian Mike Woods.
Of the other two U.S.-based WorldTour squads, BMC Racing’s roster had five Americans, while Trek-Segafredo had just two.
The North Americans have shown their faces at the front all year, with Talansky’s fifth overall at the Vuelta a España the top result. King’s third-place finish on Stage 4 at the Vuelta, out of a breakaway that survived to the finish, was also a highlight. On Wednesday, Woods, who started the season fifth overall at the Santos Tour Down Under, finished second to Miguel Ángel López (Astana) at the one-day Milano-Torino.
Dombrowski showed off his climbing prowess on several stages at the Giro d’Italia in May, culminating in a third-place finish on stage 20. He and Talansky both signed contract extensions with Cannondale-Drapac this year.
Craddock finished fifth overall at the Amgen Tour of California, and completed his first Tour de France in July.
A notable absence this summer for Cannondale-Drapac was Brown, who finished the Giro in May, but hasn’t raced since. Brown, who has a contract with the team through 2017, spent much of the summer at his girlfriend’s bedside, through two heart surgeries.
“I wasn’t able to train almost all summer and I was with her in the hospital for a good couple of weeks,” Brown said. “I wasn’t able to train the way I wanted to, and talking with the team, we thought it was better to sit out Tour of Utah and Alberta because I wasn’t going to be at my best.”
Despite the high percentage of Americans on the team, Cannondale-Drapac is the most diverse team in the WorldTour this year, with 17 nationalities represented.
A diverse team of nationalities has not translated to a victorious season, however, as Cannondale-Drapac is the only of 18 teams without a victory in a WorldTour race.
The team has shown itself in one-day races, weeklong stage races, and Grand Tours, but that has not corresponded to victories, with a total of nine wins in 2016. Grand Tour contenders Rigoberto Uran and Pierre Rolland largely disappointed at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, respectively, while Dombrowski and Talansky showed, or confirmed, their potential.
For 2017, Cannondale-Drapac has bolstered their classics squad with Sep Vanmarcke, who returns to the program after a five-year absence. He rode for the Slipstream program in 2011 and 2012, racking up a win at the semi-classic Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012.
And though King and Gaimon may well leave Cannondale-Drapac, the program has signed one high-profile American for 2017 in Taylor Phinney, a key asset for Vanmarcke in the cobbled classics.
It remains to be seen whether this will pay off in the future, but at the moment it appears the team will be shedding two Americans, while taking on a new one.