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by Shane Stokes
October 27, 2016
Photography by Ralph Scherzer, Cor Vos
Good things come to those who wait.
Ralph Denk has been manager of the Bora-Argon 18 team since 2010 and now, after six years as a Pro Continental team, the squad looks poised to step up to the UCI WorldTour.
The German team is benefiting from an increase in sponsorship from its main backers for 2017, Bora and Hansgrohe, and an expanded budget which has permitted it to sign some of the biggest names in the sport. These include Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka, a two-time King of the Mountains in the Tour de France.
An additional boost is next year’s Tour de France start in Germany, something which will ramp up public and media interest and provide an extra return for the sponsors.
But there has also been an unforeseen bonus for Denk and the others involved with the squad.
On October 16 Peter Sagan outsprinted Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen and a select front group to win the world road race championships in Doha, Qatar.
Sagan had taken the 2015 edition but, despite a strong season, it was by no means guaranteed he would successfully defend the title.
In making it across to the day’s breakaway group [he was the last to bridge] and then in blasting home ahead of the other riders, he ensured that Bora-Hansgrohe will have a rainbow jersey within its ranks in 2017.
It’s a huge boost for the team. Congratulated on that, Denk acknowledged the importance but was quick to pass the credit.
“I have to point out that it was not my work,” he told CyclingTips this week. “It was the work of the Slovakian national team and for sure as well from Tinkoff. It was not my job. I just had the lucky result.
“I followed the race together with the owner of Bora, Willi Bruckbauer. For sure it is great. We have the white jersey for one year so I think it will bring our sponsors a lot of awareness. In this we are really happy, and I am really happy too for Peter.”
Signing Sagan is a massive coup for the team, and is also a clear sign how its stock has risen within the peloton. For many years a second level squad that had to rely on wildcard invites to the Grand Tours plus many other big races, it is now breaking new ground.
Sagan is arguably the most charismatic rider in the world and also one of the most successful. In securing his signature, the team has sent a clear signal to professional cycling: Bora-Hansgrohe has arrived.
Sagan’s renewal of the jersey is an added bonus.
“As I say, the visibility will be much, much more because of that, but also the requests from the press. All around the team it is much bigger,” says Denk. “We are expecting a huge step from last year to next year. On the other side, we are well prepared. We contracted a lot of new staff members as well, not just riders.
“From my feeling after the first get together, what we had last week, I have a really good feeling and there is a good harmony in the team.”
Of course, the team is not just about Peter Sagan. The Slovakian is generating the most headlines at present, but Denk points out that Bora-Hansgrohe isn’t just focussing on him next year.
“The goal was always to be there in the Grand Tours, and to be there in the Classics,” he says. “With Peter we have an excellent contender for the Classics, but as well for the Grand Tours….with Rafal Majka and with Leopold Konig we have two guys who have performed very well in the past.
“I hope they can do the same, and maybe a bit more.
“Then we have also two guys who are very strong and two upcoming talents. They are Emanuel Buchmann and Patrick Konrad. So I am really optimistic about this too.”
Sagan’s prestige and success will mean he has a big influence on the race programme in 2017 and beyond. He, Denk and the others involved in team management will work together to draw up a good schedule for him. He has won the green jersey in the past five editions of the Tour de France and also notched up seven stage wins.
Returning to that race is almost certain, and targeting a repeat of his Tour of Flanders victory will be another priority. He’d also like to win Paris-Roubaix in the rainbow jersey.
Of course, the sheer number of races on the calendar means that he won’t contest every event. The team will look to others too, and that also applies to the sprints.
Sam Bennett has been the squad’s number one sprinter for the past three seasons and he will remain on board. Bennett told CyclingTips recently that it is quite possible he won’t ride the Tour de France and will instead be asked to do another Grand Tour.
Denk said that he wanted to wait and see the routes of the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España [he was speaking prior to Tuesday’s launch of the former], but that the race programmes would be designed to spread riders around and give them their own chances when possible.
“I expect we need three sprinters,” he said. “We have Peter, we have Sam and we have Matteo Pelucchi. Three fast guys.”
The team has already had a meet and greet session where the new riders and staff members were able to get acquainted with those who have already been part of the team. Next up is a team training camp in Valencia in December, as well as a jersey presentation.
By then Denk should know if Bora-Hansgrohe will be given a WorldTour licence. Given the quality of the lineup and the way he has run the setup thus far, it’s hard to see this not working out.
With this, his team’s expansion and the Tour de France start in Dusseldorf in mind, he’s excited about what 2017 should bring.
“The last Grand Depart in Germany was 30 years ago and for me, a German manager with a German company, to have a German WorldTour team would be a dream. I am very optimistic we can get the WorldTour licence in the next few weeks from the UCI….”