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 November, 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 Team Sky.
Ian Boswell, Philip Deignan, Chris Froome, Michal Golas, Sergio Henao, Sebastian Henao, Benat Intxausti, Peter Kennaugh, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Michal Kwiatkowski, Mikel Landa, David Lopez, Gianni Moscon, Mikel Nieve, Alex Peters, Wout Poels, Salvatore Puccio, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Danny Van Poppel, Elia Viviani
Jonathan Dibben (WIGGINS), Owain Doull (WIGGINS), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Axeon), Diego Rosa (Astana), Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-QuickStep)
Riders leaving the team
Andrew Fenn (Aqua Blue Sport), Leopold König (Bora-hansgrohe), Lars Petter Nordhaug (Aqua Blue Sport), Nicolas Roche (BMC), Ben Swift (TJ Sport), Xabier Zandio (retires)
Analysis of the transfer season
During the last few years, Sky have built a reputation of buying several established stars with the purpose of turning them into luxury domestiques. That was last the case ahead of the 2016 season when the team picked up the likes of Mikel Landa and Michal Kwiatkowski. However, the team have been much less active on the transfer market ahead of 2017 and they haven’t signed any prolific winners or grand tour stars. Instead, their main focus has been on some of the biggest British talents and so their investment has been more for the long-term future. As they have also lost two of their key riders for the mountains, it seems that the team may have become slightly weaker for 2017.
The biggest change is probably the loss of Leopold König which the management must regret. The Czech may not have had a huge amount of success during his two years in the team but he clearly indicated that he remains one of the biggest grand tour talents. He took over the leadership from Richie Porte in the 2015 Giro and added a top 10 to his past top 10s in the Vuelta and the Tour. His 2016 season was destroyed by injury but he bounced back at the Vuelta where he could even have been one the podium if it wasn’t for a bad day on the roads to Formigal. With his great TT skills and huge consistency, he has podium finishes in grand tours within his reach. However, it was always going to be difficult to find much personal freedom at Sky and so his departure was almost unavoidable.
The team have also lost Nicolas Roche who has always been a very reliable domestique in the mountains and has worked for several grand tour winners in the past. The Irishman never achieved many personal results with the team but his experience in grand tours was invaluable. He is a good road captain too and so his absence will be felt.
However, Team Sky have also made one of the major signings of the transfer campaign. With his excellent performances in the autumns of 2015 and 2016, Diego Rosa has proved that he is a huge climbing talent. He probably lacks the consistency to ever become a grand tour rider himself and as he is apparently aware of his own limitations, he is ready to work for his leaders in the three-week races. As he is still one of the best climbers, this makes him a perfect acquisition for Team Sky. At the same time, he has been close to winning Il Lombardia twice and he has the skills to become a great rider for the hilly classics. As Sky aim to improve in the one-day races, he is simply the perfect fit.
The surprise signing is Kenny Elissonde who is the second addition to the group of climbers. The Frenchman is one of the most inconsistent riders but he has shown flashes of his potential. He has won a grand tour stage on the Angliru and he reached his best level at the Vuelta. At the same time, he doesn’t seem to have any great personal ambitions and he still has room for improvement. With a more structured training regime, he may become a bit more consistent in the British team and this could turn him into a solid addition for their grand tour line-ups.
The team are getting closer to a big win on the cobbles and they have signed Lukasz Wisniowski as a domestique for Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe for those races. With Elia Viviani again turning his attention to the road, the sprints will also become more important in 2017. The Pole will be able to play a role in the lead-out train too.
The final three signings are all some of the brightest British talents. For years, Teo Geoghegan Hart has been described as the next British stage race rider. He may not have achieved the results that many expected in his final year at U23 level but he is still a natural signing for the biggest British team. He can both climb and time trial and so he is the complete package.
Owain Doull and Jonathan Dibben will strengthen the classics department. Especially, Owain Doull stands out as a major acquisition. The Brit had a fantastic Tour of Britain in 2015 as he finished on the podium and won the points competition. Remarkably, he was in the top 10 in almost every stage which reflects his huge versatility. He can play a role in Viviani’s lead-out train while slowly developing into a rider for the cobbled classics and as a sprinter for some of the harder races. Dibben was second in the U23 Tour of Flanders and showed himself in time trials and sprints at the U23 level. He also has a great potential for a wide range of disciplines.
In addition to König and Roche, the team have waved goodbye to Ben Swift. With his remarkable climbing, the Brit had turned into a fantastic domestique but his absence won’t be heavily missed in the sprints. He will never become a real winner and his only chances come in hard stages in races like Romandie, Pais Vasco and Catalunya. In those races, the team will always have a focus on GC and so he didn’t really fit into the team. The team also lost Andrew Fenn who never lived up to the lofty promises as a sprinter but his absence will make the lead-out train slightly weaker. Luckily, Doull and Dibben can fill the gap. Lars Petter Nordhaug never reached his former level and his huge inconsistency and the emergence of Poels and Henao as major classics contenders mean that the team can do without the Norwegian. Finally, Xabier Zandio will retire but as the domestique barely raced in 2016, he won’t be missed too much.
What to expect in the classics?
While Team Sky became a major force in the grand tours almost immediately, it has been a huge frustration for the management that it has taken so long to become a major team in the classics. It took almost seven years for them to win a monument which finally succeeded in 2016 when Wout Poels emerged as the strongest in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Ian Stannard was on the podium in Paris-Roubaix and they got a win on the cobbles at E3 with Michal Kwiatkowski. After years of suffering, Team Sky are now among the contenders in every big race even though they are still more of an outsider in the biggest classics.
The loss of Ben Swift will mainly be felt in one race. Surprisingly, Milan-Sanremo has been one of the best monuments for the GC focused team as the Brit has been on the podium twice. He has now moved to UAE Abu Dhabi but the race remains a big goal for one of their riders. Elia Viviani has marked La Primavera out as maybe the most important race for him and he will do everything to win his home classic. However, the Italian has never managed to do better than his 84th place in 2016 and even though he has evidently become stronger, he has never been there at the end of a big classic. At this year’s Worlds, he showed that he can handle the distance but there are no guarantees that he will be able to survive the climbs late in the race, let alone maintain his speed. Danny Van Poppel will be a back-up plan and even though he is not as fast as his Italian teammate, the Dutchman has a better chance of making it over the climbs. The team will probably also be aggressive with riders like Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon who both have a decent sprint from a breakaway.
Team Sky will have a much better chance on the cobbles where they will again be led by Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe. Stannard has gradually improved over the last few years and is slowly getting closer to the top, and Rowe took a massive step in 2016 when he finished fifth in Flanders and played a key role for Stannard in Roubaix. In 2017, we have most expectations for Rowe who is probably the best of the pair in the Flemish races. Stannard may have won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad twice but he seems to lack the explosiveness on the climbs when everybody is on form. His engine is better suited to Roubaix where he will aim for another podium finish.
The team could have more cards to play. Michal Kwiatkowski may again do some of the harder races in Flanders before his Ardennes campaign. He has had two very bad years and there is a long way to his past level. However, it is still too early to write the former world champion off and he has proved that he has the skills to do well in these races. Geraint Thomas is one of the best riders for the cobbled races but he is now more focused on the grand tours. In 2016, he only did the Tour of Flanders and recently he hinted that he may skip all the cobbled classics in 2017. However, if he opts to do one of the harder races like De Ronde or E3, it will be a marked reinforcement as he will always be a podium contender. The team will also have Elia Viviani and Danny Van Poppel in the easier races like Scheldeprijs and Gent-Wevelgem. Especially, Van Poppel has potential in these races.
The most interesting question is what role Gianni Moscon will have. The Italian had a fantastic debut season where he proved that he can be competitive everywhere. He won the Arctic Race of Norway overall and showed himself as a domestique in the mountains in stage races. In the hilly Canadian classics, he showed that he can be competitive in WorldTour races by finishing in the top 10 and he played a key role for Stannard in his debut Paris-Roubaix. His huge versatility means that he will do almost the full classics schedule with both the cobbles and the Ardennes and he could very well deliver a big surprise in the Northern classics
In the Ardennes, the attention will turn to Sergio Henao, Michal Kwiatkowski, Wout Poels, Diego Rosa and Moscon. The big question is still what version of Kwiatkowski we will get. If we will have the 2016 rider, he will be an anonymous domestique. If he can return to his past level, he will be competitive in all three races and would be the clear captain in Amstel which he has won in the past and which is less suited to his teammates.
If he can finally get a spring season without any major interruptions, Henao will be one of the big favourites for Fleche Wallonne as he is one of the best in the world when it comes to steep finishes. The Colombian is always flying in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco which is loaded with these climbs. In 2016, he took a big step forward and we expect him to be one of the top riders in the Ardennes. Poels is also competitive in that kind of finale but he will probably have to settle for a spot in the top 5.
Poels will of course aim to defend his title in Liege but Henao has also been in top 10 in that race and is maybe an even better card. Rosa has been close to winning Il Lombardia twice and so he has proved that he can handle the long one-day races. However, he is less fast and will have to ride more aggressively. It is also likely that Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome will turn up. While the Tour champion is likely to work for his teammate, Thomas has the one-day skills to perform in this race. Finally, we are very curious to see whether Moscon can emulate Alaphilippe and be competitive in a monument at this early stage of his career.
In the autumn, the team will probably look to Viviani and Van Poppel in the races in Hamburg and Plouay while the races in Canada suit fast finishers like Kwiatkowski and especially Moscon who is destined to win one of those races in the future. This year he is set to do the Vuelta though. Il Lombardia is very dear to Rosa’s hard and there is little doubt that he will go all out to make up for this year’s heartbreaking second place and will prepare 100% for that race. Poels has also targeted the race in the past but everything will depend on who has done the Vuelta and who has the form that late in the year.
What to expect in the grand tours?
There is no doubt that Team Sky is the best grand tour team in the world and they have several riders who can finish on the podium in a three-week race. The team aims to be competitive in all the three big races and they want to go into every race with a real shot at the victory. However, they have never managed to be in contention in all three of them and it is always the Giro that doesn’t work as expected. It all started in 2013 when Bradley Wiggins got ill, and in 2014 and 2015 Richie Porte was taken out by health issues. Last year Mikel Landa fell ill just as he had done the time trial of his life.
Next year the team want to finally be there in the GC in all three races. However, with so many potential leaders, the most difficult part will be to accommodate everyone’s wishes while also keeping something in reserve for the Tour which will be the most important goal. Chris Froome will of course be the undisputed leader in France and he has done nothing to hide that he finally wants to get that win in the Vuelta which has always eluded him. This leaves just one race, the Giro, for the many strong climbers who all want to get their chance as a grand tour captain. Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas and Wout Poels have all put their hands up for grand tour leadership and it will be a tough challenge for the management to make everybody happy.
At the moment, only Landa has confirmed that he will indeed do the Giro. However, Thomas has told Cyclingnews that 2017 could be the year for him to do the Giro-Vuelta double and last year Poels said that next season is the time for him to see what he can do in a grand tour. Given their run of bad luck, it is not unlikely that the team will appoint two leaders. Of course Landa has been given certain promises when he signed with the team and so he should have a guaranteed spot. As Thomas has been knocking on the door for several years and was given the chance to ride as plan B in this year’s Tour, it seems that he is above Poels in the internal hierarchy. Hence, our best guess is that the team will head to Italy with both Thomas and Landa and with a solid team to support them. Poels has now even confirmed that he won't be given the chance in the Giro and that he will again have to focus on domestique duties in the Tour.
This year the Giro looks to be stacked with GC riders so Sky won’t be the overwhelming favourites. However, Landa has proved that he has a grand tour win in his legs and even if he failed to reach his 2015 level in 2016, the Basque is one of the riders who can realistically aim for the win. The course is not ideal for him but with his latest improvements in the time trial, he is definitely competitive. The steep climbs in Italy don’t suit Thomas too well and we doubt that he is climbing well enough to win. However, he showed how consistent he can ride for almost three weeks at the 2015 Tour and it won’t be unrealistic to go for the podium. In any case, Thomas and Landa will complement each other well as the Basque can ride aggressively while the Brit will try to make the difference in the time trials.
Of course the GC will be the big goal for Sky but it is already guaranteed that Elia Viviani will be in the race too. He won’t get much support though but in 2015 he showed that he can win a stage even without a real train to back him up. However, it will be difficult to win the red jersey as his lack of support will make it difficult to be up there in every sprint and as he is unable to survive the climbs like his biggest rivals Giacomo Nizzolo and Fernando Gaviria who can be competitive in a lot more stages.
In the Tour, it will be all about Froome who will again face Nairo Quintana as his biggest rival. The 2017 course is less ideal for Froome but as he has proved to both be the best time triallist among the grand tour contenders and the best climber in the world, the Brit should win the race unless he has bad luck or makes a big mistake like he did in the 2016 Vuelta. He will be supported by a team that is at the same level as the exceptional team that carried him to victory in 2016. Poels has already made it clear that he wants to do the Tour even if he had been given a chance to be a leader in another grand tour and he has proved to be able to follow the very best climbers. In 2016, Sergio Henao was the key rider for Froome in the first two weeks and he will probably be even better in 2017. Mikel Nieve, Thomas, Diego Rosa, Peter Kennaugh and Landa could all be there too in what should be by far the strongest team. Again we can expect Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe to shepherd Froome through the flat stages.
Froome has come agonizingly close to winning the Vuelta and after this year’s frustrating mistake on the roads to Formigal, he will be keen to finally get that win. He has now proved that he can be there in two grand tours and as there are no Olympics in 2017, his chances will be even better. Froome has done nothing to hide that his second biggest goal is to win the Spanish grand tour and only injury will prevent him from giving it another shot.
There is no doubt that Froome will be the clear leader in Spain but the team has usually had a less strict hierarchy in that race. In 2015, Nicolas Roche was allowed to ride for GC and have a very aggressive approach, and in 2016 Leopold König was in podium contention until the disastrous stage to Formigal. That could open the chance for some of their other potential GC riders to have a shot. Poels stands out as an obvious candidate in the grand tour that suits him the best but he has effectively ruled out to ride for GC after a hard Tour. Landa and Thomas could also be present as part of what could be a Giro-Vuelta double. In any case, the team will go into the race with one clear goal: to win the tour outright.
In the past, Sky haven’t had a sprinter in the Vuelta but that could change in 2016. Danny Van Poppel must be frustrated that he hasn’t had the chance to do a three-week race since he joined the team. There won’t be much room in the Giro and Tour line-ups so his best chance comes at the Vuelta. At the end of 2016, he confirmed that he has the potential to win a stage at that race – he already did so in 2015 – and he could line up with the goal of trying to add to his grand tour tally while also providing support to his leader.
What to expect elsewhere?
When he emerged as a Tour de France contender in 2013, Chris Froome was the dominant stage racer of the spring. Before taking his first Tour win, the Brit had already won the Tour of Oman, Criterium International, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphiné and finished second in Tirreno-Adriatico. Since then, he has had a much calmer start to the seasons, partly because of illness in 2014 and 2015, and he has won a lot less before the Tour.
In 2016, Froome scaled his racing calendar further down as he knew he faced the tough Tour-Olympics-Vuelta combination. Next year there will be no Olympics which in theory should allow him to ride a bit more in the early part of the year. However, he will have an almost identical schedule. In 2016, the formula worked very well and he avoided his past trend of fading towards the end of the Tour. As he still hasn’t won the Vuelta yet, that second objective probably takes priority over the spring.
Froome has already announced that he will start his season in Australia at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour. He is unlikely to win the former race but we should be in for an exciting duel with Esteban Chaves in his first stage race of the year. If recent history can be used as an indication, he will make his European debut at the Volta a Catalunya which has featured on his calendar every year since 2014. He hasn’t won the race yet and he doesn’t seem to be at his best at that time of the year. However, the inclusion of a team time trial will provide him with a bigger chance.
Then he will probably make a return in Liege where he will work for the team before he heads to the Tour de Romandie which has been a big goal for him every year since 2013. He is usually a lot better in that race and if he hadn’t been marred by bad luck in 2016, he would probably have won it again. If he fails in Catalonia, there is a very big chance that he will win his first European stage race here. As usual, he will fine-tune his preparation at the Dauphiné where he will be the big favourite to add another win. The rest of his schedule is very likely to be made up of the Tour and the Vuelta.
With Froome having a reduced calendar, there is room for the many other stage race riders to lead the team in the week-long stage races of the spring. After his excellent performance in 2016, Sergio Henao could return to the Tour Down Under where he will be the biggest rival for Richie Porte in a race that suits him very well. Geraint Thomas is likely to try for a repeat win at Paris-Nice but if he has been appointed as Giro leader, he is unlikely to be at his best at this stage of the year. Henao could be used as a back-up plan as he is usually flying at that time of the year. Poels has also been promised that he will be given his own chance in the French race which he can definitely win following his attempt to defend his title at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Mikel Landa is the likely leader at Tirreno-Adriatico where they will use the opening team time trial to make up for the losses in the ITT. However, he is rarely at his best at that time of the year.
Having started the final time trial in the leader’s jersey several times, Henao will finally try to make things work in the Basque Country where he is a perennial favourite and he could also be the leader in the Tour of California where the return to Mount Baldy should make him one of the favourites. The Tour de Suisse offers the other stage race riders a final chance to go for some personal glory. Moscon is one of those riders and he deserves to get his chance somewhere during the season.
The team may also be active in some of the stage races outside the WorldTour. Landa is likely to target a repeat win at the Tour of the Alps (formerly the Giro del Trentino) and if he also aims for the Vuelta, the Vuelta a Burgos could be another small objective for the Spaniard. The Coppi e Bartali race has also traditionally been a place for some of the less visible Sky riders to play their personal card. Finally, the team has to come up with a GC rider for the Tour of Britain but that will depend on the selection for the Vuelta, with Geraint Thomas, Gianni Moscon, Sergio Henao and Wout Poels standing out as obvious candidates.
Elia Viviani and Danny Van Poppel will share the sprinting responsibilities but as the team is mainly focused on GCs, they may not get to do that many WorldTour stage races. However, Viviani should be given his chance in races like Tirreno-Adriatico and he is also likely to an important rider for the Tour of Britain which is a big goal for the team. He could also be a favourite for the RideLondon Classic which is now part of the WorldTour. The Italian has proved that he has no reason to be afraid of any of his rivals and in the real bunch sprints and he has the speed to challenge most. With a full focus on the road, he should win a lot more throughout the season. Van Poppel is also capable of winning several races, especially in races that are slightly hillier.
Sky have a pretty fixed hierarchy with a big focus on the WorldTour races so there is little chance for the rest of the riders to show themselves. However, Diego Rosa should be given a chance in some of the Italian one-day races which have usually been a big goal for him. With a silver medal at Worlds, Vasil Kiryienka also proved that he has returned to his best TT form and if he doesn’t have to save energy for later, he can be competitive in time trials, most notably in grand tours where the longer distances suit him. In any case, he should target another medal at Worlds.
Who is ready to surprise?
In a team with so many leaders, there won’t be much room for the less established names to show themselves and the team don’t have a great track record for young riders. In 2016, however, Gianni Moscon showed how it is possible to carve out space if you are strong enough and this should serve as inspiration for some of the new signings to take their chance.
Moscon again stands out as the rider most likely to create surprises. As said above, the Italian had a memorable first year at the WorldTour level where he showed that he can be competitive in the classics and stage races. When he got the chance to ride for himself at the end of the year, he showed that he can already be in the top 10 in hilly WorldTour races and win shorter stage races. Next year he is ready to take more responsibility and he is able to finish in the top 10 in some of the classics – both on the cobbles or in hillier terrain – and a top 10 spot in a WorldTour stage race is also within his reach. As he can climb and sprint and has a decent time trial, he will be competitive anywhere.
Among the new signings, Owain Doull has the best chance of immediate success. The Brit finished third in the 2015 Tour of Britain and as he now has his full focus on the road, he will be ready to build on that success. In the classics, he will probably have to work for his leaders and he will need more experience to be competitive. However, he should be able to show himself in some of the smaller races where his fast finish means that he may even get the support from the team on certain occasions. He is also a fast sprinter who may be used as a third option behind the main names of Viviani and Van Poppel.
Tao Geoghegan Hart has long been described as a huge British stage race talent but his results at U23 level and in the pro races he has done, haven’t fully lived up to the hype. Nonetheless, the Brit has the complete package and should benefit from the move to Sky. As a young stage race rider in the best stage race team, it won’t be easy to get many personal opportunities but it will be interesting to see how far into the mountain stages he can be with his leaders. In any case, his progress is likely to have to be based more on the performance than on the results.
Diego Rosa has already been close to winning Il Lombardia twice but for some reason he is still flying under the radar as a rider for the hilly one-day races. It is certainly true that his lack of explosiveness means that he doesn’t stand out as a real favourite for the Ardennes. Furthermore, he is very inconsistent but when he hits the right day, he is brutally strong – just remember how he won the queen stage at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with a great solo ride and finished second in Il Lombardia after having worked hard for Fabio Aru. He will have to work for the team in the stage races and will have his chance in the one-day races. If he hits the right day for the right race, he can achieve a very big result on the biggest scene.
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