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CyclingQuotes gives a detailed analysis of Team Sunweb

Photo: A.S.O.


20.12.2016 @ 17:59 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

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 December, 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 Sunweb – the former Giant-Alpecin team.


Returning riders

Sindre Skjøstad Lunke, Søren Kragh Andesen, Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil. Rou Curvers, Bert De Backer, Tom Dumoulin, Johannes Fröhlinger, Simon Geschke, Chad Haga, Sam Oomen, Georg Preidler, Ramon Sinkeldam, Tom Stamsnijder, Laurens Ten Dam, Albert Timmer, Zico Waeytens, Max Walscheid


New signings

Phil Bauhaus (Bora-Argon 18), Chris Hamilton (Avanti), Lennard Hofstede (Rabobank), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Lennard Kämna (Stölting), Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange), Mike Teunissen (LottoNL-Jumbo)


Riders leaving the team

Koen De Kort (Trek-Segafredo), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Caleb Fairly (retires), Cheng Ji (retires), Carter Jones (retires), Fredrik Ludvigsson (Copenhagen Pro Cycling), Tobias Ludvigsson (FDJ), Lars van der Haar (Telenet-Fidea), Tom Veelers (retires)


Analysis of the transfer campaign

Times have changed at Team Sunweb which was once known as the most sprint-focused team in the WorldTour. The first of their two big-name sprinters, Marcel Kittel, left at the end of 2015 and now the other big sprinter, John Degenkolb, will head to Trek-Segafredo. For the first time since the team stepped up to the highest level, they won’t have a top sprinter in their ranks and they have done nothing to look out for an established name to replace one of their two fastmen in the pure bunch sprints.


Instead, the transfer campaign reflects three aspects. First of all the gradual change to a GC team continues as one of the two big-name signings is a stage race rider, Wilco Kelderman, that can go for his own results and support Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil in the mountains. Secondly, the team’s is turning its focus away from the cobbled classics to the hillier one-day races as the other big-name signing is Michael Matthews who is more suited to races like Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl than monuments like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix where Degenkolb excelled. Finally, the team continues its dedicated focus on young talents as the other five signings are all young riders, two neo-pros and three youngsters who are still taking the first steps of their pro careers.


The most notable signing is definitely Matthews. The Australian may still be missing that big classics win but podium places in Milan-Sanremo, Amstel Gold Race and the Worlds is a clear sign that it is just a question of time before that big win arrives. Furthermore, he should make sure that the team keeps winning stages in the grand tours and in WorldTour stage races. Of course he is not competitive in the big bunch sprints at the Tour but he is a guarantee of success in hillier stages, especially at the Giro and the Vuelta.


Nonetheless, the loss of Degenkolb is huge and the overall balance is probably negative. Of course there is still uncertainty about Degenkolb’s ability to return to his former level but his performances at the end of the year – most notably when he initially made the split at the Worlds before bad luck took him out of contention – clearly showed that he is on the right track. While Matthews hasn’t won a big one-day race, no one has managed to drop Degenkolb on a flat section of cobbles for several years and the German is probably the most skilled rider for Paris-Roubaix. He has won Milan-Sanremo and even though he hasn’t had the same impressive results in the Flemish races, it is definitely not impossible to add Flanders to his palmares. Matthews is more of a gamble and not as fast as Degenkolb so his winning rate is likely to be smaller too.


Kelderman is a bit more of a wildcard. The Dutchman was one of the hottest prospects on the transfer market after he finished in the top 10 at the Giro in 2014 and rode an amazing Dauphiné just a few days later. Since then, his star has waned. His time trialling has improved and he is now one of the best in that discipline but he is no longer climbing as well as he did two years ago. Recently, almost every WorldTour stage race has ended in disappointment. As things stand, Dumoulin and Barguil seem to have more potential, at least in the grand tours, but Kelderman could be a valuable support rider. Furthermore, his good time trialling will give the team a good third GC card in races with a limited amount of climbing.


Phil Bauhaus has been brought in as a new sprinter and without Degenkolb and Kittel, he should get lots of personal chances. His performance in the autumn suggests that his potential is decent and with the team’s history of developing young talents, he could be a good investment. It will also be interesting to see if they can bring Mike Teunissen’s career back on track after a difficult transition to the pro ranks for the promising classics rider.


As usual, the team have done a good job in signing some interesting neo-pros and talents. Chris Hamilton has already done well at WorldTour level in the Tour Down Under and is a promising climber. Lennard Kämna is one of the greatest time trial talents and it is very important to remember that the German has only recently turned 20. Under Dumoulin’s guidance, he can become a real star in the coming years. Lennard Hofstede has shown good climbing potential by winning the Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour and is a great addition in a team that is now aiming to develop promising GC riders.


The biggest loss is of course Degenkolb but it must also hurt to lose Tom Veelers and Koen De Kort. The pair were the final two riders in the train that delivered Kittel to numerous victories and their absence will be felt. It is also a bit of a surprise to see Tobias Ludvigsson head to pastures new just as he has got back on track with his time trialling, most notably with his third place in the long time trial at the Vuelta


What to expect in the classics?

As said, the team’s focus will change massively from the sprints and cobbles to the grand tours and the hillier races. Michael Matthews will make sure that the team has a solid shot at the podium in the first classic of the year, Milan-Sanremo, even though the Australian is unlikely to be fast enough to win a race that has suited the faster guys in recent years. That means that the team will once again be competitive in the first classic of the year but as soon as they hit the cobbles in Belgium and France, the team will be much less prominent than they have been in the past.


Degenkolb’s absence means that they no longer have a genuine candidate for victory in the Flemish races. On paper, it looks like Zico Waeytens will lead the team in his home races but even though the Belgian showed plenty of promise in his time at Topsport Vlaanderen, he has done little to back that up in his time at WorldTour level. At best, he can hope for a top 10 and so the team will be no more than an outsider in those races.


The Sunweb colours could be a lot more visible in Paris-Roubaix. Bert De Backer has been playing a key role for Degenkolb in recent years and has featured in the real finale in 2014. He has an untapped potential in this race and can be a big surprise. Ramon Sinkeldam has also shown lots of promise and so the team should be able to play a role in the race to the velodrome.


What can change the outcome on the cobbles is Matthews. The Australian has never really targeted the cobbled races but on paper, a race like Flanders could suit him. He may decide to give it a go in the harder cobbled races and even though he will be missing experience, he has the skills to do well.


In the Ardennes, Tom Dumoulin, Warren Barguil and Wilco Kelderman will combine forces with Matthews. The Australian is an obvious favourite for the Amstel Gold Race. In 2014, he blew his matches too early by following Philippe Gilbert and last year he rode too defensively. This time he hopes to get the tactics right in a race that he is destined to win at some point.


Barguil has shown that he can handle the Mur de Huy really well and could be in for a breakthrough classics performance at Fleche Wallonne. For Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Dumoulin and Barguil are likely to share the leadership – at least if Dumoulin is not targeting the Giro. This year Barguil was very strong in the Belgian race and he could be one of the revelations of the spring. Dumoulin has not featured in the finale of Liege before but with more focus on his climbing in 2017, he could do very well in a race where his big engine will come in handy.


In the second part of the year, the team is likely to focus on Matthews who can win races like Plouay, Quebec and Montreal. Barguil is suited to Lombardia but the Frenchman has a tendency to fade slightly towards the end of the year.


Finally, we are curious to see what Sam Oomen can do in the hilly races. The Dutchman has a huge potential in the Ardennes but he lacked the engine in his neo-pro season. As the year went on, he went further and further in the races and if his progress continues, he could have a real classics breakthrough in 2017.


What to expect in the grand tours?

The GCs in the grand tours will be a big goal in 2017 but the team has not yet made any announcements regarding the schedule of their two main riders, Tom Dumoulin and Warren Barguil. In September, Dumoulin made it clear that he wants to target the overall in a three-week race in 2017, probably the one with most time trialling. The course for the Vuelta is yet to be announced but Dumoulin said recently that he already has a clear idea about what he wants to do. The courses for the Tour and the Giro are very different when it comes to the amount of individual riding against the clock. While the Tour only has two short TT stages of an overall distance of less than 40km, there are two solid TTs in the Italian grand tour. Even though the amount of climbing is much bigger in Italy, there is little doubt that the Giro suits Dumoulin the best.


It seems obvious that Dumoulin would prefer to do the Giro in 2017 but it could present a conflict for the team. Next year’s Tour starts in their home country of Germany and they would love to have their biggest star at the start, especially as he can realistically target the yellow jersey in the opening TT. However, a dedicated GC focus will make it difficult for him to compete against riders like Rohan Dennis and Tony Martin who will prepare specifically for a short, flat TT and so it may be no bad idea for Dumoulin to go for the GC in the Giro and then turn his eyes on the Tour with a focus on stage wins, most notably in the two time trials. That would leave the door open for Barguil to focus on his home race and the lack of time trialling makes it a great fit for him.


We are still waiting for the official confirmation but we would expect the team to support Dumoulin in a GC bid at the Giro. The amount of climbing is huge and it will probably be difficult for Dumoulin to win. After all, he has only gone for GC in one grand tour and he still needs to prove that the performance in the 2015 Vuelta was no fluke. Furthermore, he will be more of a marked man and won’t have the kind of freedom that allowed him to win the stage at Cumbre del Sol in Spain last year. Finally, the climbs in Italy are longer than their Spanish counterparts and this suits Dumoulin less. However, a top 5 result would be a great outcome for Dumoulin as he will mainly be looking for a final confirmation that he will be a GC candidate in the future.


For the Tour, the team could back Barguil. The Frenchman has had mixed luck in his home race but his performance in the 2014 Vuelta is a clear indication that he has the stamina to handle a three-week race. He needs to mature a bit and avoid bad luck but on this kind of course he can finish in the top 10. The team is also likely to have Michael Matthews as a second leader. Mathew Hayman recently told Cyclingnews that the green jersey ambitions are the main reason for his decision to change teams and so he will be fully focused on the coveted tunic in France. The mixed course with many hilly stages is great for the Australian and even though it will be hard to beat Sagan in the points competition, he could very well leave France with another stage win in the pocket.


The GC plans for the Vuelta are less evident. Dumoulin is unlikely to ride as the hilly time trial at the Worlds must be his big focus in the autumn. Barguil already planned to do two grand tours in 2016 but illness forced him out of the Vuelta very early. Next year he is likely to try again and he has proved that he can do well in the Spanish race even though it remains to be seen whether he will go for stage wins or the GC. The race could also be a chance for Wilco Kelderman to give it another GC shot but as already said in our transfer analysis, nothing suggests that the Dutchman will be ready to finish in the top 10 in a grand tour loaded with climbing. Finally, the race could also present a chance for Sam Oomen to make his grand tour debut. It may still be too early to go for GC but we will be curious to see how he reacts to three weeks of racing.


Finally, the team is likely to have a sprinter in every grand tour. Matthews will be the leader in the Tour but the door is open for established names like Nikias Arndt and Ramon Sinkeldam and youngsters Phil Bauhaus and Max Walscheid to have a shot at the Vuelta and the Giro. This year Arndt got his chance in both races and as he took a stage win in the Giro, we would expect him to be given another shot. On the other hand, the German Grand Depart means that he may be keener to support Matthews in the Tour and this could leave an empty sprint spot for Sinkeldam or one of the youngsters. We doubt that any of them will be able to win a stage but it would be very interesting to see Bauhaus and Walscheid get a first taste of three-week racing.


What to expect elsewhere?

With the GC playing a bigger role for the team, we can expect Sunweb to have a legitimate GC candidate in every WorldTour stage race. Depending on his choice of grand tour, Dumoulin can go for victory in races like Paris-Nice, Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse where time trials often play a big role. Barguil will have fewer opportunities due to his poor TT skills but if he targets races like Catalunya and Tirreno-Adriatico he can add to the team’s WorldTour score. Wilco Kelderman will be a third option in some of the races with lots of time trialling. Especially the Eneco Tour suits the Dutchman well and if he teams up with Dumoulin for that race, the team will have a very strong two-pronged attack.


Michael Matthews is likely to go for stage wins in Paris-Nice, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tour de Suisse and there should be lots of opportunities for sprinters Nikias Arndt, Ramon Sinkeldam, Phil Bauaus and Max Walscheid too. The team is yet to establish a clear hierarchy and so the door is open for all of them to take the top spot in the team. The team still has riders like Bert De Backer, Roy Curvers and Albert Timmer with lots of lead-out experience and so they will be able to form a solid train.


Dumoulin is likely to win a number of time trials throughout the year and the team can look to aggressive riders Georg Preidler and Simon Geschke to go for stage wins from breakaways in grand tours and mountainous one-week races. Finally, the team will have a big focus on development of young talents and as the below section shows, we can expect good performance from many of the youngsters.


Who’s ready to surprise?

The team is loaded with talent and many of them have the potential to have a breakthrough performance in 2016. The brightest star is probably Sam Oomen. The Dutchman has already won the mountainous Tour de l’Ain and now is the time for him to see what he can do in a WorldTour stage race. He climbs well and has improved his time trialling so he has the skills to develop into a great rider both for multi-day races and hard classics.


Max Walscheid didn’t get many sprint chances in 2016 but his good performance against Greipel and Kittel at the German Championships and his good season ending in Hainan suggest that he has the potential to develop into a real winner. Phil Bauhaus is also talented and it will be interesting to see whether he can benefit from the move to a team with such an impressive sprint history.


Lennard Kämna is a future time trial star but he may still be too young to be competitive, especially in the longer time trials. However, he should make a lot of progress and a few surprises along the way are definitely possible. Søren Kragh Andersen has also made a lot of progress and he should be able to get a top 10 finish in a short WorldTour time trial.


Finally, Chis Hamilton and Lennard Hofstede are both big climbing talents but 2017 is probably a bit too early for the two neo-professionals.



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