The off-season in cycling is a slippery beast. One moment you’re flopping dramatically on the sofa, bemoaning the loss of your beloved sport, and smashing dates into ‘how many days until’ calculators to torture yourself by finding out just how long it is until you can stare at a bunch of men on bikes for six hours a day again. And the next… The new season is just around the corner.
Time has stretched and warped and compressed, because, well, it does that. Festive seasons and muddy cyclocross races and endless debates about new kits have come and gone, and what do you know, suddenly it’s mid-January and we find ourselves counting down to the 2022 season (and still waiting for EF to announce their new kit, because some things never change).
What is in store for the 18 World Tour teams this upcoming season? What are our expectations of each team, following an electrifying 2021 season? Who are the key players, and what goals does each team hope to accomplish as we enter another year of fierce competition?
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I will be posting a series of previews taking a look at how each team fared in 2021, and their aims for this fresh, bright and hopeful new year in cycling. Featuring all 18 World Tour teams, and a select few Pro teams too.
First up, two posts on the Top Dogs. The four richest teams in the sport were in the top 5 most successful in 2021 in terms of world tour victories: can they stay on top for 2022?
Following a long period of Tour de France domination, the British powerhouse are undoubtedly in something of a transition phase at the moment, with the likes of Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter bringing a fresh perspective and realistic hopes for a different kind of future. Despite bagging one Grand Tour victory in each, the past couple of years have fallen short in terms of the type of success the team aspires to, and there’s no doubt they will be looking to rectify that in 2022.
Ins and Outs
The transition period is reflected in the shifting personnel at INEOS. With a cluster of veterans still on the books and hoping to make the most of their last couple of seasons, and an influx of new blood nipping at their heels, INEOS are backing up their diversification by signing the likes of Ben Tullett and Ben Turner, both successful in cyclocross and on the road. They’ve also added youngsters Kim Heiduk and Magnus Sheffield, and more experienced riders Omar Fraile and Elia Viviani, with Rohan Dennis and Gianni Moscon their most significant departures.
Most recently they have secured the services of aerodynamics expert Dan Bigham on staff in an effort to hone their time trialling skills, and they have extended the contract of Egan Bernal for another five years, putting faith in the Colombian’s ability to manage his chronic spine condition and deliver results in what should be the prime of his career.
If you look at the results and the personnel INEOS lavished on them, you’d be forgiven for thinking that week-long stage races were top of the team’s list of priorities in 2021. They threw resources at the proverbial wall to see what stuck, and as a result, they were utterly dominant in most of the week-long races they competed in, taking victory and multiple podium spots in Catalunya, Tour de Suisse, Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine. Their embarrassment of riches highlighted a bigger problem in the team though: too many chiefs. With multiple leaders for many races, the team often seemed disorganised, and the sharing is caring policy did not translate into the ultimate prize that the team covet – the Tour de France general classification. Despite taking Thomas, Carapaz, Porte and Geogehan-Hart, and achieving a third place for their trouble, it was a second year in a row without success at the race the British team have prioritised above all others.
But while their Tour de France dominance seems in decline, there is one grand tour the Grenadiers have made their own. Following Giro success in the covid-hit season of 2020, the maglia rosa belonged to INEOS in 2021 too. They showed what it meant to unite behind one leader, and Egan Bernal showed flashes of the brilliance he has always promised in Italy, on the gravel roads of Montalcino and emerging victorious from the mists over Passo Giau, but he faded in the final week to give the faithful a scare.
Later in the year there was a mountain biking Olympic gold for Tom Pidcock and rainbow bands for Fillippo Ganna at the World Championship time trial.
And lest we forget amid the remonstrations over a disappointing Tour de France performance, 2021 was the year when INEOS began to make their mark on one-day racing. Dylan van Baarle won Dwars door Vlaanderen and took an impressive second place at the World Championship road race in Leuven, and Tom Pidcock took victory at Brabantse Pijl and lost out by a hair’s breadth to Wout van Aert at Amstel Gold Race, as the beginnings of a classics outfit began to rise from the ashes of dashed yellow jersey dreams.
Tour de France redemption, Giro d’Italia defence and a continuation of the development of a one-day team will be top of the list for the Grenadiers in the new season. They will be in no mood to mess around and are likely to have a clearer plan for leadership, and with a core group of young British riders ready to take on one-day racing, expect to see them play a far more prominent role at the Spring Classics.
Tom Pidcock is likely to aim for the rainbow stripes in Australia in September following his bold statement that he intends to go for three world titles in three different disciplines in the same year.
Egan Bernal will be top of the tree in 2022, taking on the leadership role at the Tour de France in an attempt to prove that 2019 wasn’t a flash in the pan. He will have to take on two Slovenians embroiled in a three-tour-long grudge match, in order to succeed.
Richard Carapaz is arguably the team’s big hope for a grand tour overall at the Giro, and the team will undoubtedly be throwing more of their considerable resource into one-day racing, with both Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter stating their intentions to target Monuments.
Away from the road, Fillippo Ganna has stated his intention to go for the hour record on the track, and with Dan Bigham now on his side, you’d be a fool to bet against him.
After a couple of years of reinvention, 2022 could be the year in which INEOS begin a new chapter in their story, embracing the many facets of the sport to become a more well-rounded giant of the sport.
Team Jumbo Visma
It was a rollercoaster of a year for the Dutch team. They achieved a lot despite a few significant setbacks, the first coming with the decision of Tom Dumoulin to take a step back from the sport in January. They were beset by injuries and crashes, beginning with Primož Roglič’s anguish at Paris-Nice, but they rallied and showed the true meaning of their motto ‘samen winnen’, coming together despite the loss of 50% of their team at the Tour to secure four incredible stage victories and second place in the GC.
Ins and Outs
The loss of Tony Martin, who retired at the end of 2021 after a long and successful career, is a real body blow to not only the team, but the whole peloton. In his absence Jumbo Visma will need to look to new leaders to fill the considerable void the German will leave in his wake. They have made some smart acquisitions in the transfer market, bolstering their one-day resources with Tosh van der Sande, Christophe Laporte and most recently rescuing Tiesj Benoot from the conveyor belt of Team DSM escapees, as well as going some way to replacing the significant presence of Tony Martin with Rohan Dennis, who has recently been quite vocal in his disapproval of his former team’s so-called ‘copying’ of his new team.
Also in: Milan Vader, a multi-disciplinarian with a background in mountain biking, is an intriguing and unknown prospect, and the team have added some talent from their development squad including promising time trial specialist Mick van Dijke, his twin brother Tim, and Michel Hessman.
The team had mixed fortunes in week-long stage races last season. Wout van Aert put up stern resistance to Pogačar at Tirreno-Adriatico while Primož Roglič rose and fell at Paris-Nice. The team bounced back, winning Itzulia Basque Country in a display of dominance that saw the beginnings of an unexpected rivalry between Danish domestique Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar that would keep us entertained all season.
They had a decent performance in the Spring Classics with Wout van Aert picking up two victories, at Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race, and they pocketed three Olympic medals and a silver at Worlds, half of those courtesy of Wout van Aert, and the others a time trial gold for Primož Roglič that would reinvigorate the Slovenian’s season, and a silver for Tom Dumoulin in the same event.
In the Grand Tours, the team were slow to warm up. After a disappointing Giro, there followed a Tour de France both to remember and forget, with incredible highs following devastating lows. La Vuelta proved to be the highlight as they took the GC and four stage wins courtesy of a resurgent Roglič, who also went on to pick up a couple of victories in the autumn Italian classics.
Ever since that moment on Les Planches des Belles Filles in September 2020, it has seemed inevitable that the Pog v Rog narrative will be the centre of gravity around which entire seasons revolve. The whole world of cycling was denied the opportunity to see the rematch in 2021 following an accident-riddled first week, and it goes without saying that it will be Take 3 this summer. Yellow at the Tour is the primary goal for the team but, in an ambitious move, the team will also go for green with Wout van Aert, the saviour of last year’s lost hopes. Will it be a reach too far, or can they pull off the unthinkable?
Primož Roglič will go for the holy grail once more: the Tour de France General Classification. Jonas Vingegaard will also make the Tour de France his main goal. The team were careful not to name him ‘co-leader’ but, as one of the few, arguably the only, rider who can make an impression on Pogačar on long climbs, the Danish rider will serve in multiple roles: as helper, agitator and fall-back option.
Wout van Aert’s ambitious set of goals include a Monument – he’s aiming for Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – along with the green jersey at the Tour. He has not mentioned the World Championships in Willunga yet but undoubtedly, after last year’s disappointment on home soil, the rainbow stripes will be high on his agenda.
Tom Dumoulin is back in action for the Dutch team. It’s unclear the type of form he’s in, but he’ll target pink at the Giro in May, with co-leader Tobias Foss at his side.
If luck can stay on their side, and with ambitious goals set out for them, 2022 could be a great year for Jumbo Visma.