Welcome back to ’22 Preview, a series of articles in which I take a look at each of the men’s World Tour teams (and a few added extras) in an effort to see what the future holds for them in this new season. In Chapters One and Two, I examined the fortunes of the Top Dogs – the four teams who are likely to challenge for the biggest prizes this year. The next two posts will look at the Pack – eight teams who will try to keep up with, or even, outshine their wealthier rivals, as the season unfolds.
The Challengers are four teams who aren’t just making up the numbers; they’re causing the favourites some significant headaches, or are even turning the tables and becoming the favourites themselves, in certain circumstances. Check out my previews of Bahrain Victorious, Movistar, Alpecin-Fenix and BORA-Hansgrohe, below.
2021 was a good year for the Bahrain team, as they made good on the promise of their new name and actually won some stuff.
They arguably over-achieved in all of the Grand Tours, and were never far from the headlines both on and off the bike. Will they remain in the limelight in 2022?
Ins and Outs
Although Bahrain haven’t been a major player in the transfer market this season, they’ve made some sensible acquisitions, adding stars of the future such as Danish U23 time trial champion Johan Price-Pejtersen as well as seasoned old hand Luis Leon Sanchez. They’ve retained their full core of key personnel and look to continue their form as a strong unit going into the new season, with the only notable mover being Mark Padun, who had a chequered season but showed great promise in the mountains.
With stage victories in all three Grand Tours, and podiums in two, Bahrain shone over three weeks, but they also picked up wins on other ground. Sonny Colbrelli had a stand-out season, winning the European Championships, the Benelux Tour overall (with teammate Matej Mohoric in second) and finally putting together an unforgettable ride to win Paris-Roubaix. There were other reasons to celebrate, too. Damiano Caruso pulled out a surprise second place at the Giro and topped it off with a stage at La Vuelta. The spirited GC effort at La Vuelta was as welcome as it was unexpected, and Gino Mäder rose to the challenge as super domestique for Jack Haig, securing the white jersey in the process to top off a breakout year.
If Bahrain can match 2021’s achievements in the coming season they would doubtless be content. It will be very much ‘as you were’, with the key players all targeting similar goals – one-day races for Colbrelli, week-long targets for Mohoric, and Haig likely to go for GC once again in at least one Grand Tour. There’s likely to be a fair amount of stage-hunting along the way, and following another disappointing season in 2021, the big question for the team will be: can Mikel Landa produce a result? He targets the pink jersey at the Giro and it’s fair to say that, with the talent Bahrain has besides Landa, the Spaniard could find himself increasingly adrift in a career which has faltered in recent years.
Bahrain bring a well-rounded unit to the new season capable of challenging in every area. While some may say they over-achieved last season, their success announced them as contenders to the traditional top teams, and it’s likely they will continue on this trajectory in 2022.
Arguably Movistar’s greatest achievement of the past season has been the continuing popularity of their Netflix show ‘The Least Expected Day’. It’s raised the profile of the team while simultaneously providing fodder for the team’s detractors, as their questionable tactics and ongoing internal politics gave the impression of a team without a plan.
Ins and Outs
Miguel Angel Lopez is the biggest name to leave the team, following the Vuelta drama that saw him stepping off the race on stage 20. Movistar have sustained a few other notable losses, with the unsettled Marc Soler lured by Team UAE, and loyal servants David Villella and Dario Cataldo also departing. The team go some way to replacing them with a further pair of Spaniards, Gorka Izagirre and Alex Aranburu.
The Spanish outfit have long been derided for their inability to unite behind one leader and the strategy certainly proved problematic for them once again in 2021. They picked up a few small wins, including a couple for the perennially competitive Alejandro Valverde, but the best they could do at a Grand Tour was a single stage win at La Vuelta. Granted, they came second on GC through Enric Mas, but only after an ignominious display from Miguel Angel Lopez as the joint leader policy once again failed to translate into a coherent plan. A costly strategy as they were left with no choice but to part ways with Superman.
Losing Lopez and Soler is a blow and finding victories may be a more difficult proposition this season. However, wins will be secondary to ‘La Ultima Bala’ as the veteran has finally decided to end his long career. Expect overblown emotional montages and plenty of hopeful but ultimately fruitless attacks at Grand Tours as the man who has arguably run the show at Movistar for several of his eleven years milks his final year of competitive racing for all it’s worth (update: he’s already taken his first win of the season at the Trofeo Andratx, so it’s started out well). Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resurface at a Pro level team a la Davide Rebellin once he realises life off the bike isn’t for him.
Outside of the Valverde circus, and in a startling turn of events, the team have already announced they will go to the Tour de France with just one leader: Enric Mas. Valverde will ride the Giro and La Vuelta where he will be hoping for a stage win, the perfect fairytale ending.
The team will look to Aranburu to bring about some success in one-day races; he was 6th at Omloop and 7th at Milano-San Remo in 2021 so it’s not out of the question to imagine that he might be able to produce something for the team on his day.
It’s always been Bala. At least, it sure feels that way. This season will mark the end of an era but, if there is any mercy in the world, a new beginning for the likes of Enric Mas who has a good few years of his peak ahead of him and, outside of the shadow of Valverde, could remake the team into a more cohesive and unified force. Maybe.
The top ranking UCI ProTeam in 2020 proved yet again in 2021 that they deserved their spot alongside the World Tour teams. They ranked in the top five in terms of wins across the season. While much of the spotlight inevitably falls on Mathieu van der Poel, the team have proven beyond a doubt that they are not a one-man band, with nine separate riders chalking up victories throughout the year.
Ins and Outs
Alpecin have maintained their steady state in the off-season, retaining their core riders and MVPs and bringing in new talent from their development squad, along with one or two new signings, the most significant arguably the Austrian Michael Gogl, who had a decent season in 2021, most notably making up the final member of the Strade Bianche breakaway supergroup as the understudy more commonly known as ‘and Michael Gogl.’ He finished an impressive 6th.
It was a great year for Alpecin-Fenix, as they racked up victories across various forms of racing, including a stage win at each of the three Grand Tours, with five overall. Mathieu van der Poel’s Strade Bianche win must surely go down as one of the most memorable cycling wins of all time. Besides these, there were plenty of wins at both week-long stage races and one-day races at various levels, including van der Poel’s unforgettable 50km solo effort on stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico, van der Poel’s sprint win in the first WT race of the season at UAE, and van der Poel’s unexpected romp around Switerland in the yellow jersey after two early stage wins at the Tour de Suisse. It wasn’t all about the Dutch superstar though; his Belgian compatriots Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen notched up numerous sprint wins between them.
The team have established themselves as hitters both in one-day racing and at Grand Tours. With two of the strongest sprinters in the peloton in Merlier and Philipsen, if there’s a flat stage or a one-day race that offers the chance of a sprint finish, expect Alpecin-Fenix to be in the mix.
The team goals in terms of one-day racing may be somewhat scaled back as Mathieu van der Poel’s back injury continues to plague him, and his fitness will likely dictate their success at the Monuments. He had given a hint that he might challenge long-time rival Wout van Aert for the green jersey at the Tour de France, but the feasibility of such a goal will very much depend on his ability to rehabilitate in time.
It’s likely to be another good year for the Belgian team with two world class sprinters and a strong supporting cast, but they feel the absence of MVDP if he continues to struggle with injury.
Following a season of mixed fortunes, the German team look quite different going into 2022, and with arguably the hottest kit in the peloton, will this season be a new start for a team that has lost one of its major assets?
Ins and Outs
BORA’s roster has seen some significant changes, primarily as a result of the departure of Peter Sagan and his entourage. This left some fairly hefty gaps to be filled. Sam Bennett is the most notable of the new arrivals; following his acrimonious split with Quick-Step the Irish sprinter will be keen to prove a point this season. Further quality additions to the team’s ranks include Aleksandr Vlasov, Sergio Higuita, Marco Haller and Jai Hindley. Young Belgian talent Cian Uijtdebroeks rides his first year pro with the team and will be one to watch.
BORA suffered some bad luck last year, beginning with a training accident in which a number of their riders were hurt. It set a precedent for a year in which their GC hopes were dashed in the Giro as Emanuel Buchmann crashed out, and Peter Sagan failed to live up to his own high standards after he contracted covid-19 at the end of 2020 and struggled to return to form.
There was still some success; the overall win at Paris-Nice for Max Schachmann at the expense of Primož Roglič, two breakaway Tour de France victories, a handful of sprint victories for the departing Pascal Ackermann, a stage of the Giro and the green jersey for Sagan and victory at Gran Piemonte for British track star Matt Walls.
The team look to be a more well-rounded unit going into the new season and have a sense of positivity that they will hope to translate into results. Perennial nearly-man Wilco Kelderman targets the Giro alongside co-leaders Emanuel Buchmann and Jai Hindley, and the main focus at the Tour de France will be the green jersey for Sam Bennett. There will be plenty of stage hunting opportunities for the likes of Lennard Kämna and Nils Pollitt, and with the array of sprinting talent the team have accrued any relatively flat one day race will offer opportunities for all-important victories.
It should be a better year for the German team in terms of overall number of wins, and in Sagan’s absence other riders will have their chance to shine. However their ability to perform at the highest levels in GC battles remains in doubt.