Our pack may not be top of the list of favourites for every race they are involved in, but they are up there fighting, and have plenty of opportunities to take big wins. The previous chapter looked at those teams who are challenging the top dogs for supremacy. This piece will focus on a set of teams who take their chances when they can; they spread their resources and play to their strengths, and there will be no shortage of names from these teams on the list of victories come the end of the season.
ICYMI: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 looked at the Top Dogs, and Chapter 3 focused on the Challengers.
EF Education First-EasyPost
Everyone’s second favourite team (or something like that), EF are certainly a unique bunch; one of the few outfits in the contemporary peloton with a discernable identity, a vibe perhaps would be a more adequate term. The American team headed by Jonathan Vaughters is a diverse bunch of individuals, yet there’s no shortage of opportunities and you can never rule them out as they possess quite the range of talent.
Ins and Outs
EF brought together a seemingly incongruous bunch of new signings across the off-season, but they have recruited bags of talent, along with a group of characters who on the surface of it, seem to fit the mould. From seasoned pros like the smiliest man in cycling Esteban Chaves, to older riders looking for another shot at success such as Brits Owain Doull and James Shaw, to rising stars like Marijn van den Berg and Ben Healy.; but perhaps their most intriguing signing is their most recent: climbing sensation Mark Padun. The Ukrainian made waves at the Dauphiné before being frustrated by his team’s tactics at La Vuelta which prevented him from taking his own chances. Instinctively, this feels like a good fit for an interesting and off-beat character, who can expect more freedom with his new team.
EF made headlines in all kinds of different ways in 2021. Lachlan Morton, adventurer without portfolio, completed his alternative Tour de France, going off-piste in the most hipster and yet hardcore fashion to generate incredible headlines and raise loads of money for a good cause.
It’s so EF to start with something that isn’t even connected to racing, isn’t it? Racing, at which they did extremely well, remaining on brand as predictably unpredictable, the wins coming from different riders in the most unexpected ways. Neilson Powless won at San Sebastian, Magnus Cort ran riot at La Vuelta, and Michael Valgren once again had a late surge of form to podium at the World Championships.
The team arguably fell short on their GC goals, though. Following a podium spot for Hugh Carthy at La Vuelta in 2020, hopes were high for the lanky northerner to achieve in the Grand Tours. He managed 8th on GC at the Giro and retired from La Vuelta through illness, before finishing a troubled season with a spate of DNFs at the Italian Classics.
EF are one of those teams who lack a standout leader and as a result, it’s easy forget that they are still absolutely stacked. Where other teams flounder without clear leadership, EF thrive on variety and you get the impression there’s no hierarchy, and anyone could take their chance on the day if they were feeling good. It gives them the advantage of adaptability and the ability to be spontaneous, and let’s not forget they have a rider for almost any circumstance. Alberto Bettiol, Hugh Carthy, Magnus Cort, Neilson Powless, Michael Valgren – their roster sparkles with potential race-winners. They are somewhat lacking in the sprinting department but plenty of their riders have strong finishes, and with young fast man Marijn van den Berg on board, they may have chances on flat stages too. They are likely to target breakaways, stage wins and one-day races.
With a mixed bag of brilliant talents and a general vibe of positivity, it will be intriguing to see how EF put together their season. With Bettiol revitalised, Mark Padun given a new lease of life and Magnus Cort in ominous form last season, there’s every chance they will take some big wins in 2022.
Another team who have a strong sense of identity, the Trek team strikes me as a unified force who set sensible and realistic goals, that they occasionally achieve. Refocusing their attention to one-day racing and stage hunting
Ins and Outs
Trek lose a key man in Vincenzo Nibali; the Shark was only with Trek for two seasons, but he will ride his final season with Astana. Trek have added a fair few names to their roster, with a mix of younger riders such as Antwan Tolhoek and Daan Hoole, and more experienced heads: the likes of Tony Gallopin and Jon Aberasturi. Their most exciting acquisition is one Filippo Baroncini. The young Italian won the U23 World Championship road race in 2021 and is a strong rider with a big engine, who will likely do well in one-day races as he begins his first season as a pro.
There were highs and lows for Trek last season. Their year opened with success, as 2019 world Champion Mads Pedersen won at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and Jasper Stuyven won the first Monument of the year, powering to victory at Milano-Sanremo. Things did not go so well in the Grand Tours, with Giulio Ciccone crashing out of both the Giro and La Vuelta, and although Bauke Mollema was able to win a stage at the Tour de France, the second half of the season was less successful, with very little to show for their efforts and continued bad luck for Mads Pedersen, who might hold some sort of record for the number of times he crashed in 2021. Jasper Stuyven finished 4th in the World Championship road race in Leuven after a day to forget for the Belgian team.
Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven are two big hitters who can challenge the best riders out there over their favoured terrain. If they are on form they will both be dangerous and Trek will look to them for wins in one-day races and on trickier flat stages of longer races. Giulio Ciccone will lead the team at the Giro, a race at which he has been steadily improving over the years. A podium finish is likely his aim. The Tour and La Vuelta are less certain but it’s likely the team will go stage hunting once more in France with the hope of repeating Bauke Mollema’s 2021 success.
While Trek sometimes fly under the radar, if their key riders can time their form and stay upright, and they continue to aim for realistic targets, it could be a really good year for the American team.
It may only have been their their first season as a WorldTour team, but everyone’s favourite neon-sleeved Belgians looked right at home in the peloton, and they didn’t waste time in making their presence felt.
Ins and Outs
The Belgian team have been very active in the transfer market, picking up a number of young riders as well as a few more experienced racers including sprinter Alexander Kristoff to bolster their ranks, as Danny van Poppel departed. Perhaps their most exciting new signing is U23 World Championship runner up, Eritrean Biniam Girmay, a powerhouse of a rider who has already picked up his first win of the season at the Trofeo Alcudia, and at the age of 21 looks to be an incredible talent.
Intermarché were anything but wallflowers at the Grand Tours. They dominated for much of La Vuelta, with Rein Taaramäe taking a stage and the red jersey in the first week, perennial nearly-man Louis Meintjes challenging on GC before he sadly crashed out on stage 19 and Odd Christian Eiking the unlikely bearer of the red jersey for a whole week before Primož Roglič wrested it from his shoulders. Let’s not forget the Giro d’Italia, where the team produced one of the most memorable moments of the season courtesy of the fantastic breakaway win of Taco van der Hoorn.
The team grabbed a couple of other odd wins on one-day and stage races, mostly courtesy of van der Hoorn and Danny van Poppel, but all in all, it’s fair to say they were probably pretty happy with how things went.
If you were to offer Intermarché a repeat of last year’s level of success in 2022, they would probably bite your hand off. However, that’s not to say they are lacking in ambition. Some would argue the team performed beyond expectation last season and as such, to aim for similar goals would be prudent. They will look to Girmay to fulfil his potential in his first year with the team and lead them in one-day races, Taco van der Hoorn to repeat his breakaway antics and Lorenzo Rota to improve on his recent close calls and achieve some wins.
A popular team among cycling fans, many will hope to see Intermarché repeat their successes of 2021, but they may truly have to harness the power of opportunism to grab their chances when they arise.
The first French team to feature in the preview, AG2R were also the most successful of the French World Tour teams in 2021. They made headlines before a bike had been ridden in anger with the revelation of their new kit, the brown bib shorts dividing the crowd like marmite. They retain the shorts this year along with the sense of promise that their good run of form will continue.
Ins and Outs
he team have made barely a ripple in the big pond of the transfer market, losing a couple of riders, including Tony Gallopin, and bringing a couple on board, including Clément Berthet from Delko and Felix Gall from DSM. They consolidate by retaining the core of their team, aiming for consistency going into the new season.
AG2R’s moments of last season can be distilled quite simply: one stage win in each Grand Tour, courtesy of Andrea Vendrame (at the Giro), Ben O’Connor (at the Tour de France) and Clement Champoussin (at La Vuelta). The wins were all memorable in their own way and reflected the team’s plentiful climbing talent. Ben O’Connor’s win almost propelled the team into the yellow jersey following an impressive solo effort where he rode away from the pairing of Sergio Higuita and Nairo Quintana in grim conditions to win in the Alps.
The team’s classics unit was less successful, with veterans Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen falling short in one-day races, although van Avermaet’s third place at the Tour of Flanders was arguably an achievement worth noting, in the year which marked the end of his reign in the infamous golden helmet.
Following a lack of results in the classics it’s likely that the team will dedicate a portion of their resources to rectifying this in the upcoming season. Benoit Cosnefroy is rising to his best form has the potential to become AG2R’s primary focus in terms of wins, with Aurélien Paret-Peintre another rider who promises much and could come good this season. Beyond them, there are potential stage winners scattered throughout the team: Dorian Godon, Clement Champoussin and Andrea Vendrame along with Ben O’Connor who will try his luck on GC at the Tour de France again this year, aiming for the yellow jersey which narrowly evaded him in 2021.
The brown shorts remain and as far as I’m concerned, the most stylish French team in the peloton is also the strongest. They will try their luck across various forms of the sport and they will likely surprise a few once again.