Right, let’s be honest with each other. OK? If you’ve caught the previous chapters in my 2022 Preview series you’ll have read about the comings and goings from each of the World Tour teams, the recollections of their 2021 successes, and the anticipation of their goals for 2022.
However. If you’ve been awake for even a day over the past few weeks, you’ll have noticed there’s, er, there’s been some bike racing going on. Quite a bit of it actually. And it may not have escaped your attention that I still have a whole load of teams to preview. Which leaves me in a bit of a pickle.
What can I say, I’m a busy person. HOWEVER I do not want to leave you feeling unsatisfied, nor do I wish to discriminate against all the other lovely teams who I’ve not yet lavished any attention on.
So here’s the deal: as we still have (*checks date*) THREE WHOLE DAYS until opening weekend, I have opted to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend the season hasn’t actually started properly yet. That way, this still counts as a preview, right?
As my first two pieces were about the Big Dogs, and the next two dealt with The Pack, this fifth and final chapter will focus on The Underdogs. Briefly and swiftly and concisely (and other words meaning it won’t take very long) we will zoom through the remaining teams, in alphabetical order, check out their key players and summarise their most important aims for the season ahead.
How briefly? Well, the first couple came out at 88 WORDS. Weird, right? So I’ve stuck with it. Using this extraordinarily arbitrary and yet freakishly appropriate number of 88 words per team, LET’S DO THIS.
Astana Qazakstan Team: (*must not talk about the rap, must not talk about the rap*)
After a dismal 2021, the only way is up for Vinokourov’s team. They’ve arguably improved on last season already with Alexey Lutsenko winning Clásica Jaén.
Astana will target Grand Tour GCs with Lutsenko and Miguel Angel Lopez, one day classics with Gianni Moscon and in his last season of competition, a farewell win or three for returnee Vincenzo Nibali.
Chances? It will absolutely be a better season for Astana given their new personnel, and they will have more to show for their efforts in 2022 than last year.
One several teams in line for ‘relegation’ from the World Tour at the end of this season, Cofidis have banished last season’s poor showing and have opened their account with some absolutely brilliant performances, with multiple wins for Benjamin Thomas and Bryan Coquard already under their belt.
Chances? Guillaume Martin means business this season and will be aiming to place highly on GC at Grand Tours. The pressure of fighting for survival has given them the incentive: can they overcome the disadvantage and stay afloat in the World Tour?
With no Thibaut Pinot, no grand tour stage win and Arnaud Démare’s form departing him, 2021 was a case of ‘not quite good enough’ for Groupama, much like their hapless time trial star Stefan Küng who, aside from the European Championships, was the nearly-man all season.
Chances? Things are looking brighter this season. The team look good thus far and aside from the slightly odd decision NOT to send Pinot to the Giro, with the addition of Michael Storer from DSM, it’s likely they will far exceed last season’s results.
Israel – Premier Tech
The oldest kids on the block have done little to shift their ‘retirement home’ reputation, signing Jakob Fuglsang and Simon Clarke as Andre Greipel and Dan Martin retire, but they have plenty of talent capable of producing much-needed results as they seek to secure their position for another three-year cycle.
Chances? New signings Fuglsang, Clarke and Giacomo Nizzolo will be hoping to produce some good performances; Michael Woods and Mads Würtz Schmid are the major hopes. And can Chris Froome return to any kind of racing form?
The Belgian team have suffered a dearth of results in recent seasons leading to their current precarious position, threatened with the loss of World Tour status at the end of this season. They’ve responded in startling fashion, with Tim Wellens, Arnaud de Lie, Caleb Ewan and Maxim van Gils all picking up victories in the early part of 2022.
Chances? With Victor Campanaerts reportedly galvanising the team, and classics season ahead, it’s hard not to root for Lotto Soudal. Sadly, they have the hardest job ahead of them.
Team BikeExchange Jayco
2021’s highlight for the Aussie team was a podium place and stage win at the Giro d’Italia for Simon Yates, but other than that there wasn’t much to write home about.
Despite the loss of Estaban Chaves, the late signing of Dylan Groenewegen is a huge boost for the team.
Chances? Although Michael Matthews may target green, by far the bigger draw, and more like to produce wins, will be the battle between Groenewegen, Fabio Jakobsen and an array of other brilliant sprinters at the Tour de France.
Despite taking three stages at La Vuelta, there was not a lot else to shout about for DSM in 2021, and it’s fair to say that their all-around vibe lately has been distinctly… off. They’ve suffered a number of departures, some in acrimonious circumstances, with the core of their squad taking a battering.
Chances? DSM will be banking on the continued resurgence of Romain Bardet, a marked improvement in their sprinting contingent, and good starts for riders coming through their development squad, otherwise it could be a lean season.
THERE! All the World Tour teams, previewed, in time for Opening Weekend. Someone show me to the cobbles!