The Teams – Part 2
As I stated in an earlier post, there are 22 teams competing in the Tour de France, 18 Pro Tour teams and 4 wild card invites. Each team has its own personality and objectives. Sometimes the personalities on the teams don’t mesh, and that creates its own interesting dynamic.
Team Dimension Data – This African-based team truly sets itself apart from the rest of the field. Formed in 2007, the team is organized by the Qhubeka Foundation which supports giving bicycles to people in Africa who lack the transportation infrastructure needed to attend school, get to work, or deliver services, and all of the racers contribute to the mission. Additionally, the team provides a mechanism for increased opportunities for African riders. As for the Tour, the team entered the race with two leaders, sprinter Mark Cavendish and stage hunter/British national champion Steve Cummings. Cavendish has 30 stage wins to his name, but the “Manx Missile” seems to have lost a little bit of his top-end speed as he has gotten older. He also has struggled with illness this year, so his participation in the Tour was in doubt. Unfortunately for the team, Cav crashed on Stage 5 in the incident with Peter Sagan and broke his scapula, ending his Tour prematurely. Steve Cummings is as known for his one-day escapades as he is for famously sitting at the back of the group all day long. Look for him to get really active in the second and third weeks. Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen has assumed the role of team sprinter, but despite being a former world champion, he will struggle to hold off Quickstep’s Marcel Kittel on the pure sprinter finishes.
Francais de Jeux – Known as FDJ, the french lottery-sponsored team is another one that was founded in 1997. FDJ has had a bit of a resurgence since the glory days of the early 2000s when the team won the green jersey with Australian sprinter Baden Cooke and some individual stage wins. French sensation Thibault Pinot emerged as a GC threat in 2014 but opted to focus on the Giro d’Italia this year. He is still in the Tour but is not concerned with his GC results. Instead, he will be hunting for stage wins in the latter part of the race. FDJ will be prominent in the break on a daily basis and will look to get some results. Don’t expect much from FDJ in terms of GC. Maybe Pinot will hunt for the mountain classification, but he has done absolutely nothing in the first seven stages.
Team Katusha-Alpecin – The Swiss-based and Russian-influenced team made an interesting choice in team goals for this year. Katusha decided to put all of its efforts behind Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff and word time trial champion/cyborg Tony Martin. Kristoff has not had the results this year that would make one immediately believe that he could be a true contender for the sprints. And despite Martin’s ability to time trial, the Tour only has two TTs this year. Yes, Martin has the ability to single-handedly shut down breakaways to give Kristoff the chance to go for the win, but other teams will likely do most of the work to pull back the break. I am not really sure what the plan is for the team on the non-sprint stages, but I would expect to see Martin go out on the attack on the stages that roll but do not have the high mountains.
LottoNL Jumbo – Formerly known as Rabobank, the Dutch team is one of the oldest in the Pro Tour. The team has competed in every Tour since 1984, and the riders always provide excitement. It is a mix of young up-and-comers and experienced veterans with young Kiwi George Bennett and second-tier GC contender Robert Gesink looking to make the top ten and young sprinter Dylan Groenewegen looking to steal a stage his more experienced peers. LottoNL Jumbo will also be in many of the breaks during the last two weeks on the days that the break could have a reasonable chance for success. While many of the riders are not well known, they are all pretty strong.
Lotto Soudal – The other granddaddy team of the Tour was founded in 1985 and has a history of being a team filled with strongmen. German sprinter Andre Greipel has over 20 Grand Tour stage wins and at least one Tour win each year he has competed. Atypical from his counterparts, Greipel often finds himself still with the field after crossing the smaller mountains, often giving him the opportunity to take a stage from a reduced field. He also does not seem to fatigue throughout the three weeks. Only speaking of Greipel, though sells the rest of the team short. Ageless Australian Adam Hansen has completed 18 consecutive Grand Tours. The man is an absolute beast who doesn’t seem to ever get tired. Tim Wellens and Thomas De Gendt are also famous for their ability to get in the break and absolutely hammer the crap out of their companions. Seriously, when they go to the front of the break toward the end of the stage, you can see the suffering of the other riders. When riding in support of Greipel, they just sit on the front all day and wipe away any advantage of a break up the road. Between the support for Greipel and the willingness to get in the break, Lotto Soudal is a lot of fun to watch. Expect some drama later in the Tour from the team, as any one of the riders is capable of fireworks.
Movistar Team – I am not going to lie. I don’t like the Movistar Team. The Spanish team is a really strong team, founded in 1980, with a long history of success in the Tour. The team leader Nairo Quintana is a quiet Colombian who seems to be one of the nicest guys in the world. He comes from humble beginnings and is always gracious to his other competitors. Quintana attempted to do the Giro-Tour double but failed to win the Giro, losing on the last day. It was a heart-breaking loss for him, but he remained gracious towards the winner. I still really don’t like the team. Road Captain Alejandro Valverde crashed out on Stage 1 breaking his knee, so the team is missing one of the key supporters for Quintana. I am not happy that Valverde got hurt, but the fact that the team is weaker doesn’t make me unhappy. Why don’t I like this team? Well, Movistar has a habit of attacking GC contenders when they have a mechanical or crash, which violates the unwritten etiquette rules of the peloton. Who wants to win because of a small incident to a competitor rather than beating them in head-to-head competition? Movistar, that’s who. Oh, the team also has a history of whining when other teams use the crosswinds to gain time on the Movistar GC riders who notoriously suck at handling the crosswinds. So, yeah, I don’t like the team, but it is a really strong team. If any team can hang with BMC and Team Sky in the high mountains, it will be Movistar….as much as I don’t like them.
Orica-Scott – This Australian team is my favorite one in the Pro Tour. Both the riders and staff seem to keep things rather light, even producing a a daily YouTube video at the Grand Tours. I highly recommend checking out the team’s YouTube channel, as it is very entertaining. Anyway, back to the race. Orica is focused on one half of the Yates brothers this year, Simon Yates, and the competition for the white jersey. Young Colombian climber Esteban Chavez, aka the Smiling Assassin, is a future GC hope but is returning from an injury to help out Simon Yates. Simon’s twin brother Adam won the white jersey last year, so Simon has a lot of pressure to win, as he does not want to show up at Christmas dinner without a matching jersey. The rest of the team will focus on supporting Yates, so do not expect too many adventures in the break unless it is a tactical decision to send someone up the road to help Yates later in the stage. Seriously, check out the Backstage Pass videos for some good insights into the day-to-day life in the Tour.
Quickstep Floors – The Belgian team is arguably the best team in the Pro Tour. Previously, the team did not have too many designs on the GC, normally focused on winning stages with a powerful sprinter and breakaway specialists. Marcel Kittel, the monster German sprinter, is the primary leader of the team and has already delivered three stage wins. Unlike in years past, though, Quickstep has brought a legitimate GC contender in the likes of Irishmen Dan Martin. Martin has won Liege-Bastogne-Liege previously and has had a couple of top ten results in the Tour for his previous team. Look for Martin to be a spoiler for one of the big favorites and possibly make the podium this year. Provided that Kittel does not crash or get sick, expect him to maintain the green jersey that he currently holds through the end of the race. With Sagan gone, he will be tough to beat. Besides the two team leaders, though, Quickstep is full of crazy-strong riders. They know how to ride in the crosswinds, and the Belgian roots of the team make the rides impenetrable to bad weather. In fact, they seem to enjoy punishing the other teams in those horrible conditions. Fortunately, Movistar tends to be on the short end of that stick, so I firmly support those actions.
Team Sky – This English-based team first raced the Tour in 2010 in its second year of existence and has been a perennial contender since. Sky is the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees of cycling. Some also say that Sky is the Evil Empire or New Order of cycling, likening team manager Dave Brailsford to Darth Vader. Sky has won four Tours in six years, so, yeah, it is a strong team. Unlike some of the more traditionalist teams, Sky approaches racing in a very mathematical way. The riders know that they can ride at a certain power effort for a specific period of time, and that’s what they do. It can be very boring to watch, but if the other riders don’t or can’t attack, that’s not Sky’s problem. The team has done an amazing job inserting itself into the decision-making process of the other GC teams. Sky has a number of strong riders capable of contending for the GC on their own, but it is 100 percent dedicated to supporting team leader and three-time Tour winner Chris Froome. Welchmen Gerraint Thomas is a great backup plan, but that will only come to fruition if Froome has a problem in the first two weeks. After that, Thomas will likely have lost too much time to stay in contention. Froome is the odds-on favorite, as he has shown that he can win this race…..THREE times.
Team Sunweb – Formed in 2005, the German-based team moved up to the Pro Tour in 2013 after a successful appearance in the 2012 Tour. Sunweb is the former team of Quickstep’s Marcel Kittel, and Australian sprinter Michael Matthews moved over from Orica to replace him after the departure of the team’s other sprinter, German John Degenkolb. Matthews is more of the Sagan-type of sprinter rather than a drag-racing speedster. He generally needs an uphill or harder sprint to beat guys like Kittel and Kristoff. Other than Matthews’ aspirations, the team may shoot for a top ten with Laurens Ten Dam, but it will likely shoot for stage wins from the break. Young frenchmen Warren Barguil is a good candidate to win a stage in the mountains, but he will not be a GC contender, as he is coming back from an injury earlier in the year.
Trek-Segafedo – This is the team of controversial Spanish GC contender Alberto Contador. He is one of the most successful Grand Tour racers in the last decade, but it is hard to tell from the results. He had his wins from 2010-2012 voided due to a positive doping test for Clenbuterol, a drug that supposedly increases a rider’s ability to intake more air. Like him or not, Contador is fun to watch. He attacks and absolutely hates the way that Sky controls the race. He has lost a little of his ability to make leg-breaking, heart-exploding accelerations as he has gotten older, but he is a cagey racer. He is strong enough of a climber and time trialist that he cannot be counted out. Expect him to compete for the podium, but his flair for attacking from distance may do him in at the end if he is not able to break his competitors’ will to chase him. Trek also has a sprinter, John Degenkolb, but he has not shown that he can beat guys like Kittel in a flat sprint. He will challenge Sunweb’s Matthews and Lotto Soudal’s Greipel in reduced field sprints, as he is not a completely horrible climber.
UAE Team Emirates – UAE started as an Italian team sponsored by coffee maker Saeco in 1991. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the team had some successes at the Giro d’Italia, and then the team’s top GC riders would get spanked at the Tour. Seriously, they got manhandled. That trend has continued with the exceptions of less success in the Giro and the occasional stage win at the Tour. This year, UAE has brought young South African Louis Meintjes to challenge Orica’s Yates for the white jersey and British sprinter Ben Swift to compete for the flat stages. Italian veteran Diego Ulissi and Colombian climber Darwin Atapuma will be there to help out Meintjes but will also look for individual stage glory, too. UAE will be pretty active during stages where the break has a chance to succeed.
So, those are the teams. Sure, my analysis of the teams may be a bit biased, but now you have a little knowledge about each team. Go ahead and pick one to support or one to hate. I recommend Movistar for the latter, but many would throw out Team Sky as a viable option. We’ll discuss some of the GC contenders a little more in depth next time.