Transfer Season 2014: The Peloton’s Most Improved Teams

With November in full swing, most of the high-profile moves of the 2014 transfer season have been completed. As always, some teams took advantage of the open market to make considerable upgrades to their rosters, while others did not take steps to improve, or worse, saw talented riders leave and failed to replace them. Only time will tell which of the many newsworthy signings will be success stories and which will go down as major missteps. Still, several squads stand out as having positioned themselves nicely for future success with their additions this fall. Some teams have improved by adding big-name stars, and others have solidified their rosters by signing multiple solid contributors that should fit into new roles nicely.

One of the peloton’s highest-profile teams landed the highest-profile addition of the offseason. Tinkoff-Saxo signed Peter Sagan after several months of rumors, immediately making a squad already full of GC-style talent suddenly a danger in the classics and sprints. Given the opportunity to pick up one of the sport’s most electrifying young stars, Oleg Tinkoff was resolute in his pursuit of Sagan. The decision made by the Slovakian to ride for Tinkoff-Saxo does comes with a question mark or two: he never had enough support at Cannondale, and while the Bjarne Riis outfit he joins for 2015 is obviously packed with talent for mountain stages in Grand Tours, its supporting cast for the classics and sprints does not stand out quite as much in the peloton. It remains to be seen how effective they can be in closing down the late attacks that so often derail Sagan’s hopes. Meanwhile, in terms of overall transfer season wins and losses, Tinkoff-Saxo did lose Nicolas Roche, but new signing Robert Kiserlovski, who notched a Grand Tour Top 10 this year at the Giro, should fill his absence nicely.

Tinkoff-Saxo’s loss of Nicolas Roche was Team Sky’s gain. A frustrating 2014 inspired the British squad to pull out all the stops this transfer season, and that meant adding proven Grand Tour Top 10 riders Nicolas Roche and Leopold Konig, both of whom should provide the team with deluxe domestique power in the Tour de France as well as options for overall contention in the Giro and Vuelta. Wouter Poels is another strong signing—the Dutch all-rounder took a big step forward this season and will provide Sky with both a capable challenger in the hilly classics and one-week races and a proven domestique (his support was an integral part of Rigoberto Uran’s podium performance in the 2014 Giro) for the Grand Tours. The influx of GC talent should more than make up for the loss of Dario Cataldo, who is headed to Astana for 2015. Sky also picked up a major talent for the sprints in Elia Viviani. The 25-year-old Italian was erratic this season but he has flashed remarkable top speed on occasion (he bested Mark Cavendish in two stages of the Tour of Turkey) and there is still time for him to develop. Team Sky’s more GC-oriented signings got a bit more press this transfer season, but Viviani is the new addition most likely to rack up the victories in 2015. The signing of Viviani, along with the rise of Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas as Classics protagonists and Ben Swift as a fast finisher for the intermediate stages, will soften the impact that the exit of Edvald Boasson Hagen will have on the team’s stage-hunting and one-day racing ambitions, an impact Sky did not seem too concerned with anyway; they were in no rush to re-sign the Norwegian after a pair of lackluster seasons.

A change of scenery could be just what Edvald Boasson Hagen needs, and he’ll get it at MTN-Qhubeka. The South African outfit added a stable of fast-finishing talents looking for a fresh start: in addition to EBH (who still has plenty of room to grow), they also signed Matt Goss, Tyler Farrar, and Theo Bos, among others. Goss, despite his lack of recent results, only just turned 28, and a change of pace could get him back on track in the sprints. Farrar may never beat Mark Cavendish in a one-on-one sprint battle again, but he is still capable of contesting flat profiles at the WorldTour level and he still has plenty of ability in the classics (he was 2nd in Dwars door Vlaanderen and Scheldeprijs this season, and 8th at the E3 Harelbeke). Theo Bos had a very successful 2014, winning races on three different continents, and should continue to deliver for his new team. MTN-Qhubeka may only be a Pro Continental Squad, but their transfer season talent haul was among the biggest in the whole pro scene.

Fellow Pro Conti outfit Cofidis made a big splash of their own, but rather than loading up on multiple speedsters, they focused almost all of their attention on a single powerhouse sprinter. Nacer Bouhanni’s decision to drop to a second division squad after winning five Grand Tour stages and the Giro points jersey this season is unconventional to say the least, but apparently FDJ only had room for one star sprinter (Arnaud Demare), leaving Bouhanni looking for a new ride. He still wanted to be with a French outfit, and Cofidis will likely get invited to the races he’s targeting, so it does make some sense for the young sprinting mega-talent. For Cofidis, it’s a coup; after several seasons in the middle of the Pro Continental pack, they now have a star capable of consistently challenging for victories in some of cycling’s biggest events.

Trek Factory Racing was another team that boosted their stock significantly with the addition of one rider: Bauke Mollema. Mollema didn’t have quite the 2014 that many expected, but he’s a consistent Grand Tour Top 10 rider (with Top 5 potential) who is also adept at shorter stage races and one-day classics. Andy Schleck’s retirement was big news but Trek had been without an elite GC talent for some time, and Mollema provides that ability, more than making up for the loss of Robert Kiserlovski.

Team BMC gets the final mention among transfer season winners. Their signings were not as flashy as Team Sky’s or Tinkoff-Saxo’s, and they are jettisoning quite a few riders to boot, but in additions like Damiano Caruso, Jempy Drucker, and Alessandro De Marchi, BMC was able to pick up several bright talents just hitting their prime. Caruso (a surprise Top 10 in the Vuelta) provides the team’s GC ambitions with a much needed injection of youthful talent, Drucker adds firepower to the Classics lineup, and De Marchi brings his elite stagehunting talents and a potential for stage race KoM jerseys to the table. These all come in addition to rising star all-rounder Rohan Dennis, who arrived as a midseason transfer. BMC may not have grabbed many big headlines this fall, but they filled several needs and that will help them improve across the board in 2015.

A year from now, it will undoubtedly be easier to evaluate the 2014 transfer season, but at the very least, the teams that have made the investments in riders like Leopold Konig and Alessandro De Marchi have put themselves in strong positions to succeed next year. The new transfers will have their chances to prove themselves soon; riders are returning to training after end-of-season vacations, and the start of the 2015 road season proper will arrive before long.

-Dane Cash

Photo by Sum_of_Marc.

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