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Shifting ambitions: Trek – Segafredo’s diversified 2017 roster

At first glance, life within Trek – Segafredo has been surprisingly calm this off-season, especially when compared to other WorldTour outfits. The American-registered team renewed its deal with Italian co-sponsor Segafredo in November for four more years, buying it some coveted financial stability. The team’s management and staff remain largely unchanged, and its roster retains the same international flair — 14 nationalities are represented — as the team had in 2016.

A deeper look into Trek – Segafredo’s roster, however, reveals a major shift in talent and focus. When riders and staff gathered for training camp in December in Alfaz del Pi, Spain, the assembled team was be radically different in its approach to racing.

Transfers and retirements have reshaped Trek – Segafredo’s roster. Stijn Devolder, Julián Arredondo, Niccolo Bonifazio, and Riccardo Zoidl all left Trek – Segafredo to ride elsewhere. Fränk Schleck bowed out quietly with a 29th place finish at Il Lombardia. Yaroslav Popovych, who came to the team in the 2012 merger of the RadioShack and Leopard – Trek squads, transitioned to the team car after the spring campaign. Australian Jack Bobridge retired at age 27 due to untreatable arthritis in his hands. And 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal hung up his wheels after a frustrating 2016 season.

And then there’s the loss of Fabian Cancellara, who leaves the sport after a barnstorming farewell tour.

“The most important change has been Fabian retiring,” says general manager Luca Guercilena. “It’s clear that when you lose a leader like him, you need to build up the team again, because it’s not just that you’ve lost a rider but you’ve lost the leader of the team. Not just on the bike, but also in attitude.”

The team has moved swiftly to fill vacancies, signing double monument winner John Degenkolb for the spring classics and Alberto Contador to strengthen its grand tour outlook. Despite signing two proven leaders for top season goals, however, team leadership is emphasizing a more democratic approach to racing in 2017.

DIRK DEMOL, TREK – SEGAFREDO’S classics director, believes Degenkolb has the talent to command the squad once built around Cancellara. “Fabian, you can’t replace him, but for me Degenkolb was really a first choice,” Demol said. “You see he’s already won Gent-Wevelgem, he’s already won Sanremo, already Roubaix, he’s a guy who’s capable to be a leader, and I think also it was understood from our first talks he’s a leader.”

As accomplished as Degenkolb is at the age of 27, though, his presence does not require Trek – Segafredo to control the peloton as it did with Cancellara. Degenkolb’s shadow is not yet as long as his predecessor, and the classics landscape has evolved. A decade ago, Cancellara and Tom Boonen jockeyed for victory at every cobbled race, but today, talents such as Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, Alexander Kristoff, Sep Vanmarcke, Ian Stannard, and others are distributed across the peloton. The deeper talent pool places responsibility on more teams to work during the races. And every opportunity that arises can benefit Degenkolb as well as his talented teammates, Demol said.

That includes Jasper Stuyven, whose muscular solo win at last year’s sprinter-friendly Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne evoked some of Cancellara’s own late escapes. Demol, however, does not want to saddle the 24-year-old Belgian with the pressure of leading the team at Belgian races. Not yet, anyway.

“We need to give [Stuyven] maybe two more years,” Demol says. “As a young rider, he’s proved his qualities, even while he went to university. He’s still growing, and that’s a good thing to see. I want to take care of him, and I want to be prudent that we don’t burn him out.”

Demol also expects results to come from Edward Theuns, third at both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Halle-Ingooigem last year, and from Italian national champion Giacomo Nizzolo. Nizzolo holds a handful of Italian classics titles, and though he has only flirted with the northern races previously, top-10 finishes at Dwars and Gent-Wevelgem in 2016 have earned him bigger expectations next spring.

“We have one leader but we have more cards to play,” Demol says. “We’ll have to see how the condition is from all of them, but we can race differently than what we did with Fabian when, especially at Flanders and Roubaix, we were taking full responsibility in the race.”

Degenkolb, Stuyven, Theuns, and Nizzolo will count on support from new signings Matthias Brändle, Mads Pederson, and Koen de Kort, who came with Degenkolb from Giant – Alpecin. They will join returning workhorses Gregory Rast, Markel Irizar, and Boy Van Poppel.

UNLIKE THE COBBLED CLASSICS squad, where Cancellara’s retirement left a clear void, Trek – Segafredo emerged from 2016 with a clear general classification leader for grand tours.

After the Tour de France’s stage 18 time trial, Bauke Mollema was sitting in second overall, well behind Chris Froome, but 24 seconds ahead of Adam Yates and 45 seconds clear of Nairo Quintana. The next day, Mollema slid out on a wet left-hand bend on the descent of the Montée de Bisanne, eventually losing 4:29 to stage winner Romain Bardet. The mistake dropped him to 10th place on GC. Still, the Dutchman confirmed his status as a podium contender.

Will Contador’s arrival stifle Mollema’s ambitions at the Tour? Guercilena is adamant that won’t be the case. Instead, Guercilena believes the two riders can give Trek – Segafredo a one-two punch. Contador is 33, and Guercilena believes he still has plenty of racing in his legs.

“I think it’s clear that Contador is still a GC contender. He proved in the Vuelta this year that he’s still competitive, so we would like to support him as a leader,” Guercilena says. “And when I’m talking about him sharing the leadership of the GC with Bauke, it’s exactly because I think that Bauke proved already that he’s a captain, that he’s a GC contender.”

For now, Mollema will be Trek’s man for the Giro. But for the Tour de France, the plan is to have both Mollema and Contador on top form to challenge Froome and Quintana, although Contador will be the primary leader.

In preparation for its renewed assault on the grand tours, Trek – Segafredo reinforced its high-mountain support with Jarlinson Pantano, who won a mountain stage at the 2016 Tour, longtime Contador stablemate Jesus Hernandez, and Cannondale – Drapac transplant André Cardoso. American Peter Stetina, veteran Basque Haimar Zubeldia, and versatile Fabio Felline all return for another season.

Can Guercilena and Demol mold their riders into a single unit willing to share leadership and sacrifice in the name of collective victory? The team has a short offseason, a handful of training camps, and the season’s early races to accomplish this task.

“It’s clear that it’s a big challenge for us in general, because we were focused just on supporting one man for the past three years and right now we have different leaders,” Guercilena says. “On top of that we have some young guns that we feel have arrived at the point to be competitive by themselves. It’s clear the riders will work well together and they have potential, so the main job of the directors will be exactly this: to build up the team spirit. I’m sure that if that’s done, then we’ll have really huge potential.”