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Transfers: Balance of power shifting on five big teams

Cycling’s transfer season has come and gone, and most WorldTour teams have finalized their rosters for 2018. Which teams got stronger, and which teams became weaker? Let’s take a deep dive at five major teams and how their fortunes might shift in the coming year.

Quick-Step: Abandoning grand tour GC

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 2nd
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 5th

The favorite team of Flemish fans, Quick-Step will maintain its traditional focus on the cobbled and hilly classics in 2018 with Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar. But has Patrick Lefevere’s squad given up on grand tour GC altogether? With David de la Cruz (seventh at the 2016 Vuelta) and Dan Martin (sixth at the Tour) leaving, it sure seems that way. That’s why I expect Quick-Step to slip a little in the WorldTour rankings this coming season. The team won’t drop dramatically, of course. Fernando Gaviria’s assault on the Tour’s green jersey will keep Quick-Step’s UCI points tally high. And new addition Elia Viviani should collect some wins as well. While its GC ambitions may be gone, Quick-Step’s devotion to its bread-and-butter races deserves our respect. Who cares about a yellow jersey anyhow?

Movistar: Climbing back to the top

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 6th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 2nd

After winning four straight WorldTour team titles, Movistar hit an Alejandro Valverde-sized road bump in 2017 when it’s evergreen Spanish climber crashed out of the Tour on day one. For 2018 the team remains centered on Nairo Quintana and his assault on the Tour de France and, perhaps, other Grand Tours. However, Movistar needs a healthy Valverde in order to pad its UCI points total. Can he do it? Stranger things have happened — after all, he won on Tour Down Under’s Old Willunga Hill after sitting out 2011 with a doping ban. Movistar should get a boost from Spanish climber Mike Landa, assuming he can work alongside Quintana in the grand tours. At least Spain’s only WorldTour outfit will keep the folks at home happy with the peloton’s top Basque climber.

UAE: Aiming high with grand tour talent

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 12th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 3rd

UAE stands to make the most dramatic improvement in 2018, due to the infusion of new talent (and cash) in both the sprints and grand tours. The team rose out of the ashes of Italy’s last WorldTour team, Lampre-Merida, in 2017. In recent years UAE relied on the diminutive South African climber Louis Meintjes for grand tours (Meintjes has left for Dimension Data). For 2018, the team welcomes 2015 Vuelta winner Fabio Aru and Dan Martin, with Aru slated to tackle the Giro d’Italia and Martin the Tour de France. Can these two help the team finally grab a grand tour podium? Plus, Norwegian classics rider Alexander Kristoff transfers to UAE for 2018 from Katusha-Alpecin. Can Kristoff finally return to the form that won him Milano-Sanremo and Tour of Flanders? His silver medal to Peter Sagan at Bergen worlds was a promising start.

Katusha-Alpecin: Beefing up its sprints

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 11th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 6th

You think UAE is excited about the Kristoff transfer? Just ask the management at Katusha-Alpecin, who bid adieu to the Norwegian after two frustrating seasons. In his place the team has welcomed aboard German ace Marcel Kittel, who will likely be a big upgrade for the Russian team. Kittel, as you remember, likely should have won the Tour’s green jersey, had he not crashed out. Can Kittel grab green in 2018? If nothing else, the coiffed German the perfect pitchman for Alpecin caffeine shampoo. Also, Katusha beefs up its support squad for homegrown climber Ilnur Zakarin, who has flirted with grand tour podiums in recent years. American Ian Boswell and Nathan Haas won’t grab headlines, but they will be ready to support the Russian in the grand tour mountains. Katusha should move up the rankings, yet I wouldn’t bet on Kittel winning five Tour stages again. After all, the UCI commissaires won’t remove Peter Sagan from the Tour TWO years in a row.

Astana: A step back

2017 UCI WorldTour ranking: 15th
Predicted 2018 WorldTour ranking: 13th

One of the strongest grand tour teams of this generation has lost much of its mojo for 2018 with the departure of Fabio Aru. Should Astana hit the panic button? Team boss Alexander Vinokourov (who apparently doesn’t follow any cycling media) claims he was caught off-guard when Aru left for UAE in November. Losing Aru, who won the 2015 Vuelta and finished second at that year’s Giro, is a huge loss. Still, the team could find a way to make lemonade from this lemon. Will Astana’s younger riders finally get a chance to shine? Miguel Angel Lopez was the revelation of the Vuelta, winning three stages and finishing eighth overall. Jakob Fuglsang doesn’t animate like Aru, but he can get results. Plus, the team adds Spanish climber Omar Fraile and up-and-comer Magnus Cort Nielsen. This isn’t a return to the good (or is it bad?) old days when Astana won the WorldTour in 2009, but it’s enough to keep the Kazahks happy.

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