GENOA, Italy (VN) — It’s been a rough-and-tumble spring for Cannondale-Garmin. The team has only won two races, and saw its top riders across the spring classics succumb to crashes and setbacks. And to add insult to injury, the team languishes in last place in the WorldTour standings, with just 27 points, a gargantuan 800 points behind leader Etixx-Quick-Step.
So why were there so many smiles around the team bus on the eve of the start of stage 2 at the Giro d’Italia on Sunday? Despite some hiccups, riders and staff inside the team bus believe things are bound to turn their way sooner or later.
“When you look at the spring, not very many teams won a lot. I think there are a lot of teams in the same position, and it’s very early to draw any conclusions,” sport director Charly Wegelius told VeloNews on Sunday. “The morale is high, everyone is going about their work, and everyone is excited about the coming races.”
The team rolls into the season’s first grand tour certainly keen to make up for lost opportunities. This spring was marred by crashes involving Sebastian Langeveld, who was their main man for the cobblestoned classics, and Daniel Martin, who touched asphalt at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Their two wins have come on the European calendar, with Ramunas Navardauskas taking the flowers at the Circuit de la Sarthe, and Ben King, who won his first pro victory, with a stage at Critérium International on Corsica.
There have been some close calls, with Dylan Van Baarle finishing third at Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Martin doing likewise at stage 3 at Volta a Catalunya while Tom Danielson followed suit at stage 5 at the Vuelta al País Vasco; both of the latter were WorldTour races.
So rather than hit the panic button, Wegelius prefers to take the long view.
“When I was 21, [Etixx-Quick Step manager] Patrick Lefevere told me, ‘Panic is a bad advisor.’ And that is very true,” Wegelius said. “Beyond the story of the points, there are a lot of good things happening. The development of young riders has gone very well. The fusion of two groups has gone very well. These kinds of things are going to bear fruit later on.”
Perhaps more than any other team at the WorldTour level, Cannondale-Garmin was forced to hit the reset button over the winter when it fused with Cannondale, the Italian outfit that shuttered at the end of the 2014 season.
Eight riders joined Garmin, among them some very talented young Italians, including Giro rookie Davide Formolo, who is tipped as a possible future Giro winner, as well as Alan Marangoni and Davide Villella. All three are racing the Giro in what’s a mix of old and new at Cannondale-Garmin for the season’s first grand tour.
Wegelius said the team avoided some of the behind-the-scenes tensions that followed the earlier Garmin-Cervélo merger. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters took some lessons out of that experience, and made sure that things were running smoothly by the time rubber hit the pavement this spring.
“Jonathan did a good job planning the winter, and the time we spent together, to get that gelling together over the winter,” Wegelius said.
“The Italian riders who have come across have been very open. I heard two Italians talking English among themselves, because they are taking a big effort to learn English. They’re young kids, and they’re taking it as a positive learning experience. They’ve also brought some positive things, with the traditions of Italian cycling. It’s going to leave a net gain for the whole organization.”
The team is confident more quality results are only a matter of time. It brings a strong outfit to the Amgen Tour of California, which starts Sunday, with Andrew Talansky, Joe Dombrowski, Alex Howes, and Ben King all primed for big rides. At the Giro, 2012 champ Ryder Hesjedal will carry the team’s GC hopes, with riders such as Danielson, Tom-Jelte Slagter, and Javier Acevedo having freedom to ride into breakaways.
“Ryder is here to race, to race for pink. That is the intention at the start. There are other opportunities for riders like Danielson, Slagter, and others. There are a lot of interesting stages, when the sprinters won’t make it, so who’s going to ride? There will be some chances,” Wegelius said. “To win? There is a way to do it, and that is to take chances. That suits us just fine. Let the favorites look at each other.”
Wegelius has been around the block long enough to know that all it will take is a few results to turn things around. With the season’s grand tours still on the horizon, the team is hopeful the seeds they’ve planted will start to bear fruit.
“Bike riders, by their nature, are ambitious, and they want to do well,” he said. “That’s also the nature of a bike racer, you lose much more than you win.”
Cannondale-Garmin is hoping to turn around those statistics in the next few weeks.