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The 2021 season wasn’t one for the history books for the men’s BikeExchange squad.
General manager Brent Copeland has looked back on a season short of top results save for a podium finish and stage win at the Giro d’Italia and sees superteams, supertalents, and a relentless schedule as stumbling blocks.
“Up to the Giro d’Italia it had been a satisfying season. Even if we hadn’t won it, we had reached the podium and with Simon Yates we gave a show,” Copeland told Tuttobici. “From the Tour de France onwards, however, everything went pretty badly, with crashes, injuries, and fatigue resulting from a season that practically started in August 2020.”
Team BikeExchange went into the season clustered around returning star Michael Matthews and GC hope Simon Yates. The British climber lit up the early summer with his charge for Giro glory but crashed out of the Tour and fizzled from there.
Matthews failed to hit the top step all year long and instead amassed a series of near-misses. The Aussie struggled to hold the wheels when the peloton’s new breed turned up the heat, leaving him a series of top-6s in the classics and a handful of grand tour podium placings.
“Matthews did everything he could do, but on the road, he simply crossed riders stronger than him,” Copeland said. “If he had achieved two or three wins, the final balance would have been different, but even at the Vuelta things did not go as we would have hoped.
“In the classics, he has to contend with van Aert and van der Poel who are really scary, so we need to find a way to anticipate them.”
2021 was a transitional year for BikeExchange.
Last summer had been filled with uncertainty as the team became bogged down in bungled buyouts and fears around funding. By the end of the year, the departure of Adam Yates and Jack Haig left the squad short of stage-racers for 2021, while the exit of Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini left the team without its guiding rudder.
Elsewhere, teams like Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers were able to bring depth and experience to all their grand tour bids.
“In the men’s field we have the budget for two great captains, namely Simon Yates and Michael Matthews,” Copeland said. “If these two don’t get results, it is difficult to find someone who can shine on the big stages.
“For the first time this year we were without Adam Yates and the difference was felt because, before, if Simon didn’t win, he was there and vice versa. Obviously, having to deal with teams that have six or seven cards to play is anything but easy.”
Yates goes back for more at 2022 Giro
Copeland confirmed that Yates will return to the Giro for the fifth year in a row next summer. A course with just 26 kilometers of time trialing and a stack of high mountains play toward the Brit going better than his career-best third place at this year’s race.
“Yates is in love with Italy and the Giro, plus the route of the corsa rosa is perfect for its characteristics, with so little time trial and really tough mid-mountain stages,” Copeland said. “If he goes to the Tour de France, it’s too early to say, we’ll see how he gets out of the Giro.”
Copeland’s dream scenario for 2022?
“Winning the Giro with Simon and putting on a show. He has been around us a lot, it would be nice if he finally won the maglia rosa.”