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The newly rebranded Team Jayco-AlUla is banking on youth as it looks to put behind its most challenging period in its decade of existence.
The Australian squad signed 10 new riders to its men’s roster for 2023, with half of them still under 23. Meanwhile, four of the five riders signed to the women’s roster are either U23 or new to the WorldTour, while the more experienced Letizia Paternoster is still just 23.
With a new youth-infused men’s lineup, team boss Brent Copeland is hoping to build to something big over the next three-year cycle in the WorldTour.
“We brought in a lot of younger riders, so in the roster you’ll see the average age is less than it has been in the past few years,” Copeland told VeloNews. “The reason for that is working on a project for the next three years and building up to goals, not only for 2023 season but beyond.
“Having said that, when you bring on young riders, you also need the experienced riders. So, you know, we’ve had to look at riders like [Zdeněk] Stybar and Alessandro De Marchi to bring in to support those that the younger riders and help them develop.”
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While the ultimate aim of the team’s roster overhaul is to build something in the long term, Copeland still has some big targets in the immediate future.
Top of that list is a victory at one of the biggest one-day races of the season. After enjoying a flurry of monument victories in its early years, the team has not seen the top step of one since Esteban Chaves won the 2016 Il Lombardia and its last visit to the podium was the 2018 Milan-San Remo.
“I think we’ve missed out on the victory of a monument classic, that’s something that we haven’t done for a good couple of years. We’d really like to try to achieve that next year,” Copeland said. “And we’d really like to achieve Simon Yates reaching a goal in one of the grand tours, it’s something that he’s been chasing for a while. He’s been very unfortunate in the last few years, although his condition is there to be on the podium step.
“So, we’re looking at that, and then continuity with Dylan Groenewegen and building strong train around him for the sprint. Lastly, we want to have the younger riders develop in the best way possible.”
The women’s team has been going through something of an overhaul in recent years with its star rider Annemiek van Vleuten leaving at the end of 2020. This off-season also saw one of its longest-standing riders leave in Amanda Spratt.
“With the loss of Annemiek two years ago we had to look at the team and make some big changes. Losing someone as important as Annemiek was a knock to us. And we had to make those changes, but we are pleased with the way it’s going,” he said.
“We brought on younger riders already at the beginning of this year with a lot of Australian youngsters and bringing them on from the track. We just feel that if you do find the right young woman rider that’s riding well on the track and can transform that to the road, you really get the best out of that rider. So, we’ve seen that develop this year, and we’re expecting more developing next year.”
Sportswashing or not
In addition to the roster changes, the team — which raced as BikeExchange-Jayco in 2022 — has a new name to go by after existing backer AlUla stepped up to become a named sponsor for the new season.
AlUla is an upmarket holiday resort in Saudi Arabia, which has been increasing its investment in cycling in recent years with a race and a partnership with the Movistar squad as well.
The news received a mixed response from fans with many calling the deal sportswashing and referencing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. The country has also been accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“No comment on that at all, really, because they’ve been sponsors of ours for the last year and a half and we’ve only found to work with very positive and very good people,” Copeland told VeloNews. “We’re very pleased with how the partnership has been going. We’ve been to AlUla and the cycling world has been and seen what a beautiful place it is.
“There’s not even a thought in my mind of something like that. It’s unfortunate that some of the general public feels that way. But from our side, absolutely not. It doesn’t affect our image at all, we were more than happy to work with them.”
The closer partnership with AlUla and Saudi Arabia could see the team taking on riders from the Persian Gulf nation.
“It’s in the pipeline of the project we are in discussions with the Federation,” he said. “It’s part of the project, it’s not just the case of doing the sponsorship, there’s more to it than just that. There’s the visibility and the tourism side to it that they wanted to promote, for sure. But over and above that, you know, there is interest as well to do something with the Federation. So, there are discussions along those lines as well.”
Tackling the UCI points contest
Jayco-AlUla only just scraped through in the UCI’s first-ever promotion/relegation battle, which culminated in a frenetic battle for points at the end of the 2022 season, finishing 17th out of 18 teams. Simon Yates’ abandon at the Vuelta a España due to COVID-19 put the team far closer to the relegation line than it would have liked.
As the season progressed and the contest for WorldTour survival really heated up, the system itself and how it worked received plenty of criticism. Though his team was at risk of losing its WorldTour license, Copeland was not ostensibly against the system itself but felt that some key changes needed to be made for 2023.
“It’s difficult to judge because it was a situation in the last three seasons that no industry in the world had been through with a pandemic putting the world at a halt,” he said. “We all agreed, to a certain extent, on the point system four years ago, so you can’t wake up three years later and then criticize the system. If you agreed on it, you have to go through with it.
“What was difficult was the understanding of how the points were being given to the different races and I think that’s what it’s got to be modified. That’s what request we have put in with the governing body because we understand that the smaller races are important, but the bigger races are the ones that make the big impact on cycling. So they do deserve to have the more important points, let’s put it that way.”
The UCI did listen to the teams and made some tweaks to the points system, giving grand tours and monuments more points value. It also upped the number of riders that count toward the overall points tally for a team, going from 10 to 20.
Last season saw some peculiar tactics as teams tried to grab as many points as possible before the season ended, but Copeland says he won’t change how the team approaches races despite the risk of relegation.
“We’ll still race the same way. We’ve spoken openly about this with Matthew White [the director of high performance], and then the performance group. If you try to change too much, you might damage it,” Copeland said. “It’s not worth changing something that’s already working. This team’s traditionally always racing less than other teams and we’ll continue doing that way. We might change something on the calendar, and do one or two different races, but the way we actually race, that’s not going to change.”