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Your New Favorite Team: Cannondale – Drapac

It's easy to root for Cannondale – Drapac, but it's hard to root for them also. Can the peloton's "Bad News Bears" turn it around in 2017?

Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. It’s tough to be a cycling fan. Riders jump around more than a loose cassette. Teams change kits like Sven Nys swaps bikes in a muddy ‘cross race. So, here’s a guide to your new favorite team. Don’t like these guys? Stay tuned for more previews.

Your team: Cannondale – Drapac

Your team’s fan base: A cadre of Americans (yes, VeloNews editors included) cheer for plucky Cannondale — Drapac year in, year out. Yes, a sizable percentage of the fan base is Boulder, Colorado yuppies who drive Audis, buy fancy $9 granola at Whole Foods, and listen to public radio. There are also a few green-loving leprechauns who prefer geometric patterns. But all fans of Cannondale share something in common. We are the Cleveland Browns fans of the cycling world. Since our team’s victories are few, we must find other things to cheer for. Podium? Breakaway? Funny sunglasses? HOORAY!

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Your team’s star: Classics man Sep Vanmarcke is on the cusp of a bona fide stardom, due to his long list of close calls at Flanders and Roubaix. He’s had seven top-fives in major spring classics in his nine-year pro career. He won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012 and not much else. The Belgian, who returns to the team after five years with the LottoNL – Jumbo outfit, was second at Gent-Wevelgem and third at Tour of Flanders in 2016. Vanmarcke could become a fan favorite for Americans. Like most Dutch people, his English is better than yours.

American star Andrew Talansky may lack the explosiveness of other grand tour riders, but he’s consistent on the climbs and his suffer face is extremely entertaining. His fifth place at last year’s Vuelta shows that he could be a fun one to watch at the 2017 Tour.

Taylor Phinney is certainly a star, but is that because he has a mustache that makes Tom Selleck blush? Or is it his budding passion for painting? If Cannondale – Drapac can revive the pre-2014, pre-nationals crash Phinney, he could become the team’s true star.

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Best-case scenario: Are you a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full person? The optimists in Cannondale’s camp point to their ninth-place WorldTour ranking as evidence of a consistent 2016 campaign. Call us glory boys, but we prefer victories to rankings. So if Cannondale gets one (just one!) WorldTour victory, we can can call 2017 a success. A grand tour stage? A semi-classic? Is that too much to ask? Maybe climber Joe Dombrowski wins a mountain stage at the Giro — he was close in stage 20, riding to third. Or Pierre Rolland wins a Tour stage, like he did in 2012 and 2011.

The absolute best case scenario, however, would be for Vanmarke to win E3 Harelbeke. “But wait, what about Flanders and Roubaix?!” the Christmas-colored Cannondale fans cry … Sorry folks, but between Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb, and about half of the Quick-Step team, a victory at those races is a tough ask. If Cannondale’s classics squad can learn to work together this year, then maybe a Monument is a realistic goal for 2018.

Talansky riding into the top-5 at the Tour de France would count as a huge success for the team. So would Rigoberto Uran winning a one-day race like Montreal or Quebec. And if the team can develop it’s crop of new youngsters into skilled WorldTour riders, that also earns a gold star or two. But really, we want Cannondale to win major races this year. We’re tired of rooting for the soon-to-be 0-16 Browns.

Worst-case scenario: Do you recall the 2016 season? Just to be clear, the team had 10 major wins, and five of those were either national championships (Lithuanian National Championship, Booyeah!) or stages at U.S. races (i.e., California and Utah). For Cannondale – Drapac’s sake, let’s hope that’s the worst-case scenario.

But for entertainment value, here’s the complete, absolute worst-case scenario: The year starts off with Alex Howes going on a fat bike winter camping expedition. He discovers his true calling, hunting bears and finding new ways to affix hatchets to bicycles. Phinney joins a Boulder artists’ co-op that turns out to be a cult. Vanmarke gets third at Flanders then is so enthralled by a World War I museum at Roubaix that he misses the start. The team is winless at the Tour for the third consecutive year, but this year time there are no crashes or sicknesses or bad luck to blame. Somehow, the team ends the season 11th in the WorldTour. The UCI’s ranking system remains inscrutable.

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Likability rating: 10/10. You can’t help but root for the underdog, and Cannondale — Drapac wins all of the underdog points. For 2017 the team is reported to have the smallest budget in the entire WorldTour. That’s why we’ll never be able to quit you, Cannondale — Drapac, even if you promise a breakthrough season and then come up short. Fandom for this team is a noble endeavor.