Q&A: Luca Guercilena on chasing Ganna, Trek-Segafredo’s season and finding US talent
Trek-Segafredo's general manager sits down with VeloNews to talk Keegan Swenson, grand tour plans, developing young talent, and the 2022 season.
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With the road season at a close riders are facing the difficult choice of beach wear or ski masks as they finalize well-earned off-season vacations but for team bosses at the top, the sport never sleeps, and over the coming weeks the focus turns to season evaluations and planning for the year ahead.
For Trek-Segafredo‘s general manager Luca Guercilena the 2022 campaign has been dotted with moments of success, with 19 wins, a stint in the Giro d’Italia’s maglia rosa for one of the team’s rising stars, and five grand tour stage wins.
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There have been difficult moments too. The team failed to make an impression in the men’s classics, and without a top-level sprinter, the team struggled to hit its target of 25 wins for the year.
In this exclusive interview with VeloNews, Guercilena talks about the year, his pursuit of Filippo Ganna for 2024, negotiations with Keegan Swenson, developing talent, the future of the team, and scouting for US riders.
VeloNews: Let’s start with analyzing the 2022 season. On the men’s side, you won 19 races. How would you assess the year you’ve had?
Luca Guercilena: Our goal was 25 victories so we weren’t too far away from that but I think that we missed some second-tier races and one classic. I rank the season as a good one but, for sure, we could have had more.
VN: What was missing?
LG: Some mass sprints. We had many second spots and we could have won more in that area. We know that it’s very complicated but we also thought that winning a classic was something very realistic. We didn’t land that win and that was the problem of the season.
VN: You’ve won Milan-San Remo, and you’ve won Gent-Wevelgem in the past, and you’ve got Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen on your books. What was the issue this year in the classics then? Was it preparation, luck, or the support around those leaders?
LG: We got sick as a group at the worst possible moment and that meant that we couldn’t arrive at the classics at 100 percent. That’s part of racing but then Stuyven attacked in Paris-Roubaix and then he suffered a puncture. I don’t think it was a bad period but there were just a series of things that held us back.
If we talk about the grand tours, we’ve focussed on those and we’ve ended the year with five stage wins. Obviously, Mads stepped up as a leader but we had nice results with the young guys too with Antonio Tiberi and Mattias Skjelmose. It’s really just in the classics where we didn’t hit our goals, but for the rest of the year, we had good results. If you look at the Giro we won a stage and had the maglia rosa for 10 days with [Juan Pedro] López. It was a balanced season.
VN: You mentioned López and I think that over the grand tours he was your best rider on GC with 10th in the Giro. Do you think that he’s a true GC rider for the future?
LG: Last season he was 13th in the Vuelta and this year in the Giro he showed that he can step up and deal with the pressure of leading a race like that. He finished in top-10 even though he made a couple of rookie mistakes. At 25, I think that he can be very competitive in grand tours.
VN: Do you think he can do top-five or podium?
LG: I think that he has the capability to go at least top-five, even podium, probably. Looking at his body size, his time trialing is something to work on but in the grand tours, if there’s an uphill time trial and mountains, I think that he can be very competitive.
VN: Another rider I wanted to talk about is Giulio Ciccone. Italy is going through a changing of the guard with Vincenzo Nibali retiring but while Ciccone won a stage in the Giro it’s just not happened for him in GC. Is Ciccone a rider to fill the Nibali void or have you come to the conclusion that he’s just not a three-week racer?
LG: I think from talking to Giulio, the aim of targeting stage wins is always there. He’s an attacker and he loves to make an aggressive race. If we’re talking about GC, we still have the idea, and it might not be immediately next year, that we can still make that attempt with him. Each time he’s been in contention he’s had a crash in the Vuelta, got sick in the Giro two years ago and this year he had some health problems. There’s still a possibility of going for GC. If we prioritize, I think that stage wins are maybe where he can prioritize, as well as one-day races like Lombardia.
VN: Does he want to do GC again in grand tours?
LG: I think he wants to try one more time.
VN: So, Skjelmose. I know it’s early and you’re taking your time with him but is he the one for your GC position over the coming years?
LG: He’s proven that he can be good over three weeks and this year he started to win races. I think that he can be very, very good for the GC. He still needs to improve over the third week but our numbers say that he has a high possibility of performing well over three weeks. This year at the Giro, he wasn’t on top form because of many considerations, including the crash he had at Liège but he’s proved that he’s not scared of facing anyone. Next year we think that he can step into the top 10 of a grand tour.
VN: Looking broadly at the roster, there’s obviously a lot of depth but you don’t have an elite pure sprinter and you don’t have a GC star. Does that make it harder or easier when it comes to planning and is it problematic when it comes to making up a team?
LG: It makes it easier because everyone knows that they have their own opportunities. No one is tied to just helping one rider so the ambitious riders always have the chance to be up there. It’s no secret that if you have a big marquee rider then you can put it all on him and it’s easier but I believe that the line we took on hiring our talents and developing them is paying off. Next year we’ll keep going in that direction.
VN: In the transfer market this year were you looking at bringing in a marquee rider like a Tom Pidcock or an Adam Yates? Someone who could give you that leadership and experience. I had heard that Pidcock was an option at one point.
LG: If there’s a chance of adding a marque rider to the roster then we’ll consider it but we have Mads and he’s turning into a real leader. He’s also someone who I believe can pilot these younger riders coming through. He arrived at the team almost unknown and shared the leadership with big names. He built up his capacity and personality to the point where he is getting big results. That’s something that we’d love to do with the young talents that we have but if a huge marquee rider is available then we can discuss that.
VN: Who was the biggest name in the market you came closest to signing but it didn’t work out?
LG: I think [Filippo] Ganna. We were really willing to have him and we made what I think was a great offer. He’s racing for a great team and it’s understandable but that’s the one we chased the most. It was for 2024.
VN: How close did it get?
LG: We shared some conversations but it’s difficult to say how close we were because it was a yes or no. It was a personal choice from him and we understand.
VN: You have a major backer in Trek. You have one American on the men’s team but is there pressure to find and then sign more US riders and how difficult is that market given that the pool is talented but not huge?
LG: Trek and Segafredo are global countries so we have multiple nations represented, so there’s not a real push. Saying that we are really attentive because in the US there are many good talents. Road cycling in the US is a bit down but if we support the US riders in the WorldTour then the level will rise. We scout the US market, and the races in the US now are mostly gravel and mountain biking. We collect information from people on the ground and if the talent is there then we’ll always be ready to have a look.
VN: Did you have a conversation with Keegan Swenson?
LG: There was a discussion that was ongoing. We moved in another direction but yes, to answer the question. For the moment it just didn’t work out. There were some specific subjects that came up and it was complicated. It was more complicated than a more normal hiring.
VN: You’ve brought more youth into the team. What are the aims for the team going into 2023?
LG: We’ve signed a young but already experienced rider in Natnael Tesfatsion. He’s had success already and has proved that he’s a complete rider. We’re really excited about giving him the chance to make the next step. Then we’ve got two really young talents with Mathias Vacek, who has been on our radar for two years. He already had an agreement and he’s proved his capacity with second at the U23 worlds. Then we have Thibau Nys, from cyclocross. We’ll slowly implement a road racing calendar for him so he can move step-by-step. All three are very talented and, in the near future, they can be at a high level.