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Trek hopes Degenkolb can fill Spartacus-sized void

John Degenkolb will be taking over the reins as Trek's marquee classics rider after Fabian Cancellara's retirement

BODO, Norway (VN) — After months of speculation, Trek – Segafredo officially announced this week what the cycling world had long expected in the signing of German sprinter and classics specialist John Degenkolb (Giant – Alpecin).

While the signing comes as little surprise to those in the know, the 2015 Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix winner is still relieved the deal is done.

“I’m very happy we could manage to make it a reality and that it didn’t remain just a rumor,” Degenkolb said prior to capturing the fourth and final stage of the Arctic Race of Norway — his first win of the season following a horrific head-on collision with a car during a team training camp in January. “It’s a big step for me personally, but also professionally.

“It just refreshes my career and also provide more motivation, not that I’m lacking any motivation,” the 27-year-old, 10-time Vuelta a España stage winner said. “But sometimes a change like this can also make another step in the right direction.”

While no clear plans have been discussed in terms of next year’s early season program, the classics are high on the list of priorities for 2017 and beyond.

“I’ve known John for a long time, because we actually wanted to have him when we started Leopard – Trek,” Trek – Segafredo sports director Kim Andersen said. “But we couldn’t figure it out, so I’m really happy he is coming.”

According to Andersen, Degenkolb will be expected to fill the void left behind by multi-time classics winner Fabian Cancellara. The three-time winner of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders and 2008 Milano-Sanremo victor is retiring this year at age 35.

“It’s difficult because we are losing Fabian,” said Andersen. “He has a big aura on the team and when you have the palmares from John, it’s clear he’s on the way to being a big guy.

“We have a lot of good young guys like Jasper Stuyven, Edward Theuns, and Giacomo Nizzolo here, but John can be the head man for the next few years, and all together we can build up a strong team for the spring classics.”

Degenkolb welcomes the task ahead.

“I have a strong feeling the team will support me 100 percent and that is also why I chose this team,” he explained. “In the end, all the monuments are really important and you try to win them as much as possible.”

But before Degenkolb can focus on next season, he is keen on finishing the year representing his country at road worlds in Doha in October, and his win on Sunday may go a long way in helping him reach his goal.

“It’s such a good relief to get this win,” said Degenkolb, who also finished the race atop the final points classification. “It was a very hard time for me this year. I’m very excited and happy to get this victory for the team, but also show myself that I am still capable of winning.

“All the signals are pretty clear in the last weeks and months that I’m getting better and better,” he continued. “I’m definitely targeting the world championships [but] in what kind of capacity is not clear yet – either as a helper in the race or as a leader.

“In the end, it makes no big difference, because for me it’s important that I’m able to be there again for the national team. I want to be one of the best six of Germany and represent my country fighting for the world championship.”

As for his time at Giant-Alpecin, Degenkolb says he leaves the team on good terms with healthy relationships with both the riders and staff.

“I think we managed it all pretty professionally,” he claimed. “We have a job to do and we really focus and concentrate on the races and it has all worked out pretty well actually.

“I’m thankful for the last couple of years, and the other guys are not angry or mad at me for leaving the team.” Degenkolb concluded. “It shows what a good friendship we share between the riders and I am really happy to get the support from the team.”

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.