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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: Trek – Segafredo
Your team’s fans: The guy on your group ride who insists on ristretto espresso, NOT drip coffee; Contador’s legions of Spanish super fans (hola muchachos!); Degenkolb’s German supporters (Hallo Freunde!); Enrico Muax.
Your team’s star: Alberto Contador, though he’s in the twilight of his career, is a seven-time grand tour winner and remains one of the biggest animators in the peloton. He finished only fourth (only!) but was the 2016 Vuelta’s biggest player, having initiated the stage 15 raid that Nairo Quintana used to claim the red jersey. It’s a stretch to say that Contador will win the Tour for Trek (and we have reason to argue that he should give up on the Grand Boucle). But it’s realistic for him to win the Vuelta again. It would be a nice send-off for the 34-year-old. Still not sold on Monsieur biftek? Watch this:
Since Contador is bound to retire soon (he threatened to do it last season), there’s an argument for John Degenkolb as the team’s star. He had a major setback in January 2015, nearly severing his finger in a horrible crash caused by a careless driver. Hopefully the 27-year-old can get back to the form that won him three stages of the Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, and Milano-Sanremo (in the same year, no less), along with the 2014 edition of Gent Wevelgem. Plus, he’s got a cool mustache and isn’t so much of a cycling nerd that he skips out on fun stuff like German Christmas markets.
Best-case scenario: Trek – Segafredo riders had a healthy number of wins in 2016 (22), but there weren’t really any signature victories. Stuyven’s solo win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was very impressive. Cancellara claimed his third Strade Bianche title. Bauke Mollema won Clasica San Sebastian.
However, it must be said that, at bare minimum, a successful 2017 includes a grand tour stage win for Trek. Ideally, Giacomo Nizzolo breaks his Giro “curse” and wins a stage there. Degenkolb wins a second-tier classic like Dwars door Vlaanderen or Scheldeprijs (it’s premature to expect another monument win from him). Contador animates the Tour, possibly winning a mountain stage, but best-case for him is a top-five finish in the overall. If he’s experiencing a total renaissance, once freed from Oleg Tinkov’s oppressive influence, he maybe — just maybe — wins the Vuelta.
Plus, the rest of Trek’s deep bench picks up second-tier wins throughout the season courtesy of guys like Jarlinson Pantano, Fabio Felline, Kiel Reijnen, and Bauke Mollema.
Worst-case scenario: Degenkolb and Contador aren’t sure bets for 2017. They might ride well, but simply lay an egg or be blown over by less-injured or younger rivals. So if Degenkolb isn’t ready to take the mantle in classics, that leaves Trek with options like Stuyven, Boy van Poppel (great name, BTW), Edward Theuns, and Koen de Kort. They’re all decent pros, but not proven winners.
At the grand tours, Bauke Mollema will focus on the Giro, as announced in the off-season, but he’ll come up short, out-gunned by Italians Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru — who need to win the 100th edition like a Neapolitan ice cream needs three flavors. And if you thought that was rough, just wait until you see Contador get manhandled by Team Sky at the Tour.
Oh, and if we really want to twist the knife, a worst-case scenario season also sees Nizzolo relegated from a Giro sprint win … again.
Likability rating: 7/10. I’ll admit that this ranking wasn’t easy to sort out. On one hand, Americans Reijnen and Pete Stetina are super-likable. Plus, Degenkolb’s comeback story really warms my cold, ruthless journalist’s heart. It seems like Trek should get a higher rating, but let’s face it, Contador will always attract controversy. His aggressive racing style is always enjoyable. His history with the Spanish mystery meat and the disqualified 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro titles will always raise hackles for some. It’s complicated. It’s cycling.