Australian Michael Matthews has just missed out on a podium finish at his maiden Tour of Flanders, won by unfancied Italian Alberto Bettiol.
With many riders already deep in the pre-season training we take a look at some of the biggest transfers ahead of the 2015 season – including Peter Sagan, Nicolas Roche and Bauke Mollema.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale to Tinkoff-Saxo)
After 21 wins in 2013, the Slovakian sensation notched a paltry six scalps in a rotten 2014 season that culminated with a lowly 43rd in a world championships seemingly tailor-made for Sagan’s skills.
This came off the back of a torrid Vuelta a Espana during which the overweight 24-year-old was so clearly going through the motions as Oleg Tinkov’s metaphorical megabucks weighed down his already quite rounded bib shorts.
Sagan had a year to forget last season, its highlight – a third successive green jersey in Paris – coming after a telling failure to win a single stage in the Tour de France, despite an admittedly admirable record-breaking run of seven consecutive top-five finishes in the opening week.
Just like, say, Robin van Persie or Cesc Fabregas needing to leave Arsenal for a fresh challenge, Sagan had started to stagnate at Cannondale and this was certainly the right time to leave.
But has he joined the right team? If anyone can bring out the best in Sagan – and propel him towards that elusive maiden monument win – it’s master tactician Bjarne Riis.
But beyond the classics campaign, Tinkoff-Saxo’s eggs are likely to be very much in the basket marked Alberto Contador, the Spaniard having underlined his intention to ride both the Giro d’Italia and Tour.
With ASO fiddling the rules for the points competition this July, Sagan may find himself arriving in Paris for the first time in his career without a green jersey adorning his shoulders.
Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo to Sky)
There’s been a lot of one-way traffic from Sky to Tinkoff-Saxo since the British team implemented their famous zero-tolerance stance, with coaches Bobby Julich and Sean Yates this winter following the path already trodden by controversial directeur sportif Steven de Jongh and Australian domestique deluxe Mick Rogers.
But here we have the tantalising prospect of a rider moving in the opposite direction: fresh from one of his most successful seasons to date, Nicolas Roche has joined Sir Dave Brailsford’s squad after falling out with former boss Tinkov, who allegedly baulked at the Irishman’s salary demands.
The arrival of Italian veteran Ivan Basso and Croatia’s Robert Kiserlovski at Tinkoff-Saxo may have threatened Roche’s place in the major races, and a rider of his all-round ability will certainly be an asset at Sky as Chris Froome’s team bid to pick themselves up from a tricky 2013 and return to the top of the WorldTour standings.
Roche is great friends with both Froome and Richie Porte – all three live in Monaco – and the ‘camaraderie’ at Sky should suit the 30-year-old, according to his Tour de France-winning father, Stephen.
“I think the move to Sky is definitely a step up and I’m sure he will fit in extremely well,” said Roche senior. “I think it’s a brilliant move for Nicolas as he was at a crossroads in his career.”
Time will tell if it pays off for Roche, but the likes of Leopold Konig, Elia Viviani, Wout Poels, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Roche should certainly bolster a stagnating squad at Sky and give them a much-needed injection of fresh blood.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky to MTN-Quebeka)
Bidding farewell to Team Sky is fallen Norwegian star Edvald Boasson Hagen, who will look to revive his flagging career at MTN-Quebeka. The South African Pro-Continental team has become something of a rehabilitation centre for derailed talents looking to get back on track.
Boasson Hagen’s demise at Sky has been rather alarming: winless in 2014, the 27-year-old had only picked up three wins in 2013 when Paul Kimmage put Brailsford on the spot in a pre-Tour press conference during which he questioned – in the uncomfortable presence of the Norwegian all-rounder – why Boasson Hagen had not developed under Sky’s management.
“I thought he was going to be the next Eddy Merckx when I saw him in 2009,” Kimmage later told Norwegian TV with a nod to the breakthrough season (while at HTC-Columbia) in which Boasson Hagen wracked up 12 wins – including the overall in the Tour of Britain.
Boasson Hagen’s trouble seems to be similar to that of Sagan: both are neither pure sprinters nor GC contenders, and now the extent of their armoury has been sussed out by their competitors, the wins are drying up.
A change of air should do Boasson Hagen a world of good. The double Tour-stage winner from 2011 will look at the example of Gerald Ciolek as inspiration: the German sprinter used his move to MTN as a platform to relaunch his career, winning Milan-San Remo in 2012 before, admittedly, returning to relative anonymity.
Adam Blythe (NFTO to Orica-GreenEDGE)
Talking of Milan-San Remo winners, and joining Boasson Hagen at MTN-Qhubeka is Australia’s Matt Goss, released by Orica-GreenEDGE after his own annus horribilis.
In fact, it’s been three years of disappointment for Goss, who since pipping Fabian Cancellara to La Primavera in 2011 has notched just two pro wins (Stage 3 of the 2012 Giro and Stage 2 of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico).
The jury is still out as to whether or not 28-year-old Goss can be a leading sprinter in pro-cycling – his best years arguably coming as Mark Cavendish’s lead-out man at HTC-Colombia.
Taking Goss’s place at Orica-GreenEDGE is British sprinter Adam Blythe. Three years younger than the departing Australian, Blythe heads Down Under after a year at Continental outfit NFTO (Not For The Ordinary). Blythe found his options limited at the new British team but did impress with an emphatic win over Ben Swift on The Mall in the Prudential RideLondon Classic in August.
Former Omega Pharma and BMC rider Blythe has only signed a one-year contract and his main job will be in the lead-out train working for youngsters Caleb Ewan and Magnus Court, who will officially sign on as neo-pros. The 24-year-old may also have a chance to chase his personal ambitions in the cobbles classics or in a Grand Tour alongside Michael Matthews.
Blythe will know if his move has been a success if he’s offered a contract extension. For now, a year-long deal makes sense for all parties involved.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ to Cofidis)
Relations between Bouhanni and FDJ manager Marc Madiot soured so much towards the back end of last season that the French sprinter was completely frozen out of the team for the final races – despite the fact that he picked up three wins in the Giro and two in the Vuelta.
The problems stemmed from Madiot’s decision to select Arnaud Demare over Bouhanni for FDJ’s Tour de France team – only for Demare to have a completely rotten race. Snubbed, Bouhanni refused to sign a new contract and despite excelling in Spain the former French national champion decided to take a step down by joining Pro-Continental team Cofidis.
Ironically, Bouhanni would have in all likelihood excelled alongside the combative bulk of Kevin Reza, who has joined FDJ from Europcar. Instead, Bouhanni and teammate Geoffrey Soupe both make the switch to Cofidis, where the 24-year-old may well find himself the undisputed No.1 sprinter, but at a cost – for his opportunities could well be severely limited.
Cofidis will certainly get a wildcard invitation to both the Tour and the Vuelta, but Bouhanni is unlikely to return to Italian soil to repeat his heroics last year.
If his Giro triple represented Bouhanni’s step up to the big time (albeit over a reduced field), then his Vuelta double underlined his stellar ability as he outpaced the likes of Matthews, Sagan and John Degenkolb.
It remains to be seen if Bouhanni can give pure sprinters Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish a run for their money – and by joining a weaker team in Cofidis, Bouhanni has perhaps ensured that we may not find out any time soon.
Bauke Mollema (Belkin to Trek Factory Racing)
Twice a top-ten finisher in the Tour, Dutchman Mollema is looking to take a step up by leaving the LottoNL-Jumbo team for Trek, where he will fill the void left by the departing Robert Kiserlovski and the retiring Andy Schleck.
Like many of the riders discussed above, Mollema was clearly in need of a fresh challenge after failing to develop as quickly as his fourth place in the 2011 Vuelta suggested he might. “I feel like this team will give me the space to grow as a rider,” he said. “A new environment and new faces will be good for me, I believe.”
The critics will say that Mollema is merely a younger, Dutch version of Haimar Zubeldia, unable to do much more than emulate the Basque rider’s no-frills reliability.
That would be a touch harsh, however.
Mollema is still only 27 and is yet to reach his peak years. Manager Luca Guercilena feels he can bring out the best in the Dutchman, while Fabian Cancellara has vowed to help his new teammate with his time trialling. Watch this space.
Who else are you excited about seeing in a new team next year? Have your say below…