Giant-Alpecin: 2015 report card

Dumoulin and Barguil the future as Kittel departs

WorldTour ranking: 10/17 (same as 2014)
Win Count: 19 (Down from 41)
Top riders: John Degenkolb (12), Tom Dumoulin (15), Warren Barguil (97)

Winning two monuments in the one season would leave most WorldTour teams satisfied but Giant-Alpecin are perhaps just as pleased with the breakout performance of Tom Dumoulin at the Vuelta a Espana. The Dutchman exceeded all expectation with two stage wins, six days in the leaders jersey and sixth place overall after three weeks of racing. He showed he could be a future Grand Tour contender. 

However with less than half the number of its 2014 wins and with star sprinter ending his contract a year yearly, Giant Alpecin's season could be construed as a disappointment. The emergence though of Dumoulin and confirmation of Warren Barguil as top-ten GC riders suggest otherwise and Milan San Remo and Paris Roubaix victories for John Degenkolb tells a tale of quality victories and performance rather than sheer quantity of victories.

Marcel Kittel's Tour Down Under opening night criterium win in January started the season brightly for the team but it was Dumoulin, finishing fourth on GC, who impressed in the WorldTour opener. However, Kittel wouldn't win another race until August, while Lawson Craddock's chest became rather well acquainted with some road furniture leaving the young American with the nice memory of a koala selfie bit little else from Adelaide. 

Degenkolb won the team's first UCI race of the year with an impressive lung bursting effort at the Dubai Tour in early February as Luka Mezgec then won a stage of the Tour de Haut-var to close out the month.

The spring was all about two races. Degenkolb had ridden Milan-San Remo on three previous occasions, his best result being fifth place in 2012, with a puncture ruling him out of contention in 2014. The German suffered no such bad luck placing himself perfectly in the finale before coming round the outside of Alexander Kristoff with his familiar nodding sprint proving unstoppable and monument victory number one for 2015.

Kristoff got his revenge at the Tour Flanders where Degekolb placed seventh but that confirmed him as a favourite for the following Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. Dumoulin won the final time trial at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco on the eve of the ‘hell of the north' to kick off a weekend to remember for the German-registered, Dutch-based team.

Degenkolb had finished second at last year's Roubaix winning the bunch sprint behind Niki Terpstra describing his pride with his first podium finish at a monument. Fast forward 12-months and with a monument victory already to his name, Degenkolb's track skills and explosive sprint saw him become just the second German winner and lay claim to rider of the the Classics.

A pair of stage wins at Bayern Rundfahrt was next on the agenda for Degenkolb with Ramon Sinkeldam adding Garmin Velothon Berlin to the team's tally.

Kittel's woes

Dumoulin kicked off the Tour de Suisse by winning the prologue and holding the lead for four stages and remained a GC protagonist as his final day time trial win saw him finish third overall. His best overall result in a WorldTour stage race and further sign of his development into a stage racer.

While Dumoulin was impressing in Switzerland, the place of Kittel in Giant-Alpecin's Tour team was becoming less sure by the day with team management expressing their doubts the winner of eight stages in the last two editions of the race would be fit enough to take the start line. The unpopular call was made by team management with Kittel writing on his blog “Not being nominated is without doubt the most difficult time of my career."

At the Tour, the Dutch backed local favourite Dumoulin for the opening day prologue but his fourth place result showed signs of an arguably taxing performance in the Swiss Alps. Degenkolb finished inside the top-six on four stages in the first week but losing Dumoulin to a dislocated shoulder was a bitter pill for Giant-Alpecin to swallow so early in the race.

Fortunately Barguil emerged as a future Tour contender as he spent the majority of the race inside the top eleven overall and showed resolve when fatigue and injury could have ended his race early. The highlight of the Tour de France for Giant-Alpecin was undoubtedly the stage 17 win for Simon Geschke at Pra Loup which saw tears of elation roll down his cheeks and soak up in his beard during the post-stage winners interview.

Missing the Tour undoubtedly gave Kittel a point to prove as he spent July training for the Tour de Pologne and he made immediate impact by winning the opening stage. There was no repeat stage win but Kittel did take home a confidence-boosting win in the points classification.

Giant-Alpecin then headed to Spain for the Vuelta with its team built around Degenkolb who had won four and five stages at the race in his last two appearances respectively. Second place to Estaban Chaves in Caminito del Rey on the first road stage of the Vuelta was partly lost in the media storm that surrounded the exit of former champion Vincenzo Nibali for holding onto his team car but looking back, it was the arrival of Dumoulin as a GC rider.

Dumoulin pulled on the leaders jersey after stage five as he and Chaves swapped the jersey between themselves for the first ten days. A sterling stage win over Chris Froome saw the peloton take note of Dumoulin as a genuine contender, particularly when he moved back into the overall lead following his smashing time trial win on stage 17 and racing aggressively until his legs could do no more.

While the likes of Lawson Craddock dug deep in the third week to keep Dumoulin in contention for the win, at 25 the Dutchman is approaching his best years as an athlete and both he and the team will have a strong template for future success from the Vuelta.

A Tour of Alberta stage win for Nikias Arndt and Binche-Chimay-Binche victory for Sinkeldam made it 19 wins for Giant-Alpecin in the season and finish off 2015 with plenty to ponder and prepare for during the off season.

What to expect in 2016:

The biggest change for Giant-Alpecin in 2016 will be the shift away from its sprint focus with the departure of Kittel. Considering the team managed to diversify its ambitions this season when Kittel was ill, Giant-Alpecin has had a good dress rehearsal and will be better for it in 2016.

Expect the team to focus on Barguil and Dumoulin and further developing them into Grand Tour contenders. Dumoulin has announced the Rio Olympics will be a big goal of his next year, which could open the door for a Giro d'Italia start. That would leave Barguil open to target the Tour and aim for the top-ten. Laurens ten Dam has been signed to help in Grand Tours, adding new depth to the squad.

Degenkolb will lead the Classics team and will start as one of the riders to watch in the early season monuments. Having won stages of the Giro and Vuelta, the German will be again try for a debut Tour win in 2016.

Best signing:

Søren Kragh Andersen, a Tour de l'Avenir stage winner, was performing well in 2.1 races across the 2015 season and is considered a top talent by several of the WorldTour teams. Andersen should hit the ground running in 2016, with Giant-Alpecin keeping a close eye on his results to determine the all-rounder's greatest strength.

Biggest loss:

Marcel Kittel didn't have a great season by any suggestion, with physical and psychological stress derailing his 2015 season. The Giant-Alpecin team has announced it is moving away from its sprint focus and so a change in direction lessens the blow of losing Kittel.

The team is proven as a hot bed for rider development and the departure of Kittel could see several riders try and jostle for space, the competition spurring each other on to bigger and better things.

Man to watch:

There are a few riders who could claim this title but Dumoulin is the man to watch at Giant-Alpecin in 2016. Dumoulin had had a steady progression since turning professional in 2012 and the challenge now is to maintain the high standard he set at the Vuelta.

A disappointing performance at the Worlds time trial after bronze last year wasn't ideal but should provide Dumoulin with plenty of fuel over the off-season. In 12 months time, Dumoulin could well be the biggest Dutch cyclist in the sport with the sky the limit.

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