Trek Factory Racing: 2015 Report Card

Mollema makes up for Cancellara's bad luck

WorldTour Ranking: 13 (same as 2014)
Win Count: 20 (Up from 19 in 2014)
Top Riders: Bauke Mollema (22nd), Giacomo Nizzolo (56), Fabio Felline (62), Fabian Cancellara (67)

The Trek Factory Racing team still has not managed to establish itself as a force in the peloton, and for the second year in a row it looked mainly to the soon-to-be-retired Swiss star Fabian Cancellara to carry the weight of expectation. But Cancellara crashed and fractured vertebrae twice this year, spending a massive 14 weeks out of competition during the season. Despite his bad luck, Cancellara remained one of the bright spots for the team, winning a stage in the Tour of Oman and holding the race lead for two stages, and taking out the time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico before his crash in the E3 Harelbeke derailed his Classics campaign.

Cancellara returned to top form in time for the Tour de France and used his well-honed skills in the Northern European crosswinds to make the split on stage 2 to Neeltje Jans and don the maillot jaune - bringing his career total for days leading the Tour to a whopping 29. Cancellara's fortunes quickly changed, however, and a crash on the road to Huy the next day forced him to struggle well behind the race to reach the finish line. He lost the race lead to Chris Froome that day, and overnight discovered he had fractured different bones in his back and abandoned the race. He remains the rider with the most days in the yellow jersey who has not won the overall Tour, though that is little consolation to his Trek Factory Racing team.

Luckily, manager Luca Guercilena had the foresight to bring Bauke Mollema into the team this year from the former Belkin squad. The Dutch rider was largely responsible for the team making it to 13th in the WorldTour rankings - equal to last year - with his seventh place overall in the Tour de France, stage wins in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and Tirreno-Adriatico, and a second place overall in Tirreno.

Mollema's performance in the Tour de France was nothing if not consistent. Although he was caught out in the crosswind on stage 2 and lost 1:28 along with several other GC contenders, he was there or thereabouts throughout the difficult final week and held onto his top-10 place overall - though he was 15:14 behind Froome in the GC.

Trek's victory in the Tour of Alberta team time trial was another bright spot in the year, and it helped Mollema to win the overall. He was denied an individual stage win, however, being twice outsprinted by compatriot Tom-Jelte Slagter. Mollema closed the season with a victory in the Japan Cup Cycle Road Race.

Another remarkable performance came from Giacomo Nizzolo, who was denied a stage win in the Giro d'Italia, but was consistent enough to win the points classification. Nizzolo got a boost by an early-season victory in the GP Nobili Rubinetterie in March, but it would remain his only victory of the year. He landed on the podium of Paris-Bourges, Tre Valle Varesine and the Vattenfall Cyclassics, earning an extension of his contract.

Jasper Stuyven scored a surprising sprint victory in the Vuelta a Espana on the day Peter Sagan was taken out by a race vehicle, but did so with a broken scaphoid sustained in one of the stage's many wrecks, and then was forced to abandon the race. Fränk Schleck added another stage win a few days later, rising from the ashes like a Phoenix to take his first major victory in four and a half years.

Nizzolo's fellow Italian Fabio Felline scored three wins this season, one each in Criterium International and Pais Vasco, and the GP de Fourmies. Only Danny van Poppel won more - a stage in the Vuelta a Espana, two in Tour de Wallonie and one if the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.

Victories don't always count for contracts, however, and Van Poppel was not given a new contract with the team, even though his brother Boy was. He claimed the team lost confidence in him. Van Poppel was quickly snapped up by Team Sky.

What to expect in 2016

The Trek Factory Racing team will look to improve vastly on their past two seasons, and as long as Cancellara can stay upright that should not be too difficult. It is unclear if Cancellara will race the full season, but it is certain he will target the Spring Classics, and since the Tour de France goes to Bern, he will probably be there.

It will be a tall order to fill Cancellara's shoes in the coming years, but Trek brought in two talented young riders, Niccolo Bonifazio and Edward Theuns, who should keep the win column padded, and retained Stuyven, who has the potential to become a cobbled Classics champion. Stuyven has a pair of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix finishes under his belt, but they came after a crash in Strade Bianche left him with an elbow injury that required surgical intervention. If he stays healthy in 2016, Stuyven will be a key support rider for Cancellara, and should the Swiss rider fail, a worthy replacement.

The team also bolstered its Grand Tour ambitions with the signing of Ryder Hesjedal, who will target the Giro d'Italia, and will support Mollema for the Tour de France. It would be nice to see Julian Arredondo regain his top mountain form and reassert himself at the head of the race. Next season will be a decider for him. A stage winner and overall mountains classification winner in the 2014 Giro d'Italia, the 27-year-old has enormous talent in the mountains. But this year, something was off, and Guercilena has put Arredondo on notice.

The signing of Kiel Reijnen will give the team a rider for the shorter stage races, and an American presence for the Tour of California, making up for the loss of Matthew Busche. His compatriot Peter Stetina is still coming back from a serious injury from this year's Pais Vasco, and will need the first part of the season to rebuild toward his previous level.

Biggest loss going into 2016

The team had so much turnover at the end of the year that it's difficult to pick which rider is the biggest loss. Bob Jungels, the double Luxembourg champion who came 27th in the Tour de France signed with Etixx-QuickStep, Van Poppel left for Team Sky, Hayden Roulston and Gert Steegmans retired, Kristof Vandewalle and Fabio Silvestre were not offered contracts. Calvin Watson, Jesse Sergent, and Matthew Busche all left for other teams.

Van Poppel is a good sprinter, but if Nizzolo can find another gear he could be a far more prolific winner in the Grand Tours thanks to his consistency, but the loss of Jungels has to smart the most. Jungels started his pro career with the Leopard Trek Continental team in 2012, and has been with their WorldTour arm for three straight seasons.

This year, Jungels took a significant step up, winning the overall Etoile de Bessèges, and cracking the top-10 overall in the Ruta del Sol and Tour de Suisse. In the third week of the Tour de France he was particularly impressive, making the winning breakaway three times, and then coming 13th on Alpe d'Huez while riding in the service of Mollema.

Biggest signing for 2016

While Theuns, Bonifazio, Jack Bobridge, Stetina and Reijnen were solid additions, Hesjedal is clearly the team's biggest signing. It will be interesting to see what the Canadian can do outside of the Garmin/Slipstream organisation after nine straight years with that team. The 2012 Giro d'Italia winner is going to take aim at adding another Giro to his palmares, or at least a podium finish. It's an interesting bookend for Hesjedal's career, since his first WorldTour team was the Trek-sponsored Discovery Channel squad.

Can Hesjedal confirm his Grand Tour chops and improve upon this year's fifth place in the Giro? Though lacking the team time trial that helped give Hesjedal the edge in 2012, next year's Giro d'Italia has three separate individual time trials, for a total of 60km. The 10.8km mountain time trial may not favour Hesjedal, but if the Canadian can gel with his new team and have the support he needs, then he has a very good chance at the podium.

One to watch in 2016

Theuns, 24, has shown great potential in the Classics, and the way he and teammate Jelle Wallays upset the apple cart in this year's Dwars door Vlaanderen gives some indication of Theuns' talent and dedication to his team. A second place to Alexander Kristoff in the Scheldeprijs confirmed that this was no fluke.

Theuns is quick and cagey. While not a pure sprinter, he is quick and consistent, and has the abilities to grow into a real Classics and green jersey contender. He needs some more experience in the one-day races that exceed 200km, however. He will likely do those races in support of Fabian Cancellara. Expect to see Theuns at the head of the shorter one-day races next year, but keep a close eye on him for Gent-Wevelgem.
 

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