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Points leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale) celebrates victory in stage 7 of the Tour de France.
Sagan saves the day as Basso and Moser struggle
2013 WorldTour Ranking: 9th/19
Win Count: 36
Top riders: Peter Sagan (4th), Elia Viviani (64th), Ivan Basso (99th), Moreno Moser (120), Damiano Caruso (154th).
The Cannondale team is becoming more international, growing out of its Italian roots as it repositions to match the bike company’s global profile. The team has riders from around the world but its success in 2013 was largely thanks to one rider: Peter Sagan.
Of course Sagan needs a loyal, hard working team of domestiques to help him contest the sprints and fight for position in the Classics, but the Slovakian landed 26 of the team’s 36 victories during the 2013 season. While Ivan Basso struggled with a saddle sore and old age, and Moreno Moser’s form stuttered and then faded completely, Sagan was always up there and seemingly always able to win.
Sagan raced for 90 days in 2013, starting at the Tour de San Luis in January and ending at the Japan Cup on October 20. He started winning at the Tour of Oman – taking two stages - and held his form until the Spring classics. He was second at the snow-affected Milan-San Remo, caught by surprise by Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) and then finished second behind Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, only losing his wheel on the final climb of the race.
He finally won at Ghent-Wevelgem, with a late attack that allowed him to celebrate with a wheelie as he crossed the line. It was Sagan at his very best, while his decision to inappropriately touch the hostess on the podium after the Tour of Flanders was definitely the low point, and forced him to quickly make an apology.
Sagan switched to sprinter mode in May and won two further stages at the Tour of California as well as taking three other top fives places. He completed his build-up for the Tour de France by winning two sprints at the Tour de Suisse.
He was one of the stars of the Tour de France and lived up to his nick-name of the Hulk by angrily winning the stage Albi after a frustrating series of placings. However his nine top-five results meant he dominated the points competition. The whole of the Cannondale team was at his service during the Tour and put on a master class of riding on the rolling roads to Albi by eliminating most of Sagan’s sprint rivals. Sagan went on to score a total of 409 points by the time he got to Paris, leaving Mark Cavendish a distant second.
The Cannondale team has a bad habit of over racing its riders, but Sagan avoided many of the post-Tour de France criteriums and summer races, opting for a long spell at altitude in Colorado. He also raced, and of course won stages, at the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta. He won four from seven in the USA and three from five in Canada before also winning the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal WorldTour race. Impressive statistics even for Sagan.
All the hard work was supposed to give him the edge for the world championships but the rain made the race in Tuscany much harder than expected. Sagan was dropped by the Grand Tour contenders and could only win the sprint for sixth place, 34 seconds after Rui Costa of Portugal won the title.
The other side of the leadership equation
It was still a great season for Sagan but also highlighted the Cannondale team’s dependence on his success. The domestiques did their job but Basso and Moser failed to live up to their side of the leadership equation.
Basso was the nominated leader for the Giro d’Italia but was forced to miss the race due to a ‘golf ball-sized’ saddle sore. He missed the Tour de France and found some form but quit the Vuelta a España after suffering in the cold and rain on stage 14. He described it as the saddest day of his career. That is a strong sentiment from a rider who was involved in Operacion Puerto and banned for doping.
Moser had impressed in 2012 and won the Tour of Poland. Great things were expected from him and he was given leadership status within the team. He won the Strade Bianche race ahead of Sagan but flopped in the Ardennes Classics. He claimed it was due to a poor winter of training and was keen to prove a point at the Tour de France. He went close to victory on the stage that twice climbed L’Alpe d’Huez but was dropped by eventual winner Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
The Tour de France seemed to push Moser over the edge and he ended the season early after struggling at the Eneco Tour. He was ordered to rest by the team after being diagnosed with fatigue and a lowered immune system.
Viviani helped boost Cannondale’s results with six wins as he again mixed track racing with road sprinting. He zig-zagged the globe, winning sprints at the Critérium du Dauphine, the Tour of Elk Grove in the USA, the Dutch Food Valley Classic and even the Tour of Britain. However, he was overshadowed in the big sprints. He was beaten by Mark Cavendish on the opening stage of the Giro d’Italia in a moment that could have changed his career. He remains a sprinter who has yet to confirm he is one of the best in the world.
Daniele Ratto won a stage in the Vuelta and Maciej Bodnar and Brian Vandborg won their respective national time trial titles. Cannondale also won the team time trial stage at the Coppi & Bartali race but that was about it. Sagan’s results ensured the team had a successful season but their dependence on the Slovakian, especially as his contract ends in 2014, must be giving team manager Roberto Amadio a few sleepless nights.
What to expect in 2014: The Cannondale team is now wholly owned by the American bike brand. Its roster remains very similar to 2013 with Amadio crossing his fingers and hoping that Sagan can continue winning, Basso can find one last good moment of form in the Giro d’Italia and Moser can bounce back from his terrible 2013 season.
Best signing: Amadio has always signed some of the best young riders to his teams and could have found the next Peter Sagan by securing the services of Matej Mohoric. The Slovenian was Junior world road race champion in 2012 and won the Under 23 world title in Florence with a gutsy attack on the final climb and held off the peloton. He is still young but has class and panache.
Italy’s Davide Villella is also a name to remember. He was sixth in the U23 road world championship but showed what he can do in the professional ranks by taking third in the Giro dell’Emilia and the Coppa Sabatini as a trainee with Cannondale. Fellow Italians Alberto Bettiol and Davide Formolo also turn professional with Cannondale in 2014 after successful careers as Under 23 riders.
Other new signings Oscar Gatto, Marco Marcato and George Bennett. Gatto is looking to relaunch his career after a disappointing end of season at Vini Fantini. He can win sprints and minor Classics but can also be an excellent lead out man for Sagan at the Tour de France as he and Cannondale attempt to win a third consecutive green points jersey.
Biggest loss: The team has not lost any big-name riders for 2014 but has missed out on several interesting signings due to budget restraints. These might be eased if Sojasun is confirmed as a second sponsor. Amadio and Cannondale were close to joining forces with Oleg Tinkov, which would have revolutionised the team, but they backed away from the deal and also decided to remain registered in Italy to ensure Sagan’s 2014 contract remained water tight.
Who to watch: It will be interesting to see if Sagan can continue to improve at the same meteoric rate. If he does, he will surely win his first major spring Classic and so confirm he is one of the sports biggest talents. His consistent win rate keeps everyone at Cannondale happy and so injury, a dip in form or rumours he will leave at then end of 2014 for could spark problems.
Ivan Basso is convinced he can still be a Grand Tour contender at 36 despite his problems in 2013 and will try to prove it at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, while Moreno Moser is also looking to live up to the expectations of the Italian tifosi.
Mohoric and Villella could both win races in their first full season in the green team colours. They represent Cannondale’s new beginning and their long-term future.