2014 Report Card: Giant-Shimano

Kittel and Degenkolb dominate Grand Tour sprints

WorldTour ranking: eighth (up eight places from 2013)
Win count: 41 (up 12 from 2013)
Top riders: John Degenkolb (13th), Tom Dumoulin (21st), Marcel Kittel (37th), Warren Barguil (52nd)

Sprinting has always been a part of Giant-Shimano's culture and so, like last year, they zeroed in on the flatter stages at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España with enormous success, bringing home a total of 11 Grand Tour stage wins with Marcel Kittel taking six, John Degenkolb securing four and Luka Mezgec one.

Overall, Giant-Shimano's second season on the WorldTour showed a marked improvement by claiming 41 victories, 12 more than last year, and they rose eight spots in the overall UCI rankings to eighth place.

The team primarily supported Kittel and Degenkolb throughout the season and it paid off for the Dutch team. The pair complemented one another, with Kittel focussed on flat stages at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, and Degenkolb's strengths aimed largely at punchier stages at the Tour, Vuelta a España, and one-day races.

It wasn't all about the sprints for the Dutch team, though, as Tom Dumoulin tipped the scales with success in time trials and shorter stage races, which helped bring another dimension to the team in 2014.

Kittel had a strong start to the season with three wins at the Dubai Tour in February, where he also won the points classification, and he took another win at Scheldeprijs in April.

In his debut at the Giro d'Italia in May, he led Giant-Shimano in the sprints and captured back-to-back wins in stages 2 and 3. He was forced to abandon before the start of stage 4, however, with a high fever.

The team re-built their sprint train around Mezgec for the remainder of the Italian Grand Tour. He showed his promise in the sprints after winning Handzame Classic and three stages of Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in March. He rose to the occasion and grabbed the stage 21 win in Trieste.

Kittel looked to the Tour de France as his next big target and showed he was back on form after winning the opening stage at the Ster ZLM Toer, where he also took the race lead.

He rose to sprint stardom after winning the opening stage at the Tour de France last year and the pressure mounted for a repeat of that success in Harrogate, the city that hosted the stage 1 finish line this year. The stage catered to the sprinters and had the promise of the leader's jersey on the line. A crash brought down some of the other favourites including Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Mark Cavendish and Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Gerrans but it opened the door for Kittel to win the opening stage again, and he wore the event's first yellow jersey for the second time in his career.

He went on to win stages 3 and 4 and then closed the French Grand Tour with a fourth win in the final stage 21 along the Champs-Élysées in Paris, a storybook ending to another successful Tour de France for Giant-Shimano.

Nearing the end of his season, Kittel won the first stage at the Tour of Britain in Liverpool and took the early leader's jersey. He also won the final stage in London. In total, Giant-Shimano supported him to 13 victories this year and he was the third ranked rider on the team in 37th on the UCI standings.

Giant-Shimano's other fast man, Degenkolb, also had a strong season totalling 10 victories and was the team's highest ranked rider in 13th place. After Kittel's success at the Dubai Tour and Tobias Ludvigsson's overall win at the Etoile de Bessèges, Degenkolb was the next to open his season with three consecutive wins at the Tour Méditerranéen.

He was the first rider to bring Giant-Shimano a WorldTour win this season with a stage victory at Paris-Nice and went on to capture the win at Gent-Wevelgem. He played a crucial role in Kittel's lead-out train during the flat stages at Tour de France, and he was saved for the slightly hillier stages where he managed to take two second-place finishes himself.

As the team's go-to sprinter at the Vuelta a España, Degenkolb secured four stage wins and two second places, bolstering the team's Grand Tour wins to a total of 11 this season. Injuries suffered in a crash during the Vuelta hindered him from getting more wins.

Degenkolb's consistency in the sprints during stage races garnered him four points jerseys at the Etoile de Bessèges, Tour Méditerranéen Cycliste Professionnel, Paris-Nice and at the Vuelta a España.

Giant-Shimano also had some success in time trials and shorter stage races with Dumoulin, who had a breakout year with a total of four wins that helped secure himself as the second highest rank rider on the team this year, in 21st place.

He won his first national time trial title and had wins in the time trial stages at Critérium International and Eneco Tour, where he was third overall, and at the Tour of Alberta, where he finished second overall.

He also placed second at Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec, and was second in the stage 20 time trial at the Tour de France, was fifth overall at the Tour de Suisse, and second overall at the Baloise Belgium Tour, where he also won the young rider classification. He capped off a great season with a bronze medal in the time trial at the World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, and was named Dutch male cyclist of the year.

Giant-Shimano also secured wins with Jonas Ahlstrand in stages at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe and Tour of Alberta, and Thierry Hupond won a stage at the 4 Jours de Dunkerque. Ramon Sinkeldam won the World Ports Classic and Nikias Arndt took a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Simon Geschke won the GP du canton d'Argovie and also placed second in stages at the Giro and Tirreno-Adriatico.

The team continued to develop their young overall contender Warren Barguil, who signed on as a stagiaire in 2012. Last year, he took two stage wins at the Vuelta a España and this year, he went on finish in the top 10 overall at the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, Tour of Beijing, and the Vuelta a España. He will remain with the team for another two seasons and will be a future GC rider to watch.

What to expect in 2015: The team will be renamed Giant-Alpecin to reflect their new four-year partnership with the German-based hair-care products company. The longterm financial commitment will add stability to the team that has undergone several sponsorship changes over the last few seasons. This will allow the team to continue to build on its overall success in the WorldTour. Expect to see the team consistently winning sprints again, while they continue to develop their role in the GC in 2015.

Best signing: Four new rider will join the team in 2015 that include Zico Waeytens and Carter Jones along with Federik Ludvigsson and Lars van der Haar, who are stepping up from the development roster. It will be interesting to see how van der Haar's world-class cyclo-cross skills transfer over to the WorldTour. He has had some success on the road, winning a stage at the Oberösterreichrundfahrt along with the points jersey and the overall classification. It will also be exciting to see Jones join his fellow countrymen, Lawson Craddock and Chad Haga, on the WorldTour. He secured top-10 overall finishes at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge, and 11th overall at the Tour of California, and will no doubt play a role in the team's GC aspirations next season.

Biggest loss: The team lost a series of riders that include Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Jonas Ahlstrand, Steven Lammertink, Thomas Damuseau and Dries Devenyns. Janse van Rensburg may be the teams biggest loss after he proved to be a good domestique and also took podiums at the Tour of Beijing, Critérium du Dauphiné and Bayern Rundfahrt. He signed a two-year contract with the South African Professional Continental team MTN-Qhubeka next year.

Man to watch: Despite Degenkolb's success, wins eluded him on a handful of occasions, particularly with second-place finishes at Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Rund um den Finanzplatz-Frankfurt, Tour of California, the German National Championships, Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, Binche-Chimay-Binche and in two stages at the Tour de France. It will be interesting to watch him continue to improve in the sprints next year and perhaps secure more wins in the Spring Classics and a stage at the Tour de France. It will also be great to see Mezgec continue to steal wins here and there, and to see how he will fit into the team's overall sprint campaign in 2015.

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