Canyon-SRAM team manager Ronny Lauke has big ambitions for his team in 2018. After making some key changes to the team line-up, the team manager wants to win the Giro Rosa with Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and new signing Kasia Niewiadoma.
Since their debut season in 2016, after they were created from the remnants of the folding Velocio-SRAM squad, the team has only managed a ninth place in the only women's Grand Tour with Alena Amialiusik. Despite missing the mark over the last two years, Lauke remains determined to take home the title.
"Second place is the first loser that nobody wants to talk about. I think it's always nice to be on top of the podium. Whenever we target something, we target the victory. The last two years it hasn't worked that well, but we haven't given up on that goal," Lauke told Cyclingnews.
"With Pauline and Kasia in the team, we want to try and win the Giro, that's a clear goal. We have to try with riders like that in the team I couldn't say that we would be happy with a top 5 in a 1.2 race, that's definitely not what we want. For sure, we are confident enough that we can go for the big races, iconic races that every team wants to win. We believe we have the quality with the addition of Kasia and the comeback of Pauline, that we can make it work."
To secure both Ferrand-Prévot and Niewiadoma has been a bit of a coop for Lauke, with the former joining the squad last season and the latter signing up over the winter. While Niewiadoma has proved her worth already with a podium finish at Strade Bianche, returning Ferrand-Prévot to the rostrum has been something of a long-term project for Lauke and the rest of the team. After becoming the only rider to hold concurrent world titles in road racing, cyclo-cross and mountain bike, she endured injury and illness problems and even considered retiring.
Since signing her, the team has worked hard to ensure there isn't too much pressure on her and has changed her off-the-bike exercises to prevent her leg injury flaring up again. The end of last season saw her back to something that resembled her own self with second at the GP de Plouay, a mountain bike world title, and a successful return to cyclo-cross. There was a disappointing end with a crash that left her with bruised ribs, but Lauke is confident that they can keep Ferrand-Prevot on top, with a view to the Olympic Games in 2020.
"We try to give her confidence and sometimes say that maybe it is better to do a little less than she is doing at the moment so that she keeps having the joy for the sport and not keeping going hard that she breaks under all the effort she's doing," he explained.
"She likes riding so much so it's something that we need to keep reminding her maybe it's better not to touch the bike for one or two days. We want to focus on 2020 with her and we want to slowly build her up to that. From now, it's three more seasons and she needs to keep having the fun and the joy for the sport and not break down because it has become too much again. We are very careful in our planning. It's an exchange between her federation, her manager, Pauline, us and the sponsors and what they want to do. There is a lot of communication from every side to make sure that she isn't burnt out again."
Building team confidence
Having built Ferrand-Prévot back up, Lauke's next challenge is to work on the overall team confidence. After dominating the sport in their previous incarnations, the team has given way to others such as Boels Dolmans and Team Sunweb in recent seasons. When asked what he thought of the team's 2017 season, Lauke's response was blunt.
"I can make it short, I was not happy," he told Cyclingnews. "Why should I talk around it? I was definitely not happy about our season and the results that we had. I expected more. To be honest, I was confident at the start of the season that we could do better. That's also one of the reasons that we had to do a few changes within the group and aim to get back to the path of success. We hope that we have made the right choices to get back on the right path.
"I can tell you without having any excuses, that it wasn't the season that we had worked for and prepared for. It was definitely not good."
Thankfully for Lauke, the 2018 season has already got off to a strong start for the team with Hannah Barnes' success at the Setmana Valenciana and Neiwiadoma's second place at Strade Bianche and Alexis Ryan's runner-up spot at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. By this time last year, they had just two third places and would only manage six wins over the whole season – meaning that with Barnes' two stage wins and overall victory they already have half of that number. It is a step towards Lauke's overarching goal this season.
"I want to see the riders develop into a strong force and who will fight," he said. "We learned a lot of lessons over the last few years and I think that we have promoted our partners in a good way, sometimes in a unique way but for us it is now the priority to correct the sporting side and to be a strong force in women's cycling and when we show up at races we can have a good plan because they are also in the mix again and be there when the race gets hard. Every single victory is a joy and something special. We want to go into the races and be as good as we can and maybe a little bit better so that we can gain some respect again."