The German Classics rider joined the then Argos-Shimano team in 2012 when it was just a Professional Continental set-up and he had shown signs of his potential at HTC-highroad. Together they have both developed and matured, with Degenkolb winning numerous sprints and then Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015 and the team gradually becoming more and more successful in Grand Tours with Tom Dumoulin.
That gradual cosmic shift in objectives lead to Marcel Kittel moving to Etixx-QuickStep for 2016 and now Degenkolb has opted to join Trek-Segafredo for 2017. Giant-Alpecin will become Team Sunweb on January 1 with Dumoulin, Warren Barguil, Wilco Kelderman and new signing Michael Matthews as team leaders. The team will no longer have a big-name leader for the cobbled Classics.
Degenkolb said goodbye to his longstanding teammates at the Abu Dhabi Tour before enjoying a brief holiday. He is about to begin training for the 2017 season, with the Classics the motivation to get him through the winter. He raced for a total of 59 days in 2016 but they were squeezed into six months and came via a long comeback due to the crash and the painful consequences of being hit by a car during that terrible day in January in Spain in the company of several teammates.
Breaking up is never easy to do
As Degenkolb explained in the first part of this exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, he has worked hard to recover from his physical and mental injuries caused by the crash. Now he focused on the future. Of course breaking up with a team is hard to do, especially after spending five years, enjoying lots of success and overcoming a career-threatening accident together.
After a long sigh of apparent nervousness and emotion, Degenkolb explained the reasons why he had to move on from Giant-Alpecin.
"We had some great success but sometimes you start to think about other opportunities. I was also asking for more support for the Classics and I didn't really get it. The team always worked well for me but I didn't like the way the management was running the team anymore. I had too little influence on the decisions that affected me as a rider. It was time for me to move on from Giant-Alpecin," he tells Cyclingnews, giving some important context.
"I'm the guy who is responsible if things work or not, if I get the results or not in the big races. If I don't have influence on who is going to me with the races, then things aren't perfect any more. Until a certain time it worked but not any more. Now I believe that at Trek-Segafredo I can be an even better bike rider than I am now. My current team didn't want that for some reason."
Degenkolb words are blunt and to the point but he explains that it was not an easy decision. It clearly hurts him to cut so many ties that were created over time together.
"Of course it hurts. It's a big change and I have to leave a lot of friends. There's a great bunch of people at Giant-Alpecin. I'll especially miss the other riders on the team. They helped me achieve what I achieved in the past and so it's hard to leave most of them. Fortunately my coach and Koen de Kort are coming with me to Trek-Segafredo," Degenkolb says, unafraid of what the future holds in the American WorldTour squad alongside fellow new signing Alberto Contador.
"The most important thing will be to create an atmosphere which is familiar and comfortable for everybody. I'm sure that the success will come as a consequence. I'm sure of that. Trek-Segafredo is a great team with good riders. If we stay focused we can be very confident for the future."
Degenkolb move to Trek-Segafredo was brokered by new agent and former teammate Caleb Fairly, who has created an innovative rider agency that works to put the rider's interest first. It seems his decision came too early for him to join a German team. Bora-Hansgrohe had still to commit to their project and Alpecin's move to back the ever more international Katusha team had still to be thrashed out.
"It'd be a dream to be part of a strong German team but it remains a dream for now," Degenkolb explains. "There isn't really a chance to find a good German team for me at the moment. When I had to make a decision about my future, things at Bora weren't decided. Anyway I'm super happy to be part of Trek-Segafredo. It's the right team for me now."
Fabian Cancellara may have retired but Degenkolb still can't shake off the Swiss rider just as if they were riding the finale of Paris-Roubaix together.
Degenkolb knows he has to somehow fill the gap left in the Trek-Segafredo line-up by Cancellara's retirement but proudly refutes the idea that he is Cancellara's replacement. That idea is far too simplistic.
"I'm not a replacement for Fabian Cancellara because I'm a very different kind of rider," Degenkolb points out. "But I think our Classics squad we'll have for 2017 is pretty much as good as it was this year with Fabian. Maybe in a different kind of way but we have a good chance to make it a great Classics season for Trek Segafredo.
"In one way I'm similar to Fabian and that's because I know there will be pressure on me to perform and get results just like he did. That's not a problem for me. It's good to have pressure, you need to have pressure. I'm the kind of guy who always had pressure on my shoulder from the team. I was always the leader for the team in the Classics and so I'm not scared of being a leader. I'm not scared of pressure."
Degenkolb will lead a young Classics squad that will include close teammate and usual leadout man de Kort, Gregory Rast, talented 20-year-old Mads Pedersen, future Belgian stars Jasper Stuyvens and Edward Theuns, Marco Coledan, Boy van Poppel and Italian national champion Giacomo Nizzolo.
Several riders will be looking to shine in the Classics and sprints, especially Nizzolo. Come the Tour de France, Degenkolb will also have to share the tram with Contador and Bauke Mollema and their hopes of overall success at the Tour de France. Degenkolb is convinced there is room for everyone in a busy 2017 WorldTour programme.
"I don't think anyone has to be scared in the 2017 team. I'm talking about the riders already in the team and the new riders coming in for 2017. I think we can all fit well together and call work together. We have enough races next year so that we don't need to fight about races and leadership," he argues offering an olive branch before pulling on the black and white colours of Trek-Segafredo.
"Koen and me bring a lot of experience into the team and it's important we share that and help lift the team to a higher level. Giacomo and Marco are also progressing and doing a good job. I think together we can do even better. That's why I'm really looking forward to the season ahead. How do you say it? Bring it on!"
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