The departure of Fabian Cancellara was always going to leave quite a gap in Trek-Segafredo’s classics arsenal, and so it’s proving, with directeur sportif Dirk Demol pining to see his current riders show some of the aggression and killer instinct that characterised the three-time Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix winner.
Speaking to Cyclingnews in Zottegem on Wednesday, ahead of the second stage of the Three Days of De Panne, Demol gave a frank assessment of his team’s showings thus far this spring, saying, "the results at this point are not good enough."
John Degenkolb, a replacement of sorts for Cancellara, finished seventh at Milan-San Remo, in the bunch behind the three leaders and – after missing the splits at E3-Harelbeke – it was a similar tale at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, where he was fifth from the main bunch. Meanwhile Jasper Stuyven is yet to build on the promise of his Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne victory last year, abandoning E3-Harelbeke on a“off-day” before finishing 46th at Gent-Wevelgem.
“I was hoping for better, to be honest. I’m going to support my boys 100 per cent, but we didn’t have the results we could have had,” Demol told Cyclingnews.
“We always analyse the races, and we’ve seen on a couple of occasions that they may not be aggressive enough at the right times. We’ve had five WorldTour one-day races, and I’m sure we could be there but we weren’t because we were maybe thinking ‘it’s still too far’ or we had that one second of doubt.
“I’ve told them who’s going to go, they just had to follow one guy, and they didn’t. I’ve seen it in the race, they sometimes have that one second of doubt, and it’s one second too much. If the big guys go, you cannot think ‘should I try to go with him or not?’ You’re already too late.”
Degenkolb was the guilty party at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. He had done the hard work, keeping in touch with Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan over the final ascent of the Kemmelberg but, when those two escaped from the leading group of 14 to form five, the German was caught napping – or reaching for a bidon.
“I don’t want to criticise John – not at all, because he proved he’s good at Milan-San Remo,” said Demol, “but at certain points… on the Kemmel climb they were the three strongest of the race, but afterwards there’s another split and if Sagan and Van Avermaet go then he cannot wait for a single moment.”
Cancellara wouldn’t have waited that single moment, he suggested. Demol, himself a Paris-Roubaix winner, joined the Trek team in its second year – then RadioShack-Nissan-Trek – and forged a successful relationship with the Swiss rider, who claimed the Flanders-Roubaix double in 2013 and added another Ronde title the following year.
“That was one of the strengths Fabian had – he could really anticipate in each situation, he was just like…go,” said Demol. “I’ve missed that a little bit – that little bit more aggression at the right moment. Don’t think – just go!”
Asked if Cancellara’s qualities were simply innate, and not something that can be drilled into riders, he replied: “It is instinct but also when you keep talking about it I’m sure the day will come when they do it.”
Demol will be hoping that day comes this Sunday or next, with the two biggest races of the spring on the horizon. He explained that Degenkolb is his number one leader for both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, though Jasper Stuyven will enjoy a role approaching co-leadership, while Edward Theuns and Fabio Felline will be the other key men.
“John is a rider I really like to work with because he knows what he wants – he’s clear. Also he was preparing so well. He is ready – he proved that at San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem. Of course he has been disappointed – he wants to win and it’s good when you have that disappointment as it’s a good sign to do better next time,” added Demol.
“I’m confident I have a strong team, and a strong leader in John. We made small mistakes at key moments, but I keep supporting them. I know we are good. We have a strong team, we have two more chances, and we’re going to go full gas for Sunday and Roubaix.”