The Pro Contintenal squad bolstered its ranks for next season with Sylvain Chavanel, Mathias Frank, Roger Kluge, Jérôme Pineau and Vicente Reynes all linking up for 2014. Thétaz is expecting that the new recruits will add considerable firepower to the team in both the Classics and stage races.
“I think it’s a big step for the team and should lead to success for next season. As we’ve said all year we’ve been trying to set up a successful team but one has to admit that we didn’t have a lot of big wins this year. We were in a lot of breaks, won a few stages and wore some jerseys but we didn’t win a Classics or anything at the Tour de Suisse or Romandie. It has been difficult to make a big impressions without the big wins,” Thétaz told Cyclingnews.
The team has recorded ten individual wins so far this season (three of which came through national championships) but they have been lacking in the biggest one day races. Heinrich Haussler led the line in the spring and managed to pick up fourth in Gent-Wevelgem and sixth in Flanders. Thétaz is hoping that with more support the Australian can return from his current injury and go even further in the future.
“We knew pretty early on that someone like Haussler needed more help so that he could be with the best riders towards the end of some races. Something was missing in terms of leading him out into the finales, so that’s why we’ve been busy hiring certain riders.”
However, the team will not just target one day races. Signing Frank can be seen as a major coup for the team. The 26-year-old has enjoyed a breakthrough season with fourth overall in the Tour of California, a spell in the leader’s jersey and fifth overall in the Tour de Suisse and second in the US Pro Cycling Challenge. Thétaz believes that with Frank on board, the team has improved their chances of riding in two of the three Grand Tours. Frank has few results in three week races, often having worked for others, but he will improve the team's current attack of Johann Tschopp and Thomas Lövkvist.
“We also want to do something in the Tours. In the Classics I think we’re very well equipped and we’ll do our best but we’re very interested in riding the Tour de France and maybe the Giro next year too, so we needed some more leaders. One shouldn’t underestimate someone who has great potential in Frank. He’s coming from BMC and he’s had few big wins this year. He also led the Tour de Suisse for a few days. He didn’t get the credit he deserved, but he’s 26 and he can potentially lead us in the Tour,” Thétaz told Cyclingnews.
However the signing of Chavanel could realistically turn out to be the team’s golden ticket to the Tour. The experienced Frenchman has led the race – twice in 2010 – and ridden in every edition since 2001. His popularity at home, coupled with his pedigree, will greatly improve IAM Cycling’s chances of an invite from ASO when compared to their slim chances from this year.
“He’s a great guy and he can do a lot of things and actually he the best French rider. We had the opportunity to talk to him and he was very interested right from the beginning and that made massive difference and everyone in the team is excited by his arrival.”
One rider that Thétaz hasn’t signed for 2014 is Fabian Cancellara, with the Classics star heading to the new Trek WorldTour team. The two parties had been in discussions but Thétaz admitted that integrating the Swiss rider had been too much of a challenge.
“This year has been very different from the first year. Last year it was quite a bit of work trying to convince riders to come to the team and we were starting from scratch. This year, you wouldn’t believe it but we’ve been approached by some great riders. With this team we can do great things,” he said.
“When you go and talk to some of the big leaders who are interested in coming they say they want to come with five or six guys when you talk about their trainer, their coach, for example. For us, that’s not a good way to do it because it would destroy the culture of the team.”
“We talked with Fabian and his manager. It would have certainly have been a nice thing to do and right from the beginning he had requirements that I can understand. He’s a great rider but we’re not even a WorldTour team so to meet those requirements, it was too big a challenge.”
ProContinental trumps WorldTour
Thétaz also ruled out the team’s desire to break into the WorldTour for next year. With Vacansoleil set to fold and some uncertainties still surrounding Fernando Alonso’s plans for Euskaltel, one possible slot within the team rankings could have opened up, even with Katusha making the top 18 squads.
“All the races we want to do are in Europe and with the team we have I’m confident that we’ll get the invitations that we want. So why should we be a WorldTour team? At this stage there’s no reason to be in that position. In our first year we were invited to all the classics, the only ProContinental team to have that.”
“Now heading into our second year with the new guys like Chavanel, we have a great influence in France. If we have an impressive to start to the year, from Paris-Nice onwards I think the selectors for the major races will look closely at our team.”