The 2016 season could not have begun worse for Team Giant-Alpecin, as a car plowed into a training group of six riders in Spain in January. The horrendous accident and resulting injuries left not only the team but the whole cycling world in shock, and doubt for the riders’ future careers and lives.
Many of the injuries were serious but all six returned to racing within four months. Some were successful, some were not. Most are staying with the team, to be called Team Sunweb-Giant in the future, but two are leaving, one voluntarily, one not.
Warren Barguil, John Degenkolb, Chad Haga, Fredrik Ludvigsson, Ramon Sinkeldam and Max Walscheid were training together in the mountains and returning to the hotel in Calpe, Spain, when they were directly struck by a car driving in the wrong lane.
Haga appeared to be the most seriously injured and was airlifted from the scene. He suffered neck and facial injuries, including a broken orbital bone. He underwent surgery for the deep wounds to repair veins and arteries, but no surgery was required for the fracture.
The American kept his sense of humour during his convalescence, showing off his scars on social media. He returned to racing the end of March at the Criterium International, and went on to ride (and finish) two Grand Tours – to his own amazement. "If you said on Jan 25 that I'd finish the Giro & Vuelta and race for USA in WCRR this year, I'd have poured my drinkable breakfast on you," he tweeted. Haga, who is getting married this weekend, pulled a piece of windshield glass out of his lip at the World Championships.
Perhaps the biggest loss to the team was Degenkolb. The tip of his left index finger was nearly severed, and he rode the season with a splint, admitting he had to learn to ride with only nine digits.
The German was the team’s hope for the Spring Classics, as he had won both Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix the previous year. He totally missed the Classics season, starting his year on May 1 at his hometown race of Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt, which he did not finish.
Degenkolb was named to the Tour de France squad, and brought in two top ten finishes. He finally returned to the top step of the podium in August on stage four of the Arctic Race of Norway, and then again at the Münsterland Giro in October. He also rode both the team time trial and the road race at the Doha Worlds. The 27-year-old will ride for Trek-Segafredo as of the coming year.
Barguil suffered a broken scaphoid, and was able to return to racing at the Volta a Catalunya. He could claim no wins on the year, but wore the leader's jersey for one day at the Tour de Suisse. The team's hope for GC at the Tour de France, he was their highest finisher as 23rd. The young Frenchman is perhaps the only one of the group with many clear memories of the accident. He has described how the driver didn't brake until "the point of first impact." Afterwards, "It was quite shocking. We were on the ground for a long time," he said, calling it "real chaos".
Walscheid is the success story of the group. The last to start racing again, he will finish the season with the most wins. He broke his thumb and his tibia in the crash, having to undergo multiple surgeries which left him on crutches for 12 weeks. The German could not start his season until the end of May at the Tour of Belgium. An early highlight was second place in the German nationals road race, but he struggled most of the season.
His breakthrough came recently in the Tour of Hainan, with top finishes in the first two stages leading to three straight stage wins and the leader's jersey. They are also his first professional victories.
Sinkeldam suffered a broken shoulder blade in the accident. He said that he was "lucky" to not remember the impact. "A car came straight at us and the group panicked. There was a lot of shouting, and after that I don't remember anything for a good while." The Dutch rider made his belated season debut at Tirreno Adriatico at the beginning of March. He went on to ride a full schedule including the Tour de France.
For Ludvigsson, it was the start of an unlucky year. The least seriously injured, suffering only scrapes and abrasions, he was the first back to racing. He started but did not finish the Vuelta a Andalucia the end of February. Indifferent results followed, and further bad luck ensued when he broke his scaphoid in a crash at the Tour of Belgium.
The Swede was not offered a contract to remain with the team for the coming year, leading him to tweet earlier this week, "No contract for 2017, career in trouble after last 3 years with A lot of bad luck, but I want revenge and show everyone my real me again!!"