For Jim Ochowicz, the whole of 2018 was a race against time in two halves – the first to save his team after the withdrawal of BMC, the second to piece together a largely new one with the backing of Polish company CCC. In Denia, Spain, this week, the whole operation came together, as riders and staff gathered for a pre-season training camp, and Ochowicz set out the team's vision and plans.
There was a familiar feel as Greg Van Avermaet strolled around the lobby of the five-star Marriot La Sella hotel, the base for the December camp for a number of years now. Yet there was so much that was new; the team name, the sponsor, the colours, the kit supplier, the bike supplier, some sports directors, mechanics and, most importantly of all, riders.
With so many new faces – and so many names so difficult to pronounce – everyone wore name badges, as if it were the first day of school.
There are no fewer than 14 new riders, compensating for an exodus that saw more than half of the BMC squad, including Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, leave for pastures new, most unable to wait for Ochowicz to pull off his late save. Many of the new faces have stepped up from the Pro Continental ranks, with a number of them graduating from the old CCC-Sprandi Polkowice set-up.
The CCC influence is hard to ignore. Ochowicz insists this is not a merger between the two teams and, technically, it’s not, given that the holding company for the old BMC team, Continuum Sports, remains intact and the holder of the WorldTour licence. However, this is more than Polish money simply arriving in the bank account. Four riders have come from the old CCC team, as have the sporting manager Piotr Wadecki and sports director Gabriele Missaglia, along with a number of other staff, including a press officer, and of course the orange kit colour. The team is also now being marketed as 'Poland's first WorldTour team'. While the old CCC team has technically dropped down to Continental level as a development outfit, it almost feels like this is the team stepping up to the WorldTour – as has been their ambition – facilitated through the infrastructure already in place with Ochowicz.
Ochowicz introduced the team as they held their media day on Friday, joined on the top table by Wadecki, Van Avermaet, and former CCC Sprandi rider Pawel Bernas. The long-standing American manager admitted that, given the changes and the exodus of riders, the team would struggle to match their previous level. In the absence of a Grand Tour contender, their hopes centre largely around Classics star, Van Avermaet, who has been elevated to the role of figurehead and talisman.
Ochowicz summed up the team's ambitions for 2019 in a new slogan: 'In order to finish first, first you must finish'.
"What this means Is that our objectives have changed a bit from prior years," he explained. "We had a team that was chasing Grand Tour victories, but that's not a goal for us in 2019. It's because of our 23 riders and the 200-plus races a year we'll be doing, so we're focusing on staying strong, staying healthy, and staying fit. If we finish races, we will win races."
Ochowicz then set out five ambitions for the team in its first campaign in this guise.
"The first is the Spring Classics. Greg Van Avermaet will be the team leader throughout that series of races.
"The second goal are the one-week WorldTour stage races, starting at Tour Down Under next month. Those are races where we can perform in several categories. One, we can race GC there, and two, we can chase stage wins. I think we have the physicality and expertise to go after those races.
"The third goal is to maintain our strong position in the time trials. Everyone knows we had a dominant role there in the past, and we think we can continue that level, both in the individual time trials and the team time trials.
"The fourth goal is pretty obvious: the three Grand Tours. The Tour de France, specifically, is an important race for us as it starts in Belgium, our home base for the team, and we have a Belgian in Greg Van Avermaet. Also the second day is a TTT and we'll certainly be focusing on that.
"The fifth goal is that we are shooting for 20 victories with this team in 2019. We think we can reach that number. If we can complete our first four goals I think we'll see 20 victories from this group of athletes."