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2020 Team Preview: NTT Pro Cycling

NTT Pro Cycling 2020
NTT Pro Cycling's team presentation (Image credit: NTT Pro Cycling)

Who?

Self-styled as 'Africa's team', Dimension Data gets a new name, new look and a clutch of new riders as the squad looks to improve on several disappointing seasons. New additions representing the deep blue of tech services company NTT include Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts, the climber Domenico Pozzovivo, and under-23 world champion Samuele Battistella.

NTT's newly announced partnership with Virtu Cycling will see Bjarne Riis come on board as team manager, with the Danish-led group buying a third of the team. It's hoped that Riis, who comes equipped with a wealth of experience and success from his time running CSC/Saxo Bank, will turn the ailing ship around in 2020.

Manager: Bjarne Riis

Squad size: 28

Average age: 27.6

How did they fare in 2019?

Wins: 7

WorldTour ranking: 17

It was another tough year for the South African squad, who have languished at the WorldTour's basement since making the step up back in 2016. Seven wins during the season marked a continuation from 2018, a record only 'beaten' by the turmoil-ridden Katusha-Alpecin and a work-in-progress CCC Team.

Edvald Boasson Hagen's three victories, including the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné, proved the high point of the year, while sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo also picked up three wins – at the Tour of Oman, Tour of Slovenia and Vuelta a Burgos. Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier's Eritrean time trial title was the team's seventh and final win in 2019.

Nizzolo's third place at the EuroEyes Cyclassics was the closest the team came to adding another WorldTour victory, and the Italian also provided the Grand Tour highpoint, with fourth on the opening stage of the Tour de France.

Now-departed Mark Cavendish endured a tough year as he continued his recovery from the Epstein-Barr virus, Louis Meintjes' crash-hit season impeded his search for his 2017 form, and the trio of new signings, Enrico Gasparotto, Michael Valgren and Roman Kreuziger – all former Amstel Gold Race winners – fell short of pre-season expectations.

Key riders

Victor Campenaerts: NTT's biggest signing of the off-season, the Belgian brings with him a pedigree as one of the top time triallists in the world. A disastrous mechanical and four seconds were all that separated him from two stage victories at the 2019 Giro, while a crash and two bike changes saw him slip from podium contention at the Yorkshire Worlds.

The Tokyo Olympics will be the 28-year-old's main goal for the season, should he make the two-man selection amid brutal competition in the Belgian national squad. Three time trials at the Giro and a tough closing TT at the Tour de France will also feature highly on Campenaerts' list of targets.

Edvald Boasson Hagen: The Norwegian has been NTT's most consistent performer in recent years, despite falling victim to the same malaise that has affected the team during that time.

Boasson Hagen has provided a third of the team's WorldTour wins over the past three years, although his triumphs have largely come at home races: the Tour des Fjords and Tour of Norway. He'll take on the full complement of spring Classics as well as the Tour de France in 2020, although his cobbled ambitions won't be helped by a relatively weak Classics squad.

Michael Valgren: Last winter's highest-profile signing, Valgren joined the team off the back of a breakthrough year with Astana where he won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race, and also finished fourth at the Tour of Flanders. He struggled through the spring last year, but will look to recapture his 2018 form as he targets March and April once again.

The Dane's form picked up late in the season, with top-10placings at the Bretagne Classic, GP Montréal, Chrono des Nations and the Worlds road race. As the team's former head of performance Rolf Aldag said last spring, "The talent hasn't gone just because of one spring."

Giacomo Nizzolo: Taking a spot that could've gone to Meintjes, Pozzovivo or Ben O'Connor, the two-time Giro d'Italia points winner will head into 2020 once again looking to claim his first Grand Tour stage victory after claiming 18 top podiums during his nine-year career.

Last season saw an uptick in wins from the Italian, from one to three, even if his podium placings fell from 17 to 11. Nizzolo hasn't quite been able to break through to the top tier of sprinters, and, at age 30, time is running out. He's the squad's main pure sprinter, though, so will have plenty of chances to keep trying.

Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Valgren, Gino Mader (Dimension Data)

Edvald Boasson Hagen (left) and Michael Valgren (middle) at the 2019 Tour of Norway (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Strengths

Despite the team's struggles in recent years, they do have numerous high-calibre riders on the roster for 2020. There are a number of names who are certainly capable of competing at the top end of some of the biggest races of the year, and in addition to those listed above, there's Meintjes, Gasparotto, Kreuziger, Domenico Pozzovivo, Ben King and Ben O'Connor.

The quality is there, then, and while NTT won't be challenging the superteams like Ineos, Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma, the squad should certainly outperform the last few seasons. Meanwhile, neo-pros Battistella, Andreas Stokbro and Matteo Sobrero will be interesting to follow, given the promise shown by the trio at U23 level.

With proven winner and motivator Riis coming on board, things should be looking up, as another campaign like the last two would be puzzling, given how the squad looks on paper.

Weaknesses

The roster looks to come up short in several areas, with the most prominent being the lack of a consistent, season-long win-getter – with Nizzolo usually there or thereabouts in the sprints rather than being a Caleb Ewan or Sam Bennett-style figurehead. A handful of strong riders head up the Classics and Grand Tour squads, although depth in both areas looks thin.

It will also be imperative to fix the underlying problems that have seen the squad perform below the sum of their parts during the past several seasons. That will be Riis' main task for the season. Whether he and his new colleagues at NTT succeed remains to be seen.

Verdict

NTT are guaranteed WorldTour status for the next three years, with the UCI backing down from implementing a proposed relegation system that might have threatened their spot. The team still has time to figure things out, then, although they'll want to do so sooner rather than later. The pressure will be on their biggest names to show that the last few years of underachievement are not the status quo going forward.

2020 lineup

Carlos Barbero (Spa), Samuele Battistella (Ita), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Victor Campenaerts (Bel), Stefan De Bod (RSA), Nic Dlamini (RSA), Benjamin Dyball (Aus), Enrico Gasparotto (Sui), Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eri), Ryan Gibbons (RSA), Michael Gogl (Aut), Shotaro Iribe (Jpn), Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA), Ben King (USA), Romain Kreuziger (Cze), Gino Mäder (Sui), Louis Meintjes (RSA), Giaomo Nizzolo (Ita), Ben O'Connor (Aus), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita), Matteo Sobrero (Ita), Andreas Stokbro (Den), Dylan Sunderland (Aus), Jay Robert Thomson (RSA), Rasmus Tiller (Nor), Michael Valgren (Den), Max Walscheid (Ger), Danilo Wyss (Sui)