- Manager: Milan Erzen
- Squad size: 27
- Average age: 28
As 2021 turns to 2022, there's little change at Bahrain Victorious as the team look to stick largely to the formula that saw them take fifth place in the UCI rankings when all this year's racing was said and done.
Bahrain Victorious bring a mostly stable squad into 2022, following a season that saw numerous riders enjoy career-best seasons and, with it, the squad jumping up from 13th place in the end-of-season rankings.
The name change from McLaren to Victorious inspired some mirth heading into 2021 but the team's riders – led by a stunning season from Sonny Colbrelli – proved themselves among the best in the WorldTour peloton.
Along with the Italian's wins at Paris-Roubaix, the European Championships, the Benelux Tour, and the Critérium du Dauphiné, 2021 saw Matej Mohorič solo to two Tour de France stage wins, and Mark Padun surprise with two breakaway Dauphiné stages, while Damiano Caruso (at the Giro) and Jack Haig (at the Vuelta) stood on Grand Tour podiums.
Question marks have come with that great success, notably about the team-wide uptick in form, the police raid at the Tour de France, and Mohorič's subsequent zip-lips gesture as he won stage 19. However, barring hair testing reportedly showing traces of legal muscle relaxant, nothing has so far come of the raid.
The team will be hard-pressed to repeat the season they've just had next year, but there has been little tinkering with what proved a winning formula. Padun's departure to EF-Nippo and Marcel Sieberg's retirement are the most notable outgoings, while Luis León Sánchez is the veteran among six new signings – three of them neo-pros including U23 world time trial champion Johan Price-Pejtersen.
On the staff side there have been few changes, too, though the loss of experienced backroom figures Roger Hammond and Rolf Aldag could sting. The team are led by Slovenian Milan Erzen, who has run the squad on behalf of Bahraini Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Neil Stephens and Franco Pellizotti remain among the notable names in the director team.
How did they fare in 2021?
The team racked up 30 wins in 2021, up from just nine in 2020, meaning they moved from 20th in the win rankings to sixth. The last of them, Sonny Colbrelli's win at his Paris-Roubaix debut, was the biggest, and one that will last longest in the memory, but there was plenty more where that came from. Sprinter Phil Bauhaus took the most wins at seven, including a stage of the Tour de Pologne. That victory was among 16 WorldTour triumphs that the team enjoyed in 2020, bookended by Colbrelli in Romandie and Robaix.
In between, Gino Mäder enjoyed a breakthrough year with stage wins at the Giro and the Tour de Suisse as well as fifth overall at the Vuelta. At 34, Damiano Caruso brought a stage win and a second overall at the Giro following team leader Mikel Landa's abandon.
At the Dauphiné, Colbrelli picked up three second places, a points jersey to go with his Romandie title, and a stage win, while Padun surprised everybody with back-to-back wins on the final weekend of the race. The Tour saw Mohorič (twice) and Dylan Teuns (once) win from breaks.
Later in the season, Mikel Landa grabbed the Vuelta a Burgos in the midst of a season blighted by bad luck, while Caruso won stage 9 at the Vuelta as Haig ascended to the final podium. Colbrelli (a stage and the overall) and Mohorič (a stage) finished one-two at the Benelux Tour, while Stephen Williams won the Cro Race in October.
All in all, then, a wildly successful season for Bahrain Victorious. It will take some doing to repeat the feat next year.
Sonny Colbrelli: 2020 saw the Italian ascend from a rider who is often there or thereabouts in big races, often triumphing in smaller Italian one-dayers, to a bona-fide top star in the peloton. Even before Roubaix he was already there, having taken seven wins – including the Italian and European road titles – as well as an eye-catching third place from the break on a mountain stage at the Tour.
In the process, he has moved further away from his sprinting roots and clearly focused more on hill-climbing and the Classics. A wise move, given that in previous years he was never really among the quickest tier of sprinters in the peloton. Roubaix, the Benelux Tour, the hilly stages at the Dauphiné, and top 10s in Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem bore proof of this new approach late in his career – he turned 30 in May.
The question now is how he can improve and what he can achieve in 2022. He'll race near enough the full slate of spring Classics (hopefully all in their normal calendar slots) from Opening Weekend to the cobbles and the Ardennes, while a return to the Tour is also on the cards. Will 2021 prove to be a one-off, or has he only just entered his prime?
Mikel Landa: Grand Tour stage racer Landa has, time and again, seen his campaigns blighted by late collapses, team hierarchies, or just plain bad luck, and in 2021 things weren't much different. His Giro campaign had barely begun before he was heading home, victim of a nasty crash on stage 5. A win at the Vuelta a Burgos boded well for his first Vuelta since 2015, but a seeming lack of form and "feeling rubbish" saw him quickly fade from contention at his home Grand Tour.
He's still only 32, but there is a sense that time is running out for Landa to win a Grand Tour, or maybe even finish on another podium (his first and last was at the 2015 Giro). Next year he'll take on the Giro and Tour and will hope that his 2022 campaign goes a bit differently to this year. At an end-of-season press conference, Landa said that "good health" was his main wish for 2022, adding that he always needs a bit of luck. May's Giro, with its relative lack of time trialling and the biggest GC names focussed on July, looks well suited to him. He'll be among the most-watched GC men in Italy.
Matej Mohorič: Despite already having stage wins at the Giro and Vuelta on his palmarès, the 2021 season nevertheless felt like a breakthrough year for the 27-year-old Sovenian. The two stages at the Tour were the highlights, but there was also a national road title and second places at Clasica San Sebastián, the Tour de Pologne, and the Benelux Tour.
In the spring he finished top 10 at both Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as well as finishing 11th at Milan-San Remo. He might not be among the biggest favourites at those races next season, but those results – and his form throughout the season – certainly put him on the radar heading into spring. It will be fascinating to see how the puncheur-baroudeur progresses in 2022.
Jack Haig: Here we go again – another key rider and another man who enjoyed some of the stand-out results of his career this year. With his move to the team, 28-year-old Haig seemingly stepped out from under the shadow of the Yates twins at Mitchelton-Scott and into that of Landa, but, as it transpired, 2021 saw the Australian prove himself as a Grand Tour leader. Haig had a solid start to life at the team with two seventh places at the Tour de la Provence and Paris-Nice before rising further at the Dauphiné where he finished fifth among the likes of Geraint Thomas and Miguel Angel López.
He started the Tour de France well with fourth and 10th places on the hilly Brittany stages before falling victim to the carnage of day three. But his comeback six weeks later saw him showcase his best racing yet as he improved day-on-day at the Vuelta to rise from 20th after stage 1 to sixth midway through and then up to third on the penultimate stage. It was an unexpected result as he beat Adam Yates and an ailing Egan Bernal over the course of three weeks. He'll return there in 2022 and will also ride the Tour de France again. Of course, it remains to be seen how leadership shakes out on the roads next summer, but Haig has already proven himself as a top leader at the team.
The team have a little bit of everything, really, with a squad that has shown they can succeed on any terrain throughout the long season. Colbrelli is the man for the cobbled Classics, Teuns and Mohorič are capable leaders in the hills, and then there's Landa, Haig, Mäder, Caruso and Pello Bilbao for the stage races and Grand Tours.
All have achieved big results in the year just gone, but for many of them you could argue that they're only just starting to explore what they're capable of, given that for many of them 2021 was a year of breakthroughs.
Every team, no matter how good, has some weakness, however small, and whether that's by design or not. No team can realistically field three top Grand Tour teams, a Classics behemoth, and a dedicated lead-out train, after all.
It's no different for Bahrain Victorious here as they have chosen to forgo the assembly of a big sprint train for one of the stars of the discipline to instead focus their energies on other areas. As noted earlier, Colbrelli has moved away from pure sprints to transform into a more versatile, and ultimately more successful, rider.
Bauhaus is the team's lead sprinter and picked up a cluster of wins in 2021, but notably didn't ride a Grand Tour, and the team haven't exactly dedicated to him a train to rival that of Deceuninck-QuickStep.
There's not too much change for Bahrain Victorious in 2022, and why change a winning formula, after all? Following what was a phenomenally successful 2021 season, there was little reason to revamp the squad.
The challenge now will be to prove that the first-time big results from the likes of Colbrelli, Haig, Mäder, Mohorič and the rest can be sustained into the future as opposed to fading as fond memories of a year where everything went right.
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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