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2022 Team Preview: Roland Cogeas Edelweiss

GROSSETO ITALY SEPTEMBER 11 Olga Zabelinskaya of Uzbekistan Amber Neben of The United States Mariia Novolodskaia of Russia Mariia Miliaeva of Russia Diana Klimova of Russia and Noemi Ruegg of Switzerland and Cogeas Mettler Look Pro Cycling Team during the 31st Giro dItalia Internazionale Femminile 2020 Stage 1 a 168km Team Time Trial from Grosseto to Grosseto TTT GiroRosaIccrea GiroRosa on September 11 2020 in Grosseto Italy Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Cogeas Mettler Look Pro Cycling Team in the team time trial at the 2020 Giro Rosa (Image credit: Getty Images)

Who?

  • Manager: Ruben Contreras
  • Squad size: 11
  • Average age: 25

Roland Cogeas Edelweiss are one of six new entrants to the Women’s WorldTour in 2022, after their name was a somewhat surprising inclusion on the UCI’s list of applicants announced in October. Previously based in Russia, the team has raced primarily on the Continental circuit in recent seasons and may not have been an obvious choice to step up to the WorldTour.

The team was founded as a UCI team in 2018 by manager Ruben Conteras, after Cogeas - the company owned by Contreras - ended their sponsorship of the Bepink team. They were formerly sponsored by Mettler and Look, but have brought on Swiss bakery brand Roland to help them make the move to the WorldTour. In the team’s history, a few notable riders have passed through their ranks - namely Teniel Campbell (BikeExchange-Jayco), Elise Chabbey (Canyon SRAM) and Noemi Rüegg (Jumbo Visma) - but in the main they have stuck to a core of Russian riders.

The squad retains six riders from its 2021 roster, and welcomes five new names. Four of the new riders are Swiss, part of the team’s plans to assert their national identity: they have switched their registration from Russia to Switzerland in 2022, and will be the first Swiss team in the Women’s WorldTour. Despite stepping up to the highest echelon of women’s cycling, the team have not attracted any big-name signings for 2022, and will instead rely on a mixture of first-year professionals and some more experienced riders. 

On the staff side, the team’s lineup remains largely familiar: long-term sports director and former professional Sergey Klimov continues in his role, and he will be joined by the recently retired Finnish rider Sari Saarelainen, who spent the last three years racing for Cogeas Mettler Pro Cycling.

How did they fare in 2021?

  • Wins: 2
  • World Ranking: 27th

Cogeas Mettler Look recorded two UCI victories in 2021, both secured by Russian rider Tamara Dronova-Balabolina. She won the hilly one-day Grand Prix Erciyes - Mimar Sinan in Turkey, and took the Russian national time trial title. Olga Zabelinskaya also took two one-day victories in Turkish races whilst riding for the Uzbekistan national team.

The team had former world champion time triallist Amber Neben on their roster from 2019 through to 2021, but the American departs for 2022. Notably, Neben did not race in team colours in 2021 as she appeared to build her season around the Tokyo Olympics and World Championships. 

Roland Cogeas Edelweiss raced mainly .1 and .2 events in 2021, and their results were middling: a handful of top-5s and top-10s, mainly coming from two blocks of Turkish races. They rode five WorldTour Classics in the spring, where their best result was 33rd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Zabelinskaya), though in three of those races, they failed to record any finishers. Their only WorldTour stage race attempt was the Vuelta a Burgos, where the team rode well: Tamara Dronova-Bolobolina secured three top-20 finishes, and Zabelinskaya rode to 13th on the queen stage.

A surprising detail about the team’s 2021 season is how few events they raced as a full squad - they haven’t raced a UCI race with a full team since the Tour de Suisse in June. As a non-WorldTour outfit - and not well enough ranked to be among the teams invited to top European races - the team may have found it difficult to secure spots on the start lists of the more well-known events. It’s likely that guaranteed invitation to the full WorldTour calendar was a significant motivation behind their application to step-up to that level. 

Key Riders

Zabelinskaya

Olga Zabelinskaya (Image credit: Getty Images)

Olga Zabelinskaya - The 41-year-old veteran Zabelinskaya is the best-known rider on the team, and will be someone they rely on in 2022. In her four seasons with the team, Zabelinskaya has consistently recorded some of the team’s best results, including top-10s in WorldTour races, as well as an impressive 9th place in the Tokyo Olympics road race. 

Zabelinskaya’s track background lends itself well to the time trials and flatter races, though she has had some surprisingly good results on hillier terrain. Tough, longer races are where Zabelinskaya will set herself apart from the best of the team. As the most experienced rider in the squad, she may also take on a road captain role.

Tamara Dronova-Balabolina - As their only race winner in 2021 and Russian time trial champion, Tamara Dronova-Balablina is perhaps the Roland Cogeas Edelweiss rider who is most likely to do well this season. In the right conditions and with an organised team around her, Dronova-Balabolina could surprise the peloton this year. Many of her best recent results come from races in Turkey, but she has shown some promise in bigger races too: she rode into the top-20 on three occasions at the Vuelta a Burgos, and on both stages of the Tour de Suisse. Dronova-Balabolina’s biggest challenge in 2022 may be finding where she can excel in a WorldTour peloton. As a rouleur-type rider, her sprint and time trial are her strengths, but may not match the level of her competitors, and though she can climb, she is untested on truly mountainous terrain.

Ines Cantera - A new signing from Sopela Women’s Team, Cantera looks to bring climbing promise to the team. The 19-year-old Spaniard impressed as a junior, and showed a lot of potential in 2021. Her results included 3rd in the youth classification of the Setmana Valenciana, and 4th in the Spanish national road race championships. Cantera will certainly be a rider to watch in the early season Spanish races and has the potential to develop into a strong rider.

Aline Seitz - Part of the team’s motivation to adopt a Swiss identity was to help showcase Swiss cycling talent, and Aline Seitz could be their best rider to do this. Seitz has a background in track racing, where she has twice been national champion, and has been gaining elite-level road experience in 2021 with Team Rupelcleaning. As a track rider, her turn of speed is her biggest asset and she has previously performed well in flat one-day races and semi-classics. Of the team’s five Swiss riders, Seitz may be most likely to secure results for the team. 

Strengths

VILLARCAYO SPAIN MAY 21 Tamara Dronova of Russia and Cogeas Mettler Look Pro Cycling Team during the 6th Vuelta A Burgos Feminas 2021 Stage 2 a 97km stage from Pedrosa de Valdeporres to Villarcayo VueltaBurgos BurgosFem UCIWWT on May 21 2021 in Villarcayo Spain Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Tamara Dronova (Cogeas Mettler Look) at the Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite being new to the WorldTour, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss are not an entirely new squad, which will be an asset. Most of the staff and some of the riders have been with the team since 2018, so they come into 2022 with theoretically a lot of experience working together and solid level of cohesion. Compared to brand new WorldTeams like Uno-X, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss have something of a head start.

Weaknesses

The most obvious weakness Roland Cogeas Edelweiss will face in 2022 is inexperience. Not only will the team as a unit - management, riders and staff - be tackling their first year in the WorldTour, but many riders will ride their first-ever WorldTour races, and some their first UCI races of any kind. Though a relatively new innovation, the WorldTour is growing every year and has become a demanding set of races and a marked step up from many of the races Roland Cogeas Edelweiss riders are used to starting. Even the stronger and more experienced riders in the team are unlikely to match the level of other top WorldTour riders in 2022.

With 11 riders, their squad is also the smallest in the Women’s WorldTour, and this could become a challenge as the season goes on. The inclusion of the Tour de France Femmes shortly after the Giro Donne has created a busy summer of racing - July alone will feature 18 days of WorldTour stage racing - and smaller teams may struggle with the lack of allowance to account for injured or out-of-form riders. Whilst bigger outfits will bring their A-teams to races like the Tour and the Giro, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss will likely need to field neo-pros and debutants in the biggest races of the year, which will take its toll on their results.

Verdict

With a relatively inexperienced roster and little history racing the WorldTour calendar, Roland Cogeas Edelweiss are going into 2022 as something of an unknown quantity. The team haven’t significantly bolstered their squad in line with their promotion to the WorldTour, and so they may find themselves underpowered against the existing WorldTeams. Competing for the win in the biggest races may be tough, but the team should be hoping to find some luck in breakaways and lower-ranked events.

They are coming off the back of a year that was far from prolific, so they may take some time to find their feet in the WorldTour. Becoming a WorldTeam is a step-up in terms of prestige, but it’s also also a big step-up in the pressures, obligations and responsibilities teams face, and it remains to be seen how well Roland Cogeas Edelweiss will deal with such a change.

Though the team will no doubt aim to be competitive this season, it would be fair to look at 2022 as a transition season as they start to build the foundations of a potentially long-term project in top-tier women’s cycling. For Roland Cogeas Edelweiss, expectations should be modest: visibility in races and a top-20 in the team rankings may be achievable.

New kit for 2022 as Roland Cogeas Edelweiss makes move to Women's WorldTour

(Image credit: Roland Cogeas Edelweiss )

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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.