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2022 team preview: Team BikeExchange-Jayco Women

ROUBAIX FRANCE OCTOBER 02 LR Teniel Campbell of Trinidad and Tobago and Team BikeExchange and Jessica Allen of Australia and Team BikeExchange reacts to cross the finishing line in the Roubaix Velodrome Vlodrome Andr Ptrieux during the 1st ParisRoubaix 2021 Womens Elite a 1164km race from Denain to Roubaix ParisRoubaixFemmes ParisRoubaix on October 02 2021 in Roubaix France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
(Image credit: Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Who?

  • Manager: Brent Copeland
  • Squad size: 13
  • Average age: 28.4

The 2021 season for the Australian squad was all about reinvention as the team lost its driving force, Annemiek van Vleuten, and it is a theme that is set to remain for 2022. For a second year the team is facing the departure of its biggest point scorer, with Grace Brown moving to FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, and she’s also been followed out the door by a number of other key players. That means it will be a fundamentally different team again for its 11th season – also with a slightly modified name as Jayco is added to the Team BikeExchange branding. Still a number of the fundamental hallmarks of the GreenEdge squad remain, from team owner Gerry Ryan’s support to Amanda Spratt, who has been on the roster since it started as Orica-AIS in 2012.

After the departure of Van Vleuten, Spratt was the obvious rider to step up as a leader, but that was undermined by performance issues caused by iliac artery endofibrosis and after late-season surgery to address the issue she’ll be sitting out the early stages of 2022. That leaves the question, who will pick up the mantle for the team as the season begins? 

There are a range of riders that delivered victories for the team in 2021 – including Urška Žigart, Teniel Campbell, and Georgia Williams – who are all remaining in the squad for 2022. Still what's now missing, particularly with the departure of Brown, is a rider with a record of delivering more than the occasional victory but another leader, to join the recovering Spratt, who could regularly be seen at the front of big races when it counted. 

Kristen Faulkner is the rider that the squad has signed with hopes that she'll step up into that role, with the relative newcomer - who nevertheless has a strong results history - joined by five other new riders. These include the Australian track and road trio of Ruby Roseman-Gannon, Alexandra Manly, and Georgia Baker, with the latter two both having raced with the squad a number of years ago. Experienced Dutch rider Nina Kessler also joins from Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank, which was also home to Faulkner in 2021. 

“The work done over this last year, working together with performance and technical team, has been very intense and I do believe that we have managed to put together the best line-up possible for the 2022 season,”  Brent Copeland, general manager, said in a statement.

“We have deeply analysed what has been done in the past and how we have to manage our future. Last season wasn’t the easiest for us, but with the talent and determination of our riders and staff members, we believe can step back up in the WorldTour ranking once again.”

How did they fare in 2021?

  • Wins: 7
  • Ranking: 10th

There were some high points of 2021 from Sarah Roy’s Australian Road Championships win, Georgia Williams’ dual New Zealand road and time-trial titles, plus stage victories for Žigart at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and Campbell at the Tour de l'Ardèche. Then there were Brown's repeated podium placings, including a third at the Tour of Flanders, to add to her two Women’s WorldTour victories, the first at  Brugge-De Panne and the second at Vuelta a Burgos Feminas. 

Overall, though, as the team has acknowledged, it wasn't an easy season and not just because they’d lost Van Vleuten. Injuries played a significant part, with Brown, Roy and Kennedy all battling with significant ones through stages of the season, and then there was the overwhelming impact of Spratt’s iliac artery endofibrosis which wasn’t identified as the cause for her flagging form until late in the year. 

The resulting total of seven wins, down from ten in the heavily pandemic interrupted 2020 and from 18 in 2019, meant the squad slipped from third to tenth on the rankings. Every single other Women's WorldTeam found a position above the long-established Australian squad and it was the leanest year it had ever had in all of its ten seasons.

Key riders

SARGENTES DE LA LORA SPAIN MAY 20 Grace Brown of Australia and Team BikeExchange Amanda Spratt of Australia and Team BikeExchange celebrates at arrival during the 6th Vuelta a Burgos Feminas 2021 Stage 1 a 100km stage from Villadiego to Sargentes de la Lora 1013m VueltaBurgos BurgosFem UCIWWT on May 20 2021 in Sargentes de la Lora Spain Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Amanda Spratt was delivering impressive growth in the shadow of Van Vleuten and with the Dutch rider leaving she looked primed to step up and stand in the limelight in 2021. Though race after race ticked over and unusually she still hadn't found the podium, with the failing form a puzzle to onlookers and the rider alike. Therefore when the announcement came that she had Iliac artery endofibrosis, despite the fact that the answer meant surgery which would keep her away from racing for many months, she said receiving the diagnosis was a relief. After surgery in October Spratt returned to training on the road and with a recovery of approximately six months anticipated should hopefully be well back in the action by the Tour de France Femmes and the Road World Championships in Wollongong, which will be run on roads ever so close to home. With plenty of big goals for motivation, if all goes well, she'll be back for at least half the season and hopefully will be able to sweep away two challenging years, add to the momentum of the team and carry on with the path she had been so successfully following in 2018 and 2019.

Kristen Faulkner first stepped into a short European race campaign in 2020, but by 2021 she was already challenging the seasoned professionals. The 29-year-old moved into the top ten at some of the most highly regarded races, like Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders and then took her first Women's WorldTour win on stage 1 of the Tour of Norway. It's no wonder that she caught the eye of Team BikeExchange-Jayco, as, given her rapid growth in just a little over one season, there is no telling what another year and a strong team could bring.

Georgia Williams and Jessica Allen aren't riders the team would usually be turning to looking for European wins, but it doesn't mean they are any less crucial to the squad. Not only are they ever-reliable support but they are the only riders other than Amanda Spratt who were also on the team during and before 2021, so help provide that continuity in culture and knowledge of just how to support the team leaders to top results. Allen, known for her unrelenting dedication to the domestique role, is in fact heading into her seventh  season with the Australian team while Williams, who brought the New Zealand champions jersey to the team in 2021, is making it a sixth.

Ruby Roseman-Gannon may not have European results on the board, with the difficult task for the up and coming Australian riders of getting race starts overseas currently made all the more challenging by pandemic-related border closures. Still, the team’s youngest rider, at 23, has repeatedly put the returning professionals under pressure on home soil. The fast-finishing Australian came second in the Bay Crits in 2020, behind Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo), and again took the challenge right to her at the Road National Championships, narrowly missing the elite criterium title but securing the U23 category with her second-place while in 2021 she then finished third overall at the Santos Festival of Cycling, behind Sarah Gigante and Lucy Kennedy. A period of adjustment may be in store once she hits the roads of Europe but it’s not likely to be too long before her classs and speed comes to the fore. Though, what's probably more important is the long-term potential as Roseman-Gannon has the hallmarks of a rider that could potentially play a crucial part in the future of the team as her experience grows.

SAN SEBASTIAN SPAIN JULY 31 Ane Santesteban Gonzalez of Spain and Team BikeExchange prior to the 3rd Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa Women 2021 a 1398km race from DonostiaSan Sebastian to DonostiaSan Sebastian Klasikoa KlasikoaWomen UCIWWT on July 31 2021 in San Sebastian Spain Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo MorenoGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Strengths

Spratt looked to be going from strength to strength before the COVID-19 pandemic and injury halted her momentum in 2020 and then problems with iliac artery endofibrosis struck in 2020. It may have been easy to forget in the past couple of years just what a formidable rider she can be but there is every chance 2022 could deliver some reminders if she returns from her surgery with the spark of former years. Then there is also the promise of Faulkner, who may have turned to cycling late but so quickly started to deliver strong results that there is no telling just what she'll be capable of with a bit more experience and a strong team around her. Plus with a new trio of Australian riders – Roseman-Gannon, Manly, and Baker who have the ability to take the speed and skills from the track to the road – the team should have a strong block of riders for those fast finishes. All-in-all it's a team that can challenge across a diverse array of race scenarios and Roseman-Gannon too has clearly marked herself on the Australian scene as one of the young riders to watch in recent years, so her signing looks like a shrewd investment in the future.

Weaknesses

With Brown gone and Spratt out of action in the early season the team lacks a tried and tested rider to deliver regular victories, or at least the sniff of it with podiums, to set them off on the right foot for the year. Faulkner may hold considerable promise, and have two victories to her name, but isn’t yet a regular at the pointy end of the race. That of course isn’t to say she can’t be quick, just that she’s not there yet. That’s made even more challenging when a team’s most experienced performer, Spratt, is going to be out for that momentum-building first part of the season.

That early-season, too, will likely be made even tougher because of the changeover of such a large number of riders. It may take the team a little time to find its groove, and unfortunately, with the Australian international races cancelled, they won’t be able to find their feet in summer racing while many of their rivals are still training in the depths of winter. Instead of, as usual, starting the year ahead, in both race fitness and points, they'll be facing three factors which combined equal a lot of ground to make up.

Verdict

It’s likely to be another year of transition for the Australian team, but with some strong building blocks in place, it could well be setting up a new core of riders that can take it further back up the rankings in future seasons. It may be asking too much to expect a big rebound in 2022, particularly with the extra competition provided by a serving of new teams among the growing ranks of the Women’s WorldTeams. The latter part of the season, however – with building team cohesion, rider experience, and the return of Spratt – could provide an uptick and valuable momentum to carry through to 2023.

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