WorldTour ranking: 16/17
Win count: 11 (down from 23)
Top riders: Ryder Hesjedal (46), Daniel Martin (50), Andrew Talansky (70)
Spare a thought for the Cannondale-Garmin panda as he trundles home from school, report card in hand. Bereft of results, lacking in success, and shamed by a positively embarrassing end-of-season black mark – it's a report card that will not make for easy reading for Jonathan Vaughters and Doug Ellis. Poor endangered panda. If only you could hibernate for the winter like the riders on Cannondale-Garmin.
It took until the end of March for the team to win their first race, with a fine victory from Ben King on stage one of the Criterium International. But what could have been the start of a momentous surge only served as a rare high point in a spring of disappointment. Ramunas Navardauskas picked up a win in the Circuit de la Sarthe but the Ardennes saw little return with Daniel Martin crashing out of both Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Like King's win in March, the team were given another shot in the arm at the Giro d'Italia with Davide Formolo taking a superb stage win during the opening week and Ryder Hesjedal bulldozing his way to finish fifth overall. The Cannondale riders secured two national time trial wins courtesy of Andrew Talansky and Navardauskas, and picked up a stage win at the Tour of Austria through Moreno Moser, but their Tour de France performance summed up their season, with three second-place stage finishes and one third. This was a season of almosts, as Andrew Talansky recently said in an interview with Cyclingnews, but the American at least provided bite and determination on his way to 11th overall in Paris.
The second half of the season saw a mini-revival of fortunes and results with Joe Dombrowski wining a stage and the overall in the Tour of Utah, Tom Jelte Slagter wining two stages in the Tour of Alberta, and Lasse Norman Hansen signing off with the team by winning there, too.
Oddly, if you're looking for one of Cannondale's best collective efforts then you need look no further than the Worlds men's road race, where Navardauskas took bronze, Ben King animated the race, and Alex Howes finished 12th. That might seem like clasping at straws for some given that the riders were racing under national federation colours, but it goes some way to prove that talent is within the squad, even if that hasn't translated into results this season.
A new class
Last month Alex Howes made the valid point to Procycling magazine that it would be easy to blame the merger between Cannondale and Garmin as the reason for the team's overall performance this season. The American has a point, especially as the Garmin side of the management are no strangers to merging teams. The raft of new signings performed no better or worse than many of the established and settled riders and the fact that no rider on the team won more than twice during the season was certainly a factor.
Injuries to key riders played their part, of course, but so has the slow decaying nature of the Slipstream's original core. Experience has been replaced with fresh faces and youth but when the leaders such as Hesjedal, Martin and Talansky fail to win a European race between them, there is only so much the other riders on the team can do.
The end of season was overshadowed by Tom Danielson's announcement on social media that he had tested positive for testosterone. The case is ongoing and details are at this point scarce but although the American will not be on team next year – regardless of the outcome from his case – the whole episode leaves a bad taste. Again, Alex Howes stated that the Danielson case would make the team redouble their efforts in terms of taking an ethical stance against doping. They'll need to double up their efforts on the road next season, too.
On the face of it Rigoberto Urán is a rather unusual signing for the Cannondale team. He is quiet, unassuming – he didn't even have a quote in press release to announce his arrival – and rather dependable. He's far from the typical signing for the WorldTour's hipster emporium, although those flowing locks and Duran Duran jokes will, no doubt, help him acclimatise in the team.
Rather more seriously, the Colombian is the first rider to have finished on a Grand Tour podium before joining the team. Quite simply, he's the finished article, or as near to it as they come. He may have had a 2015 season blighted by illness but his two podium places in the 2013 and 2014 Giro d'Italia, along with a 2016 route tailored to his characteristics, should have Charly Wegelius eyeing up a second Giro master plan.
Urán can also show his class on one-day Classics, as his win in the WorldTour Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec demonstrated in September.
Dan Martin was the embodiment of Slipstream both in racing reality and perceived ideology. Plucky, courageous riding, mixed with a likeable human aspect that saw him suffer, crash and at times fail. Often it was the setbacks that made his successes all the sweeter. He was the David to the Goliaths of the WorldTour. However, nothing lasts forever and with his contract up for renewal it's no wonder – after such a poor year – that the management negotiated cautiously and the rider checked his options.
The question, however uncomfortable for Martin's fans, is whether the Irishman is a valid WorldTour team leader. On one hand, the answer is yes, given that he's won two monuments in three seasons and came close to winning three Grand Tour stages this season. On the other hand, it's hard for a squad to rally around a leader who spent most of the Spring picking himself up off the tarmac. Harsh? Maybe, but professional cycling is demanding and cruel. Martin has flair and panache in abundance but he is your luxury rider rather than your Mr. Dependable.
Man to watch
After such a tough year you can take your pick from a host of names who underperformed or you can highlight one of the exciting new signings in Pierre Rolland or Urán. However the 'man to watch' isn't necessarily the rider who wins the most for Cannondale or brings home the biggest tally of WorldTour points; it's the rider who stands up and leads the team.
When Arsene Wenger became the manager of Arsenal Football Club in the mid-1990s he inherited one of the best defensive units in English soccer. For those not familiar with the names, let's just say the back five was built on leaders and stability. Garmin were similar in their early days, with David Millar and Christian Vande Velde among the pillars that the younger, less experienced riders could depend on when the going got tough. Their leadership started in the morning meetings, at the breakfast table even, and ran right through the race and up until lights out. Essentially it came down to team DNA and identity.
Look down the list for their 2016 roster and who stands out in the role of team captain? Talansky, Howes, Moser, Urán? In Andreas Klier and Charly Wegelius the team have two of the most intuitive, creative and knowledgeable directors in the peloton but that only carries you so far. Cannondale needs a rally cry, a team leader to stand up, inspire and usher in change. Who will be that rider in 2016? Will the Cannondale-Garmin panda please step forward.
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