Team: Drapac Professional Cycling
Oceania Tour ranking: 2 (Same as 2014)
Win Count: 9
Top Riders: Wouter Wippert, Brenton Jones, Lachlan Norris, Will Clarke
The 2015 season kicked off with a bang for Drapac Pro Cycling when Wouter Wippert claimed the sprint victory on the final stage of the Tour Down Under, punching well above his weight in the WorldTour race. Understandably, the victory over such a class field put enormous pressure on the 24-year-old Dutchman for much of the season. He took four more wins - two in Tour de Taiwan and two in the Tour de Korea. Although he claimed two fine second places in Tour of California stages - behind Peter Sagan in Avila Beach and a frustratingly close miss in Los Angeles to Mark Cavendish - it was clear Wippert had the potential to do much, much more.
Unfortunately for Drapac, the Cannondale-Garmin team noticed, and snapped him up for the next two WorldTour seasons.
The team continued to find success in February with Will Clarke taking out the prologue in the Herald Sun Tour and Jordan Kerby taking a silver medal in the Oceania Continental Championship road race in Toowoomba. In March, Wippert's pair of wins in Taiwan kept the momentum going.
The Australian team is still building toward its aim of joining the top tier in 2018, and spent much of its season racing overseas. The team did a big block of racing in North America, starting at the Tour of the Gila in May. Kerby finished third in the time trial, while Wippert again showed his speed with a photo-finish loss to Sebastian Haedo in Silver City. The race was good preparation for the Tour of California, and in addition to Wippert's strong showings in the sprint, the team was represented in several breakaways with Clarke taking out the most aggressive rider prize after his time off the front on the first stage.
While the other part of the team was in California, Brenton Jones got the first of his two wins of the season in the Tour of Japan prologue. He would go on to close out his season with a stage win at the Tour of Hainan. In June, Wippert took revenge on the Tour de Korea, turning his near misses from California into a pair of wins in the Tour de Korea.
The team's sole North American win came in August when Lachlan Norris won the final stage of the Tour of Utah on a challenging Park City circuit.
What to expect in 2016
Drapac shed a number of riders who did not perform in 2015, and picked up a pair of riders from the WorldTour - Nathan Earle from Team Sky, and Jens Mouris from Orica-GreenEdge. The team is expecting their experience to give the team a boost. Certainly Mouris, a time trial powerhouse, will provide an important throttle for the lead-out train, and Earle's potential went largely untapped by Sky. He's shown himself to be a capable sprinter from small groups and an aggressive rider. Expect to see Earle showing himself at the pointy end of the races in 2016.
The team also picked up Gavin Mannion from Jelly Belly. Mannion has developed into a true GC contender in recent years, coming in fourth at the USA Pro Challenge this year, and third at the Tour of the Gila. With more support from Drapac, look for the American on the podium in 2016.
Although Earle and Mouris could be considered to be the biggest name signings for Drapac, with Mannion's results he's certainly the best add. Just 24, Mannion has years of international racing experience thanks to the US national team and his time with the Trek-Livestrong and Bontrager development teams. Though he failed to win a contract in 2014 with Garmin after racing as a trainee, Mannion showed this season that he's ready to step into the role of team leader and has the legs to make it work. He's a rider of enormous potential who only needs the opportunity.
Obviously losing Wippert is a real blow for Drapac. The Dutch rider has been the team's go-to rider for victories over the past two seasons. They may struggle to fill that gap in the short term, but their new signings, including Kiwi Thomas Scully, and returning riders like Jones, and Kerby, give them plenty of options. Under the guidance of experienced pros like Graeme Brown, Travis Meyer, Bernie Sulzberger, Mouris, Earle and Clarke, the team should be able to compensate.
Rider to watch
It will be interesting to see if Drapac will provide the atmosphere for Mannion to develop into the GC rider that he has the potential to become. His ride at the USA Pro Challenge was consistently strong - he was up near the front in every stage finish, with the exception of stage 2 to Arapahoe Basin, and his fifth place in the Breckenridge time trial, only 39 seconds shy of Rohan Dennis, showed that his result wasn't just from following wheels.
In Colorado, Mannion was sharing the protected rider role with Lachlan Morton. It will be fun to see what he can do with a team firmly behind him.
Wouter Wippert (Drapac) wins the final stage of the 2015 Tour Down Under (Fotoreporter Sirotti)
Upheavals on UnitedHealthcare
America Tour ranking: 4th (Up from 6th in 2014)
Win Count: 19
Top riders: Carlos Alzate, Kiel Reijnen, John Murphy, Karl Menzies, Hilton Clarke
The UnitedHealthcare team split its priorities in 2015, as it has in past years, keeping its dominance in the domestic criterium calendar while trying to establish a foothold in the European peloton. And, as in past years, the strategy came with mixed results.
The highlight of the season was Kiel Reijnen's repeat victory in Aspen at the USA Pro Challenge, and the team's brilliant effort to secure him the final points classification victory. John Murphy's surprise sprint win in Denver capped off an enormously successful race in Colorado, adding on to Reijnen's stage win in the Tour of Utah earlier in the month.
Most of the team's other successes came on the domestic events in the US. The "blue train" steamrolled to the overall individual rankings victory in USA Cycling's National Criterium Calendar (NCC) with Hilton Clarke. Carlos Alzate made it a UHC 1-2, and with Luke Keough, Karl Menzies and Brad White all in the top 10, UHC smashed the team rankings with more than twice the number of points as second-placed Astellas.
In the NRC, the road calendar, the team was not quite as commanding, although John Murphy put on a terrific show in the Joe Martin Stage Race, winning two stages and the overall. But that, Danny Summerhill's late-season win in the Reading 100 (with Chris Jones also in third), and a bronze at the USA Pro road race championships for Reijnen were the highlights of the domestic road race effort.
Overseas, the team struggled to match the WorldTour teams, as is to be expected somewhat. But there were some good moments - newcomer Janez Brajkovic struggled to live up to his WorldTour pedigree, but rode to a satisfying fourth overall in the Abu Dhabi Tour. Federico Zurlo beat out Alexander Kristoff on stage 2 of the Arctic Race of Norway - but unfortunately lost the stage to Sam Bennett. Daniele Ratto landed on the podium of the Clasica Corisca and was consistent enough in the Tour of Turkey to challenge Mark Cavendish for the points classification. He fell just three points shy.
What to expect in 2016
The team made some sweeping changes to its roster for next year, dumping a big chunk of the criterium squad. Gone is Hilton Clarke, who formed the basis of the team since its inception. Gone too is Robert Förster, Davide Frattini, Lucas Euser, Alessandro Bazzana, who have long histories with the team. Also out are Ken Hanson, Isaac Bolivar and Zurlo. Ratto heads back home to race with the Androni Giocattoli team, and while some have retired, others are still seeking new teams. It is clear that UnitedHealthcare in 2016 will be very different.
Reijnen swapped places with Matthew Busche - heading to Trek while the current US road champion comes to UnitedHealthcare. Also joining is Colombian climber Daniel Jaramillo, coming across from Jamis. Daniel Eaton comes from Axeon, and Ty Magner from Hincapie. The rest of the team remains the same.
With only 16 riders on the roster, the options for international racing will be more limited for the team if they continue to focus on the NCC and North American UCI races.
Matthew Busche is a versatile rider with proven capabilities in one-day and stage races, and will be a solid replacement for Reijnen. Although he might lack the same kind of punch to get splashy stage wins and podium time, landing on the podium of a Tour of Utah would be a big result for UnitedHealthcare. Busche has been on stage race podiums. He's finished Grand Tours. He's helped pilot RadioShack's TTT squad to victories and won two national championships.
Losing Reijnen to Trek was a blow for sure. The 29-year-old formed strong bonds with his teammates and exuded personality. His loss will be felt deeply not just on the bike but off. But Reijnen's transfer to Trek isn't quite the biggest loss - the collective exit of so many riders who formed the core of the team will completely transform the heart and soul of UnitedHealthcare. It may take a while for the remaining riders to understand the management's decisions, but expect the team's leaders like Jonny Clarke, Brad White and Karl Menzies to rally the troops and push the team to continue its winning tradition.
Rider to watch
The squad kept Marco Canola, who posted impressive results including a fifth place overall in the Dubai Tour and the mountains classification in the Criterium International. He's scrappy and strong and has a Giro d'Italia stage win in his palmares from his Bardiani days. Daniel Jaramillo is only 24, but he's already shown his abilities in races like Tour of the Gila - he was second overall and the best young rider this year. He's also shown himself to be an aggressive rider, going on the attack repeatedly in the mountainous stages of USA Pro Challenge and Tour of California. Jaramillo will shine once he begins to get some respect from the WorldTour riders, like Laurent Didier, who pushed him around in Colorado. There's a big difference between being on a Continental team and a Pro Continental team, and a huge benefit to having someone like Menzies on your side. Look for Jaramillo to fly the blue and white on the climbs in 2016.
Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare) in the green jersey of the USA Pro Challenge (Getty Images Sport)