World Tour Ranking: 12th (up from 14th)
Win Count: 30 (up from 26)
Top Riders: Rui Costa (9th), Diego Ulissi (48th), Niccolo Bonifazio (65th), Sacha Modolo (85th), Rafael Valls (86th)
What can you say about a team that finished 12th out of 17 teams in the UCI WorldTour rankings? They gave it their best shot? Lampre-Merida actually improved its UCI ranking over the past couple of years, when it finished 14th out of 21 in 2014, 14th out of 19 in 2013 and 14th out of 18 in 2012. They also won 30 races via 15 different riders, showing their talent is spread throughout the team.
Leading the last third of the WorldTour pack seems to be where the team, which has one of the longest-running sponsors in the sport, is comfortable. But a few key wins in 2015 pushed Lampre up in the rankings, a trend they would no doubt like to see continue.
The season got off to a surprisingly good start for Lampre-Merida when Rafael Valls sneaked past all the pre-race favourites like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) during the Queen stage at Tour of Oman to take the stage win and the overall.
The team took stage wins at the Presidential Tour of Turkey and at Paris-Nice before going on a roll at the Giro and bringing home four stage wins with Jan Polanc, Diego Ulissi and Sacha Modolo.
Rui Costa continued the success with a stage win at Dauphine, followed by Kristijan Durasek’s stage win at Tour de Suisse.
National titles in Slovenia, Portugal and Ethiopia led into the Tour de France, where the team grabbed another stage win. Two wins at the Vuelta and then Ulissi’s win in Italy at Memorial Marco Pantani capped off a solid year of the Italian team, which finished the WorldTour ranking ahead of Trek, FDJ, LottoNL-Jumbo, Cannondale-Garmin and IAM Cycling.
What to expect in 2016
Lampre-Merida looks ready for a similar season in 2016. Although the team has lost some key players, the riders Lampre has brought on board for next year should do a good job of keeping the familiar kit on or near the front of most races. With a good mix of sprinters, roleurs, climbers and punchers, the team should be able to compete in any type of terrain, although they still appear to be missing a legitimate podium threat for the Grand Tours. They've also invested in youth, with a number if promising signings made.
Lampre-Merida made some strong moves for the future in the off-season, bringing on 21-year-old Matej Mohoric from Cannondale-Garmin and 23-year-old Louis Meintjes from MTN-Qhubeka.
Coincidentally, the pair of new signings finished first and second in the 2013 under-23 World Championship road race, with Mohoric taking the rainbow jersey just a year after he won the junior title.
Slovenian Mohoric had two relatively quiet years with Cannondale-Garmin after signing with the team in 2014, however, and he’s yet to take his first professional win.
Signing Meintjes will likely pay off sooner for Lampre. The South African had a very successful outing in 2015, winning the African Continental Championships, taking a stage and the overall at Coppi e Bartali, and placing 10th at the Vuleta a Espana in his second crack at the three-week race. Meintjes finished fifth during the difficult stage 5 finish at Plateau de Beille in the Tour de France, eventually quitting his first attempt at the French Grand Tour after stage 17.
Meintjes appears poised to do big things fairly quickly, and Lampre-Merida put a big feather in the team cap in getting him.
Valls’ move to Lotto Soudal for 2016 and 2017 will deal a sizeable blow to Lampre-Merida, especially the team’s GC hopes in weeklong stage races like Oman. Valls was also a potential stage winner in any of those races, and the 28-year-old Spaniard has finished second in a stage of the Tour de France.
The team will also miss the services next year of Ruben Plaza, who will move on to Orica-GreenEdge. Plaza took stage wins in both the Tour and the Vuelta and was a threat any time a race turned uphill. The departure for Movistar of Nelson Oliveira, who won a stage at this year’s Vuelta, will also leave a void in the team’s arsenal.
Man to Watch
Modolo will continue to be a rider to watch for Lampre in 2016 as the 28-year-old Italian develops into a top sprinter. Modolo took six wins in 2015, including two stages and the overall last month at the Tour of Hainan in China. Modolo’s two stage wins at the Giro this year and his stage win at the Tour of Turkey bode well for his future. And of course, former world champion Costa is always a rider to look out for.