Ochowicz: No slacking off at BMC in 2018

When analysing the 2017 season, Jim Ochowicz and his BMC management team can look back at a relatively successful campaign. Greg Van Avermaet became a legitimate Classics star with a hugely impressive spring; Richie Porte lit up a number of early season stage races; Dylan Teuns enjoyed breakthrough second half of the year, and Grand Tour stages were won in both the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España.

The US-registered team may have come up short in the Grand Tour GC department; missed out on the WorldTour team rankings and slipped to silver at the Worlds TTT but Ochowicz believes that the team can step up in 2018, and deliver further success.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Ochowicz during the winter is over how he deals with the team's Grand Tour hopes.

Richie Porte, Tejay van Garderen and Rohan Dennis all missed out on their ambitions to contend for podium spots, although van Garderen did at least rescue his season, and perhaps his career, with a stage at the Giro and 10th overall at the Vuelta.

While Porte will have another shot at Tour de France glory in 2018, the roles of Dennis and van Garderen remain uncertain. Dennis has proven his undoubted talent as a bike rider during his time at the team but he has only made it to the finish of two Grand Tours, and only once finished inside the top 90, when he took 81st at the 2014 Vuelta. Van Garderen remains somewhat of a stage racing enigma – always liable to crack but still with two top-fives at the Tour on his palmares.

"Our intention is that Tejay steps up," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews from his European office in Belgium.

"I think that, potentially, he can do a lot more, and he believes that too."

With Porte to again lead the BMC team at the Tour de France in July, the BMC management will wait to see the routes for the Giro and the Vuelta before making any decisions over the rest of their Grand Tour plans. They certainly have options. Porte could well target the Vuelta too, while the opening TT in Spain could tempt Dennis into action.

"We've not designated anything yet. We have meetings this week and we're in the discussion phase right now," says Ochowicz.

"We've only seen the Tour route so far. That's Richie place and we'll work around that. We don't know about the Giro or the Vuelta but we know that the Vuelta starts with a time trial. That means it could be a good place for Rohan to start but it could be an option to have all three do two Grand Tours."

Van Garderen, who hits 30 next year, and heads into the final season of his current contract, has not made any announcements regarding his plans for next year. After a mixed World Championships he headed back to the US for the off-season. Ochowicz, who admitted that the American was in a slump in 2016, still has hope that rider can return to the form of 2012 and 2014.

"I believe in Tejay. When you stack it up and watch who can and can't go uphill… he beat Landa head-to-head in a Giro stage. He's one of around 15 guys who can be there when it matters. He was tenth at the Vuelta and I have 100 per cent faith that he can lead a team in a Grand Tour.”

"Rohan is still learning but his speciality is racing against the clock but he's shown that he can climb. We'll see what happens next year."

The right recruitment

Ochowicz's 2018 plans have already sprung into action with rider recruitment having played a significant part. The team have dropped to 24 riders for next year and seen noticeable departures with Daniel Oss and Ben Hermans leaving for new pastures. Manuel Quinziato has hung up his wheels, while another veteran, Samuel Sánchez, was fired after a positive dope test.

The team managed to persuade Alessandro de Marchi to stay despite interest from UAE, while Alberto Bettiol, Patrick Bevin, Simon Gerrans and Jurgen Roelandts have all been added to the 2018 roster. Gerrans is expected to fill the void left by Quinziato, Roelandts likewise for Oss and Bevin adds to the team's impressive TT arsenal. Bettiol is perhaps the most interesting signing due to his tender age and his consistency across the board, but the team's inability to sign a pure climber is noticeable.

"We had talked to several guys in that department," says Ochowicz.

"For whatever reason, they couldn't come. Maybe they had a contract; we just couldn't work something out; or we were a little late. We couldn't find someone to fill that role but we honestly didn't have a role to fill. We lost Ben Hermans, who was a good rider, and climber, and that's a bit of a loss but I think we'll make up for it with other guys who are coming up."

The fact that BMC routinely offer one-year contracts to riders may have been a factor.

"It could have been. It's one of half a dozen reasons that could have been involved. No one specifically turned us down because of that one point though," Ochowicz claims.

"We're real happy with the four new members we've recruited. We think that they've strengthened in a couple of places where we lost guys like Quinziato. We were concerned about that role, because he was a team captain. I think Simon Gerrans will fill that role really well. With Oss going to Bora, we think Roelandts will fill in that role. Patrick is a good worker and a good time trialist. I think we can help him develop in that area."

End of the road for the U23 team

One well that Ochowicz will not be able to draw from when it comes to future signings is the BMC development team. After five highly successful seasons, and a string of riders making the grade – not just at BMC but other WorldTour team too – the programme has come to an end.

"It's certainly served its purpose in terms of what our intentions were," says Ochowicz.

"We wanted to develop riders and prepare them for the chance to ride in the WorldTour. Within those five years, eight riders are currently on our 2017 roster who came through the development team. It was a very successful programme and several of the kids we didn't take ended up riding for other teams as well. We're very proud of all that."

Despite that success the fact remained that Ochowicz and BMC were losing their grip on the talent they had fostered. More teams were picking off the talent, prices were driven up and agents were making signings more complex. It works both ways, of course. BMC signed Taylor Phinney from Lance Armstrong's development programme, but the general shift, with the Pavel Sivakov moving to Team Sky, spelt the end for the project.

"We saw this coming well over a year ago but there was no specific incident that triggered the decision," says Ochowicz.

"Inevitably that group of U23 riders changed a bit and they started to be solicited by managers within the sport of cycling. There are names I'm not going to throw out there, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it complicated things for us internally. It meant that we didn't have first choice any more, the prices started to escalate a bit and it seemed like it was time to move onto something else.

"We came to the conclusion that the national federations have their own programmes, and over the years we've shared some of the kids with them so that they could race some of the races that weren't on our calendar. We thought that we could go back to the national team programme and still have good prospects with the U23 group. It's just time to do something else."

While BMC and their riders concentrate on delivering success on the road, the long-term future of the team remains up in the air. Andy Rihs has poured considerable funds into the team over the years but his reported poor health has led to questions over the team's longevity. Ochowicz has secured new partners, such as Assos and Tag Heuer, and to his credit has kept the squad together year after year.

"I can't speak about his health, I'm not his physician but I visited this weekend and we had a nice conversation," says Ochowicz.

"Nothing has changed for our programme. 2018 is going to be another exciting year and we're not going to slack off. We're always trying to be competitive. We were really happy that Greg won the WorldTour individual. That's consistency from January onwards, and it's a long season."

Both on and off the road, 2018 could well be BMC's most important year yet.

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