Nils Politt had a season to remember in 2019, for both the right and wrong reasons. A memorable second place in Paris-Roubaix was a high point for the 25-year-old, while months later his team Katusha-Alpecin disintegrated after 11 years.
Luckily for Politt, and six of his teammates, Israel Cycling Academy stepped in to take over the squad and their WorldTour berth. The team, now known as Israel Start-Up Nation, convened for a training camp in Tel-Aviv earlier this month, where Cyclingnews spoke to Politt about a mixed 2019, his new team and his hopes for the future.
"It was two hard years in Katusha, but now I feel really like everyone is motivated here," says Politt. "It's like a family and that's nice. It's always exciting to come to a new team. We have some guys from Katusha, some staff members and riders. There's a lot of new riders but it's really nice to be here.
"At the end of this year we were looking in a black hole. We didn't know what's going on. Until the Classics everything was fine and, as a team, we did a really good campaign. Then we got some pressure from the team and things went downhill after."
Dirk Demol, a directeur sportif at Katusha who has joined Politt in the move to Israel Start-Up Nation, echoed those sentiments, saying that the team's uncertain future wasn't the only problem during 2019.
"We had some leaders, and when they perform very well, they can take the team to a higher level, and that's not what we had," says Demol. "It's difficult to say the real reason, but it was just not happening.
"I was hoping after the classics, where we did well especially with Nils, I was hoping it would give a boost to the others on the team, to go back on a good level. But it didn't and it was just a difficult season."
Demol, a Paris-Roubaix winner during his riding years, was in the car throughout the spring, assisting Politt as the German took sixth at the E3 BinckBank Classic, fifth at the Tour of Flanders, and finally, second at Paris-Roubaix behind Philippe Gilbert.
The Belgian says that, while he was also under contract for 2020, Politt has requested for him to stay on board at Israel Start-Up Nation. The pair are looking forward to continuing their working relationship next season, too.
"It's always good to know who's sitting in the car," says Politt. "If you see last year, then yeah… He lives in Belgium, he knows the roads and he's won Roubaix – it's nice to work with him."
"I look forward to continuing work with Nils," says Demol "He's a good guy, a hard worker and talented, of course. I've seen a lot of strong rider after 20 years as a directeur sportif, and it's nice to have someone like Nils with all the potential he has.
"He's always listening too. It's not like 'I know that, what are you talking about?' like with some riders. It's good to work ahead, talk about preparation. Like last year, already from our first contact in October we were on the same frequency, and it was a very good experience from the beginning."
Politt had something of an underrated Classics squad at Katusha – not packed with big names like Deceuninck-QuickStep, but instead featuring several solid performers like Jenthe Biermans, Mads Würtz Schmidt and Rick Zabel.
That trio, as well as Reto Hollenstein, have also made the move to Israel Start-Up Nation, while other new recruits André Greipel and Hugo Hofstetter, plus existing riders Tom Van Asbroeck and Krists Neilands are all capable one-day racers.
"I think that next season nobody is thinking that we are a Classics team," says Politt. "I think we are, especially with the horsepower we have. There are many riders, so we have a big Classics group for Belgium. I think we can be great.
"Me and Greipel have been friends for a long time. We live just a kilometre from each other, so we train together a lot. I'm so happy that he's a part of the team. I think we can both be leaders, especially for Roubaix. He's always really motivated at Flanders too, and for me, he's a role model and mentor, a guy with a lot of experience who can help me a lot."
"No doubt Nils will be our leader," says Demol. "And behind him André with his experience. We've seen him do well in the past – at Flanders and Roubaix going deep in the final. He'll be so important for positioning with Nils. And with Nils one year older, he has a good feeling with the team he has to support him. Now we're looking forward."