With the road season now done and dusted for most in the the professional peloton, there's time to look back on the year and its storylines.
Heading into 2017, one of those major storylines involved the many big names switching to new teams during transfer season. With two WorldTour teams folding and a few new additions to cycling's top division, quite a few stars found themselves in new kit in January.
Changes of scenery didn't work out for everyone, but Cyclingnews has put together a list of riders that managed to find success in new homes this year.
Moved from: BMC Racing
Moved to: Quick-Step Floors
A number of one-day specialists changed teams at the start of the season, but Philippe Gilbert was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of finding far greener pastures. His five-year stint at BMC was not without its moments, but he seemed to slow down after his 2012 world title, and his team was never able to find success fielding him and the ultra-talented Greg Van Avermaet in the same races.
Gilbert, who turned 35 this year, completely turned things around at Quick-Step. Focusing on the cobbled Classics after years of giving way to Van Avermaet, Gilbert turned heads with a runner-up ride at Dwars door Vlaanderen and then confirmed his strong form with a second-place finish at E3 Harelbeke. An overall win at the Three Days of De Panne further built upon the hype, but it was still a shock to see the veteran powering away 55 kilometres from the finish at the Tour of Flanders. On Belgium's biggest cycling stage and against the impossible weight of expectation annually heaped on Quick-Step, Gilbert finally gave the squad – and Belgium – their first Flanders title since 2012. For good measure, he proved his cobbled prowess hadn't dulled his talents as a puncheur and claimed his fourth career Amstel Gold Race victory two weeks later. Gilbert is not getting any younger, but he proved more than anyone this year that a little change of scenery can go a long way to resurrecting a career.
Moved from: Astana
Moved to: Bahrain-Merida
Nibali was the prize acquisition of the new Bahrain-Merida team and was therefore always going to have a mountain of expectations to overcome. Having won all three Grand Tours in his career, he probably didn't have quite the year he'd hoped for, but that hardly cheapens the excellent season he pulled off.
Nibali stayed competitive through a very long year and found success in all three of his major targets for 2017. He won a stage and finished on the podium in the Giro d'Italia and claimed another stage and finished as runner-up at the Vuelta a España. Then he closed out his 2017 campaign on a high note with his second career Monument title at Il Lombardia – all the more impressive considering he was a big pre-race favourite, heavily marked man and still managed to leave some impressive climbing company in the dust on the lumpy roads of northern Italy. It's not easy to build a WorldTour team from scratch, but Nibali ensured nobody could doubt Bahrain-Merida's credentials all season long.
Moved from: Tinkoff
Moved to: Bora-Hansgrohe
Without a doubt, Sagan endured a frustrating 2017 season and failed to achieve many of his objectives, but as a transfer, he was a success in much the same way Nibali was. The Pro Continental Bora-Argon 18 squad mostly relied on Sam Bennett to snatch sprint victories in Europe Tour stage races and scored nary a single WorldTour win in 2016 despite plenty of invites. Bennett got that WorldTour win early in 2017 with the newly promoted Bora-Hansgrohe, and then Sagan did much of the rest of the heavy lifting to prove the team belonged at the highest level.
Sure, he failed to deliver a victory in any of the big Classics (sorry Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne) but he was a constant contender on the Cobbles. Yes, he was controversially thrown out of the Tour de France, but not before winning a stage. He also nabbed WorldTour stage victories by the bucketful from March through August before closing out the year with a brilliant September that saw him defend his GP Québec title and then claim an unprecedented third straight world championship (though technically in a Slovakian jersey and not a Bora-Hansgrohe kit). It could hardly be said that Sagan had a better 2017 than 2016, considering his incredible exploits last season, but he still found plenty of success and gave his new team the top-division legitimacy he was signed to deliver.
Moved from: Orica-Scott
Moved to: Team Sunweb
We'll never know how many Tour de France stage wins Michael Matthews would have delivered if he'd had to face Peter Sagan in the second week of the race, but we do know that no matter the circumstances, he ended up with a pair of stages and the green jersey. It's not his fault the race jury decided to toss the five-time points champ, but Matthews took the opportunity when it came and made a major step forward.
Matthews took a few other nice WorldTour-level stage wins on the year and collected even more top-10 results in major one-day races (a career speciality by this point). He may still be hunting for that big marquee win, but the 2016 Giant-Alpecin squad – many of whose biggest names had their season derailed by a nasty training crash – didn't score any WorldTour one-day wins either. Matthews did enough to earn his keep as their key off-season signing and should have plenty more to offer in the years to come.
Moved from: LottoNL-Jumbo
Moved to: Team Sunweb
Way back in 2014, a 23-year-old Wilco Kelderman seemed destined to be the next Dutch stage racing star after he delivered a seventh overall result at the Giro d'Italia and a strong fourth-place ride weeks later at the Critérium du Dauphiné. With injuries playing no small role, his career hit a roadblock over the ensuing two seasons, however, and when he joined Sunweb it was unclear where he'd fit in.
When he crashed into a poorly placed police motorbike on stage 9 of this year's Giro d'Italia, it seemed like it might be yet another one of those seasons for Kelderman; even as teammate and compatriot Tom Dumoulin powered to the biggest win of his career. Kelderman worked his way back from a broken finger, however, and showed with a fourth-place Tour of Poland finish that he was ready for a second shot at a Grand Tour in the ensuing Vuelta. Going up against an excellent start list that of course included Sky's Chris Froome and Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali, Kelderman rode his way to fourth overall, a long-awaited first Grand Tour top-10 since that 2014 Giro. Part of Sunweb's World Championship team time trial squad in Bergen and seventh in the individual test, Kelderman proved that Sunweb has more than one big Dutch engine with Grand Tour talents.
Moved from: IAM Cycling
Moved to: AG2R La Mondiale
AG2R La Mondiale announced their signing of Oliver Naesen last August as one of two potential Classics contenders alongside Stijn Vandenbergh, and Naesen offered a glimpse at what might be coming even before the year's end. Riding his final few races with the folding IAM Cycling, he took a surprise win at the Bretagne Classic in Plouay and then rode to second overall at the Eneco Tour.
AG2R has rarely been a major factor in the spring Classics, but that changed this season thanks to Naesen. He couldn't quite pull off a big victory, but he was a clear upgrade over what the team had been fielding in past seasons, scoring top-10s at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke, where he finished third. Crashing with Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet at the Tour of Flanders, Naesen was unable to contend for the win, but he nevertheless proved the talent is definitely there. He went on to claim the Belgian national road title. All-in-all, a huge upgrade on the one-day side of things for AG2R, who had been consistently fielding some of the WorldTour's least imposing cobbled line-ups prior to this season. Naesen delivered admirably as a support rider for Romain Bardet during the Tour de France to boot.
Moved from: IAM Cycling
Moved to: Aqua Blue Sport
Stefan Denifl and Larry Warbasse both signed on with new Pro Continental team Aqua Blue Sport as dependable all-rounders who had never quite managed to turn their talents into big stage racing results. The new digs seemed to suit both of them well.
It wasn't necessarily a season of consistent successes for either rider, but both came away with marquee wins to hang their hats on. Warbasse claimed his first ever victory as a pro and Aqua Blue's first WorldTour victory on stage 4 of the Tour de Suisse. He then headed home to the United States to win a national road title and cap off the June of a lifetime. Denifl had his own success on his own home turf as well, claiming the overall win at the Tour of Austria. He followed it up with a fairy tale stage victory at the Vuelta a España. With the book on the 2017 WorldTour closed, the Pro Continental outfit in its maiden year ultimately scored more WorldTour wins than established second-division squads Cofidis and Direct Energie thanks to former IAM Cycling duo Warbasse and Denifl.
Moved from: neo-pro
Moved to: FDJ
FDJ brought 2016 Tour de l'Avenir winner Gaudu on as a stagiaire last year and he stayed to make his debut as a pro this season. Just 21 years old (and his birthday was less than a month ago), Gaudu did not take long to impress in his first year at the WorldTour level. He climbed to ninth place at La Fleche Wallonne and nabbed a stage victory and runner-up honours at the Tour de l'Ain. He finished strongly with a fifth-place ride at Milano-Torino.
It's still extremely early to know Gaudu's ceiling, of course, but early indications are promising for FDJ's up-and-comer. It's not often that a rider of his age starts putting up results against bona fide talent.
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