Cannondale-Drapac began the 2016 season with some big signings and some big ambitions. However, illness, crashes, injury and some struggles off the bike saw them miss the mark in the early part of the season and left them languishing near the bottom of the WorldTour rankings until a strong Vuelta a España pulled them into the top 10 by the end of the season.
The team ended the season with 10 victories, although none were at WorldTour level. Speaking to Cyclingnews at the Rouleur Classic earlier this month, team manager Charly Wegelius was relatively upbeat about the team's 2016 campaign. "I think they were just near misses," Wegelius said of the team's disappointing results at the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't take much for things to go wrong with things like that but at the end of the day, we finished 8th in the rankings, one place behind Etixx-QuickStep, which is a really big team. I know that nobody is very interested in points, but you don't get points for finishing at the back of races so we must have done something right."
The key to Cannondale-Drapac's late resurgence was Andrew Talansky’s fifth place at the Vuelta a España. Talansky was originally meant to link up with new signing Pierre Rolland at the Tour de France but endured a torrid first half of the season. Injury first took him out of Paris-Nice but then he struggled to find the form he needed and in June he announced that he would skip the Tour de France for the first time since 2013. The break proved to be just the tonic for Talansky, and he came back to win a stage of the Tour of Utah and finish fifth overall at the Vuelta a Espana.
Following the Vuelta, Talansky opened up about the issues he had struggled with throughout the year. Wegelius says that it was all about letting go of the pressure for Talansky and is happy that the American is back on track.
"It was the Talansky that we know. He was very tenacious and consistent. He never really had a breakout but he never lost time, and that's how you do well in stage races," he said. "I think we were all aware that he was coming to a make or break moment because you can't constantly build up expectations and then not meet the results that you set yourself without it having an impact on you.
"We knew that coming towards the end of the spring that he was coming to a crossroads in his career. I think, for him, it was more of a question of letting go of the pressure that he was putting on himself and the pressure that he felt around him and just living with it and being ok with it."
Wegelius wouldn't confirm if Talansky would return to the Tour de France in 2017, saying that a decision would be made when the team meet up later in the year.
There were some other promising results throughout the 2016 season, including Davide Villella's victory at the Japan Cup last month. Ryan Mullen also showed some big improvements, although in a slightly different shade of green, with fifth in the time trial at the World Championships. Alberto Bettiol and Davide Formolo are another two that Wegelius believes can step forward next season.
'We believe in Phinney unconditionally'
Several riders have departed the team, including Ben King, Jack Bauer and Moreno Moser. Coming into the squad will be Taylor Phinney, Hugh Carthy and Sep Vanmarcke.
As an American team, the inclusion of Phinney in next year's roster will be a major boon. The 26-year-old has had flashes of brilliance in the last couple of years but is still largely finding his feet following a near-career ending crash in 2014 and has struggled in some of his loftier targets. This year was Phinney's first full season since the accident, and Wegelius believes the rider can get back to where he was prior to the injury.
"He's experienced a lot more than his age would say. He's going through this process of coming back but he can bring real leadership, and when he gets back to his level, I think he can really do some top results," said Wegelius. "We believe in him unconditionally; that's why Jonathan Vaughters went after him. I don't think that his talent is just going to disappear. The few interactions that I've had with him so far, I'm pretty convinced that he has the mentality he needs to get to the top.
"Time will tell, but I think that he's got his head in the game to be competitive in the races he has been before."
|4||BMC Racing Team||1128|
|7||Etixx - Quick-Step||775|
|10||Astana Pro Team||539|
|13||AG2R La Mondiale||482|
|15||Lampre - Merida||442|
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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.