There may be over 240 days until the 2018 Tour de France but for BMC's sporting manager Allan Peiper, the off-season will be key in formalising team selection and objectives for the French Grand Tour in July
Stage winners and yellow jersey wearers in 2015 and 2016, BMC went all in for Richie Porte's GC bid in 2017. The Australian was fourth in 2016 despite his misfortune and came into the race this July as a genuine podium contender. A nasty crash though on stage 9 wrecked his Tour aspirations and left BMC stranded.
In 2018, Porte will be the undisputed leader for the Tour on a parcours that Peiper explains is suited to a versatile rider such as the Australian who can both climb and time trial.
"It is an interesting parcours that is for sure. It is going away from the traditions of the Tour de France in recent years anyway," Peiper told Cyclingnews in China. "Team time trial start, a Roubaix stage with 15 sections of cobbles, which I think will shake things up a lot. It seems to be three different parts. The first week, Alps and Pyrenees, a lot of time trialling. It is going to be an open race. Maybe time lost in the Roubaix stage can be got back in the mountain stages. I think it will be a versatile rider over all types of terrain that will have the advantage on the parcours next year."
The opening stanza of the Tour is always a stressful affair so add into the equation the roads and winds of Brittany, a team time trial, double ascent of the Mur de Bretagne, and the pave of stage nine and the Tour could be lost before any serious mountains. But once in the mountains, GC contenders such as Porte will need their climbing domestiques. With 23 riders to chose from in support of Porte, Tour selection is sure to occupy a large chunk of the off-season for Peiper and BMC's management. The importance of balancing a squad, reduced to eight riders from 2018, for the opening week and then the mountains is not lost on Peiper.
"For sure it will affect every team and how they approach the Tour. Having one rider less will change the dynamic because there is a certain amount of resources that you have for three weeks," he said of the eight-rider rule. "If you are splitting up the objectives of the race it will also make it complicated. A team with one objective and one leader going into a race simplifies the race as such and puts all the resources into the basket of that one rider. But if you are splitting up objectives, which some teams will do with a GC rider and a sprinter, or in our team with Richie Porte and possibly Greg Van Avermaet with his objectives in the first week. The Roubaix stage as you mention, it will be an interesting challenge to try and balance out those objectives and keep the priorities at the front."
Van Avermaet's prowess on the pave suggests he will be a rider for July while Rohan Dennis' time trialling skills also pushes him into contention with the the time trial. New signing Simon Gerrans also enters the equation as a road captain but Peiper explained it is simply too early to be announcing selections.
"We could have three Australians lining up but we have 24 riders on the roster next year and some good riders coming into the team like a young [Alberto] Bettiol," he said. "And we will be looking at how the parcours is and how we need to balance the roster according to our objectives so I think we have our work cut out for us with only eight riders and a variety of terrain in the parcours. It is going to be a challenge to try an get that right."
A blistering start to 2017 with two stage wins and the Tour Down Under overall, and a stage win at Paris-Nice was followed by Tour de Romandie victory for Porte. A final day ambush at the Critérium du Dauphiné saw Porte drop to second overall but the Australian had done enough to announce himself as a key challenger to Froome at the Tour. Although for 2018, Giro d'Italia winner Tom Dumoulin has emerged as Froome's key challenger and shifting the focus away from Porte. The Dutchman is yet to announce his intentions for next year but Peiper believes the 26-year-old deserves his status as a genuine contender.
"It is right that people have expectations of Tom Dumoulin the way he has ridden this year and winning the Giro as a young rider as it were. Obviously, you can't dismiss chances of other riders," said Peiper. "I saw some other interviews from the Movistar boss about Quintana that even though there is a Roubaix stage he is thinking he has a great chance still. As I said before, there are enough mountains stages and there are enough time trial kilometres to maybe balance it out. But it will be a complete rider that has a chance and maybe Dumoulin does have a great chance in the Tour next year because of the diversity of the parcours."