With the world's best team beginning their season in Belgium this Saturday, Boels Dolmans manager Danny Stam talks to Cyclingnews about balancing the ambitions of big-name riders while also developing talent.
Ranked the top women's team for the last two years, Boels-Dolmans will make their season debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this Saturday. Having finished on the podium in the last three editions - though never on the top step - new world champion Chantal Blaak will lead the team, pinning a number to her rainbow jersey for the first time.
If there were any doubts before, Blaak's win in Bergen confirmed her as one of the team's biggest stars. She is also the third of three consecutive Boels-Dolmans riders to win the World Championships after Lizzie Deignan in 2015 and Amalie Dideriksen the following year.
Dideriksen will not begin her road season until after the Track World Championships next month, and Deignan will start her campaign at Strade Bianche on March 3, the opening round of the Women's WorldTour. There she will join the two most consistent riders of the last two seasons, Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen and three-time US road champion Megan Guarnier, both winners of the WorldTour individual standings.
Both Guarnier and Deignan have won in Siena's il Campo, and while Van der Breggen's participation is yet to be confirmed, she is certainly capable of success there.
So, does the team's strength cause problems for team manager Danny Stam?
"To be honest no," he told Cyclingnews. "We have two new riders, but the rest know what they can expect from each other. There is respect from girl to girl, they know what their goals are, and we just try to reach the goals together."
Stam believes a good example of this respect came in the Ardennes last year where Deignan finished second behind Van der Breggen in all three races.
"It shows how professional they are. But we also realise that you reach more when you act like a team, everybody takes benefit from that, and in our team, the girl who is the sixth rider of the team gets the same respect as the winner in the team."
However, the combination of professionalism and respect does not mean Stam will leave decisions about who leads the team to the riders on the road.
"We always need some lines where we want to go. Otherwise, it will be a mess," he said. "The girls know which races should be possible, so if they speak to each other about where they want a goal, it is easier to accept.
"A good thing is that the top riders have won all the monuments already and that helps. If somebody has won Flanders already and they know it is somebody's dream race they can understand. For example, for Anna van der Breggen it is easier to say 'I don't need to win Flèche Wallonne because I have won it already three times.'"
Stam has managed Boels-Dolmans since its inception in 2013, building it from little more than a club into the all-conquering outfit it is now. Quiet, studied and modest, he refuses to take credit, but he is perceptive and realises he cannot afford to stand still.
Guarnier will be 33 this year, Deignan 30, and while Van der Breggen is just 27 none have contracts beyond the end of this season. While the contract situation may resolve itself, Stam's signing of hugely talented American Skylar Schneider shows he is looking to the future.
"The older girls don't have years and years to go, so it is time to look for new talent and try to get them developed in the same way," he says referring both to Schneider but also more generally. "My top riders don't have seven years to go, that is reality, and I'm looking for some young girls that have the talent and mental ability to get on that level."
Though Deignan has hinted she is considering leaving Boels-Dolmans at the end of the year, there is no suggestion Stam is about to lose all his talent. Blaak recently extended her contract until the end of 2020 and others may follow suit. Her predecessor in the rainbow jersey, Diderksen, is still just 21 and still developing.
What is beyond doubt is that Stam has no intention of letting the team he built crumble.
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