The 2020 road season has only just finished but the Israel Start-Up Nation team is already considering their line-ups and possible rosters for next season and could head into the Tour de France with both Chris Froome and Dan Martin targeting podium places.
Froome headlines a flurry of new signings on the team ahead of the new season with Michael Woods, Patrick Bevin, and Sep Vanmarcke all set to join.
At the same time, Dan Martin impressed with fourth place at the recent Vuelta a Espana, with the Irishman also capturing a mountain stage during the opening week. Froome heads to the team in search of his fifth Tour de France title but from a tactical point of view, ISN general manager Kjell Carlström believes that heading into the Tour de France with two potential cards to play could be the most astute tactical approach.
In a recent interview with the Cyclingnews podcast, Carlström said that Froome would be heading to the Tour as a leader but the former rider added that Martin’s impressive ride in the Vuelta had given the team confidence in having options.
"Everything has to go well but that's the idea that Chris would be our Tour de France leader but at the same time Dan showed great maturity. Some teams have three potential leaders at the Tour so it wouldn't be bad to have at least two potential guys to fight for the podium. It's a good tactic," Carlström said.
Froome is still searching for his best form after a career-threatening crash in the 2019 Criterium du Dauphine. He raced consistently through the second half of 2020 as he looked to regain his fitness but he was left out of Ineos' Tour de France team as the British squad rallied around Egan Bernal's title defense.
Froome announced his departure from Ineos ahead of the Tour, bringing the curtain down on his time within Dave Brailsford's team but he raced the Vuelta a Espana and rode in support of Richard Carapaz.
It's still clear that despite making progress Froome is still some way off his previous level but he used the Vuelta to build towards the new season and Carlström is confident that his new signing can use the winter to make another significant step forwards.
"I believe that if you have once been on a certain level it doesn't go away. Maybe it takes some time before you can come back but it's in you. The crash that he had - it was a really big one, so it takes some extra time before he can fire on all engines. I think that it was encouraging to see him improving at the Vuelta and then we'll see how things go over the winter and how much stronger he'll get. Even after that, he'll have a few more months until the next Grand Tour. I do believe that he's on the right track.
"I've always said that age is just a number and as long as you're motivated and physically able to ride well then there's no problem with being 40 years old."
Israel Start-Up Nation has strengthened in almost every department as they prepare for next season. Several riders were re-signed – including Alex Dowsett - while Woods, Froome, Bevin, Daryl Impey, and Carl Fredrik Hagen will add steel and experience to the stage racing core.
Carlström admits that the team does not lead the way in any specific area when compared to their WorldTour rivals but the squad has stepped up in a number of departments in order to improve their depth and reach when it comes to different forms of racing.
"We're not the strongest team in any areas and we could strengthen the team in all aspects but at the same time, we're on a reasonable level in all ways. We're a pretty decent team for next year," he said.
"We've seen that Dan Martin was up there and fourth in the Vuelta and that's a great thing to see. When you have a team that works well together and supports a rider, and that riders are on the right level then anything is possible. We saw that with Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour. So everything is possible.
"We're going to go in the direction of GC at Grand Tours and with Dan Martin and Chris Froome, and also Michael Woods we have a decent team. Also with others like Impey and Hagen and other guys will play crucial roles but if everything goes well we have a really good chance. Of course, we're a bit of the underdog like we have been in the races for the last three years, but that's completely fine. We'll work in that way."
Carlström added that the team's decision to switch towards Grand Tours and stage racing only came after they were aware of Froome's possible availability earlier in the year. From that moment they switched from looking to develop into a Classics team and instead chose to focus more on stage racing.
"During the summer we were able to come to an agreement with Chris Froome and that changed a bit the focus of the team and for sure towards more Grand Tour ambitions. Initially, that wasn't our first objective. Before that we thought more about young talents for GC and how we could develop them in the coming years, and also have more of a focus on the Flemish Classics and Paris-Roubaix.
"First of all talking with people you understand who is available and who isn't but it was only after an article, and I don't remember where that we really start to think about it in-depth. It was a reasonably long process. He's one of the biggest stars and the most successful stars of his generation so you can't make that deal happen overnight. It was an exciting process."
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