Having already signed Bauke Mollema to lead Trek Factory Racing for next season Luca Guercilena is putting the finishing touches to his team for 2015. The Italian, who stepped into Johan Bruyneel's shoes at the end of 2012, has a number of important calls to make over the coming weeks, and must come to a decision over the futures of Frank and Andy Schleck but, as he tells Cyclingnews, the team is building for the future.
Guercilena spent the majority of the season identifying riders to sign for 2015, with a clear emphasis on the need for an overall contender for Grand Tours.
"It's not a secret that we were looking for a GC rider. Bauke has shown in the last few years that he's able to ride at a high level and on a consistent basis, whether it's at the Tour, the Vuelta or week long races. He's not turned 28 yet either so we felt that he has room for improvement too, as he's entering that age where he should be in his peak. We also wanted a rider who was ready, not someone younger who can be a little bit inconsistent from year to year."
"So we sat down with him and discussed his goals and whether he was interested in moving. He was in a safe environment at Belkin, but made the case that a change of environment could help him develop as a rider."
While Mollema will assume the role of team leader, Guercilena is confident that the core of the stage racing team can support the Dutchman.
"We have Zubeldia, Arredondo, Frank Schleck and a good mix of riders who can ride well and support a GC leader in a three-week race. Okay, it's going to be tough to compete against someone like Quintana for the yellow jersey at the Tour but we believe that we can protect Bauke on the flats and in the mountains."
"The goal is to be competitive at the Tour de France but as usual each season is different."
What next for the Schlecks?
Although Mollema has signed for the team a number of riders are heading for the exit. Jens Voigt and Danilo Hondo are both retiring and Robert Kiserlovski is set to move on as well after turning down a new deal.
"Well we have a couple of riders ending their careers in Voigt and Hondo, and Kiserlovski is leaving because we couldn't find an agreement. Most of the contracts run for another year though because we started as a new team last year. We'll have around thirty riders next year, and then look to drop down to 22 riders in a few years time with the UCI rules changing," Guercilena told Cyclingnews.
The futures of Andy and Frank Schleck remain uncertain, however. The pair were linchpins for the Leopard team that formed around them at the start of 2011, but the last three years have been plagued by injuries, a suspension for older brother Frank and a colossal dip in form for Andy. At the start of 2014 both riders were offered one-year deals on a reduced salary with the onus firmly on the need to prove their worth if they had intentions to remain beyond the year.
Frank, returning from his ban, has posted steady but unspectacular results with a top fifteen finish at the Tour his highest profile finish. His brother, however, has had another difficult year with no results and a major crash at the Tour that has left his career up in the air.
"They needed to prove their capacity," said Guercilena.
We've seen that Frank can come back to a certain level, while Andy wasn't super before the Tour and then picked up another injury in a crash so it's hard to evaluate him. We didn't get the answers we wanted with Andy at the Tour so now it's important to see what level he can come back to and then make the right analysis before making a decision."
As things stand, negotiations with Frank are ongoing and a contract could be signed within the coming weeks. However, there have been no discussions with Andy. The rider has indicated a desire to return to racing but Guercilena believes that performance rather than words is the only way for the rider to prove his true intentions.
"Frank has proved his level and we're talking to him to find a common solution. For Andy, it's difficult to say something because he's still not back and he's not shown that much or shown the level he's supposed to be at. That's the situation."
Asked if there would still be a spot kept open for Andy should he return to health, Guercilena replied. "I don't have an answer for this. It's not a no comment it's just that it's really difficult to make a realistic view. For sure at the moment he's not reached the level we wanted. It's going to be tough for him because as a manager you analyse the rider, the performance and the trend. The general picture of the team is more important than an individual."
"Is there space? That will be discussed by the team but it's no longer enough to say 'I'm fit and I'm ready and good'. I think that a pro rider has to prove it with performance and not just with words."
Away from the Schlecks, and Guercilena is concentrating on developing the rest of squad for the future. The likes of Fabian Cancellara, Haimar Zubeldia and Stijn Devolder may be on the wrong side of thirty but in Kristof Vandewalle, the van Poppels, Bob Jungels, Julian Arredondo, Giacomo Nizzolo, Riccardo Zoidl and now Mollema, the team possess a cluster of riders for the future.
"Let's just say that I expect a lot from the young talent on our team. I hope Arredondo continues to improve. The same goes for Zoidl and Vandewalle, who is solid but I think can do more. We have Fabian as usual and someone like Nizzolo has to be more prominent and consistent."
"When I took over I just managed what I had. I proved that I was able to manage the riders. This year and next year I think there will be more of my imprint on the team because the make-up of the team is different. We know our goals and our limits and I like to remain realistic. When I discussed the team with Trek I made it clear that realism was important because we can't just live on dreams."