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Procycling Review of the Year: Best team

tour de france sunweb hirschi kragh benoot
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Procycling magazine's team select their highlights of the 2020 season, this time with the teams of the year.

Procycling's Review of the Year issue is out to buy now.

Edward Pickering, Procycling magazine editor

Jumbo-Visma had the best results and were undoubtedly the strongest team, even if they messed it up at the Tour de France by unwittingly pulling Tadej Pogačar all the way to the bottom of La Planche de Belles Filles.

However, I need more. Of course, Jumbo-Visma have the best results - they have a team of extraordinary depth and talent, and their leader Primož Roglič is a machine. But I was more impressed by Sunweb. They may not have the star-studded roster or budget of the superteams, but they have quietly created an absolutely revolutionary system and method.

In terms of results, they were great. They won three Tour stages, took second and third at the Giro d'Italia, won Flèche Wallonne and were second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That’s would be a great return for any team. The second Tour stage win, for Søren Kragh Andersen, was in itself a superbly engineered team effort - an improvised plan, if that makes sense. The riders didn’t go in with the plan that ended up succeeding, but they understood how to work the finale of the stage once events had unfolded and just put it into action, where the other teams just looked like their plans were either attack, or hope for a sprint. 

But two other moments stand out more for me. First, the Puy Mary stage of the Tour de France was a free-for-all in terms of attacking. So many attempts were made by so many different riders and teams to get into the break, which everybody knew had a good chance of staying away to contest the stage. Except out of all those dozens and dozens of attacks, not a single one was by a Sunweb rider. I thought that was unusual when I watched it back, and I texted a team insider to ask if that had been deliberate. Sunweb talked about going into every stage with a plan - the plan on this day was to ride through, expend as little energy as possible, and have as close to an active recovery day as is possible in a hard Massif Central stage of the Tour. All to save their energy for another day. That’s highly unusual outside the GC teams, especially one like Sunweb which did go to the Tour largely with ambitions to win from breaks.

The second moment was on stage 14 (the one won by Kragh Andersen). Initially Cees Bol and Casper Pedersen were in the early move, along with two other riders. The plan for that day was to get those two into a large break which could go to the finish. But the peloton sat up. Four riders is not enough to form a stage-winning break, generally, and Sunweb took the decision to pull their two riders out of the break and back to the peloton. Better to rip up the original plan if it has not worked, and go to plan B (which wasn’t a bad one at all, as it turned out) than waste energy in a small day-long break with a close-to-zero chance of winning.

Sunweb might not have dominated racing in the way that Jumbo-Visma did in 2020 and Ineos did in previous years. However, I think other teams will be looking closely at their methods and systems. I think they’ve quietly revolutionised cycling tactics and strategy in a small way.

Sophie Hurcom, Procycling magazine deputy editor

Team Sunweb’s men’s team? Or Trek-Segafredo’s women’s team? Both squads encapsulated what team spirit meant in 2020, racing with a kind of togetherness that visibly paid off in their results, and it’s hard for me to split them. Watching both teams it was obvious that the riders all bought into an ethos of working for each other - giving their all to help someone else succeed - knowing they’d all be given their own opportunities, too. They also just really looked like they were enjoying racing and that kind of atmosphere is visible as it transcends into exciting tactics. 

Sunweb’s hat-trick of victories at the Tour stands out, for obvious reasons, but I think the fact that every one of their eight riders placed in the top 10 of a stage in France at least once says a lot more about the team’s approach and why it worked so well. To then back that up with second and third overall that the Giro, when few (including the team management) initially considered they’d be challenging for grand tour wins this year after the loss of Tom Dumoulin, is an even bigger achievement.

Trek-Segafredo, meanwhile, won 12 races and were responsible for some of the year’s most stand-out racing moments. Much has been said about the success of the Lizzie Deignan-Elisa Longo Borghini partnership, and it did contribute to the wins at GP Plouay, La Course, Liège-Bastonge-Liège and the Giro Rosa. But the team was more than just two riders in excellent form. Ruth Winder and Audrey Cordon Ragot picked up UCI wins too - putting Trek at joint top in terms of wins by the biggest spread of riders - while Ellen Van Dijk was equally consistent at the Belgian races all season. 

The expertise from DS's Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Girogia Bronzini in the team car is no doubt invaluable - both were master tacticians during their racing years and know how exactly how to engineer wins. After La Course, Longo Borghini told me how she was attacking in the finale, to set up Deignan, seconds before the message came through on the radio for her to do so. That kind of synchronicity only comes from riders and management all working with the same attitude and outlook. 

Many teams have snapped up a host of A-list stars as Trek has, and struggled to manage the egos and turn that into coherent racing. In the two years since Trek launched, they’ve proved it’s completely possible. 

Adam Becket, Procycling magazine staff writer

Think back to a time before lockdown, only nine months ago, even if it does feel like at least a decade. Think really hard and you might just remember Paris-Nice, and if so then you will remember Team Sunweb. They had a barnstorming race, with two stage wins from Tiesj Benoot and Soren Kragh Andersen, and Benoot came within a whisker of winning the whole thing overall. However, it wasn’t just their results that impressed, it was the way their aggressive riding was the star of the week. This should have been a hint of things to come, but the season was rudely interrupted by a global pandemic.

Come the Tour de France, and Sunweb surprised many again through their dynamic racing, particularly with such a young team. It looked like they might be a bit lost, without a GC rider or a proven sprinter as a focal point - remember that Michael Matthews was left out - but they proved everybody wrong by winning three stages and enlivening many more. In Marc Hirschi they have a supreme talent, who would go onto back up his Tour form by winning Flèche Wallonne. More than that, though, they just looked like they were having fun in the most pressurised environment in world cycling. No mean feat. On days when they didn’t have a chance of winning, they sat up, recouped their losses, and went again the next day. On days where they did have a chance, they went all in for whoever was best placed on the day.

Their racing at the Giro d’Italia, again with an inexperienced team, was also impressive. The internal leadership battle between Jai Hindley and Wilco Kelderman could have overwhelmed another team, but Sunweb stuck together and ended up producing two podium places.

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