In 2017 Sunweb could do no wrong. Everything the WorldTour team touched seemed to turn to gold - whether it was Tom Dumoulin at the Giro d'Italia and the Worlds, Michael Matthews and Warren Barguil in the Tour de France, or the entire squad – men and women – in the TTT in Bergen. They were simply unstoppable in achieving their goals.
Fewer than three months into the 2018 campaign and the team are left searching for answers due to a spell that has seen them ravaged by injuries, illness, crashes and bad luck. The latest victim, Wilco Kelderman, was just 11 seconds off the lead at Tirreno-Adriatico when two falls in the space of a few hundred meters left him with a fractured shoulder, and his race hopes in tatters. The fact that he picked himself up off the tarmac and still finished the stage, with his three remaining teammates by his side, spoke volumes of the spirit within the team, but his race is over.
The first fall came when two riders from rival teams fell directly in front of the Dutchman, leaving him with no room to manoeuvre. The second, and deciding, crash happened on the next corner when, according to the team, when Kelderman was too determined to come back quickly and fell again.
"The first one was on the descent between the two hills. A rider from Trek and a rider from Vini Fantini came down and it wasn't possible to avoid them," a team spokesperson told Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 5.
"Then on a second corner a few hundred meters later he fell again while riding a spare bike. He's in so much pain and it wasn't possible to come back. Our doctors are now with him."
Kelderman eventually crossed the line more than 20 minutes down on the stage winner Adam Yates and was immediately taken for scans, where the full extent of his injuries was revealed.
The setback is just the latest episode of woes for the team after Dumoulin crashed out on stage 4. The Giro d'Italia winner has endured mechanicals at poor moments this year and was off the pace in Tirreno due to illness. The team finished with just two riders at Paris-Nice and are down to four in Italy. Michael Matthews is a major doubt for Milan-San Remo after a crash in 'opening weekend' and although talent runs deep, the team's headliners remain out of tune.
"I don't know," a perplexed team director said as he waited for news on Kelderman.
"We're in a place right now where all we have is bad luck. In Holland, we say, 'We have to empty the full cup of poison,' and then we can look again."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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