With added investment, courtesy of Italian coffee brand Segafredo, Luca Guercilena was able to draw up an enviable shopping list of new recruits ahead of the 2017 season. The Trek-Segafredo team manager eventually brought in Alberto Contador and John Degenkolb as the team’s marquee signings, with the latter slated to replace the now retired Fabian Cancellara.
Contador, who signed on a one-year deal with the option of a second, will be tasked with wining the Tour de France, but he wasn’t the sponsor’s first choice, with Vincenzo Nibali top of the initial shopping list.
“Having an Italian sponsor meant that signing an Italian rider was the first choice. So we went and investigated as to whether he was available,” Guercilena told Cyclingnews recently.
Nibali eventually left Astana for the new Bahrain-Merida team, a squad whose main focus is to deliver Nibali to success. That - not money - was the main reason why Nibali chose the Middle East outfit, according to Guercilena.
“I think we were quite close with him. There were some differences in numbers but I don’t think that’s the main reason he decided not to come. If you look at the team he’s going to ride for, it’s a team that’s entirely built around him. Here we have our set-up and for sure we accept riders coming in with a small group but we weren’t founding a team around him.
"It was just a matter of different opportunities. With the rest, we have our style and we sign riders who love a challenge and who race with emotion and put a lot of heart into it. As a coach I was all about the numbers but I love riders who are able to anticipate and to attack at the right moment. That’s why we’ve gone for riders like Degenkolb, [Jarlinson] Pantano and Contador.”
Contador crashed out of the Tour de France in 2016 but rallied to take fourth in a highly competitive Vuelta a Espana. Despite the ageing year and the new blood coming through the ranks, Guercilena is confident that the two-time Tour winner can regain his best form.
“I think Alberto can win another Grand Tour," he said. "I believe he is strong enough and that the capacity he has is huge. He still has the physiological capacity to win.”
Contador spent the last two years racing for Oleg Tinkov, and at times it appeared that his preparation and environment was not the most tranquil. When Guercilena sat down with Contador he explained that, along with providing a team dedicated to the Spaniard’s ambitions, there would be little in the way of off-the-bike distractions.
“What we’d like to do is put him in a calm environment in which he can go to the start of the race and know that we’re all supporting him. That he doesn’t need to be stressed about other kinds of stuff and that he can just focus on the victory. We don’t know what will happen because it’s racing and you always need to be attentive and there are many things that can happen. I still think he can win the Tour.”