Trek-Segafredo team manager Luca Guercilena has told Cyclingnews that Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is on the list of riders the US-registered WorldTour team would be interested in signing for 2019 after opting not to splash a significant chunk of the team's budget to secure an immediate replacement for Alberto Contador.
Contador's unexpected retirement after the Vuelta a Espana left Trek-Segafredo and Guercilena on the back foot and means the team will not have a big-name Grand Tour leader for 2018. Instead, they hope John Degenkolb can return to his best and have an excellent Classics campaign, while Bauke Mollema will again carry the team's overall hopes at the Tour de France.
"Alberto is very hard to replace; there aren't many Grand Tour leaders like him out there," Guercilena told Cyclingnews. "Indeed, apart from Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali there aren't really any riders at his level. In agreement with our sponsors, we've decided to take advantage of the investment we've already made in the team, with the idea to invest in a Grand Tour leader in the future."
Thomas is an obvious target for Trek-Segafredo. The Welshman has still to secure a podium finish in a Grand Tour but has shown huge potential and only signed a one-year contract extension with Team Sky for 2018.
"We've got some names we'd be interested in signing, and Geraint Thomas would be one of those riders for sure," Guercilena said.
"But we also know how hard it is to sign riders from good set-ups like Team Sky. We've preferred to think long-term, until 2020, with the idea of investing the money we have in 2019. We'll plan carefully so we get the right rider."
Trek-Segafredo missed out in this summer's game of Grand Tour team leader musical chairs. Mikel Landa will move from Team Sky to Movistar, Fabio Aru is expected to leave Astana for UAE Team Emirates and Rigoberto Uran has extended with Jonathan Vaughter's Slipstream squad that will have EF Education First as a new title sponsor.
Last week senior directeur sportif Steven de Jongh suggested Aru's reported demands for a three million Euro salary and a lack of Grand Tour guarantees put off Trek-Segafredo. The Italian rode well at the Tour de France but eventually finished fifth in Paris and then was only 13th at the Vuelta a Espana. He has not finished on the podium of a Grand Tour since winning the 2015 Vuelta a Espana.
“We were obviously initially interested in signing a rider like Fabio Aru and then Mikel Landa when Contador confirmed that he was going to retire. But after we'd evaluated the economics of signing a new team leader and considered our options, we preferred to invest in the riders we already have on our roster," Guercilena explained.
"We've got Bauke Mollema, John Degenkolb, Jarlinson Pantano, Jasper Stuyven, Fabio Felline and Nizzolo. We hope to get the best out of them in 2018. They're at the peak of their careers now and so we expect them to do well. We've also added some new signings such as Gianluca Brambilla and Ryan Mullen, who can do well in hilly races and time trials."
Trek-Segafredo also added Toms Skujins from Cannondale-Drapac, Ethiopia's Tsgabu Grmay from Bahrain-Merida, 22-year-old Dane Niklas Eg and Kiwi Alex Frame from British Continental team JLT-Condor. The team will have a 27-rider roster in 2018.
"We'll have the same hopes and objectives as in 2016, before Contador joined the team, with Bauke Mollema as leader. People quickly forget he was second overall until two stages to go [in the 2016 Tour de France, ed.] It would be good to again be in that situation," Guercilena said.
Missing a big win in 2017
Trek-Segafredo riders have so far won 17 races this season, with riders in action at this week's Tour of Turkey and then the Tour of Guangxi in China next week.
Contador's farewell during the Vuelta a Espana - as he tried to secure a place on the final podium or even crack Chris Froome - was a special moment, but Guercilena admits injuries and illness to the likes of Degenkolb, Nizzolo and Felline meant the team missed out on season-defining success in 2017.
"We've some big stage wins and had some special moments thanks to Bauke in the Tour and thanks to Alberto's emotional farewell at the Vuelta, but there's a perception that we're lacking some success," the Italian team manager admitted.
"If we compare things to 2016 we didn't do too bad. We got a series of results and were a lot more competitive in many of the big races. But as the season ends, it's fair to say that we've missed out on a big, big win in a Grand Tour or a major Classic.
"We can only role up our sleeves and keep working hard. We've already started working for the 2018 season, knowing that things can and have to get better."