Blazin' Saddles: The 2019 transfers which worked – and those which didn't
In the first of our end of season reviews, we reflect on the best and worst of the big moves of 2019. For every Tadej Pogacar or Giulio Ciccone there's a Michael Valgren or Niki Terpstra – while, for some, the jury is still out.
Between now and the end of the year, we will take a look back at the 2019 cycling season and work our way through the major talking points: the best riders, the biggest surprises, the largest disappointments, the most memorable attacks, stages, races and much more.
Here we get the ball rolling with the best and worst transfers of the year. Which ones worked and which did not?
Worked: Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)
The writing was on the wall for the pocket-rocket from Sydney when Mitchelton-Scott reneged on their promise to give Ewan his Tour debut in 2018 – instead going all in for Adam Yates's tilt for the yellow jersey (he finished 29th).
A year later, Ewan finally made his Tour debut, but for a different team, picking up three wins including victory on the fabled Champs-Elysees. Off the back of a victorious brace in the Giro, Ewan struggled to impose himself in the opening half of the Tour, before the floodgates opened.
His victories in France meant Ewan, at the tender age of 25, became a stage winner in all three Grand Tours. His haul of 10 wins through the year marked his most successful season as a pro and came thanks to the faith shown by Lotto Soudal to back Ewan as a seamless heir to Andre Greipel.
Didn't work: Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic)
Talking of Greipel, things did not exactly go to plan for the German veteran after he dropped to pro-continental level in a bid to keep the wins rolling in. Having struggled with a bacterial disease early in the season, the 37-year-old's only win of the year came in La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, with Greipel only once cracking the top 10 in any of the Tour sprints.
Still out of contract for 2020, it remains to be seen if Greipel can ride an 18th Grand Tour let alone add that elusive 23rd Grand Tour stage win. Form and age suggest the Gorilla may have been put out to pasture, with an announcement expected early November.
Worked: Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma)
Sticking with ageing Germans, Martin's first season at Jumbo-Visma was a bit of a rollercoaster, with the 34-year-old hitting the deck more frequently than a landlubbing sailor. The stats and bare facts suggest Martin had a bit of a stinker: disqualified from the Tour after that unsavoury spat with Luke Rowe and a DNF in the Vuelta meant he failed to finish his two big races of the year.
But before bowing out in Stages 17 and 19 respectively, Martin was instrumental in guiding Steven Kruijswijk to third place on the Tour and Primoz Roglic to winning the Vuelta. A regular fixture controlling things for his leaders in the peloton, Martin was a selfless workhorse for Jumbo-Visma – and a key cog in the team's victory in the Tour's TTT. He'll be key in 2020, too.
Other riders who made successful switches to Jumbo-Visma include Mike Teunissen, the former Sunweb sprinter who wore the Tour's first yellow jersey after his surprise win in Brussels, and Laurens de Plus, who showed Deceuninck-QuickStep what they were missing after supporting Kruijswijk during the Tour. How Julian Alaphilippe could have done with De Plus by his side…
Didn't work: Rohan Dennis (Bahrain Merida)
From one former time trial world champion to the current ITT rainbow jersey, and it's fair to say that Dennis's first year post-BMC, despite his winning turn in Yorkshire, was not one to savour – neither for the 29-year-old Australian nor his employers. It would have helped if Dennis had been prepared to ride a Merida bike, or worn a regulation team helmet, but a mixture of petulance and his bond with BMC put paid to that idea.
After walking out on his Bahrain-Merida teammates on the Tour, symbolically on the eve of the only race against the clock, Dennis was not seen again until winning the world championships ITT. On an unmarked BMC bike, naturally. His contract with Bahrain was swiftly terminated.
It has yet to be announced where he'll ride in 2020. Undeniably a talent, but with more baggage that an airport departure lounge, Dennis needs to let something give or he'll be wasting the best years of his career. Ineos are sniffing around. Perhaps being a super-domestique will give him some focus. Provided he's willing to ride a Pinerello…
Worked: Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida)
One rider who did manage to make the transition between BMC and Bahrain more successfully was the Belgian Teuns, who won Stage 6 of the Tour on La Super Planche de Belles Filles before taking the red jersey in the corresponding stage of the Vuelta seven weeks later.
Teuns only had one day in red but finished the race in 12th place – a career high in his fifth Grand Tour. An earlier scalp in the Dauphine was another highlight for the 27-year-old all-rounder, who capped a fine year off by returning to the Vosges to propose to his girlfriend…
Worked: Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo)
The rider who Teuns beat in Stage 6 of the Tour was the Italian Ciccone, whose consolation prize that day more than made up for his disappointment. Ciccone's subsequent two days in the yellow jersey came after he had already secured the blue king of the mountains jersey in his home Giro d'Italia, where he won Stage 16 in the rain after attacking on the fearsome Mortirolo.
After a successful first season at Trek, it will be intriguing to see how Ciccone dovetails with fellow Italian Vincenzo Nibali when he makes the switch from Bahrain-Merida over the winter.
Didn't work: Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo)
What Nibali's arrival means for the Australian remains to be seen after a largely lacklustre first year following his move from BMC. Porte did make it six in a row on Willunga Hill in January, but that was about as good as it got for the 34-year-old.
Porte largely ghosted his way through France in July, only once – in the Pau ITT – finishing in the top five of a stage, eventually coming home almost 13 minutes down on Egan Bernal in 11th place. With one year left on his contract, Porte would be best served focusing on shorter races or supporting Nibali and Ciccone, but you expect he still has higher ambitions than that.
Worked: Ion and Gorka Izagirre (Astana)
Both the Basque brothers were central to Astana's winning streak early in the season, with 32-year-old Gorka winning the Tour de la Provence and 30-year-old Ion winning Itzulia Basque Country and Volta a Communidad Valenciana, as well as stage 6 of Paris-Nice.
Ion was a key lieutenant for Miguel Angel Lopez in both the Giro and Vuelta, while Gorka rode for Jakob Fuglsang in the Tour and then the Vuelta, joining his brother in the team that won the opening TTT in Torrevieja. There's still more to come from the livewire brothers, but this was a solid start.
Didn't work: Michael Valgren (Dimension Data)
Flying the Astana nest before the arrival of the Izagirres, the Dane's career at Dimension Data hasn't got off to the best start. Indeed, the 27-year-old was the shadow of the exciting rider who won both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the Amstel Gold in 2018. His arrival was seen as a real coup for the team, but Valgren has been unable to showcase his talent, not once finishing in the top five in 2019.
Valgren was brought in to reinvigorate Dimension Data's roster and, alongside fellow new arrivals Enrico Gasparotto and Roman Kreuziger, he was meant to spearhead the team's Ardennes campaign. But Gasparotto's 10th in La Fleche and Kreuziger's 18th in Amstel was as good as things got.
Time is still on Valgren's side, however, and sixth place in the rain-sodden World Championships in the wheel of Peter Sagan in Yorkshire indicated a welcome return to form for the Dane. Next year will be key for his career.
Didn't work: Niki Terpstra (Total-Direct Energie)
Dutchman Terpstra opted to being a big fish in a small pond by quitting the heavy-hitters at QuickStep to ride for far larger remuneration – and responsibility – at pro-continental level chez Jean-Rene Bernaudeau.
Third place in both Le Samyn and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne boded well for Tepstra, whose spring classics season was subsequently derailed following a nasty fall in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Months later, the 35-year-old crashed out of the Tour after another hefty crash, capping a frustrating year. Finishing runner-up in Paris-Tours in October was an indication of what may have been, but Bernaudeau will expect more from his man next year.
Didn't work: Pierre Rolland (Vital Concept)
Another former Bernaudeau steed struggled after dropping back a level following his move from EF Education First. In Rolland's defence, his team's non-invitation to most of the big races meant he couldn't test himself on the main stage. That said, the 33-year-old Frenchman didn't notch a win all year and may be worried that his Grand Tour days are over.
Worked: Segio Higuita (EF Education First)
Filling the Rolland void at the American team was, among others, the Colombian youngster Higuita, whose promising first season as a pro saw him finish runner up in the Tour of California and win Stage 18 of the Vuelta en route to a 14th place overall that would have been higher without numerous debilitating crashes.
In Higuita it looks like Jonathan Vaughers has a like-for-like heir to compatriot Rigoberto Uran. EF Education First also secured their first ever Monument win through new arrival Alberto Bettiol, the Italian soloing clear to win the Tour of Flanders in April. The 26-year-old did very little else all season, but will now carry some swagger going into the 2020 classics campaign.
Worked: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
The young man who beat Higuita to California glory was arguably the rider of the season in Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar. Having made the switch from the continental outfit Ljubjana Gusto Xaurum, the 20-year-old became the youngest ever overall winner of a WorldTour race in California off the back of winning the Volta a Algarve earlier in the season.
But the best was yet to come: having become Slovenia's ITT champion, Pogacar made light work of his maiden Grand Tour, climbing quite superbly in the lofty mountain ranges of Spain to snare a hat-trick of wins in the Vuelta and third place on the final podium behind compatriot Roglic and the veteran Alejandro Valverde (some 18 years his senior).
With the likes of David de la Cruz, Davide Formolo and Joe Dombrowski incoming at UAE, the prospect of Pogacar taking on the likes of Roglic and Bernal at the Tour de France next year is a mouth-watering one.
Didn't work: Enrico Battaglin (Katusha-Alpecin)
To be fair, not much worked at Katusha all year, so it's perhaps a given that their marquee signing struggled to make an impact. In May's Giro, the 29-year-old was a shadow of a rider with three previous stage wins to his name, while in the Vuelta, Battaglin's highest finish was 40th place, frustrating all those who had shelled out eight credits on him in Velogames.
Fellow new arrivals Dani Navarro, Harry Tanfield and Jens Debusschere hardly had seasons to write home about – and it's no surprise that a cloud of uncertainty hangs above Katusha at the end of a season which also saw an unhappy Marcel Kittel hang up his cycling shoes.
Worked: Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal)
Even in spite of the Norwegian's stellar Vuelta, many fans may still have never heard of him. Having joined from the continental Joker Icopal team, Hagen made his Grand Tour debut aged 27 in August, riding consistently and calmly to eighth place overall despite having to do so without any team support.
It was an illuminating result for Hagen and one which will give Lotto Soudal something to think about going forward. Perhaps, from apparently nowhere, they have a GC rider on their hands. Now they just have to figure out how to handle him.
Jury's still out…
Tom Dumoulin's injury in the Giro changed Nicolas Roche's role at Sunweb following his move from BMC. If the Irishman was all at sea in the Tour, he rolled back the years in the Vuelta thanks to three days in red in the opening week. But what may have been we'll never know after Roche crashed out in Stage 6. With Dumoulin now gone, it will be interesting to see how the 35-year-old is used in 2020.
Team Ineos trio Eddie Dunbar, Ivan Sosa and Filippo Ganna hardly garnered the same column inches as the likes of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Bernal, but they showed in flashes what they are capable of.
If Dunbar rode an aggressive maiden Grand Tour, coming close to victory in Stage 12 of the Giro, Colombian Sosa struggled to make an impact in the same race, despite the promise he showed earlier in the season in his native Colombia 2.1 Tour. Victory in the Vuelta a Burgos in August was encouraging, however.
For Ganna, the former UAE Team Emirates rider was not given many chances in the major races, but ITT victories in Tour de la Provence and the Binck Bank Tour, as well as his national championships, suggests he could find a role in the Ineos engine room yet.
Another Italian, Giacomo Nizzolo, did not exactly pull up any trees but he was one of the few positives at Dimension Data in 2019, his three stage wins almost half the amount the team managed all year. Still, there's certainly room for improvement.
Germany's Max Schachmann notched six wins in his first season for Bora-Hansgrohe, and yet we did not see much of the former QuickStep rider on the main stage after he left the Tour following a nasty fall in the ITT. There's much more to come from the 25-year-old.
And finally, a name whose inclusion on the Jury's out list will sit badly with many, that of Wout van Aert. Let's just get something straight – the 25-year-old Belgian had a superb first season at Jumbo-Visma: a highly competitive classics campaign was followed by a brace of wins in both the Dauphine and the Tour.
But Van Aert nevertheless came off second best in the battle of the former cyclo-cross stars, with Mathieu van der Poel very much eclipsing his old rival on the road. That nasty crash in the Tour ended his season prematurely, and who knows what Van Aert could have pulled out of the bag in the final week of the Tour and beyond. But as things stand, you sense that he will feel a little deflated about his 2019.
All the more reason for Van Aert to come back even stronger in 2020. The talent, ability and hunger is certainly there. He's such a star in the making that you sense that his 2019, which would have been deemed a huge success for most riders, will be seen as a mere blip by Van Aert in the future.