The Perfect Team (2)
The Perfect Team is a new series for Soigneur. Over the coming months, we will ask cycling experts the question: Who would you select for your perfect team?
If you were a DS, which riders would you choose to have on your team? Why? The rules are simple: Choose only riders who will race this season. Each rider can fill only one role.
The second team is by journalist Daniel Friebe (@friebos)
The best all-round GC rider in 2018 and also one of cycling’s most charismatic and marketable personalities. Dumoulin made mistakes both before and during last year’s Giro – by his own admission training too hard in the winter and perhaps following the wrong safety procedure behind the Froome-bomb on the Finestre. This year I expect him to be shrewder in his training smarter in his decisions.
In the last couple of years it’s been more common for pundits to dwell on Sunweb’s collective weakness than on their strength in three-week races, but Sam Oomen’s increasing influence as Dumoulin’s guide- or guard-dog is shifting opinions. Oomen is still one season short of complete emancipation as a grand tour team leader; I expect him to spend his last few months in a supporting role, particularly at the Tour de France, cementing a place among the peloton’s best mountain domestiques.
If we use stellar climbing and mediocre time-trialling as our door policy, and exclude the mountain goats I expect to be the world’s best in 2019 on the grounds that they’ll all be “Captains” in at least one major tour – Egan Bernal, Miguel Ángel López, Thibaut Pinot, Mikel Landa, Enric Mas and Simon Yates – the choice here becomes a hard one to make. I’ll “cheat” by going for JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE on the basis that, if the Tour de France rubber-stamped his credentials as a “climber” by adjudging him the King of the Mountains, that’s enough for a disingenuous armchair quarterback like me.
To my mind it’s not sprinting or puncheur-ing or the versatility that’s most remarkable about Peter Sagan; it’s not the wheelies or the ability to cultivate and captivate an audience beyond cycling’s established fanbase, either. What impresses me most is his ability to shrug off the distractions and maintain a level of performance that has hardly wavered in what is approaching a decade at the sport’s pinnacle. The law of averages suggests that Sagan will sooner or later endure his annus horribilis; the rule of Sagan, however, makes it far more likely that it’ll be business and show-business as usual for him in 2019 – and, I’ll venture, a fourth world title in Yorkshire.
A domestique only in the grand tours, and quite possibly one of the best in the world in that job. Brilliant on the flat, capable even of setting the pace on the lower slopes of major climbs, Naesen has no major weakness and a comprehensive array of strengths for every terrain and race circumstance. Some riders have found themselves marginalised since the UCI’s move to smaller teams in World Tour events; Naesen is among those multi-skilled polymaths whose stock has exploded.
Another brilliant, Swiss army knife of a rider whose qualities have been appreciated by scores of team-mates over the years. Impey could easily have pursued a career as the sixth or seventh best puncheur in the world, no doubt picking up prestigious results in some of the world’s biggest races; he’s done a bit of that, but mainly he’s been helping leaders in every conceivable way, on every conceivable terrain.
One pundit’s up-and-comer is another’s well-and-truly-already arrived, so I’ll set my own qualifying criteria and restrict myself to riders about to embark on their first season in the World Tour. Strong candidates include Deceuninck’s bimbo d’oro Remco Evenepoel, reigning U23 world champ Marc Hirschi of Sunweb and star UAE recruit and Tour de l’Avenir winner Tadej Pogacar – but none of these quite satisfies my hipster compulsion. Hence, I’ll take a Finn, Jaako Hänninen, who didn’t sign his pro contract with Ag2r until last November and won’t actually join the team until August. Jaako’s notable achievements last year: a series of prestigious wins in France and the fastest time of any rider, in any race up the Igls climb at the Innsbruck world champs, on his way to a bronze medal in the U23 event.
No surprises, no fancy-pants, left-field selection here: after years of steady improvement and a fleeting moment when it appeared that the Cancellara-Tony Martin-Tom Dumoulin line of succession didn’t have a natural heir, Dennis has well and truly sunk himself into the throne over the last twelve months. His major tour GC credentials remain a moot point but against the clock he reigns supreme.