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Team Focus 2019: Bahrain-Merida

Nationality: Have a guess

2018 WT Ranking: 7th

2018 WT major wins: Milano-San Remo, Vincenzo Nibali; Binckbank Tour, Matej Mohoric; Stage 10 Il Giro, Matej Mohoric

Riders to watch in 2019: His Nibs, Matej Mohoric, Sonny Colbrelli, Rohan Dennis, Dylan Teuns

Notable for: Gold helmets; Nibali

IS IT JUST ME, OR ARE BAHRAIN-MERIDA SHAPING UP TO BE QUITE INTERESTING IN 2019?

For starters, big Vince Nibali is back for another year raking in the benefits of oil-gotten gains at the more attractive of the World Tour’s Middle-Eastern shill-teams*. But there’s also the blossoming Matej Mohoric and the rapid Sonny Colbrelli, as well as the incoming former BMC men Rohan Dennis and Dylan Teuns.

*Although KONM has a soft spot for UAE Team Emirates thanks to the presence of Dan Martin.

Things are looking up for this team in 2019 after some impressive showings the previous year. Of course, it helps when you have the bottomless finances of a fossil fuel-rich gulf state behind you.

Cynicism aside, though, it would have meant a lot to the famously cycling-mad citizens of Bahrain to see Nibali powering to first place at Milano-San Remo last April. They were surely dancing in the streets of Manama after that famous victory.

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But there may still be even more to come from Bahrain-Merida and Nibali. Would you bet against the Italian once again riding to glory in a major classic or a monument? KONM certainly wouldn’t.

Nibali’s chances of challenging seriously for a grand tour are surely heavily reduced at this stage of his career, but Alejandro Valverde’s recent World Championship victory would have been a real encouragement for riders in their mid-30s. Nibali, for his part, has been banging on to La Gazzetta recently about how he wants to win another grand tour. It seems unlikely, but who is KONM to question him?

Beyond the Shark of Messina, Mohoric looks a real prospect. Like his compatriot Primoz Roglic, the Slovenian goes down hills with the speed and reckless abandon of an Earthbound meteorite. He’s of a similar frame to Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, albeit a few bags of sugar heavier than the latter, so there’s no physical reason why he shouldn’t turn out to be a grand tour competitor at some stage in the future.* For Mohoric, though, 2019 will be about development.

*Wayyyy in the future, perhaps.

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As for the new arrivals, Dennis is primarily a time-triallist – the World Champion in fact – so it’s hard to know where he’ll fit into this team outside the chrono environment. KONM isn’t sure that he will ever be a feasible GC candidate for high-grade stage races or grand tours, and perhaps not even as a classics rider aiming to win the bigger ones. Still, he can’t be a bad rider if he’s world TT champ. KONM likes Dennis; we hope to see him expand his skill-set and start winning major races.

Another coming in from BMC is Belgian Classics-Monster™ Dylan Teuns who, if we’re being honest, is more of a stage-racer these days. He won the Tour of Poland, the Arctic Race of Norway and the Tour de Wallonie in 2017, but was effectively an also-ran for most of 2018. Let there be no mistake, however: a podium at Il Lombardia in October (behind Nibali) proves the Flandrian is no mug.

Hopefully, the brains-trust at Bahrain-Merida see fit to give him GC opportunities and don’t simply mould him into a super-domestique for Nibali.

Featured photo: Ciclismo Italia/Flickr, edited by KONM

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