Probable Leaders 2020: Mark Cavendish, Mikel Landa, Matej Mohoric, Wout Poels, Dylan Teuns
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Pello Bilbao, Ivan Garcia Cortina, Mikel Landa, Matej Mohoric, Dylan Teuns
Hotness Rating 2020: Toasty
Is it just KONM or is this now quite an interesting team? So much so that we’re willing to forgive the astonishingly dull and wonk-tastic references Bahrain-McLaren keep making to Formula 1, the most astonishingly dull and wonk-tastic sport on the planet (and perhaps in the entire universe).
Rod Ellingworth has taken overall charge of the group after leaving his long-term role at Team Sky/Ineos, and will add some vital nous to the rechristened middle-eastern team. He’s joined in the back room by Roger Hammond, ex-Dimension Data DS, who takes up a role as performance manager, while Tim Harris joins as development director.
Following Ellingworth into Bahrain’s petro-bosom is a host of new riders, many of whom the Briton knows well having previously worked with them, most notably Mikel Landa and Mark Cavendish. The Manxman’s struggles in recent years are well-documented – what more can KONM add? Landa, however, is one of the most fascinating off-season acquisitions by any WorldTour team.
For two years the Spaniard has been caught up in a web of intrigue at Movistar – a web, of course, in which he has done plenty of spinning. In truth, you never really knew what Landa was going to do when the chips were down in a big race: would he ride as requested for another member of the “trident”? Or would he attack his own “leader” after sensing weakness? Or throw a tantrum and step off the bike before holding an impromptu press-conference by the side of the road?
#FreeLanda is one of cycling’s funniest and most consistent hashtags. But now Landa is free and has pitched up at a team that might well support him in major stage races, perhaps even grand tours. There will be others at Bahrain claiming leadership, but Landa’s demands will be loudest and his CV the most convincing. He’s a seriously good rider and he’ll get a chance to make that clear in 2020 – significantly, his close friend Pello Bilbao has also been brought in. Watch this space.
Another high-profile arrival – and another acquainted with Ellingworth – comes in the form of Dutchman Wout Poels. Now 32, it’s hard to know where Poels stands as a rider. He cast a distracted presence at Ineos in 2019 despite an encouraging start in the early season stage races, including a stage-win at the Dauphiné. Maybe he was simply weary after five years as grist to Darth Brailsford’s mill.
In his first season at a new team, you’d imagine Poels will look for protected rider status – and he’ll probably get it. Landa is clearly the grand tour choice and there’s always the possibility Bahrain have earmarked Poels as super-dom material further down the line but, at the least, he’s likely to be given GC lead at various points in the spring.
Away from the incoming leaders, there are a bunch of exciting riders already on the books of this team.
Matej Mohoric has done nothing to suggest he will be anything other than magnificent in years to come, though there’s an argument to be made that he underachieved in 2019. He injured a knee in February, which may have been a mitigating factor, and was infamously taken down by an official at the Cro Race in October. Hopefully that won’t hold him back in 2020, when he may find opportunities more limited.
Dylan Teuns is now one of the peloton’s foremost punchers. He seemed to be involved in every final at the 2019 Vuelta, won an absolutely thrilling Tour stage on La Planche des Belles Filles and looked a constant threat in almost every race he entered last season. He’ll be 28 in March, so he’s only going to get stronger. Bahrain will be looking to him for wins in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Spanish duo of Bilbao and Ivan Garcia Cortina is very exciting to KONM. There aren’t too many more combative riders in the peloton than Bilbao, while Garcia Cortina has been on the watchlist at KONM Towers for some time now. You could argue that he had an unexceptional 2019, but he only turned 24 in November so there’s big potential there.
Cortina may find himself pressed into the service of others, so perhaps it’s wrong to expect much from him in 2020, but KONM would like to see him become more prominent. He’s got the punch and the fast finish – don’t be surprised to see him popping up in finals next year, even if he largely spends the year fetching bottles for Don Mikel.
Elsewhere, it’ll be interesting to see how Bahrain use their fast-men. Cavendish has arrived, but he hasn’t won a race – or looked like winning one – since February 2017. Based on form both Sonny Colbrelli and Phil Bauhaus are now objectively superior sprinters, but this team has made a lot of noise about signing Cavendish.
Even if that’s simply marketing hype on the part of McLaren, Ellingworth et al clearly have something in mind for the former world champion. Maybe that’s simply an Olympic challenge, but maybe it’s something more.
Oh, and there’s also the small matter of Rohan Dennis leaving to join Ineos and Vincenzo Nibali defecting to Trek-Segafredo. But those are subjects best left for a different Focus on 2020.
Prediction: Bahrain didn’t win many races in 2019, with Teuns’ and Nibali’s Tour stage-wins the clear highlights, so it won’t take much for them to have a better year in 2020.
The arrival of Ellingworth, Landa, Poels, Bilbao and Cavendish makes them an intriguing setup, and you’d have to expect victories at an increased rate next year. KONM doesn’t think this team is going to set the world alight, but when you’re starting from a relatively low base, improvements are easier to come by.
Landa might even end up winning some races. Stranger things have happened.