Probable Leaders 2020: Greg Van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin, Ilnur Zakarin, Jan Hirt, Pat Bevin
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Greg Van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin, Ilnur Zakarin, Fausto Masnada, Jan Hirt
Hotness Rating 2020: Comfortably mild
Here’s a question for you: who was the UCI’s top-ranked male one-day rider in 2019?
Maybe Julian Alaphilippe, winner of Milano-Sanremo, La Flèche Wallonne and Strade Bianche? Nope. Jakob Fuglsang, conqueror of La Doyenne and runner-up to Alaphilippe in the three aforementioned classics? Wrong. Mathieu Van Der Poel, newly crowned king of all cycling and spectacular Amstel Gold Race winner? Nah. What about Alexander Kristoff, who took Gent-Wevelgem and appeared on the podium at Flanders? Not a chance.
In fact, the honour went to CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet, who didn’t win a WorldTour race until September (GP Montréal). It’s a marker of the man’s quality that in what was widely described as a “poor year” for the Belgian he emerged as the highest ranked cyclist in the professional one-day peloton.
Van Avermaet’s three wins last season accounted for exactly half of his team’s meagre total. KONM held forth on BORA-hansgrohe being all about Peter Sagan, but CCC were every bit as much a one-man outfit. They even gave GVA a gold helmet and bike to mark out the Olympic medallist from the rest of the team.
But that was the past, and the future of this team looks a little brighter. Coming into the setup are two intriguing potential leaders in the form of Italy’s Matteo Trentin and Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin.
Trentin had a decent year in 2019 and brings a much-needed cutting edge that CCC have lacked. Quite simply, Trentin wins races on regular basis and is usually there or thereabouts in finals. He almost became world champion in Yorkshire and has strong grand tour heritage including four stage wins. He’ll be a big player in this team.
Over the past year or so, Zakarin has looked something of a beaten man at Katusha-Alpecin. This may be more a reflection on that team’s dysfunction rather than the rider’s, as was suggested by the Russian’s heartwarming solo win on the slopes up to Ceresole Reale in the 2019 Giro.
That was as good as it got for Zakarin last season, but it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in a team not falling apart at the seams. He’s a talented stage-racer and will enjoy protected status in grand tours with CCC, who were previously unable to expand their GC horizons due to their late entry into the WorldTour when they took over the BMC baton. Zakarin is their first genuine GC leader and KONM hopes it goes well; there’s something very engaging about this lanky bastard.
Also in the door is Jan Hirt, who previously spent three years at CCC Sprandi Polkowice, the Pro Conti successor to this team. He knows how things work here and has improved significantly as a climber in recent years, featuring prominently in the mountains in several races in 2019.
Upon signing Hirt, CCC’s general manager Jim Ochowicz said, “Jan will join fellow climbers Ilnur Zackarin [sic], Fausto Masnada, and our neo pro Georg Zimmermann, in 2020 and with these four riders, I expect to see CCC Team very competitive in the mountains next year.”
No doubt, Jim, no doubt. But from that it’s not completely clear as to whether Hirt has been brought in as a super-domestique for Zakarin or if he’ll get chances of his own. Likeliness is those two will share GC duties and there’s every reason to expect the Czech to do well.
And then there’s the aforementioned Fausto Masnada, who became one of KONM’s favourite riders off the back of several combative breakaway exploits during the 2019 Giro, including a magnificent stage-win at San Giovanni Rotondo. The Italian also managed to podium at the Corsa Rosa on stage 16 and took 4th on stage 17.
He is a strong, strong rider growing in status. He might find himself working for others at CCC but if given chances there’s no reason why he can’t represent his new team with distinction in breaks. You’d have to think he’s set to be one of the most prominent names in Italian cycling over the years to come – and it won’t do any harm for him to be in a team with experienced compatriots like Trentin and Alessandro De Marchi.
Prediction: It couldn’t really get much worse than it was in 2019 for CCC, so improvement is very much on the cards in 2020.
There are some powerful and learned support riders in the squad, with the likes of Michael Schär, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Simon Geschke (to name but a few) sure to provide serious backup their leaders. CCC now have a real platform and a group of protected riders who can potentially use that base to their advantage.
They look infinitely more balanced in comparison to last season. Having GC contenders like Zakarin and Hirt, and a proven rouleur-sprinter like Trentin, will take a large amount of pressure off Van Avermaet’s shoulders. Unleashing GVA seems like a real possibility.
CCC may not be among the top few when it comes to victories next season, but KONM reckons those orange jerseys will appear on the top step on plenty more than a half-dozen occasions in 2020.