Probable Leaders 2020: Caleb Ewan, Philippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens, John Degenkolb, Thomas De Breakaway
KONM’s 2020 Watchlist: Caleb Ewan, Philippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens, John Degenkolb, Thomas De Breakaway, Stan Dewulf, Carl Fredrik Hagen, Jelle Wallays
Hotness Rating 2020: Sweltering
Lotto Soudal have been a favourite of KONM for quite some time now, and things won’t be any different in 2020. Despite the Sunweb defection of our beloved Tiesj Benoot, this is still the team closest to KONM’s heart, partly thanks to a mammoth multi-year Pro Cycling Manager save.
And with the return to Lotto of rouleur-supreme Philippe Gilbert, there’s some serious compensation for Benoot’s departure. The monuments-man had a hugely successful spell at this setup from 2009 to 2011, a period during which he was named Belgian Sportsman of the Year three times in a row.
Gilbert’s Lotto years coincided with him winning Il Lombardia and Amstel Gold Race twice, as well as taking Liège plus a host of other victories including grand tour stages and the Belgian national road race and ITT titles. Now he’s back, having left Deceuninck-Quick Step after an equally stellar spell there, and will be aiming to bulk up that exceptional palmarès even more.
Milano-Sanremo is the only monument missing from Gilbert’s collection, arguably because it tends to be the one that suits him the least. Poggio or not, surely it’ll be his personal “A” race this season as he looks to become the fourth man to win all five monuments, after Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy and Roger De Vlaeminck.
“I still have this dream to win all of them. Little by little I’m getting there,” Gilbert said after his win at Roubaix in 2019. It would be fitting if he realised his monument dream at Lotto, the team where he conquered his first. There’s a lot of strength there to support him and KONM would very much enjoy the sight of PhilGil topping the podium in San Remo.
In the modern era Gilbert is probably the all-round standout classics specialist, even with a behemoth like Peter Sagan sharing the same ecosystem. Quite simply, Phil’s got everything in his locker and for KONM there are few riders more glorious to watch. We hope it goes well for him and Lotto in 2020.
But the man who’s likely to be doing most of the winning for the team this season is Caleb Ewan, the stem-hanging Australian whose front wheel often finds itself closer to his nose than his brake pads. Ewan, an explosive sprinter, joined Lotto in 2019 in order to work with a team who’d make him a priority, and that’s exactly what happened.
He was arguably the peloton’s best sprinter last season, winning 10 races (more than double his 2018 total) including five grand tour stages. He was reborn after being sidelined at the Yates-focused Mitchelton-Scott and goes into this season as the rider every other bike-thrower will be marking.
At this stage it’s unclear if the arrival of John Degenkolb will affect Ewan, though by all accounts they’ll be operating in different spaces as protected riders. The German has reportedly said that he’ll work for the younger man while also pursuing his own classics ambitions alongside Gilbert. With Degenkolb potentially leading out Ewan in grand tours, Lotto can surely expect plenty of headline results from their premier fast-man.
As for how Degenkolb’s spring might shape up, it would be pleasing to see him rediscover his form of the mid-2010s, which saw him winning Paris-Roubaix, Milano-Sanremo (both 2015) and numerous grand tour stages. Degenkolb made his name at the Vuelta, where he won 10 stages between 2012 and 2015, but became one of the sport’s foremost personalities after those two monument wins.
The potential to build on the exceptional form of 2015 was taken from him the following January by a driver who was piloting their vehicle on the wrong side of the road. Degenkolb and several team-mates suffered serious injuries because of the driver’s actions and many commentators have suggested that he (understandably) hasn’t been the same rider since.
Whatever the accuracy of that idea, Degenkolb’s results from 2016 onwards have not been as ascendant as they were prior to the incident. It should be noted, however, that in 2019 he bagged second-places at Gent-Wevelgem and Eschborn-Frankfurt, and famously won a cobbled Tour stage to Roubaix in 2018.
How nice it would be to see him return to the springtime elite with a dedicated and experienced classics team backing him at the major races. All things considered, he has to be a really strong candidate for this year’s Hell of the North.
Anyway, it’s time to start covering more ground with this preview; 600-ish words in and KONM is yet to mention some Lotto riders who just happen to be among our very favourites. Like Jelle Wallays, whose Paris-Tours win in 2019 was a thing of absolute beauty. Or rather, a thing of absolute sweat, watts and guts. More of that in 2020 please, Jelle.
And what about pro bikepackers Tim Wellens and Thomas De Gendt? Well, for starters KONM would love to see big Tim winning more races. Clearly, he is capable of this but seems to have recently indicated that he feels the pressure when given sole leadership. The arrival of Gilbert and Degenkolb may free up Wellens to do what he does best: attack. With more options for his team on the leadership front, he could thrive; KONM would love to see him on the top step at the biggest races.
As for De Gendt, what more can you say about this man that hasn’t already been discussed on podcasts and in articles across the digital landscape? In 2020, he’ll just carry on being De Gendt and, to use an extremely irritating phrase, KONM is very much Here For That.
There’s no shortage of luminaries to watch out for at Lotto, but there are also emerging talents like Steff Cras, Stan Dewulf, Brent Van Moer and Gerben Thijssen, as well as the intriguing Carl Fredrik Hagen, the Norwegian who persevered his way to 8th in the 2019 Vuelta. At 28, Hagen has arrived late to the GC party but if that performance in Spain is anything to go by, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Prediction: After a few quiet years spent very much in the shadow of the Quick Step behemoth, Lotto appear to have built a talented and very well-balanced squad for 2020.
They’ll compete on several fronts in the classics and possess an outstanding sprinter in Ewan. KONM expects victories to flow, perhaps with one or two signature wins in March and April thanks to the Gilbert-Degenkolb-Wellens axis. That’s not to say they’ll reach DQS levels, but it’s possible this season will bring further improvements from Lotto.
There’s a sense that this is once again a team that’s going places. As KONM’s outfit of choice, we certainly hope so.
Last year, tragedy struck Lotto – and the cycling community as a whole – with the death of Bjorg Lambrecht, whose memory it’s vital to preserve this season and forever.
KONM remembers him and always will.
Rest in peace, Bjorg.