Trek-Segafredo could thrive as one of the most tightly-bonded teams in the peloton
In addition to testing riders physically, the 2020 season layered on the mental challenge of navigating the surprises and fraught periods of a pandemic year. The Trek-Segafredo men’s team not only made it through, they grew closer together while collecting results that showcased their mettle.
Trek-Segafredo’s roster largely returns intact for 2021. That inter-team familiarity and collective wisdom could serve them well against a fuller schedule of racing.
Richie Porte, third-place finisher at the Tour de France, is gone, but Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema remain as veteran presences for the grand tour squads. During the Giro d’Italia, they’ll serve as mentors to 26-year-old Giulio Ciccone, who will lead Trek-Segafredo’s campaign at the Vuelta a España.
Meanwhile, the classics squad headed by Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns is rock solid, especially with the reinforcement of four new riders and another year of development among the returnees. Their strength and camaraderie should make the Spring classics a joy to watch.
Trek-Segafredo heads into 2021 with an exciting mix of riders — both young and old, steady and explosive, proven and still-blooming. After a chaotic year, they are ready to show the peloton how special they can be.
The men’s team added four new riders in the offseason in Amanuel Gebreigzabhier, Antonio Tiberi, Mattias Skjelmose Jensen and Jakob Egholm. Three of those riders — Tiberi, Skjelmose Jensen and Egholm — are 22 years old or younger.
They are among 10 riders on the roster who are currently 24 years old or younger, making up over one-third of the team. Those developing riders have a strong group of veteran and accomplished riders on Trek-Segafredo to look up to, like Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema, Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen.
Egholm, like his peers, will be using the Classics as a proving ground for his abilities.
“When I got the opportunity to join this team, I didn’t hesitate at all,” Egholm said. “Everyone has really welcomed me. And everyone is really nice and supportive. I’ve been in the sport for some years now and I’ve met people who didn’t give as much to the young guys. It’s big that this team does.”
Mollema, meanwhile, is relishing the opportunity to mentor the rising generation.
“I think with young riders, normally they learn pretty quick. They’re motivated, they really want to learn from the older riders,” Mollema said. “I saw last week I was already one of the oldest five riders in the team. I still feel quite young, but I suppose the age is going up, like with everyone.”
Spring classics, beginning Feb. 27
With its deep roster, Trek-Segafredo has plenty of weapons for the one-day races, starting Feb. 27 with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which Jasper Stuyven won last season.
Trek-Segafredo has proven commodities — Mads Pedersen (2020 Gent-Wevelgem winner) and Bauke Mollema (2019 Il Lombardia and 2016 Clásica de San Sebastián) are bona fide one-day stars, along with Stuyven — but the relatively untested riders on the roster, like 24-year-old Matteo Moschetti and 19-year-old Quinn Simmons, have the potential to elevate the classics squad from good to great.
Moschetti and Simmons will race alongside Pedersen, Stuyven and Vincenzo Nibali at Milano-San Remo on March 20, in what should be the first good glimpse at Trek-Segafredo’s one-day prospects for the season. Trek-Segafredo’s classics riders are a famously tight-knit group, and maintaining good chemistry will be key to their results.
Stuyven, 28, is looking forward to taking on a mentoring role, though he notes that the Covid-19 pandemic limits some of his teaching opportunities. “We can’t be sitting around the lobby. There’s not a big table in the restaurant so all the main talking will have to be done on the bike.” Still, he said, “I try to be the guy for the young guys that I wanted the other guys to be with me.”
“They can always ask me something and I will always be the one who tries to make sure they believe in themselves,” Stuyven said. “Make them become the best rider they can be by making sure they are feeling at home in this team, that they are feeling valued in this team, and that they feel like they’re part of this team.”
The grand tours: May 8-30, Giro d'Italia; June 26-July 18, Tour de France; Aug. 14-Sept. 5, Vuelta a Espana
Trek-Segafredo will take three capable grand tour riders to Italy in May: Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema and Giulio Ciccone. Though all three will participate in one other grand tour this season — Nibali and Mollema will ride the Tour de France, while Ciccone will lead Trek-Segafredo’s GC hopes at the Vuelta a Espana — the Giro will be a particularly important test for three riders entering the season with chips on their shoulders.
Nibali is seemingly ageless, but at 36 years old he is one of the most veteran riders in a peloton that is becoming increasingly competitive with young riders graduating into the elite levels. Still, few riders in the history of the sport can match Nibali in terms of pure guile. This season, he’ll have a chance to prove that he still has plenty of tricks left to show cycling’s young guns.
Mollema will be aiming to redeem a cut-too-short 2020 campaign. Before being forced to abandon the 2020 Tour de France with a fractured wrist, he had completed 12 straight grand tours, finishing top 10 in five of them. He said he won’t be targeting the general classification in Italy, but he’s anxious to get back to a consistently high level nonetheless.
Ciccone is just a freshly-turned 26, but he already has six grand tour starts under his belt. Still, the opportunity to gain more experience can’t be taken for granted, especially ahead of his first effort leading a grad tour campaign in Spain later in the year. The pressure of riding grand tours could be overwhelming to a young rider, but he’s looking at the Giro as a chance to learn even more from his veteran teammates.
“I don’t feel the pressure because, OK, for sure it’s a bigger responsibility, that’s correct. But I’m young and I have a lot of opportunities,” Ciccone said. “I have another Giro with Vincenzo so I can study something more. And I have almost one year, almost one season to improve my skills [before the Vuelta]. For example, the time trial and all my weak points. So I have time and I don’t have a lot of pressure.”
Trek-Segafredo is fortunate to have three riders so motivated for grand tour success. Their journeys will make cycling’s biggest spectacles even more fascinating to watch.
World Championships, Sept. 26
Last season, 2019 World Champion Mads Pedersen opted not to defend his title. He was in fine form — he won a stage of the Tour of Poland, and took second on Stages 1 and 21 of the Tour de France — but ill-suited for the climbing-heavy course in Imola.
In 2021, Pedersen should mount a proper defense while representing his home country of Denmark against other top-notch national teams. The 267.7-kilometer course in Flanders is much better suited for cycling’s hardmen, with a finish consisting of two undulating circuits.
Joining Pedersen with rainbow dreams is Jasper Stuyven. This year’s course finishes in his home town of Leuven in Belgium, less than 150 meters from where he grew up.
“I think having a world championship in your own country is already nice for every rider to experience. But to have it really in your hometown I think adds a lot of extra excitement,” Stuyven said. “I think on that kind of course, I am a rider that can be competitive for the win. Of course it’s the kind of course that fits a lot of Belgian riders, so it’s a matter of finding the balance and having the right leadout at that moment.”
The World Championships are a unique event, turning year-round teammates like Pedersen and Stuyven into opponents as they race in their nations’ kits. Pedersen is already ribbing Stuyven about their chances in the race — “[I say] it would be an enjoyable moment for me to put him in second place while I’m winning.”
One big question
Can Mads Pedersen become a top flight sprinter?
Pedersen proved he is one of the best one-day riders in the world when he won a World Championship in 2019 at just 23 years old. But last season, he also flashed an ability to be one of the peloton’s strongest riders at the pointiest end of races, when pure speed matters most of all. Notably, he finished second in two bunch sprints at the 2020 Tour de France, including on the iconic Champs-Élysées, less than a bike length back of green jersey winner Sam Bennett.
Pedersen wasn’t surprised by the results, and would love to continue to improve. And if he continues to target bunch sprint finishes, he’ll receive a great leadout from teammates like Jasper Stuyven, Alex Kirsch and Edward Theuns. At the same time, he knows his biggest strength is currently as a classics rider, and he’s careful that any development as a sprinter doesn’t impede that success.
“I knew the sprint was good, but I didn’t expect it to be that good,” Pedersen said. “I’m still not a top sprinter within the best ones because Sam — he’s still Sam Bennett, he’s still beating me 10 out of 10 times if we have to go face against face.
“If we talk in five years and I’ve had enough of the classics, [maybe] I want to try to be a sprinter. But it’s not that easy to move from one kind of rider to another kind of rider. Right now I’m still way more focused for the classics, but I’m still working on my sprints to improve them and make them as fast as possible.”
Pedersen will have to strike a difficult balance if he wants to consistently beat the best sprinters in the world, but his potential is hard to overlook.
Two more riders to watch
Matteo Moschetti – Few people can compete with the 24-year-old Italian in terms of pure horsepower. Moschetti has had bad luck with injuries the past two seasons, but he gave a taste of his potential by winning two races at the Challenge Mallorca to start the 2020 season. If he can stay healthy, Moschetti could break out in a big way.
Koen de Kort – At 38 years old, De Kort is comfortably Trek-Segafredo’s oldest male rider. But with age comes wisdom, and De Kort is putting his experience to good use as a road captain. Look for him to play a prominent role in the Giro d’Italia, relaying tactics and managing the peloton in service of Bauke Mollema and Vincenzo Nibali.