In September 2014 Elia Viviani took the Coppa Bernocchi in what would be Cannondale Pro Cycling’s last victory. Three weeks earlier Alessandro De Marchi had climbed to Vuelta success for the team’s final Grand Tour win and the only one of the season. The campaign had few real highs with sporadic Peter Sagan and Viviani vitories failing to live up to a successful 2013. The team had in fact been winding up since July where a strong rumour surfaced regarding the loss of their title sponsor.
Garmin Sharp had fared slightly better over the campaign with wins at Paris-Nice, the Tour, the Vuelta, and Il Lombardia giving team manager Jonathan Vaughters enough to smile about. From the mid-Season, however, Vaughters had been facing questions about the team’s future with Cannondale rumoured to be moving in as a sponsor. After the sponsorship merry-go-round had come to rest, Cannondale had indeed taken over as title sponsor with Garmin retained in the name. Despite this, the team was still to be managed by Slipstream Sports with Vaughters at the helm.
The name ‘merger’ was to be used loosely with the initial line-up featuring 17 Garmin riders but just seven from Cannondale. Riders Sagan, Viviani, De Marchi and Ivan Basso had moved on leaving Cannondale’s contribution to the new look squad lacking in big names. In truth, the Cannondale-Garmin outfit of 2015 felt far more like an old Garmin squad than one of Cannondale, relying on the likes of Ryder Hesjedal and Dan Martin to take on leadership opportunities.
The identity of the old Cannondale teams, formerly Liquigas, got lost in the new argyle and the team were a far cry from the 2010 squad headed by Basso and Vincenzo Nibali. The pair went on to win the Giro and Vuelta respectively that year and the squad were one of the strongest on the World Tour, certainly toppling Lampre as Italy’s most successful team.
Despite this, the merger did not look a wholly unsuccessful affair with Garmin keeping its experienced heads and Cannondale providing some much needed young talent in the form of Davide Formolo, Davide Villella and U23 World Champion Matej Mohoric. It all went smoothly and management were making all the right noises. The squad list looked good too with Martin, Hesjedal and former Dauphine winner Andrew Talansky ready to attack the Grand Tours, plus Formolo an exciting prospect. Their threat in the one day races looked a little limited but alongside Martin they could boast two of the most promising Dutch riders in Tom-Jelte Slagter and Dylan Van Baarle.
Unfortunately, many of the names mentioned above did little in 2015 to enhance their reputations and the excitement of the merger died down as the season unfolded. The team grabbed just nine victories excluding National Championships, just four in Europe and, worst still, just one single win on the UCI World Tour. Their return was around half of what both former teams had claimed in the previous season.
With Elia Viviani’s move to Team Sky they had been left without a sprinter but their problems ran much deeper than just notching up victories. The season started slowly and the team were an absent force in the early World Tour races. It took them until March to find a win, Ben King escaping well at the Criterium International. Next up was the Giro where the team looked good for the first time and, in fairness, should not be disappointed with their efforts.
On Stage 4 young Formolo grabbed a fantastic win but it was Hesjedal’s exploits in the second half of the race that would have brought most happiness to team bosses. He was one of the strongest climbers in the race, losing little time to the likes of Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru on the race’s highest slopes. The Canadian rode out of Italy, and in fact the entire campaign, without a victory but can count himself one of the most unlucky riders in the peloton. Both Hesjedal and Formolo emerge with credit from the 2015 campaign, though the young Italian’s season did fade after his victory in La Spezia.
Talansky’s season was patchy at best, Jelte-Slagter waited until September’s Tour of Alberta to show form and Ramunas Narvardauskas grabbed his best result in the colours of Lithuania finishing third at the World Championships. Individually the team has the talent but getting eight or nine riders in form at the same time, and on the same page, is where they struggled. Whilst slices of bad luck were often apparent, the likes of Martin and Joe Dombrowski weren’t at their best when they would have hoped to be. Another curious rider is Mohoric who has failed to build on his sensational teenage form and looked lost throughout the season and abandoned all his major races. He’s only 21 but has now moved to Lampre Merida for the new campaign.
A year on from the merger Cannondale-Garmin have been very active in the transfer market. Out the door goes Hesjedal (Trek) and Daniel Martin (Etixx). The feeling is that both have gone on to better teams with Martin clearly still one of the most exciting riders on the circuit. Both outgoing riders have the potential to hurt the team in the same way Rohan Dennis has following his departure in August of last year. Through the door comes Pierre Rolland and Rigoberto Uran and both are extremely capable Grand Tour performers. The two may prove to be adequate replacements but have come in search of blank slates. The team’s best business may prove to be in acquiring hard working riders Simon Clarke, Toms Skujins and Matti Breschel and all three should bolster the chances of achieving targets. In Lawson Craddock they’ve gained a talented prospect whilst Wouter Wippert will give the team a sprint option at long last. The Dutchman has arrived from Pro Continental team Drapac but has a World Tour victory to his name at the Tour Down Under. He also followed Mark Cavendish home twice in California.
The big questions surrounding Cannondale-Garmin for 2016 involve what they can get out of Uran. At his best a Grand Tour contender, the Colombian hasn’t looked competitive at that level since the start of the 2014 Vuelta. Vaughters will no doubt be looking forward to working with Pierre Rolland who showed flashes of ability at the Tour de France once again. Add to these two a few wins for Wippert and the team could be on the rise. They once again look a drastically changed outfit and now only the dregs of their founding teams remain.