Blazin' Saddles: The five best teams of 2019 – Jumbo-Visma come out on top
Jumbo-Visma just pip Deceuninck-QuickStep as our best team of 2019 – although is there a space for Team Ineos in the top five? The latest of Felix Lowe's end of season reviews focuses on the teams standing heads and shoulders above the rest, and looks as those who must do better in 2020.
Despite a famous one-two in the Tour de France through Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas, there's no place in our top five for Team Ineos, who endured torrid editions of both the Giro and Vuelta. Chris Froome's career-threatening crash further took the gloss off a tough first year for the new sponsor, with Bernal's brilliance – encapsulated by additional wins in Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse – papering over the cracks. Sir Jim will expect more from Sir Dave next year.
There's also no place for Movistar, despite winning the Giro through Ecuador's Richard Carapaz and placing three riders in the top 10 of both the Tour and Vuelta. Alejandro Valverde, most notably, finished runner-up in Spain, aged 39, but also presided over more in-fighting than the Conservative party.
But enough of those who did not make the cut. Let's now run through the top five teams – in reverse order.
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5. Mitchelton-Scott: 35 wins
Simon Yates of United Kingdom and Team Mitchelton Scott / Adam Yates of United Kingdom and Mitchelton Scott / Team Presentation / during the 65th Ruta del Sol 2019, Stage 1 a 170,5km stage from Sanlúcar de Barrameda to Alcalá de los Gazules 213m / RDS / @Getty Images
In many respects, this was a disappointing year for the Australian team, whose GC riders Simon and Adam Yates failed to deliver the goods despite a promising spring. The twins were in the early wins along with the likes of Matteo Trentin and Daryl Impey, who won the Tour Down Under.
Then came the Giro, where Simon Yates' unfinished business remained unfinished and the only saving grace was an 11th hour stage win from Esteban Chaves. In July's Tour, Adam Yates' GC hopes went up in smoke, but brother Simon oozed class with two stage wins – and could have added a third at Tignes the day landslides derailed the race.
If further wins from Impey and Trentin on the Tour showed Mitchelton-Scott's ability to turn things round, the team's lacklustre Vuelta showing (zero wins and only a distant 10th place for Mikel Nieve) perhaps highlighted their over reliance on the two boys from Bury. Talking of whom, Adam ended his season on a high with a stage and the overall in the CRO Race.
Still, Mitchelton-Scott remained a tight unit and notched three TTT wins over the course of the year. And in other circumstances, Trentin could have turned out for his final races for the team in a rainbow jersey. It was a tough call to include Matt White's boys at the expense of Movistar – but the Spanish team's internal issues (despite that Giro win by Carapaz) held them back. With riders of the ability of Valverde, Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana and the Ineos-bound Ecuadorian, they really should have done much better.
4. Bora-Hansgrohe: 47 wins
BinckBank Tour - Bora-HansgroheGetty Images
What was most impressive about the German team's season was the fact that they were in no way reliant upon the former triple world champion Peter Sagan. In fact, Sagan was responsible for just four of Bora's 47 wins, with sprinters Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackermann both hitting double figures.
A lot was written about Bora's handling of their two fastmen, with Ackermann favoured for the Giro despite Bennett's hat-trick of wins from the previous year, and neither selected for the Tour.
But the German national champion paid his sponsors back with a brace of wins in Italy, while the Irishman added two of his own in the Vuelta. It could well have been more: Bennett finished runner-up four times. His victories in Paris-Nice and the Dauphine were not enough for Bennett to get picked for Bora's Tour team – although Sagan, while winning a record-breaking seventh green jersey, could only take the single stage in France.
Max Schachmann, Emanuel Buchmann, Felix Grossschartner and Davide Formolo chipped in with wins, while there wasn't a dry eye in the house when loyal domestique Cesare Benedetti fought back to notch a first pro win in the Giro.
Buchmann's stealthy but superb fourth place in the Tour was a breakthrough for the German rider, while Poland's Rafal Majka finished sixth in both the Giro and Vuelta – meaning Bora had their hands in both GC and stage battles in all the major races. If only Sagan had had one of his more vintage years – for the team was clearly a lacking force in the classics.
3. Astana: 37 wins including 1 Monument
Astana Pro Team rider Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, (2ndL), Astana Pro Team rider Kazakhstan's Alexey Lutsenko (4thL) and teammates celebrate on the podium of the Best team at the end of the eighth and last stage ofGetty Images
If this gong was awarded in May, then Astana would have been in with a shout. Their swashbuckling spring saw Jakob Fuglsang purring like a Cheshire cat, the Danish veteran enjoying a captivating succession of duels with French ace Julian Alaphilippe before eventually hitting the big time with his first Monument win in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Spaniards Ion Izagirre, Pello Bilbao and Luis Leon Sanchez cleaned up on home soil, Miguel Angel Lopez won his home Colombia Tour while Alexey Lutsenko was dominant in Oman before adding that superb stage win in Tirreno-Adriatico. Further wins would come for the Kazakh, most notably the Arctic Race overall.
The Grand Tours were a disappointment, however, despite three stage wins in the Giro through Dario Cataldo and a Bilbao brace. Lopez stuttered to seventh in Italy and then failed to turn his three red jerseys into a podium finish in the Vuelta – his first stint in red coming after Astana's victory in the opening TTT. Meanwhile, after his Dauphine win, the in-form Fuglsang crashed out of the Tour before securing a belated maiden Grand Tour stage in the Vuelta.
While Lopez and his faltering GC credentials were disappointing, there was a lot to shout about at Astana this year – most notably Fuglsang's fine run of results. A total of 37 wins surpassed expectations.
2. Deceunuinck-QuickStep: 68 wins including 2 Monuments
Senechal, Lampaert, Jungels, Declercq, Keisse, Stybar and Gilbert: Deceuninck-QuickStep train ahead of the 2019 'Opening Weekend' of Flemish ClassicsGetty Images
If Astana had a stellar spring, then QuickStep went intergalactic. After early success in the January and February stage races, a heady opening week of the classics season in March really set the tone with Zdenek Stybar winning Omloop, Bob Jungels Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Florian Senechal Le Samyn in a matter of days before Julian Alaphilippe provided the cherry at Strade Bianche.
Alaphilippe was the stand-out rider for the Belgian team, taking 12 wins all year including Milan-Sanremo, the Fleche and a brace in both Tirreno and the Tour. And who could forget his swashbuckling run in yellow and third place on the podium in Paris?
But what was impressive was the distribution of wins amount the team, with 16 riders in total tasting success for the Wolfpack – including Philippe Gilbert in Paris-Roubaix (as well as twice on the Vuelta), youngster Remco Evenepoel in the Clasica San Sebastian, and Fabio Jakobsen in his maiden Vuelta.
Elia Viviani, too, chipped in – although with just the one Tour stage after his nightmare Giro. Indeed, for all the good stories, QuickStep were occasionally found wanting: Jungels couldn't find his GC legs while Enric Mas, for all the hype following his Vuelta podium in 2018, struggled to support Alaphilippe's unexpected bid for the maillot jaune.
If James Knox deserves praise for his brave ride to 11th place in the Vuelta then we should remember that a misfiring Movistar – who aren't even on this list – still managed to place Valverde, Quintana and Landa ahead of the young Brit.
Many will say that QuickStep proved they were the best for their role in the Vuelta crosswinds alone – and they would have a point. It does seem churlish not to name the team with the highest number of wins the best of 2019. But winning is what we have come to expect from Patrick Lefevere's squad – and they were still five triumphs down on their 2018 tally.
1. Jumbo-Visma: 51 wins including La Vuelta
Primoz Roglic - Jumbo-VismaGetty Images
They may have been 17 triumphs shy of QuickStep but what's a few national championships and Amgen ToC wins in the face of a breakthrough first Grand Tour victory?
After the slight shambles that was the Giro – when Primoz Roglic, perhaps slightly overcooked, took pink on day one but fading to third via what would become the most memorable call of nature for a directeur sportif all season – Jumbo-Visma bounced back with gusto.
Four stage wins at the Tour saw Mike Teunissen don the race's first yellow jersey before Steven Kruijswijk finished a career-high third. But the best was yet to come, with Roglic's red jersey in the Vuelta.
The former ski REDACTED from Slovenia performed throughout the season and was, alongside Alaphilippe, the rider of the year. Rampant Roglic's wins included the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and Romandie ahead of the Vuelta, capping his fine season with autumn wins in the Giro dell'Emilio and Tre Valle Varesine.
With 15 wins, Dylan Groenewegen was a constant threat in the sprints; Wout van Aert excelled in the classics, won both a sprint and a TT in the Dauphine, and then added a maiden Tour stage before his horrific injury.
But far just as impressive as the individual performances was the collective buzz at Jumbo-Visma, with Tony Martin adding steel and experience, and the likes of Laurens de Plus and George Bennett pulling hard in the mountains. It will be sad to see a talent like Sepp Kuss leave – especially after the American's victory at the Santuario del Acebo in the Vuelta – but with Tom Dumoulin coming in, and the likes of Roglic, Bennett and Kruijswijk extending their contracts, Jumbo-Visma will arguably have a GC roster to rival Ineos for the years to come.
Already, it's a breath of fresh air seeing another team taking the reigns in Grand Tours. Provided they can accommodate all their big stars while juggling their myriad ambitions, there are exciting times ahead for Jumbo-Visma.
Teams that must do better:
Arrival / Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium and CCC Team / Celebration / Christopher Lawless of United Kingdom and Team INEOS Blue Leader Jersey / Eddie Dunbar of Ireland and Team INEOS / during the 5th Tour of Yorkshire 2019, Stage 4 a 175km stage from HalifaGetty Images
CCC: Half of their paltry six wins came from Greg van Avermaet, who didn't get the rub of the green all year, finishing runner-up eight times and looking a bit chunkier than usual. The orange army will hope that new arrivals Ilnur Zakarin, Matteo Trentin, Jan Hirt and Fausto Masnada can bring something to a table which currently has place names but no cutlery.
Dimension Data: With just three wins each for Giacomo Nizzolo and Edvald Boasson Hagen, Dimension Data were atrocious. At least the orange jerseys of CCC could be seen in breakaways and getting in the mix. Anonymous in the Grand Tours and woeful in the Ardennes woeful despite bringing in specialists Enrico Gasparotto, Roman Kreuziger and Michael Valgren; Mark Cavendish's best place was third, in the Tour of Turkey.
Katusha-Alpecin: Five wins represented the smallest total in the World Tour – so it's just as well that Igor Makarov's motley crew are merging with Israel Cycling Academy. Things got so bad, Marcel Kittel retired, while baroudeurs Nathan Haas and Enrico Battaglin both failed to deliver. Two rare moments to savour came from the impressive Nils Politt in Roubaix and with Ilnur Zakarin snow-capped stage win in the Giro.
Team Sunweb rider Netherlands' Tom Dumoulin is escorted by a staff member after a crash in the stage four of the 102nd Giro d'Italia - Tour of Italy - cycle race, 235kms from Orbetello to Frascati on May 14, 2019Getty Images
Team Sunweb: Things were going ok until Tom Dumoulin crashed out of the Giro, exposing the limitations of a team build entirely around the wantaway Dutchman. It would be the last we saw of Dumoulin that season – and for Sunweb, full stop.
Chad Haga saved a miserable Giro with an ITT win on final day, while Nikias Arndt won a stage of the Vuelta after Nicolas Roche crashed out after two days in red. In between, the Tour was a total non-event.
With the team failing to hit double figures, secondary prized asset Michael Matthews could only match the rookie Cees Bol with three wins – a poor return for the Australian, who seemed unsettled with his role early in the year. Following Dumoulin out the door is the promising Lennard Kamna, but Tiesj Benoot's arrival should take the pressure of Matthews, while Wilco Kelderman really needs to take a step up
Trek-Segafredo: It certainly wasn't all doom and gloom for the Italian team: Giulio Ciccone won the blue jersey and a key stage at the Giro, then enjoyed two days in yellow at the Tour, while Bauke Mollema won Il Lombardia. But, all in all, 11 wins was scant return given the talent on offer. The arrivals of Vincenzo Nibali and Kenny Elissonde should shake things up, while having Mads Pedersen racing in rainbow bands should lift spirits.