And then there was one. All but a single WorldTour team has at least a victory to their name – CCC Team.
It’s a bit like lunchtime football at school when players gradually get chosen for a side until somebody is awkwardly left in the middle – then falls over in a mud patch during the first five minutes of play. [Not writing from experience, of course – Ed]
Surprisingly, that forlorn figure was nearly Team Ineos. Given their galaxy of glittering stars, nobody reckoned Owain Doull would be the man who got them rolling a dozen days ago and saved a little ignominy.
To state the bleedin’ obvious, winning matters in pro cycling. It is a habit, a morale booster, a momentum builder, a money maker, why businesses want to be associated with teams in the first place, why children dream of doing certain sports. No Belgian kid grew up wanting to be Leif Hoste over Tom Boonen.
The longer not winning goes on, the more it becomes A Thing. A thing that the team’s management might even be asked about by journalists. To which they’ll be dying to respond with an eye-roll and teenager-esque: “Duh, we know! It’s not like we haven’t been trying.”
They haven’t been far off. Simon Geschke was third in the Tour Down Under; Georg Zimmermann was outsprinted by a breakaway companion in Bessèges and Jo Cerny was second in Murcia. Rather than the marathon-sprint analogy, January and February are more like the first 200 metres of a mile race. That makes CCC the competitors who are lagging behind.
This is quite the change in fortunes for the men in orange. A year and a half ago, BMC were wealthy WorldTour challengers, with an estimated €28 million at their disposal. Men who sound like no-nonsense Aussie pub brawlers – Rohan, Richie and Greg – were their top-tier ballers, helping them to boss the scene’s TTTs, a clear expression of collective strength.
Then they scrabbled to find a sponsor after the death of owner Andy Rihs, the budget was downsized, their talented core left and – relevant to their Polish backer – the boot is now on the other foot.
CCC has only won three times in the last twelve months, and that was all Van Avermaet. It makes their 2020 goal – victory in a Monument, a stage of each Grand Tour and a WorldTour stage race – look improbable. Statistically, being the last WorldTour team to taste success means a mediocre season.
There is potential: off the back of his finest season yet, Matteo Trentin was signed this winter to take up the slack. But the best of the other additions appear to be slow burners, better suited to mountainous races later in the season: Ilnur Zakarin, Fausto Masnada and Rouleur office favourite Jan Hirt.
Their forebears in this hall of minor shame are Sunweb, who had to wait till late March 2019 for glory. As Giant-Alpecin in 2016, it took them till May and the Giro prologue to get on the board. Not a bad way to break the duck.
And there’s the caveat: quality can make up for a lack of quantity. The pressure is squarely on Greg Van Avermaet’s shoulders with six weeks of winnable spring races – his races – coming up. But if he triumphs at the Tour of Flanders or even Het Nieuwsblad, CCC’s AWOL start is nothing more than a bad memory.