Following on from the team’s various successes in Australia that got the season underway, including a Women’s WorldTour win for Liane Lippert and victories for both Alberto Dainese and Jai Hindley, focus soon switched to Europe and the opening races there.
After some good results at the Tour de La Provence where Wilco Kelderman took second place on stage two and ended the race in fifth place overall, the team’s next win was just around the corner…
Cess Bol’s stage 3 sprint success…
The Team Sunweb train was always to the fore, ensuring that Cees Bol was in a perfect position at all times on the sweeping and sinuous Portuguese roads. Heading under the flamme rouge it was just Casper Pedersen left in front of Bol, with Pedersen doing a perfect job through the final corner to open up the lead out in the home straight. With 200 metres to go Bol jumped out of Pedersen’s wheel, delivering a devastating kick and taking a fantastic sprint victory; a great reward for the teamwork that was on display throughout the stage.
A strong Opening Weekend; the Women’s program start it off, with the Men across the line next
Floortje Mackaij showcased her strength as she almost managed to follow eventual race winner Van Vleuten up the famous Muur, before driving the chasing group and sprinting to third place at the finish. It was a good team performance from everyone after making the race, and splitting it in the crosswinds earlier in the day, with young German rider Franziska Koch ably supporting Mackaij deep into the finale.
The men’s race was also an animated affair with Nils Eekhoff making an early split in the howling wind conditions, before new signing Tiesj Benoot came to the fore as numerous attacks were made in the peloton. Eventually a new group of riders managed to get clear and it was Benoot’s altitude training camp roommate, Søren Kragh Andersen, that forced the move for the team. Following the decisive move on the Muur, Kragh Andersen dug deep and battled to third place on the day as well.
The “Race to the Sun” as the sun sets on the cycling season, for now…
In almost Paris-Nice tradition, the winds howled in the opening stages of the race, ensuring some incredibly exciting racing for the fans watching on TV. The team dominated the crosswinds on the opening day, with Tiesj Benoot finishing second after being on the attack from 30 kilometres out, and Cees Bol sprinting to fifth from the group behind.
Stage four saw the peloton take on a tricky time trial, which featured several short climbs and twisting descents; the perfect playground for the team to utilise their Cervélo P5 time trial machines fitted with Shimano disc brakes. Michael Matthews, who started one place ahead of Kragh Andersen on the road, flew around the course to set the fifth provisional fastest time at the line. It didn’t take long for Kragh Andersen to follow in behind him, obliterating the top of the leaderboard and moving into hot seat by a large margin. It was a nervous wait for Kragh Andersen (and the team) as rider-by-rider came through the finish but despite a late challenge from the yellow jersey, no one was able to topple Kragh Andersen’s time, with the Dane taking his first professional TT win.
With the team on a high, another win was soon on the cards just two stages later where an emphatic team display and incredible tactics saw Benoot take his first victory in the team’s colours. Nikias Arndt was the first to go on the attack for the team with Kragh Andersen soon following suit. Using his TT prowess, he quickly bridged to the German, who then gave it his all with some really strong pulls before Kragh Andersen went solo. After making contact with the remaining breakaway duo, it was on the last climb that Kragh Andersen proved too strong for his companions and hit out to go solo again.
Swiftly following Nibali’s wheel after a stinging attack in the bunch behind, Benoot’s legs felt good and as he saw Nibali waver, he made the decisive move to join up with his teammate Kragh Andersen, with the two Team Sunweb riders going out front leading the stage. Like Arndt did before, Kragh Andersen gave it his all, leading out for Benoot to push on solo for a nail-biting final 12 kilometres of action. Powering all the way to the line, Benoot raised his arms in victory to claim his first win in the team’s colours, and an impressive one at that.
Behind and after climbing with the best, disrupting any organised chase, Matthews showed his sprinting class by easily powering his way to second place, fist-bumping in delight as he rolled over the line, and quickly embracing Benoot at the finish. It was a truly wonderful display of teamwork and tactics, with everyone on the team 100 percent committed towards the one goal.
The following day saw the final stage of the race and what would be the final day of action for the foreseeable future. Wanting to go out with a bang, the team rode with the plan of giving Benoot the best chance possible to go for the GC win with 36 seconds to make up. The stage came down to the final climb, with Benoot launching a ferocious attack that was unmatched by his GC contenders just before the one kilometre to go banner. It wasn’t enough to take the GC title in the end but it was that display of guts and determination that epitomised the team’s work and riding at Paris-Nice; a never say die attitude with everyone all in for the team’s goals. Benoot finished the day with second on the stage and on the GC.
With racing put on pause and with bigger problems to face, we’d like to take this time to wish all of our fans and everyone reading this good health and safety over the coming period. We’ll see you all on the road sometime soon and be back with another racing recap!