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Argos-Shimano is looking to add an American rider to its already-international lineup as the Holland-based team makes a push for WorldTour status in 2013.
Team manager Iwan Spekenbrink confirmed to VeloNews that at least one American rider would likely be part of an expanded program for next season regardless of whether the team earns its WorldTour license.
“We are in talks with American riders,” Spekenbrink told VeloNews. “We do not sign riders simply due to their passport. The sporting aspect always comes first, but there are also business interests in signing riders to any team. We have an American bike partner (Felt) and America is an emerging market. It’s of interest to us and our sponsors.”
Spekenbrink would not disclose which American riders he is talking with, but said the move is part of an expansion for 2013 that should see the squad’s roster grow to “27 to 30 riders.”
“The WorldTour is our goal next year. We want to race the Tour, Vuelta, Giro and the classics,” he said. “Seeing how the team has kept growing and building over the past several years, it’s the next logical step. We hope to have a WorldTour license, but we plan to race a WorldTour calendar with or without the license.”
The team has quickly grown and developed into a major force in the peloton.
The arrival of Argos as the team’s major sponsor this season has given Spekenbrink the pocketbook he needs to add additional firepower to the team’s established roster, anchored by young sprinters Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb.
He said the two German aces will remain the foundation next season, but suggested that the team is on the lookout for a GC-caliber rider to give it options in the grand tours.
“It’s not so easy to find GC riders for the grand tours. There are only a handful of riders out there who have the qualities to race for the overall classification,” Spekenbrink said. “If we cannot find someone, we will develop someone internally.”
The winner of the 2012 Tour de l’Avenir, Warren Barguil, is set to ride with Argos-Shimano next season after racing as a stagiaire this year. No other major names have yet been confirmed, though Dominic Klemme (IAM Racing) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ-Big Mat) are among the top names leaving.
Regardless of who comes on board next season, Spekenbrink insists that the team’s base will be built around the high-speed successes of Kittel and Degenkolb.
“Marcel and John are already among the best sprinters in the world,” he said. “We will keep supporting them because that’s what we are doing best right now. We want to be more competitive in the classics and the grand tours, but those two will remain our center.”
Kittel is developing into one of the best pure sprinters, though he was handicapped by an illness during this year’s Tour de France, while Degenkolb enjoyed a superb second half of 2012, capped by five stage wins at the Vuelta a España and a strong ride at the world championship with fourth.
The emergence of the young Germans does not present a conflict within the team, insists Spekenbrink.
“Marcel and John are different kind of sprinters, so there is no reason for conflict,” he said. “Marcel is one of the best when it’s a sprint of 70kph in a bunch and John is very good after a hard parcours with a difficult finish.”
Indeed, Degenkolb nearly stole the show on Sunday at Paris-Tours, jumping late in the long race, chasing down a three-man break and coming just seconds short of taking the victory.
Spekenbrink said the two speedsters will be able to split the season between them and target the races that best suit their individual styles of racing, both in the grand tours and the one-day classics.
“They make each other stronger,” he said. “They can help each other set up the sprints and they have raced together already and get along well.”
Argos-Shimano was especially pleased to see the emergence of Degenkolb, who joined the team following the collapse of the High Road program. Degenkolb took full advantage of his chance to take the starring role, something that didn’t happen at High Road, where the squad was overloaded with sprinters such as Mark Cavendish and André Greipel.
Degenkolb surged into the spotlight with an incredible haul of five stage victories at what was a very challenging Vuelta. The difficult course scared away many of the pure sprinters, but nothing should be taken away from Degenkolb’s five stage wins.
“We already knew that John was among the biggest talents, that’s why we signed him,” Spekebrink said. “But to be honest, we couldn’t have dreamed that he would win five stages of a grand tour. That means we won a quarter of all the stages. No team can expect that. It was a unique experience that will not be easy to repeat. We were not surprised by the development of John, but what happened at the Vuelta was exceptional.”
The presence of two German sprinters anchoring a Dutch-based team with riders from as far away as China backed by a Japanese co-sponsor underscores the management style, says Spekebrink.
“We consider ourselves an international team even though we are based in Netherlands with a Dutch sponsor,” he said. “We have good riders from several nations. We can expect to continue that as we expand in the future.”
With Argos committed through 2014, with an option to extend, the team’s future seems secure.