Trek shifts gears, adopts youth movement for 2014

Trek Factory Racing prepares for 2014 with a handful of veterans and plenty of young talent

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There’s an accent on youth at the new-look Trek Factory Team moving into 2014, despite having the oldest rider in the peloton next season in 42-year-old Jens Voigt.

Voigt is exceptional in many ways, and Trek general manager Luca Guercilena wanted to keep him as the team conducts a major overhaul as the U.S. bike manufacturer takes over as title sponsor next season.

“We can consider that Trek is a new team instead of a continuation of the Leopard project,” Guercilena told VeloNews in a phone interview. “It’s not only because of the company and the new ownership, but we’ve made big changes within the team.”

Perhaps no team will see as much turnover next season at Trek. Of the team’s 2013 roster, only 16 riders are remaining. Gone are Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner and Andreas Kloden, who are among 11 riders leaving the team.

New for next year are 12 new riders, with a heavy accent on youth. With the exception of Frank Schleck, who is back on the team following his controversial one-year ban from the 2012 Tour de France, and Belgian classics hand Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), most are young, promising — and cheap — riders.

Guercilena said the team wants to build organically over the next two or three seasons with its homegrown talent.

First comes a heavy focus on the classics, with the team built around Swiss superstar Fabian Cancellara, and a wait-and-see holding pattern on the Schleck brothers for the Tour de France.

Behind that, it’s all out with the old, in with the new for 2014.

“The project will be based around the classics group. That was the group making the big results in 2013,” Guercilena continued. “Then we have a new green line with a lot of riders under 26. Riders who can have a good future.”

Guercilena dubs the movement the “new green line,” with young riders such as new arrivals Boy and Danny Van Poppel and Eugenia Alafaci having a chance to grow alongside young, but established team riders, such as Matthew Busche and Bob Jungels.

“That’s the biggest change from 2013,” Guercilena said. “Last year, we were nearly the oldest team, now our average age is coming down. We are keeping guys like [Danilo] Hondo and Voigt, but that’s a signal that the team is hitting a new era.”

That “new era” also includes backroom changes in support staff as well. Several longtime staffers, including sport director Jose Azevedo and press attaché Philippe Martens, will slide over to Katusha next season.

Those moves will help the squad forge ahead with a new direction as Trek takes over as title sponsor for the team with one of the most agitated backstories in the peloton.

Its 2014 reincarnation will be the latest evolution from what was Leopard-Trek in 2011, in what was a high-profile exodus away from Bjarne Riis at CSC to create a new team built around the Schleck brothers backed by Luxembourg construction tycoon Flavio Becca. Brian Nygaard was tapped as general manager and Kim Andersen stepped in as lead sport director.

After a tumultuous Giro d’Italia that saw the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt, the team rebounded with a strong Tour de France, placing Andy and Frank Schleck as the first brothers to ever reach the Paris podium.

That wasn’t enough, however, for Becca, who was more interested in stemming his financial bleeding with the team than making footnotes in history. In 2012, the team merged with RadioShack-Nissan, with Johan Bruyneel taking over as general manager from Nygaard.

Bruyneel’s tenure was short-lived, as he soon went down in flames in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, forcing him to skip the Tour and then leave the team last fall.

That turmoil was further agitated by the career-threatening injury to Andy Schleck, who has struggled since crashing during the 2012 Critérium du Dauphiné. Frank Schleck later tested positive for a banned substance at that year’s Tour. Fabian Cancellara won the 2012 Tour’s opening prologue and held yellow for a week, but that was little more than a salve as the team’s fortunes out of control.

Taking over for the toxic Bruyneel in 2012 was the steady hand of Guercilena, who helped steer the team through troubled waters.

For 2013, the team was brilliant during the spring classics, thanks to the brawny legs of Cancellara, and rode well at the Tour, winning a stage with Jan Bakelants, and later sweeping to victory at the Vuelta with Horner, who made history as the oldest winner of a grand tour at 41.

Trek then stepped in to save the day, buying out Becca and putting the team on solid footing for the future.

For Guercilena, this new starts means building on the foundation of Cancellara and the classics, and then planting seeds for the future.

“The classics are the most important part of the season and that will not change,” he said. “We do not just want to buy stars, but we want to build them up, knowing where they came from, and build from there.”

One major name missing in the equation is Horner, who bolted to victory at the Vuelta only to find himself stranded without a team for 2014. For Guercilena, it all came down to the bottom line.

“There is no Chris Horner,” he said. “It was a matter of negotiation. We couldn’t arrive at a point to agree. It’s understandable. He won the Vuelta and wants to achieve something form it. We have a new green line, and we cannot invest too much money in riders of Chris’ age, even though we recognize what a great rider he is.”

And what about the Schleck brothers? It’s not as if they’re forgotten, but it’s obvious they will not be the central focus of the team as they were when Leopard was built around them in 2011.

“It will be a challenging season for them,” Guercilena said. “Frank will be focused on 2014, and Andy has not been at a top level since 2011. Both want to be back at their level to show where they are as riders. I always say to the guys, ‘there’s not a lot to say. Just talk with the pedals.’ They are both very motivated.”

Guercilena is optimistic about the team’s future, with what he calls a “perfect mix” of established veterans and budding stars.

“We expect to be competitive, though we know from 2012 that injuries can happen. We saw that with both Fabian and Andy. We had no leader in 2012, and that’s the worst,” he said. “We come with a mix of experienced riders and young riders who are strong. We believe it’s a perfect mix.”

The team just completed its first team camp and will regroup in Spain in mid-December.

From here on out, it’s full steam ahead, without looking in the rearview mirror.

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