There are some teams which you equate with the ability to dominate in WorldTour men’s cycling. Jumbo-Visma are the clearest example from 2022: they topped the WorldTour team rankings and were fighting for victory in almost every single race they started, be that a Classic or a Grand Tour. The image of Primož Roglič, Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte crossing the line arm in arm to take 1-2-3 during the first stage of Paris-Nice is a picture that will live on in cycling history.
Teams like the Ineos Grenadiers can also (to a lesser extent) be thrown into the mix of teams that come to mind when you think of domination. In the 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix, for example, the British squad utterly shaped the race by attacking with more than 200 kilometres remaining. With this, they caught out some of the pre-race favourites and were able to set Dylan van Baarle up for an emphatic solo victory in the Roubaix velodrome.
We then come to teams like UAE Team Emirates, who are able to dominate too, but in a different way. They can control a race simply by having the best rider in the world in their team. Tadej Pogačar had sixteen victories this season, including in Strade Bianche, three stages of the Tour de France and Il Lombardia at the end of the year. He didn’t really rely on his teammates for any of these, but UAE Team Emirates can still be classed as dominant simply by virtue of having him in the squad.
Bahrain-Victorious aren’t a team which many would list as dominant amongst other WorldTour teams. They finished in eighth place on the WorldTour team rankings this year, and didn’t show the levels of consistency throughout the season that some of their competitors did. But, with Matej Mohorič’s Milan-San Remo win, Dylan Teuns’ unexpected victory in La Flèche Wallonne or youngster Fred Wright’s impressive consistency and visibility as he fought for Tour de France stage wins, Bahrain-Victorious did show hints of absolute brilliance last season, and they plan to build on this for 2023.
Matej Mohorič wins Milan-San Remo 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
“Our focus is on working hard during this winter, making solid foundations for next season, working on strength and conditioning and all that sort of stuff,” Mohorič told journalists from the team’s recent press conference in Altea, Spain. “We believe strongly that we will be ready for next year to be in the best possible physical shape at the important races. Our team changed a little bit in the off-season. I think we have a very good lineup for the following season, especially for the spring Classics. I'm very much looking forward to racing.”
The Slovenian rider mentions, with sadness in his voice, the fact that Sonny Colbrelli will not race with the team next year following his forced retirement due to a heart condition. As a former Paris-Roubaix winner, the loss of Colbrelli is a big one for the team, but Mohorič notes that the Italian could still be of great help to Bahrain-Victorious next year, albeit in a different role.
“He will still be in the car with us,” Mohorič confirms, hinting at the possibility of Colbrelli in a sports director-esque position in 2023. Having an ex-rider in the car with the experience and tactical nous of Colbrelli could be a real advantage for Bahrain in the Classics period of the season.
Another thing that should aid the team in the spring and Ardennes Classics will be the number of options that they have when a race hits crunch time. So much so that Monument winner Mohorič says he will not have sole leadership when it comes to the Classics. “I will definitely not be the sole leader in them, we have more cards to play with. That's always a good thing in the Classics, we hope to have at least two if not three or four riders in some of the finals of those races,” Mohorič says.
“We also have great support riders that will be able to help us to get there safely, having saved the most energy possible. Fred Wright is another big rider that we have that I'm sure is capable of winning a Monument; he came quite close last year in Flanders. It's also going to be interesting what Jonathan Milan can do. I think he's physically very gifted for Belgium Classics. I'm happy about the composition of the team. I'm very confident that we can race united as a team and together we'll have some good results.”
Luis Leon Sanchez and Fred Wright after stage 10 of the 2022 Tour de France (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Wright, who Mohorič touts as a future Monument winner, is also confident about his Classics campaign next season. The 23-year-old British rider had a breakthrough season in 2022, finishing in seventh place at the Tour of Flanders and finishing in the top-10 on three stages during the Tour de France.
“I'm really looking forward to [next season] being even better. I'm looking forward to being more of a leader in the Classics. I think that's where the team sees me fitting in,” Wright explains. “It's really great to have those chances at races, we've got a stronger team this year for the Classics. I'm so excited to be at the head of that team with the likes of Matej and some of the other guys coming in as well. We are going to be forced to be reckoned with in these early season races.“
Wright notes that he’s seen significant improvement in his performances over the last year, and explains that working alongside Mohorič has been a big help for his development. “I've learned loads from Matej. I think back to last year at the Tour, rooming with him and seeing how he approached the stages he was going for. Obviously he won two stages that year. It was the meticulous way he looked at the profiles on VeloViewer and studied everything. That's what helped me progress even more in this year's Tour, looking at stages where it was a good place to attack and stuff like that. The way he approaches things, definitely I learned a lot from that.”
Still, the British rider admits that he still needs to work on specific aspects of his racing ahead of 2023, namely his positioning in the Classics, one of the most crucial aspects of that style of racing. “There's so many little things that I know I can work on that aren't even just legs related. It's all about being in the right place at the right time. It went well at Flanders but the rest of them probably could have been a lot better. There's definitely big improvements for the first few races and it's kind of nerve wracking hoping that the legs are going to be in good shape for Nieuwsblad, but I'm excited.”
Overall, though, Wright says he is confident that the elusive victory he has been searching for will come in 2023, especially with the help of his Bahrain-Victorious teammates. “With another year of experience under my belt, and another year of just riding my bike more, I'd like to think that the win will just end up coming,” he says.
While both Wright and Mohorič remain realistic, they are two of the biggest hopes for the classics in 2023, and could be the key to Bahrain-Victorious finally getting the better of some of the bigger teams.
“I do think we have one of the strongest teams for the Classics but I think Jumbo-Visma definitely remains the one to beat, the strongest team there,” Mohorič says, pragmatically. “It will be an interesting Classics campaign. Wout [van Aert] is definitely the biggest favourite and you also have Mathieu [van der Poel] and of course [Tom] Pidcock and some others but we are confident in our abilities and we will strive to win another monument next year.”
Cover image: Zac WIlliams/SWpix