Thursday, November 20, 2014

2015 Teams Preview: AWT-Greenway

What the fuck is this? AWT-Greenway? What the hell 2nd-rate team from Eastern Slovakia is this? Well for those that have been a little late following the news, the former Etixx development team got a new name. With Etixx taking over the title sponsorship of OPQS for 2015, the development team found new title sponsors so as not to create more confusion than they did before.
Let us begin with the new sponsors. AWT is a logistics firm in the Czech Republic that specializes in intermodal transportation and dealing a lot with rail lines. AWT is also owned by Zdenek Bakala, who is the head honcho of Etixx-OPQS. GreenWay is a Slovak company that specializes in electric vehicles. Go here to view their website.

Enough with the sponsors, the actual riders a most important. This biggest news here is that there are only two holdovers from 2014. Two. That is basically a whole new team. The two that they are keeping are Frenchman Alexis Guerin and Spaniard Alvaro Cuadros. Guerin had a career year with multiple top 15 in big one days like the Rund um Köln and the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He was 4th overall in the Tour de Bretagne and 5th in the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia). He won't be a U23 in 2015 but that might be fine. Cuadros is meh to me. He had one good ride this year in the U23 Peace Race but that was it. He is very young so I cannot judge too much but a lot remains to be seen.

It should be mentioned that as a development team they did accomplish their most important goal, which is the actual development of the riders. They sent five riders to World Tour or Pro Continental teams including Karel Hnik (CULT Energy), Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi), Sam Spokes (Drapac), Tim Kerkhof (Roompot) and probably most importantly, Lukasz Wisniowski, who went to the mother team Etixx-OPQS.

The other riders going away include Czech Radovan Dolezel, Belgian Paco Ghistelinck (retiring at the tender age of 21), Croat Josip Rumac (Adria Mobil) and the Hoelgaard brothers Markus and Daniel, who are heading to Øster Hus and Team Joker, respectively.

While they lost a lot, they might be gaining a lot more. Many times last year I was certainly left wondering where the hell Etixx was. Next year might be a bit better in that regards. Let us start with their foreign talents.

-The German duo of Jan Brockhoff and Max Schachmann are coming over from the now defunct Giant-Shimano Development team. Schachmann is certainly a force in the time trial at just 20 years old. He was 5th in the World Championships, just 37 seconds down on winner Campbell Flakemore, and he even crashed. Without that, he would have been close to a podium performance. He is still developing in other areas and it remains to be seen where he can go but his engine is powerful. Brockhoff adds depth in a jack-of-all-trades way. He can make it through a tough course and can sprint a bit, TT pretty well and climb when asked. Still finding himself as a rider but as his Tour Alsace stage win shows, the talent is there.

-Spaniard Ivan Garcia Cortina is just 19 and doesn't have a big palmares to his name but comes off the recommendation of old dope bags Carlos Barredo and Chechu Rubiera. He won the Spanish junior RR championship in 2012 and put in a few nice rides this year but nothing huge.

-Probably one of the best signings was Pole Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz from Bauknecht-Author. The 20-year old showed some strength this year with a breakaway stage win in the U23 Peace Race and a 3rd overall in the Carpathian Couriers Tour. He showed some toughness by only having one DNF on the year and even finished the Tour of Poland, albeit in 125th position. Expect some nice rides by Kasperkiewicz this coming year in the breakaway.

-The rider that could bring the most immediate affect on AWT-Greenway for 2015 is Slovak Erik Baska. The sprinter clocked up 3 UCI wins in 2014. Granted they were all in Central Europe but he certainly has a strong kick and could fill the hole left by the Hoelgaard brothers. The only concern with Baska is if his endurance is high enough to be able to contend sprints in harder and longer races, which is something he didn't have this year.

-Probably the most surprising signing by the team was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger brother of soon-to-be Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. Bouhanni is not as one-dimensional as his brother and put up a staggering amount of results in 2014. He nearly won the Junior Peace Race but was unseated from the lead on the final day to Magnus Bak Klaris. Following double 10th place performances in the European RR and TT, Bouhanni jumped over the pond to the Tour de l'Abitibi. He got into the breakaway on the first stage with guess who...Magnus Klaris Bak...and won the stage. He gained some bonus seconds here and there and after Bak Klaris faltered, he took the overall for good, which made him the first Frenchman to win Abitibi since Arnaud Jouffroy in 2008. He then proceeded to win the French Junior RR and took 2nd in the TT.

That might have sounded like a big jerk-off paragraph but Rayane is just so different than his brother. Now his results could be a product that he was just on another level from other riders but I think he will be more of a rider that will be focused on breakaways, small sprints and trying to go for overall GC in races that require a good TT and a little attacking panache.

-Being a Czech team, the management had to bring in a bunch of Czech riders to get past the UCI rule mandating that the team have a majority of riders from the country where the team is licensed. The most experienced rider on the team will now be Jakub Novak, who comes over after two seasons with BMC Development. Novak had a very strong 2013 that included 4th in the Cascade Classic, 11th in the Tour of Alberta and 6th in the Chrono Champenois. He had a good early season as a domestique that saw teammates win the Tour de Normandie (Stefan Küng) and 2nd in the Tour de Bretagne (Dylan Teuns) but Novak didn't see many results himself. Novak needs to have a big season in 2015 if he is looking to continue his professional career.

Michal Schlegel was 2nd in the Czech U23 TT this year by just 1 seconds in just his first U23 season after winning the Czech Junior TT in both 2012 & 2013. He was 4th in the stupid hard (and longest fucking named race) GP Kralovehradeckeho kraje, which was on the same time as Etixx-OPQS signing Lukasz Wisniowski.

The other two Czechs, Roman Lehky and Matej Bechyne, are both coming out of the junior ranks. Lehky was 2nd in the Czech Junior TT this year while Bechyne rode for the Belgian Tietsle Renners in 2014, the same club that former World Junior TT Igor DeCraene rode for before his passing. While they seem to be good riders, it does speak some volumes that the team wasn't able to sign the best Czech junior from their class, Adam Toupalik, who was the main UCI point scorer for the country.

Let us not forget who are in charge of these young riders. Pavel Padrnos is one of the sports directors. This is a rider who was caught with banned products in the San Remo raids and was home boys with Lance. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. Martin Riska is the new director joining for 2015. He was 5-times the champion of Slovakia in the RR and retired back in 2011. This is probably a big boost for the team because they lacked a director that had more recent racing experience.

In any case, the team looks like it could do well for 2015. It certainly isn't the most talented team and will not get the biggest results but there are some gems here.

My prediction: 8 wins. They lost so much of their core that this year is about rebuild and try to see where they can shine when they can.

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