The team formerly known as Bahrain McLaren get a new name and a new look for 2021, a year on from their last revamp.
This time, though, the changes are largely aesthetic and behind the scenes, with the Bahraini squad’s roster largely unchanged from the team that emerged from the transfer window last winter.
Rod Ellingworth’s departure from the team principal role after just one full season is the most notable move – the Briton heads back to Ineos for 2021. A notable staff addition, announced just yesterday, is experienced DS Rolf Aldag, formerly of Highroad and QuickStep, while Neil Stephens joined from UAE Team Emirates late in the 2020 season.
On the rider side, Australian climber Jack Haig is the main addition, boosting an already strong GC squad while several fastmen – Mark Cavendish and Ivan García Cortina among them – leave. 20-year-old Ahmed Madan joins too, becoming the first ever Bahraini WorldTour pro.
Manager: Milan Eržen
Squad size: 29
Average age: 27.8
How did they fare in 2020?
Wins: 8 (plus 1 national title)
WorldTour ranking: 12th
While wins may have been thin on the ground and the team lie in the lower half of the WorldTour ranking, Bahrain Victorious have some strong results to look back on and build upon.
First, though, the wins. Phil Bauhaus dominated the early season Saudi Tour with two stages and the overall – the German was the team’s only rider to win more than once in 2020. Elsewhere, García Cortina took a stage at Paris-Nice and Jan Tratnik took a breakaway win at the Giro d’Italia, while Pello Bilbao took the Spanish time trial title.
The team was at its strongest during stage races, though – unsurprising when you look at the roster. Bilbao finished fifth at the Giro d’Italia, five spots up on Damiano Caruso, while Wout Poels took sixth at the Vuelta a España.
Fellow 2020 newcomer Mikel Landa was the star. The Spaniard finished fourth at the Tour de France, also taking second and third at the Vuelta a Burgos and Vuelta a Andalucía, respectively. Bahrain Victorious will be hoping for more of the same and better in 2021, especially with Haig’s arrival.
Mikel Landa: The 31-year-old is undoubtedly the team’s figurehead and best rider. A new addition for 2020, he’s the main GC man and already delivered with his strong Tour de France showing – a result which saw him among the strongest men though never really looking the strongest climber in the race.
He now has two fourth places at the race to his name, in addition to a podium spot at the 2015 Giro. Realistically, time is running out to win a Grand Tour or add to that podium spot. He’ll be back at the Tour next season – even with its 58 kilometres of time trialling. A Giro or Vuelta appearance is also on the cards, and you can’t help but feel that he’d have a bigger chance at a top result at either.
Dylan Teuns: The Belgian’s second year at the squad didn’t match his first, which saw him win stages at the Tour and Dauphiné and spend a day in the Vuelta lead. He started 2020 off well with a fifth place at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and a stage win plus fifth at Andalucía, but he was quiet after the COVID-19 break.
A strong puncheur and climber, he’ll certainly be one of the team’s men to watch in 2021, whether it’s at the Ardennes Classics, Grand Tours of shorter stage races like Paris-Nice. Given his past performances and his age – he’s still 28 – the 2020 downturn looks an anomaly rather than a sign of a longer downturn.
Wout Poels: Along with Landa, the Dutchman was one of the big names to join at the start of the season. The 33-year-old signed up for a freer role than he had at the past five years with Ineos and impressed with sixth at Valenciana and the Vuelta at either end of his season. A Tour de France campaign was ruined by a day one crash which saw him break a rib, but he has the quality to ride a Grand Tour for himself and support Landa at the Tour in 2021.
Pello Bilbao: Another sophomore at the team and yes, another stage racer, Bilbao took his best-ever Grand Tour result this year. His fifth place at the Giro, which saw him improve as the race went on, followed his two stage wins in 2019 and sixth place in 2018. At this point he’s a reliable stage race performer, capable of grabbing wins or high placings, and he’ll no doubt do so again next season.
Strengths and weaknesses
If it wasn’t obvious already, then stage racing is Bahrain Victorious’ main strength. In Landa, Poels, Bilbao, Caruso and Haig, the team has an impressive core for the Grand Tours and week-long races. Whether they can actually win a Giro, Tour or Vuelta is open to debate, though its undeniable that the proven GT winners lie elsewhere.
There’s no doubt, then, that they’ll grab plenty of top placings and likely some big wins along the way in 2021. Will they rack up a long list of victories, though? With several sprinters heading for the door this off-season, that burden will rest almost entirely upon Sonny Colbrelli – who had a 2020 to forget – and the now 26-year-old Bauhaus, who would have to take a big leap to the next level to guarantee those wins.
Next year figures to be a year of evolution rather than revolution for Bahrain Victorious. A disrupted 2020 season right after a roster overhaul was far less than ideal for the team, and they’ll be hoping that they can do even better in 2021 if their stage racing crew can enjoy a normal calendar.
The effect of Ellingworth’s departure is as-yet unknown though, and the question of who will replicate what he brough to the team remains unanswered – his duties will be delegated for now.
But regardless of staffing ins and outs, the team looks set up to succeed in 2021. They’re not quite Ineos or Jumbo-Visma, but then again few are in the WorldTour.