While many professional cycling teams aspire to reach the ranks of the WorldTour, the top tier of the sport, this is not the case for every team.
That’s because not every team has a rider of the calibre of Mathieu van der Poel.
The 24-year-old Dutchman arrives in 2020 after a breakthrough 2019 on the road that saw him back up his cyclocross pedigree with major wins such as the Amstel Gold Race.
His Corendon-Circus team have now become Alpecin-Fenix, as the German shampoo brand transfer their financial weight from Katusha to triple the budget of the Van der Poel-led outfit.
Philip Roodhooft and his brother Christoph run the team, splitting the sport and business sides of a squad that is on an upwards trajectory.
As a ProTeam outfit, Alpecin-Fenix aren’t guaranteed entry to every WorldTour event, although due to Van der Poel’s talent and star power they will be ever-present during the spring Classics as their Dutch rider gets his first full run at the early season one-day events.
There have also been discussions as to their inclusion in other big races, including Grand Tours.
“So far we have been mainly concerned with defining our calendar to the month of May, that is going well. At ASO [who organise the Tour de France and Vuelta a España] we are still waiting for a number of answers, but the conversations were good,” Roodhooft told Wielerflits. “It also looks good with RCS [who organise the Giro d’Italia]. But of course we cannot speak in turn. We hope to get the wildcards or invitations that we want. An ideal plan has been drawn up, but that does not mean today that we will be able to finish it completely.”
Their calmness over road invitations comes due to being a team that prides itself on being cross discipline, part of the reason they’ve been able to retain the services of Van der Poel who still harbours cyclocross ambitions.
Alpecin-Fenix’s most likely Grand Tour inclusion for the year will be the Vuelta a España, which will be an encouraging marker of progress for a squad that only stepped up to the Pro-Continental circuit in 2018.
“As for the fall, it will be waiting for the Vuelta. Do I still hope to be invited? Yes. Is participation a must? The Vuelta a España will not make or break our season,” Roodhooft explains. “If we still need results from that race then things will have gone quite wrong.”
The step up to the WorldTour ranks doesn’t always necessitate taking over a licence as Israel Start-Up Nation have done, however, or applying and making your case to the UCI. Total Direct Energie will receive a wildcard invitation to every WorldTour race in 2019 after finishing top of the Pro-Continental rankings in 2019. Of course, drama has followed this rule change as Total Direct Energie declined their Giro d’Italia invite at the wishes of organisers who wished to invite more home-grown Italian teams.
With Van der Poel among Alpecin-Fenix’s ranks, amassing points is unlikely to be a problem and is an opportunity the team are ready to take on.
“We will not miss that opportunity. But that must be primarily a result of something, not so much a goal. You can’t deny that aiming for those points influences the way of racing. You no longer race to win, but to gain as many points as possible,” Roodhooft said. “We don’t want to be such a team. But if you count in the last weeks of the season and you appear like you’re going to come up just short, you will of course make adjustments.”
This would open the door for Van der Poel to make his Grand Tour debut in 2021, something he has previously hinted as a possibility. Instead, his 2020 summer will focus on winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games, proving to be an opportunity too enticing to miss.
As for their star rider’s longer term future, Roodhooft highlights that in 2023 when Van der Poel’s current contract expires the then-29-year-old will be only “one signature away from an entire career together” with the team.
Back to 2020, and the first year of the new decade will be one when all eyes are once again on Mathieu van der Poel.