Can a new ‘sprint collective’ transform Israel-Premier Tech?

Israel-Premier Tech head into the 2024 season with a new-look roster and a sense of optimism after making 10 signings over the winter

Clock18:17, Monday 4th December 2023
Corbin Strong only joined the team in 2022 but has already shown his talents

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Corbin Strong only joined the team in 2022 but has already shown his talents

Israel-Premier Tech head into the 2024 season with a new-look roster and a sense of optimism after making 10 signings over the winter.

The team has jettisoned their playbook of signing veterans and instead recruited a raft of exciting, if not fully developed, young talent. Out of their 10 recruits, only two riders are over the age of 30, while the new arrivals include Riley Pickrell (22), Riley Sheehan (23), Jake Stewart (24), Ethan Vernon (23) and Pascal Ackermann (29).

Read more: Riley Sheehan turns professional with Israel-Premier Tech in 2024

Only George Bennett and Michael Schwarzmann buck the trend with ages over 30 but there’s a clear and decisive strategy at the team, with a new focus on sprinters and lead-outs.

Ackermann is arguably the standout signing in terms of his accomplished palmarès, with three stage wins and a point jersey in the Giro d’Italia to his name, but the squad have added talent all across their depth chart. With Stewart, Schwarzmann and Hugo Hofstetter joining the likes of Corbin Strong, Tom Van Asbroeck and Rick Zabel the team is moving in a clear direction.

For a team that struggled for wins and dropped out of the WorldTour in recent times, the new additions give the roster a much-needed boost.

“We’re really happy with the team. All in all, I think we were on the weak side when it came to sprinting and now we have more guys for the sprints and support riders,” Kjell Carlström, the team’s general manager, told GCN.

“We have a collective. We’ll have WorldTour races, and there are two calendars within that, and it’s likely that we’ll have a third programme on the side. It means that you need sprinters who are on the top level, and to be able to compete with the top teams.”

Ackermann spent the last two years at UAE Team Emirates, and while he managed a stage win at the Giro this year, he failed to reach his best level. Part of that was down to the limited lead-out support he received at races, but Carlström is confident that the 29-year-old can win major races in 2024. At the same time, Ethan Vernon won seven races in two years at Soudal Quick-Step, and provides another potential outlet for success.

“I would say that Pascal is a renowned sprinter," Carlström said. "He may not have had the best possibilities over the last few years with lead-outs and everything but that’s something that we hope that we can create for him. Then with Ethan, he showed his capacity this year, and we hope he can build on that in the future.

"We have Jake too, a fast lead-out rider and someone who can take his own chances when they present themselves. Corbin is really fast too in the really hard races. We saw that in Québec where he started fast and only one guy could come by him and he finished second.”

Strong is set to lead the team at the Tour Down Under in January, where he will be joined by Bennett and possibly Nick Schultz.

“I think Corbin is a good pick for Tour Down Under. He was racing well there last year until the crash that he had. He’s over there in New Zealand now so it’s good that he stays there and has a good start with some nice weather. At the moment I believe we’ll be focussing on Corbin at Tour Down Under. It’s not 100 percent written in stone but George and Nick could be with him at the race,” Carlström added.

Another young rider, Matthew Riccitello, could potentially make his Tour de France debut next year. The American made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in May of this year and is seen by many as a future GC star after finishing fourth at the Tour de l'Avenir following a stint in the leader’s yellow jersey that lasted until the final day of racing.

Read more: Matthew Riccitello: Learning lessons and gaining confidence as America’s next best thing

“It’s something that we need to look at together because the Tour is something different from all the other races. Everyone is there with the motivation to win, and it’s very hectic. I think next year there will be quite a few sprint stages,” Carlström told GCN. “When we get the parcours for the Vuelta then we can have a better chance to look at possibilities for Matthew, whether it’s going to the Tour or the Vuelta. For him, it’s better not to rush the decision.”

The entire team will sit down for meetings this month as they gather for their final set of winter camps. In the coming weeks schedules and race programmes will be outlined and decided, with Mike Woods likely to race the Giro d’Italia and Chris Froome to ease himself into the season rather than start immediately.

Read more: 'I feel five years younger' – Chris Froome ready to take on 2024 with fresh motivation

Carlström believes that Woods should target a stage win in the Giro d’Italia in a bid to complete his Grand Tour stage win set following victories in both the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

“I think the big objective would be to go for a stage win. In my mind, the GC is a secondary possibility. In the end, GC is a big ambition so if you’re going to go for GC from the start then it could mean that you miss out on opportunities for a stage win. To go for GC and the podium, that’s a little bit too ambitious for us at the moment,” Carlström said.

“We’ll talk to the riders that we have during the camps in December. There have been some preliminary talks with riders and coaches but now it’s the time to define those programmes. I’m not sure what the end decisions will be but I think that Chris will start a little bit later.”

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