Canyon-SRAM Team Talk: Improvements made but how do they reach the next level?

German WorldTeam bounce back from a poor 2022 campaign, with Grand Tour stage wins and a podium finish at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift

Clock15:28, Wednesday 29th November 2023
Canyon-SRAM picked up eight victories on the road in 2023, with Kasia Niewiadoma excelling on the gravel towards the end of the year

© Sprint Cycling Agency

Canyon-SRAM picked up eight victories on the road in 2023, with Kasia Niewiadoma excelling on the gravel towards the end of the year

Canyon-SRAM are one of the few high-performing Women's WorldTour teams that are a standalone outfit, plying their own trade without the support of a men's team since 2011. For this, their efforts over the last decade must be applauded, routinely performing as well as teams that benefit from the extra resources that come with an attached men's team.

Since starting life in 2002 as Team T-Mobile USA, they have been one of the most prominent women's teams in the peloton. From the T-Mobile years, through to HTC-Highroad and Specialized-lululemon, the German outfit quickly became one of the sport's biggest teams and earned the title sponsorship of Canyon in 2016.

They were of course linked to the men's T-Mobile and HTC-Highroad team, but since its closure at the end of 2011, the German women's team have carried on alone.

Under the stewardship of Ronny Lauke since 2008, the team went from strength to strength throughout the 2010s and by the end of 2019, they had cemented themselves as one of the sport's leading teams.

However, the past few seasons have been a struggle for Canyon-SRAM, it is fair to say. Having picked up 18 victories in 2018 and 16 victories in 2019, the 2020 campaign was a beleaguered affair resulting in only three wins. Eight wins followed in 2021, but once more they suffered in 2022, dropping down to only one victory for the first time in the team's history.

It is against this backdrop that Canyon-SRAM's 2023 campaign can be measured. Once one of the best teams in the world, their stock had dropped heading into this season and for this reason, their year can be considered a comeback - of sorts.

Canyon-SRAM were able to end the year with eight wins and third place in the UCI Women's WorldTour rankings. It would have been second were it not for a late charge from Lidl-Trek. The team's long-term leader Kasia Niewiadoma had a return to winning ways - albeit not on the road - whilst its young stars began to shine. This is the story of Canyon-SRAM's 2023 season.

GCN's 2023 Review

In truth, it's generous to say the team have eight victories, as only four of Canyon-SRAM's wins were from international competition. The remaining four came in national championships. Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka (Poland), Chloe Dygert (United States) and Antonia Niedermaier (Germany) each became the national time trial champions of their respective countries, whilst Dygert did the double and won in the road race as well.

Strip these individual awards away from Canyon-SRAM's haul and suddenly their season highlights look somewhat sparse. Their first win came in March, when Shari Bossuyt won stage 3 of the Tour de Normandie Féminin, though she later returned a positive test from that race - the investigation is still ongoing, and she is currently suspended from the team. After that, two months would pass between each of the team's next two victories.

26-year-old Dygert enjoyed a season in which she looked back towards her best at times, most recently at the World Championships in Glasgow, where she became the time trial world champion for the second time in her career.

Prior to this success, Canyon-SRAM's faith in the American paid off at the RideLondon Classique, where she took her first road victory outside of the United States and her first ever WorldTour victory on stage 2. Dygert pipped the likes of Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek) in a reduced bunch sprint to close a chapter on her career that included a horrific crash at the 2020 World Championships and subsequent battles with the Epstein-Barr Virus.

Not only that, but Dygert's win was notable for being Canyon-SRAM's first at WorldTour level in almost four years.

Entering her fourth year with Canyon-SRAM in 2024, the team will be hopeful that Dygert can build on a campaign that also included notable podium finishes on stages of La Vuelta Femenina and the Giro d'Italia Donne.

Following Dygert's RideLondon Classique success in May, Canyon-SRAM would have to wait until July for their next victory, but just like the German Stadtbahn, two soon came along at once as the team enjoyed possibly the best month of their past four seasons.

First up, the Giro d'Italia Donne delivered the coming of age of Niedermaier, who miraculously made her audacious breakaway stick on stage 5 to win the Queen stage of the race. Only in her first year at WorldTour level, the German's ride to hold off eventual race-winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) was made even more impressive by early-season knee surgery, which had delayed her start to racing until May.

Just a few weeks later, it was the turn of Ricarda Bauernfeind to announce herself on the Women's WorldTour with an equally as impressive ride at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift to win stage 5. Also in her first season at this level, the German took advantage of some fantastic work by her teammates to surprise the peloton and win alone in Albi.

The day's breakaway was slowly pegged back under the steam of Canyon-SRAM, and sensing her opportunity 36km from the finish, Bauernfeind cantered away on her own adventurous move. Behind her, the chase were unwilling to work in unison and the German was able to pick up the team's first-ever victory at the Tour de France Femmes.

It was to be Canyon-SRAM's final victory of the road season, but July was made all the sweeter by the ride of team leader Kasia Niewiadoma at the Tour. The Polish rider has long led the line for Canyon-SRAM, but has so often fallen short of her major goals, despite almost always entertaining the crowd with her aggressive racing.

At the Tour de France Femmes, whilst SD Worx and Movistar were on a collision path with Demi Vollering, Lotte Kopecky and Annemiek van Vleuten, Canyon-SRAM's Niewiadoma plugged away throughout the eight stages to finish third overall at the end of the race. It was her second podium finish in as many years at the Tour, but this time improved with the addition of the polka dot jersey to her palmarès. The Polish rider finished second on the Col du Tourmalet summit finish and in doing so, snatched the Queen of the Mountains classification from Fenix-Deceuninck's Yara Kastelijn.

On the road, the polka dot jersey at the Tour was all that Niewiadoma was able to win, but it was on the gravel bike that her winning legs returned. Riding in Polish colours, the 29-year-old won the Gravel World Championships in Italy - her first UCI-level win since 2019 - before going on to dominate at the Big Sugar Classic in Arkansas, United States.

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These wins did not count towards Canyon-SRAM's tally for 2023, but both the team and its supporters alike were delighted to see Niewiadoma refind the winning touch on two wheels once again.

GCN's rating: 5/10

Following just one victory in 2022, it goes without saying that 2023 was an improvement for the Canyon-SRAM team. Kasia Niewiadoma racked up consistent podium placings throughout the season and the German climbing pair of Ricarda Bauernfeind and Antonia Niedermaier made their breakthroughs - not to mention the comeback to form of Chloe Dygert. However, four victories away from national championships is simply not good enough for a team of this stature.

Ins & Outs

There is little to report for Canyon-SRAM over the off-season, with Justyna Czapla the only incoming and Sarah Roy and Pauliena Rooijakkers the only confirmed departures. There had been rumours that Tiffany Cromwell might have been out of contract at the end of the season, but the Australian confirmed to GCN that she has one year left on her deal and plans to prioritise the road in 2024 ahead of the Paris Olympic Games.

The German youngster Czapla will be moving up from the Canyon-SRAM Generation development team, and will hope to follow in the successful wheel tracks of Bauernfeind and Niedermaier, whilst the pair's emergence perhaps quells any concerns regarding the departures of Roy and Rooijakkers.

Roy will be riding for Cofidis in 2024, with Rooijakkers set to line up in Fenix-Deceuninck colours.

Where Canyon-SRAM's wins will come in 2024

This is the million-dollar question for Canyon-SRAM: how do they begin winning as much as they used to? Suffice it to say that the 2020s have not been the golden years for Lauke's squad, but that isn't to say the future does not look bright for the team.

Still in her 20s, there is no reason to think that team figurehead Kasia Niewiadoma will slow down anytime soon. In fact, her gravel exploits should not only offer her a new source of success, but the team will hope, a much-needed boost of confidence to improve her results on the road.

The Polish rider is an ever-dependent figure on podiums of WorldTour races, but more consistent wins would be welcomed.

Elsewhere, more can be expected of Elise Chabbey, Soraya Paladin and Chloe Dygert in 2024. The former duo are dependable teammates but should have the ability to pop up with the occasional victory, whilst Dygert can be expected to flourish in 2024. Not only did she gather her best form this season, but the Paris Olympics will keep her mentally sharp heading into the new campaign.

As for the future of Canyon-SRAM, both Ricarda Bauernfeind and Antonia Niedermaier have now proven their value and will be the team's brightest prospects in 2024, whilst another youngster is our tip to be the team's next breakout rider...

Canyon-SRAM's next breakout rider

With Bauernfeind and Niedermaier both Grand Tour stage winners as of July, it feels rather dubious to tip either of those two for this category - despite their young age. In that case, there is one rider whose name stands out amongst their roster in 2024: 19-year-old Zoe Bäckstedt.

The Welsh rider joined the team from EF Education-TIBCO-SVB on 1 September and is already well underway with another impressive cyclo-cross campaign, taking multiple World Cup podiums at the elite level for the first time.

Bäckstedt has only ridden one road race for Canyon-SRAM, but she soon displayed her talents, finishing fifth overall at the Simac Ladies Tour in September, and picking up the youth classification in the process. The 19-year-old looks a sure-fire bet to impress in the Classics over the coming years, and we would not be surprised to see her pick up her first road victory at elite level in 2024.

What do you make of Canyon-SRAM's 2023 campaign? Have we been too generous for a team with only eight victories, or has this year simply been a step in the right direction for the German team? Let us know in the comments below!

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