Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trofeo Almar: Moscon's Dream Continues

In a finish that played out like many typical Italian amateur one-day races, Gianni Moscon continued what has been a dream season for the Zalf-Euromobil rider. After having a good but not fantastic year in 2014, Moscon has exploded this season with wins in such races as the GP San Giuseppe (one of my favorite courses of the season), GP Palio del Recioto, Trofeo Citta di San Vendemiano and, most recently, the Italian U23 RR Championship.
The Trofeo Almar was in its first edition in the U23 Nations Cup. Taking place on the scenic Lake Maggiore, the race went around a couple of the local towns as well as running up against two other lakes in the nearby area, Monate and Commabio. With the steep, partially cobbled Tainenberg climb punctuating the race and a flat finish, it provided the usual drama for a big Italian one-day.

Cutting to the chase, it was a breakaway of seven riders that had taken the race by the scruff of the neck going into the final couple of laps. Home rider Lorenzo Rota (Italy) was joined by Mikhel Raim (Estonia), Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands), Jonas Koch (Germany), Evgeny Zherkov (Russia), Jeremy Maison (France) and Galym Akhmetov (Kazakhstan).

Out of a chasing group on the final lap, Gianni Moscon (Italy) and Laurens De Plus (Belgium) launched on the final passage of the Tainenberg. The duo, include one of the brightest one-day talents and the stage racing sensation of the season, stormed up to the leading group and with 5 kilometers to go, they made the junction. Rota was in full teammate mode while Moscon was winding up for the inevitable sprint on the flat run in to the finishing town of Angera.

As he did in the Italian U23 RR and in San Vendemiano, Moscon was the strongest in the sprint and easily bettered Raim and Hofstede while De Plus took 4th. In the sprint behind, it was Raim's Estonian teammate Martin Laas who took the sprint for 9th to allow Estonia to grab more Nations Cup Points

Moscon is going on to Team SKY as a stagiaire later this season followed by a two-year neo-pro deal. While it could be a big setback as SKY isn't necessarily known for their bevy of one day racers, Moscon could buck the trend. Maybe. If pigs fly.

Italy takes the top spot in the Nations Cup rankings by 12 points over Norway and 13 over Denmark. The Netherlands vaulted from 17th to 11th with Hofstede's performance while Great Britain fell from 5th to 8th after not participating.

The next Nations Cup event will be in roughly two weeks on August 9th when the European U23 RR Championships descend onto Tartu, Estonia. The Estonians, currently in 9th place in the Nations Cup rankings, will be hungry for a good result.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Rule Change

I have ranted about this on Twitter already but in case you missed it, I would like to bring to you the lovely rule change that has happened with the Tour de l'Avenir. For this year (and I'm assuming going forward), World Tour riders that are under the age of 23 are able to ride in the Tour de l'Avenr with their national teams. This news came with the announcement of the Colombian team for l'Avenir which is featuring Sebastian Henao of Team SKY, who has ridden the past two Giri dl'Italia and finished 3rd in this year's Tour de Langkawi.

Espoirs Central's opinion on this matter are strong and blunt. This rule change is bullshit. I want names at the UCI of who was responsible for this because I will send them a letter to ask what the fuck they were thinking. If a rider is a U23 and goes to the World Tour, they sacrifice their spots for any U23 events. They are out of the development stage. If you think you can ride at the level, you should be riding at the level and not hawking spots from riders that would benefit from an opportunity such as the Tour de l'Avenir.

I had an issue with Pro Continental riders such as Louis Meintjes being able to ride in the U23 Worlds just because once you are on that level, you are a full blown professional. Should Australia bring Caleb Ewan back for a reunion tour? Or should Denmark bring back Magnus Cort to cherry pick a stage or two? No. Fuck no.

Here is the link to an article on the subject. There might be more found later on this subject.

The UCI rule that is in question is rule number 2.14.018, which states: "The road racing nations cup is reserved for men from 19 to 22 years, comprising the riders being part of a UCI WorldTeam."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Coppa del Laghi - Trofeo Almar: The Italian Virgin

This weekend will feature a new race on the U23 Nations Cup calendar, the Coppa dei Laghi - Trofeo Almar. The Cup of the Lakes takes place on the shores of the Lombard coast of Lake Maggiore and has multiple loops around the towns of Taino, where the race begins, and Angera, where the race ends. Produced by the same group that puts on the Trofeo Binda, which is a World Cup on the Women's side of the sport, the Coppa dei Laghi is a typical Italian one-day race that will offer a crapshoot of a finish that could play out 5 different ways.

Starting from Taino, a small commune of roughly 4,000 people, the race has a neutral roll out until they hit the southern shores of Lake Maggiore, where they begin the race in earnest with 4 large laps that go through the coast town of Angera, up through Ranco, back through Taino and then out to touch two other lakes, Monate and Comabbio. The two climbs on this large loop include a small climb in Ranco and the longer Tainenberg (not to be confused with the Taaienberg aka the Boonenberg in Flanders), which is 2 kilometers in length and averages a strong 10%. I say strong because if you take out the fairly flat first bit, you would probably be getting somewhere closer to 12 or 13% average. Also, it is cobbled.

Once the 4 big laps are done, the race is finished with a more abbreviated final lap of 24.4 kilometers. Once again, they race over the short Ranco climb before hitting the Tainenberg for one last time. The hill summits with a little over 12 kilometers left before a descent and flat finish back in Angera. The only technical bit about the finish is a couple of corners in the final kilometer but the final 250 meters are a straight shot.

This should play out like a few different Italian races including the Giro del Belvedere, which also has a large climb and then a descent to the finish. The last 4 editions of that race have been either won in a solo effort or a small group sprint so I'm anticipating something similar here but since this is a virgin course, I won't lay any money on it.

As this is a Nations Cup, it is National teams and the teams are as follows:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA and the UCI Mixed Team.

Of course, the start list is not finalized yet so no prediction is available as of right now but once it is, this post will be updated. Though if Robert Power and Laurens De Plus are here, there are two of your top 10.

For any questions, the organizers have a thorough website that includes all kind of useful information including Google Earth and Garmin maps of the circuits.

It should be a pretty race and it'll be interesting to see who shows up and who shits the bed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Everything but Valle d'Aosta

So while my brain was in the Alps of Northwestern Italy for the entirety of last week, the world kept on moving for some strange reason. While Robert Power was crushing souls, stagiaires were being signed and racing continued in many places. Let's see what happened outside of Aosta...

Stagiaires Galore

The stagiaire period is upon us in just 11 days and the announcements for who will be riding for who are flooding in. For those of you that are uninitiated, stagiaire is a french word for trainee and every year starting on August first, a team is able to sign up to 3 stagiaire riders to race with the team. Stagiaires are not allowed to ride World Tour events (you will see some riders sign a full pro contract around this time, which can lead to confusion) but some teams tend to utilize them more than others. Stagiaires do not always have standout performances such as Andrea Guardini in the 2010 Post Danmark Rundt (Tour of Denmark), where he barely cracked the top 100 after being the best Italian sprinter on their amateur circuit.

I have commented on some of the other stagiaire announcements so I'll list the ones that have happened since the week before Aosta.

Ag2r La Mondiale: Romain Campistrous (GSC Blagnac), Francois Bidard (Chambery CF) and Florent Pereira (Immo Pro Roux)

Lotto-Soudal: Dries Van Gestel, Kenneth Van Rooy and Frederik Frison (all Lotto-Soudal U23)

Cofidis: Huge Hofstetter (CC Etupes), Xabier San Sebastian (Fundacion Euskadi) and Rayane Bouhanni (AWT-Greenway)

Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Robin Stenuit (Veranclassics-Ekoi), Kevin Callebaut (Cibel) and Romain Barraso (Guidon Chalettois)

Bora-Argon 18: Lukas Postlberger (Tirol) and Gregor Mühlberger (Felbermayr-Simplon)

There are more but that is the big teams. More announcements will be made in the coming days.

Volta a Portugal do Futuro

Not the biggest talent factory on the planet especially with Valle d'Aosta in session. Riding for the Cafe Baque team, which is directed by the likes of Manolo Saiz, Marino Lejarreta and David Etxebarria, Julen Amezqueta won the overall of the Portuguese race ahead of Ukrainian Anatoliy Budyak and Alvaro Trueba.

Honestly I don't have much to say here seeing as the Iberian racing culture is so insular with the vast majority of riders being from Spanish or Portuguese teams with the odd Russian and Ukranian thrown in for good measure. Amezqueta is certainly a talent as he won a stage of the Copa de Espana earlier this year but past that, it seems like he is a good climber but who knows. I really should get someone on here that knows what they are talking about when it comes to Iberia.

Qinghai Lake

If you are looking for a place where the Wild West of cycling still exists, then one must go experience the Tour of Qinghai Lake, which is out on the Chinese high steppe near Tibet. Cities in the middle of nowhere with roads that go up the sides of remote mountains. Big elevation gain and quite a mix of riders from temporary Colombians signing with Chinese teams, Americans and a smattering of Ukrainians.

On the U23 side of things, it was a bit sparse. There were younger riders in the race but only a handful. The best U23 on the GC was Ben O'Connor from Navitas Satalyst, who was 16th on GC. The next one after him was Maral-erdene Batmunkh from Mongolia, which was 25th overall. The young Chechen Ivan Savitskiy (RusVelo) (who is 23 this year) had a strong race with 9 top 10 stage finishes including a stage win along with 20th overall.

You'll hear more from Qinghai Lake in an upcoming interview.


-Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Development) showed his good form with a national TT win in Beveren albeit Belgian U23 TT Champ Ruben Pols was absent. Van Hooydonck followed it up by a solo win in another regional race.

-Alexander Kuznetsov, the father of Soviet cycling, hit a high point with his Lokosphinx team when Evgeny Shalunov rode to a solo win at this weekend's Trofeo Matteoti. The team put 4 in the top 14 and Shalunov, who won the Vuelta Comunidad de Madrid in May, has been on the form of his life. U23 Oliveira Troia finished 6th in the race while with the Italian national team.

Did I miss something? Am I a hack without talent? Do you want to tell me anything? Please follow on twitter @Vlaanderen90 or drop me an email on the sidebar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Wrap-Up

 The Giro della Valle d'Aosta, one of the premier stage races in the U23 ranks, is done and dusted for another season. Espoirs Central, being the home of all things U23, continental and development cycling, would be amiss if we (meaning I) didn't run through some of the important motifs from the race.

A Race for Firsts...

Besides the prologue win by Robert Power, every stage winner in this year's edition of Valle d'Aosta was a first time UCI winner.

It was a bit surprising with a rider such as Odd Eiking but any wins that he has had have been on the national level or in national championships, such as this year's Norwegian U23 RR. Eiking has been all over the podium in the past couple of seasons but his stage 2 win that saw him pass Edward Ravasi in the final kilometer was his maiden trip to the top step in the UCI ranks.

Speaking of a riders that have been all over the podium this year, you can look to both Laurens De Plus and Lennard Kämna. The Belgian has proved himself to be an immense climbing talent that is a consistent finisher. He took advantage of Robert Power's mechanical mishap and had legs that were a little bit fresher to sprint to the win on stage 1. Kämna was impressive in the prologue but continued to get stronger as the race continued. After losing GC time on stage 1, the young German was able to get into the breakaway on stage 4 and timed his move well to solo away for the final 20 kilometers.

The breakaway bestowed glory onto Matvey Mamykin and Koen Bouwman. The Russian Mamykin had a weak team but on the queen stage of the race, he played his cards brilliantly and didn't use everything too early. He was able to pass Giulio Ciccone on the final climb and take a masterful win in Cervinia including a yellow jersey for the day. Bouwman did a similar tacit and let Nicola Bagioli wilt on the long climb up to the Colle del San Gran Bernardo and with Kilian Frankiny, the Dutchman passed Bagioli and then sprinted to a masterful win near the top of Western Europe.

While Rob Power has won before on the UCI level, he did take his first UCI stage race overall after taking a near 2nd in last year's Tour de l'Avenir. You can make a number of puns with his last name but Power is obviously destined for big things in the professional ranks.

Is Valle d'Aosta too hard?

I wrote an article about this yesterday about this topic but I feel like the thought is still developing in my head.

So a maximum elevation gain limit could be an interesting topic for the UCI to consider in the U23 ranks if they want to keep the U23 system as something that is meant for development. The queen stage had nearly 4200 meters (13750 feet) of climbing over only 162 kilometers. If the stage were to be straight uphill for the whole stage, it would be a average gradient of 2.59%. Now concentrate that on just a few climbs and you can see why the grupetto was a half hour down on. You can take it from one of the racers, Alexey Vermeulen, who said that a lot of people had their mind set on where they were pulling the pin.

Why does nearly every stage have to be an uphill finish? Why can't there be a sprint stage or two? Why are multiple climbs used 2 or 3 times in the race? There are a lot of questions I do not have answers two but would be good for the organizers to examine before next year. I know that sponsor dollars were a big reason why the first two stages were in France but that shouldn't have to make for lazy stage planning or a focus strictly on riders that can go uphill fastest.

This can be shelved for another time but if you have any more opinions, I would love to hear them.

Laurens De Plus

De Plus was disappointed with his 2nd place in the Ronde de l'Isard behind Petilli. He was still not satisfied with his 4th place in the Zavod Miru U23. What do you think his thoughts are on after finishing 2nd overall here? His riding on anything remotely hilly has been incredibly consistent this year and he still has eyes on the Tour de l'Avenir later this year. Perhaps he can crack the Power code and get his way to the top step of an overall.

The Italian Misfortune

For the first time since 2006, an Italian rider failed to win a stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. While 2006 was dry in terms of stage wins, Alessandro Bisolti won the overall. While Simone Petilli hit the overall podium with his 3rd this year, it was a historically off year for the Italians in their home stage race.

While it was an off year in terms of stage wins, there was an Italian on every single stage podium and there were two stages where an Italian rider (Enrico Salvador and Edward Ravasi, in particular) was caught in the final kilometers. Salvador was a hundred meters from the line while Ravasi was inside of 4 kilometers from the line. You can even throw in Nicola Bagioli on the final stage where he was solo on the Colle del San Gran Bernardo and was overhauled by Bouwman and Kilian Frankiny with 5 kilometers left.

While the stage wins were dry, Giulio Ciccone did capture the KOM jersey after a late stage assault by Nicola Bagioli. Petilli deserved credit too because he did has a nice week even if he and his team were like the shadows of the Australian team.

The Australians

Just a moment to recognize how organized and efficient this team was the entire week at defending Robert Power's lead. With only 5 riders, it is hard to control anything but the Australians spent countless kilometers on the front controlling everything and then Jack Haig rode out of his skin on the later climbs to bring Power to within a shouting distance of the win or to set him up to take time. This was also Haig's first race in roughly 2 months after dealing with multiple injuries so to do what he has done, it is impressive.


-Lennard Kämna was the best first year in the race by a country mile with the next first year being Steff Cras (Lotto-Soudal U23) in 25th, 32 minutes down on the German. Kämna was a known talent in the time trial but on the climbs, he seems that he could be a future GC talent with how he seemingly got better at the race progressed.

-Dan Pearson (Zalf-Euromobil) improved on his GC position from last year by moving up from 8th to 5th place. Pearson was consistent all week but his only slip up was the final stage, where he lost two minutes to the yellow jersey and lost his 4th place on GC to breakaway rider Kilian Frankiny. In any case, the Brit seems to be loving racing on Italian soil and should be a treat to watch in some of the late summer races.

-Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development) has continued to steadily improve on the GC side of things and could be a top 10 threat for the Tour de l'Avenir after his rides here, where was 12th overall, and the Ronde de l'Isard.

-They were silent in the way that they did it but Michal Schlegel (AWT-Greenway), Simone Ravanelli (Palazzago) and Stefano Nardelli (Unieuro Wilier) all finished in the top 10 overall. Kudos.

That is a wrap on the 2015 Giro della Valle d'Aosta. How was the coverage? Good? Poor? Because if you like it, then you will soon have an opportunity to support it directly. More on that later this week.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 5: Robert Power seals overall; Bouwman triumphs at Gran San Bernardo

The final stage of the 52nd Giro della Valle d'Aosta was quite short at just 86.6 kilometers but featured 50 kilometers of climbing and a summit finish on the Colle del Gran San Bernardo at nearly 2500 meter. What was supposed to be the launching pad for some beautiful attacks to try and take the GC lead from Robert Power never really happened. After a week of nothing but climbing, this stage was anti-climactic with the breakaway having another day out front while the GC battle was behind the race.

A breakaway got away early including Nicola Bagioli, Giacomo Zilio (Zalf-Euromobil), Davide Ballerini (Unieuro Wilier), Max Schachmann (AWT-Greenway), Koen Bouwman (SEG Racing), Davide Gabburo (General Store), Kilian Frankiny (BMC Development) and Giulio Ciccone (Colpack). Bagioli was going for the KOM points to try and pull a coup on Ciccone. Bagioli went solo over the first category 1 climb but his points haul was mitigated.

Up the Gran San Bernardo climb, Bagioli went solo and remained so until 5 kilometers to go, when he was joined by Frankiny and Bouwman. Bagioli was subsequently dropped and it came down to a two-man sprint for the line with Bouwman, the Dutchman who was the KOM winner from the Tour de Normandie earlier this year, taking his first ever UCI win. Frankiny, who wasn't too low on GC, came across 2nd and was able to gain a load of time that vaulted him up the classification.

Now Koen, were you not paying attention in your "What to do when I win" class?
Zip the jersey up!

Behind, there was a whole load of abandons from the stage including Silvio Herklotz, former leader Matvey Mamykin, Lorenzo Rota, TJ Eisenhart and Enrico Salvador. While the gap was huge to the breakaway at over 8 minutes at one point, Jack Haig accelerated on the Gran San Bernardo and the riders started to pop off. First it was riders like Alexey Vermeulen and Dan Pearson but then it was Sindre Lunke, Keegan Swirbul, Stefano Nardelli, Simone Ravanelli and Lennard Kämna. Eventually, Simone Petilli was popped and it was down to just Haig, Power and Laurens De Plus, the Belgian who has put a stamp as the breakout rider of the year.

Haig stopped the clock at 5'02" back on Bouwman with Power on the same time and De Plus just a couple of seconds back. Power sealed his overall win by 44 seconds on De Plus while Petilli finished in 3rd at 1'18" down. Frankiny benefitted from his breakaway ride by vaulting up to 4th overall thanks to an off day by Dan Pearson, who held for 5th on the day.

And the award for the most awkward podium picture goes to...
Giulio Ciccone survived the day with his green polka dot jersey for the KOM classification intact while Laurens De Plus took the points classification and Davide Ballerini (Unieuro Wilier) took the sprints jersey. Norway finished as the best team by a country mile while Lennard Kämna was the best 1st year rider.

Stay tuned for more analysis about the race as well as everything else plus more.

Is Valle d'Aosta too hard?

While talking with USA National Team DS Mike Sayers about how the race had been going for the team, he noted that, as a first time participant in the race,Valle d'Aosta seems to be a bit over the top for U23s. It wasn't in a boo-hoo sort of way because he acknowledged that his team hasn't been impressive but more along the lines of 5 and a half hour mountain stages being excessive for the U23 ranks, which if people forget is meant as a developmental step between the junior ranks and the pro ranks.

So this poses the question of is the Giro della Valle d'Aosta too hard for a U23 race?

This isn't to be a question of if the riders can do it or not because obviously many riders are able to ride over these mountains and some of them do very well at it. The question that should be answered is one of development. In its current format does this race provide a proper platform for riders to develop on? Or is Valle d'Aosta too excessive for riders that are trying to make the bridge to the pro ranks?

The Giro della Valle d'Aosta was not always a race that was strictly for mountain lovers only. Go back 10 years in 2005 and see that while mountain stages were in the middle of the race, there were bookend stages for sprinters including the final stage, which was won by Oscar Gatto. While the overall time gaps were still pretty big, the stages were shorter with the longest one at 134 kilometers.

The distance of stages isn't too much of an issue as there are rules for the maximum distances but there are no restrictions on what is inside of the stages. You could put 30,000 feet of climbing in there with 10 cobbled descents at a 45% gradient and it could be raced but obviously, that was a bit of hyperbole. The example of the ridiculousness is stage 3 of this year's race where the riders climbed 13,750 feet in just over 100 miles on a stage that took over 5 and a half hours to race. The time gaps probably would have been larger if the stage wasn't preceded by 2 mountain stages and that the excessively hard course saw a large group or nearly 15 riders until just a few kilometers left.

Any stage that is taking over 5 hours at this level, especially in a mountain stage race, is getting out of hand because at that point, you are touching pro level racing. While there are riders here that can handle it, when you only have 5 rider teams and have zero stages that are made for sprinters, it makes it incredibly hard to keep a race under control. Would perhaps allowing a 6th rider or taking away a day or two in the mountains make the race more balanced and offer a better development platform?

Do you think that these the Giro della Valle d'Aosta should make some changes or is status qup the way they should go? Fans, Riders, Directors, Brian Cookson...please let me know.