Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quick Team Previews: De Ruskies

Nothing screams the European continental circuit like some hopped up Russians riding into the crosswinds with reckless abandon. The past decade has been marked by nameless riders coming through the ranks, riding like hell and only a few getting the chance to move up to the pro ranks for a year or two before being spit out of the machine.

Itera-Katusha and Lokosphinx are, as of now, the two Russian teams that will be taking up the flag of Putin and going every which way around the continent. Except, you know, English speaking countries. Well except when you get Russians coming over to America to race criteriums in non-regulation kits while your team is under suspension and then mysteriously DNSing races...but that was just one time.

Itera-Katusha is getting some new blood in their management. Well actually, it is more like the now defunct Team 21's management is coming in. Latvian-Russian Piotr Ugrumov, a rider famous for his spiking hematocrit levels and incredible performance in the '94 Tour before fading to black, is coming in to lead the team.

The team is supposed to be a development team for the Katusha World Tour team but it is more of a holding pen for young riders and guys that are on the cusp of the pro ranks but not quite there. Usually one or two get the call up every year with some retiring and others coming back for yet another year of anonymous pedal turning. 

The team has a few strong climbers including Dmitry Ignatiev, Matvey Mamykin and Sergei Pomoshnikov. Ignatiev, who had a very convenient two year lay-off from the sport, was riding like a bat out of hell at the Tour des Pays de Savoie but was overhauled on the final stage by Louis Vervaeke. Mamykin was top 10 twice this year in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta while Pomoshnikov is coming back from a stint with RusVelo and is looking to get back into the pro game.

There are good older riders on Itera including the Samokhvalov twins (both of who can climb), Sergey Nikolaev (sprinter) and the flying Maxims in Maxim Razumov and Maxim Pokidov, both of whom are good rouleurs that can time trial (finished 4th in the Duo Normand).

So who wants to sponsor some Russians for a year to get them to race on the NRC circuit? I would love to see them go up against America's best. Yes, this might sound like the Hell of the West from American Flyers. And yes, Amore & Vita did this with Volodymyr Starchyk when they brought the then Ukranian champ over in 2010 to plunder the Snake Alley criterium.

Prediction: 20 UCI wins...Outside of Russia: 7

Lokosphinx is fucking Loko. The team is headed up by famous coach Aleksandr Kuznetsov, who won a pile of gold medals for the Soviets with Ekimov and others and had to have had very big insight into the Soviet doping regime. The father of pro tennis player Svetlana Kuznetsova leads a team that includes 2 riders that have tested positive for doping, including one in Kirill Sveshnikov that was never really sanctioned by the Russians for his positive Clenbuterol test.

Sveshnikov and Evegeny Shalunov are both classics-style riders that can sprint fairly well. Aleksey Rybalkin showed his promise as a climbing talent with 3rd overall in the Tour de l'Avenir; another Russian I would love to see go to a proper team with proper doping controls to see if he is all he is talked up to be. Shilov is a good all-around rider but has a doping conviction to his name and this is his 4th year surfing the continental ranks with Lokosphinx. How many more years can he do this shit for?

Prediction: 4 UCI wins and one doping positive

I'm sure that I sound like a downer talking about these teams but after hearing stories and the way these teams treat their riders like cogs rather than humans, I'm sure this year will be more of the same from both of them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hang 'Em High

With all of this news about Leinders & Rabobank, Zorzoli and the rest of the corrupt fuckers that polluted cycling for the last couple of decades, I am about at my wits end when it comes to doping. When Adam Myerson was on Mike Creed's OpenMic, he had a great line about people having every right to be skeptical about the characters in cycling but once you become cynical, why the hell do you still follow cycling? That was some obvious paraphrasing but lately I have been walking that line of skepticism and cynicism.

I love cycling. I love nearly every aspect of cycling. The drama. The romance. The suffering. The pain. I have put a good chunk of my life into the two-wheeled world but I keep getting a bile taste in my mouth every fucking time that I see a "former" doper living a comfortable retirement. Whether it is Vinokourov, Museeuw, Armstrong, Hincapie...I don't care; when you cheat people out of jobs and money and then try to make even more money of the backs of millions of riders? You and anyone that believes you to be right can go to hell.

There seems to be an issue about what to due with riders that have doped and come back from suspension. Should we hang them out to dry or welcome them back and tell everyone that it was "a different time". First of all, the benchmark for bans should be life. Bicycle racing isn't a right. It is a job for some privileged athletes and if you decide to cheat by taking PEDs then you should not be welcome back. This should go even further by imposing monetary penalties that would go towards funding anti-doping as well as cycling development.

Now that sounds idealistic as a college freshman after their first semester but I'm not finished. While I think that life bans should be the benchmark, if a rider spills their guts and name fucking names then they could be eligible for a ban reduction. For any type of rider on a ban, there should be some sort of monetary penalty.

If a rider dopes, gets caught and refuses to talk? Good riddance. I don't want you around this sport. If a rider dopes, admits their wrongs and tell everything they know? Yeah, you fucked up but at least you see your wrongs and are willing to repent. I'm just tired of having to accept riders back with open arms after they keep their silence after being caught. You have to earn our trust if you want to be anywhere near a race circuit again.

When coming into the sport around the late 00s, I grew up watching gritty riders like Vinokourov and Di Luca as well as super sprinters such as Petacchi and Boonen. As much as I would love to have riders expose doping, I know it is fucking hard. I will not fault a hard working rider for not saying shit to the media so he can protect his job but at some point, riders should be responsible. If you see something, say something. The UCI should have lines dedicated to this sort of shit. See dope? Call them. See a transfusion? Call them. Let them investigate without the rider being hung out to dry and out of a job.

Riders coming up should be looking up to riders who stood up for what is right. If I was my 16 year old self, I would be looking towards guys like Danny Pate, Brad Huff and the like instead of riders that shown hormone levels of young children after major mountain stages in grand tours.

Shit is going to continued being the same until something major happens. Yeah, there has been a shift to a cleaner sport but where there really isn't an incentive not to dope or much of a disincentive to not dope. Now back to your regular scheduled program.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Quick Team Preview: Hincapie Racing Team

After coming on their most successful season to date, Hincapie Development is set for yet another strong year with most of the core roster back for another season under the direction of DS Thomas Craven.
The team lost a few key riders including Chris Butler, who transfers to Smartstop, and Joey Rosskopf, who impressed in Utah and Colorado and got a ride with BMC. Also departing the team are criterium monsters Alexander Ray and Alder Martz along with Jake King (younger brother of Ben) and Thomas Wrona.
The team returns with a strong core including UCI race winners in Robin Carpenter and Toms Skujins along with Kiwi strongman Dion Smith, Ty Magner, Oscar Clark, Miguel Bryon and Aussie Joe Lewis. Skujins should be aiming at more UCI wins after his overall win in Beauce so look for him on hillier courses. Carpenter is starting what will basically be his first professional season as every year up until now, he has been in school this time of year. He moved to San Diego and should be ripping once spring comes around.  Magner and Smith should take up the sprinting duties while Bryon should be getting into a few of the kicks.

While they lost two big riders in Rosskopf and Butler, they are gaining a good chunk of riders including climber Rob Squire, TT stud Mac Brennan, climber Jonathan Hornbeck, Division 2 Collegiate Criterium winner Charlie Hough and Latvian strongman Andzs Flaksis.

Squire had a rough go of it in Europe with Amore & Vita and Ceramica Flaminia but bounced back nicely with Jamis last year. He could be a GC threat is the stars align. Brennan was 2nd in the North Star GP TT and 5th at Elite Nationals TT. Hornbeck showed some promise in Beauce and Gila has had shitty luck with a shitty team like Kenda. Flaksis had a "down" year last year with Latvian Rietumu but when he is on, he is like a freight train, especially in time trials.

Prediction: 6 UCI wins (15 overall)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

South America News Shorts: Gaviria wins opening San Luis stage; Flores 11th in Tachira

Fernando Gaviria takes upset win over Cavendish in San Luis

Not much else to say that others already haven't said about Gaviria. He is an outstanding track rider and obviously has a brilliant turn of speed on the road. He already showed flashes of brilliance last year in his first full year on the road but what he did Monday was outstanding. And remember, he is just riding with the national team. He has no professional contract for 2015 and seems to be focused on the Rio Olympics.

Jhorman Flores rides to 11th in Vuelta a Tachira

Over the past few couple, I have mentioned to Jhorman Flores and winning the youth classification for the Vuelta a Tachira. Flores is one of the brighter Venezuelan youngsters coming up but without a strong schedule and a lack of a development pipeline, his name hasn't exactly been on the tip of people's tongues when talking about exciting South American talent.

Flores finished on the same time as 10th place Jose Alarcon, which was 5'50" behind winner and professional gnome Jose Rujano. Flores was supposed to be in the Androni talent pool since they struck their deal with the Venezuelan government but he hasn't been able to get much outside of Venezuela in terms of rides. Here is to hoping that he can get a chance to show himself somewhere in a U23 race where he might be able to get a contract for 2016.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In case you forgot, Raimondas Rumsas is still in cycling...

Motherfucking Raimondas Rumsas is still hanging around. Apparently using your wife and mother in law to shuttle drugs over the French border hasn't detered Rumsas from continuing in the sport as a director for the 2nd year Tuscan-based GFDD Altopack Titano. He was riding for this team on the Granfondo circuit only a couple of years ago.

I find the team a bit strange but they have a good amount of talent to work with. Hell even Michele Bartoli showed up to their presentation. They have listed their goal for their first year to be a top 5 amateur team in Italy. Along with Raimondas Rumsas as director, they have Raimondas Rumsas as a rider. His sons Raimondas and Linas are on the team even though neither have done much in terms of any big results.

Also joining the team for 2015 include Belorussian climber Aleksandr Riabushenko, Polish u23 TT champion Szymon Rekita, Luca Ceolan (who won the Coppa della Pace) and Marco Chianese, who is a fairly good climber.

It is just another example of the Italian amateur peloton will never be taken seriously and without a thoughts of doping unless they start weeding out the old dopers running the system.

Here is a link to their press release

Quick Team Preview: Armée de Terre

Instead of writing big long team previews literally going through every rider, I'm going to try a different approach of highlighting a few riders and key points about a team so that I can get through all that I want to cover with greater turnover.

Armée de Terre

Full roster

This team is a Twitter favorite with their camouflage kits but the team, which is literally The French Army, has been one of the strongest on the French DN1 amateur circuit for the past few years and will be making the step up to the Continental level for 2015.
The team has been known for working very efficiently with one another and especially in some lower races, they have stacked the top 10 with the most I've seen is getting the top 7 in one race. While this is a new jump in competition, they have already raced in some French continental races and shown their worth. The squad took 61 wins on the road in 2014 as well as 65 other podium places. They boast alumni in Nacer Bouhanni and Julian Alaphilippe

The team only has a handful of U23s but they are a strong bunch. Bryan Alaphilippe is the younger brother of Etixx-OPQS's Julian and was a strong junior with 13 wins in the final junior season. He had a fairly quiet year last year but is a developing sprinter. Bruno Armirail is a time trial machine that is the current French U23 TT Champion. He isn't consistent but has a big engine. Kevin Lebreton won the opening stage of the Kreiz Breizh Elites and rides well on the French flat. David Cherbonnet was 2nd in a tight sprint in the French U23 RR and seems to ride well on tough courses; always being a rider that can stick around for a small group sprint.

The team is anchored by older riders including Yoann Barbas, Julien Duval, Yann Guyot, Jimmy Raibaud and Benoît Sinner.

Barbas is a climbing machine that won the Tour des Pays de Savoie in 2013 and was 4th their this past year.

Guyot won 17 races last year including the French amateur RR, a stage in the Tour de Bretagne, the UCI GP des Marbriers as well as the overall classification for the best French amateur rider. He isn't a high mountains rider but will be competitive on nearly any other surface and will be the team's anchor. Sinner is another big winner with 7 to his name in 2014. Sinner formerly rode for Agritubel but after a stint with Armée de Terre, he is back to the pro ranks and will be able to mix it up in bunch sprints.

Duval has spent the last two years at Roubaix - Lille Métropolé with some top 10s in big French races, most of which end in some sort of a sprint. Raibaud won the 2nd round of the amateur Coupe de France at the GP Buxerolles in a two-up sprint ahead of now-teammate Yann Guyot as well as a sprint stage of Rhône-Alpes Isére Tour.

Like most French teams, this team is filled with a bunch of scrappers along with a few gems. Like many others, they will get into the early breakaways and try to hold on valiantly in some races that are over their heads. While their roster is filled with riders that are trying to make a comeback or just even make it in the first place, they have a strong team that could surprise a few in the coming year. I'm sure we will head an on-air orgasm from Carlton Kirby about their kits and something-something "bringing out the big guns" will be said more times than my stomach can handle.

Another plus for the team is that they have hired Jimmy Casper as a sports director for 2015. He will certainly bring a depth of knowledge that they will be needing with the step up to the next level.

Verdict: 12 UCI wins

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

News Shorts: Ndayisenga wins Tour of Egypt prologue

Coming off his overall win in the Tour of Rwanda, Valens Ndayisenga took out the prologue of the back-from-hiatus Tour of Egypt. The young Rwandan, who is seen by this writer as the most talented Rwandan rider yet, beat out Francesco Mancebo and national teammate Janiver Hadi on the 8 kilometer course in the coastal city of Hurghada, which lies due south of the Sinai.

The race itself will boil down to a competition between Rwanda, Morocco and the UAE-based SkyDive Dubai, which is nearly all-Arabic along with Goku Mancebo.

Tour Alsace adds prologue

New for the late July French stage race is a prologue that could prove to be decisive before the always important stage to Le Markstein.

You can read more on DirectVelo