In just his first year out of the junior ranks, Silvio Herklotz has proven himself to be one of the strongest riders on the continental circuit at just 19 years of age. Winner of both the German U23 Road and Hillclimb National titles this year, Herklotz has been one of the most consistent riders on the U23 circuit with 14 top ten finishes heading into this week's Tour Alsace. While the Tour Alsace might not have name recognition with many outside the keenest of fans, it has been a very valuable development race the last few seasons. In the last three seasons, the overall classification has been won by Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Jon Tiernan-Locke (SKY). Other riders on the overall podium from the last three editions include Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Alexander Pliuschin (IAM) and Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano). Looking of the stage winners, you will find a trove of talented riders that include John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Geoffrey Soupe and Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Alexei Tsatevich (Katusha) and Jonathan Fumeaux (IAM). This year's edition didn't let down one bit.
Stage 1, which was as flat as the week-long tour would get, saw a breakaway of eight gain 1'11" on the peloton by the finish and in a small sprint, Maxim Pokidov (Itera-Katusha) take the victory of Anthony Perez (Aix en Provence) and Nicolas David (BIC 2000). A key rider in the breakaway was 4-72 Colombia rider Fernando Orjuela, whose talent is pretty raw but can climb pretty well. In the peloton, it was Caleb Ewan (Australia) beating out Emmanuel Keo (Sojasun Espoirs-ACNC) and ZLM Tour winner Yoeri Havik for 9th in the bunch sprint.
Stage 2 was rather straightforward with a few climbs on tap for the day but eventually flattened out for the finish into Huningue. Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana CT) was aggressive on the day and took the most KOM points to secure the jersey. The finish eventually came down to a sprint with Caleb Ewan taking his 5th UCI victory of the season over Morgan Lamoisson (Europcar) and Marcel Meisen (BKCP-Powerplus).
Stage 3 rode the same course as last year's stage 2, an 153.8 kilometer romp from Strasbourg to Bischoffsheim, which saw an elite breakaway of 7 riders get away early and take an unassailable lead and saw the overall race go down to just two men in Tiernan Locke and Pliuschin. This year's stage was not raced quite as aggressively by the GC favorites but a breakaway still ruled the day. Kazakh Maxat Ayazbayev again attacked the KOM competition on the two category 1 climbs that came within the first 60 kilometers of the stage. A breakaway of 12 was then able to get away and included some heavy hitters in BKCP's Philipp Walsleben, Rabobank's Martijn Tusveld, Astana Continental's Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, Armée de Terre rider Yoann Barbas and European U23 time trial champion Victor Campenaerts, among others. The break was given a decent gap and Walsleben, a rider known more for his cyclocross exploits, was licking his chops as he had this stage marked for weeks. In the end, it was Walsleben who put in an attack on the uphill run-in to Bischoffsheim and won with a three second gap on the rest of the breakaway. A reduced peloton of 58 rolled in 39 seconds down with Walsleben's teammate Marcel Meisen taking the bunch sprint. While BIC 2000's Nicolas David slipped into the yellow jersey, his teammate Olivier Le Gac, who will be joining FDJ as a stagiaire for the remainder of the season, crashed on a descent and broke his collarbone. He is expected to miss Tour de l'Ain and possibly the Tour de l'Avenir but is hopeful for a selection for the World Championships in Florence.
The finish of Stage 4 was one of the more bizarre finishes of the season. After the peloton got sorted out on the final climb and reduced to 85 riders, it was destined to be a bunch sprint in Colmar. Heading into the final kilometer, the final straightaway with the opposing lanes divided in the middle by trees. As eventual winner Simon Zahner explained on twitter, he used his experience in the finish, which was identical from last year, to make the right move. While in the final kilometer, he positioned his team so that they would make the final corner on the right side, which was where the finish line was on. Other than about 10 riders, the rest of the field went to the left side on the final turn. While Caleb Ewan 'won' the bunch sprint, it was on the wrong side of the road and Zahner, who used his experience and intelligence by actually reading the road book, sprinted to the actual win with his EKZ teammate Thery Schir in 2nd place and Vendée U's Bryan Nauleau in 3rd. All the riders in the peloton were scored on the same time.
Stage 5 was the queen stage of the race and the race took on the intimidating Grand Ballon, the highest peak in the Vosges Mountains. To make his debut U23 season even better, Silvio Herklotz went solo on the Grand Ballon and on the small descent to the finish, Herklotz stretched his gap to 16 seconds over the duo of Heiner Parra (4-72 Colombia) and Czech rider Jan Hirt (Leopard-Trek). While I have written to excess about Herklotz, it is simple to say that he is a prodigy. Parra and Hirt are outstanding climbers in there own right with Parra winning the queen stage of the Ronde de l'Isard and Hirt winning a brutal stage in the Tour de Azerbaijan and 2nd in the U23 Peace Race. Herklotz was able to take the overall lead from stage 1 breakaway Fernando Orjuela by 8 seconds as the Colombian finished 1'12" down. Parra was able to take 3rd overall over Philip Walsleben while Hirt slotted into 5th.
|Meisen winning with Herklotz (behind) taking the overall (Photo: Directvelo)|
Stage 6 culminated in a stage from Ribeauvillé to Cernay. With two climbs around Cernay, Herklotz still had a lead to defend and he did it with a penchant. With two finishing circuits that featured climbs into Wattwiller, Herklotz was apart of the breakaway that separated themselves from the peloton and along with Jan Hirt and Philip Walsleben and five other riders. Marcel Meisen won his 2nd stage ahead of Adam Yates and Herklotz while the impressive Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23) lead the peloton home 12 seconds behind in eighth. In a small coup, Miyataka Shimizu (Bridgestone Anchor) took the KOM jersey away from Maxat Ayazbayev on the final day while Walsleben won the points jersey and Herklotz took over the youth jersey.
- Silvio Herklotz (Stölting-Ruhr)
- Fernando Orjuela (4-72 Colombia) +24"
- Philipp Walsleben (BKCP-Powerplus) s.t.
- Jan Hirt (Leopard-Trek) +26"
- Heiner Parra (4-72 Colombia) +36"
- Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana Continental) +58"
- Clément Penven (Aix en Provence) +59"
- David Wörher (Tirol) s.t.
- Yoann Barbas (Armée de Terre) +1'16"
- Dominik Fuchs (EKZ Racing) +1'27"
With Erik Zabel's admission of doping throughout his career, I have seen many people on Twitter saying how they feel sorry for Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel and how they will have to deal with a German public who is fed up with doping. While I feel for them, no one is talking about current U23 riders that will have to deal with that stigma. How will Silvio Herklotz feel when he becomes a pro? This is a rider that only comes along once in a long while; a rider who can deal with climbs and can ride classics with many of the best U23 riders. What questions will he face whenever he turns pro because I know that his versatility will come into question with some cynics. What about Rick Zabel, who is turning pro with BMC next season? Will the press question him consistently because of his father's admission? It isn't just current German sprinters that will have to deal with the doping questioning. Herklotz, Zabel, Jasha Sütterlin and others will have to still deal with the fallout from the doping era. With a distrusting German public, it is still an uphill struggle for them.
The performances of Philipp Walsleben and Marcel Meisen make me wonder about why both of them don't focus on the road more. I'm sure both of them have a passion for cyclocross and that is why they put their energy towards it but both of them have talent on the road. Meisen has won two bunch sprints this year while Walsleben has had good results on the road in the past and with his 3rd place here, I would be very curious to see him dedicate himself to the road one year.
We have not seen the limits of Silvio Herklotz's talent. It must seem like I drone on and on about him but his talent is just immense. He might lack some time trial ability and he might not be the fastest sprinter but damn, he is one racer I wish I could watch all of the time. He is one who isn't afraid to attack or put everything on the line for the win and I, for one, hope that carries over to the pro ranks, whenever he ends up transitioning to that level.