While the announcement of Davide Villella has been known for sometime, Cannondale was not done with their 2014 signings by any means. While the Milanese Villella is one of the gems of the 2013 class, three more riders will be suiting up in the green and white kit of the American-Italian team.
Also joining the team for 2014 will be... (drum roll please) Davide Formolo, Matej Mohoric and Alberto Bettiol
Villella has been talked about at length here for his early season exploits, mainly his fondness for 2nd place, and his sensational ride at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he took two stages and the overall victory. By some standards, you can say Villella is having a down year. While he has had great performances this year, he has only won four times compared to the 11 last year. Villella has made up for this slip in wins by having greater consistency in the mountains, where he shined in Valle d'Aosta. Villella will have his eyes firmly on the Florence World Championships, where he will be looking to make something happen for himself and his Italian teammates on home soil.
Davide Formolo is perhaps the best pure Italian climber in the U23 ranks at this moment. Over the past two seasons, Formolo has shown himself on the toughest climbs in Italy but he seems to have a little bit more room to grow. Double winner of the Peaches and Nectarines stage race and multiple top 10 finisher in the Giro Bio and Valle d'Aosta, Formolo's climbing and all-around skills have developed well but he still seems to lack a little bit a of top end speed (see four 2nd place finishes this year alone).
Mohoric has only spent one (non-complete) year in the U23 ranks and is best remembered for his junior racing results rather than anything he has done as an espoir. Mohoric was the superstar of the 2012 junior class after winning three general classifications along with the World RR Championship in Valkenburg with a superb final kilometer attack to hold off the charging pack. Mohoric has had some growing pains in the U23 class but it was reported that he had signed a contract with Cannondale back in March. With the pressure lifted, Mohoric put in two fourth place results in the elite Slovenian Championships before heading to the Tour of Qinghai, where he placed a respectable 18th overall in the UCI's 2nd highest stage race.
Bettiol is only 20 years old this year but could turn out to be quite a steal in a few years if Cannondale can develop him well. Bettiol was European junior champion in the TT in 2011 and won the Giro della Lunigiana overall over riders such as Simone Andreetta, Lampre signing Valerio Conti and Silvio Herklotz. Consistentcy would be the word to describe Bettiol and his 2013 campaign. The Tuscan has four wins to his credit this year, including his win in the Giro della Due Province, which gained him the Tuscan Championship. Bettiol has also had top placings at other big races such as Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay (4th overall), Italian U23 National RR (3rd), GP Liberazione (3rd), U23 European Championship RR (7th) and Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (10th). He has skills on a variety of terrain but his success in one day races and short, difficult stage races could be the seeds for success in the pro ranks.
While Cannondale has scored big with these signings, I would not say that all of these guys will make it big. While statistically, it is plain to see that not every successful U23 will make it big in the pro ranks. I have a problem with the Cannondale (and formerly Liquigas system) and what this will mean for these particular rider's development. While Peter Sagan is the face of Cannondale, this team has signed a slew of talent in the past years and a good number of them have either left the team or underperformed.
Going back to the Liquigas days, we can go to the obvious example of Roman Kreuizger. Kreuziger reached big heights with the squad and won the Tour de Suisse at just 22 but Kreuziger hit a wall eventually and when big goals were set and not met (Vincenzo Nibali's emergence also helped) saw Kreuziger abandon ship to Astana and then Saxo, where he has once again emerged as the talent that many saw in the junior ranks. Jacopo Guarnieri was touted as a sprinter in the U23 ranks and then joined Liquigas. After three seasons that saw early success and then a decline, Guarnieri left for Astana where he has developed into a sprinter/classics role.
Gianni De Ros? Well he turned out to be a dope pedaler. Dario Cataldo? Left after just two season to bigger and better things with Quick Step and now SKY. Daniel Oss? He spent four years on the squad but his results peaked in 2010 and while he had good seasons in 2011 and '12, he bolted to BMC when the squad formed around Sagan and has flourished. It isn't just talent that has bolted that is the problem either. Let's look at the Cannondale roster this year.
Stefano Agostini was 3rd place in the GiroBio in 2011 but since then, he has not shown a whole lot to back up that result. Some recent rides in Austria and Tour of Utah are encouraging but he is a work in progress still. Macej Bodnar is is 28 this year but has been riding with Liquigas since he was 22. Bodnar is a big TT talent but his results have not been consistent and while he has been riding a lot as a domestique, it seems like he could get more results for himself in a better environment. Kristjan Koren has be stagnate after turning pro with Liquigas and now in his 4th year with the team, he is nowhere near the level he should be after blowing up the U23 scene in 2008. While Koren has been a workhorse for the team, he still hasn't burst out of his shell. Cayetano Sarmiento won the GiroBio in 2009 but in his fourth pro year, he is another rider that is not reaching his potential. My whole point is that Cannondale is not the number one team for developing young riders and the four new signings are not guaranteed to produce anything.