Sunday, September 8, 2013

2013 U23 ABC's: Intro and A

It's time to introduce a new series of articles that I'll be rolling out over the next few weeks, both in preparation for the World Championships and to wind the season up so you have a solid basis on how to judge a rider going into next year, whether they are a neo-pro on a World Tour team or heading into another U23 season. While I know that everyone isn't as geeky with cycling as I am but if some bigger publications would give more coverage to juniors and U23 racing, we wouldn't have to deal with a deluge of articles telling us about "the next Merckx" or the "surprise of the season". When Jonathan Vaughters tweeted about Lachlan Morton at the 2010 Tour of Utah and said how no one since Lemond was capable of the performance he gave as just a junior, it should have been no surprise that he was capable of his solo win at Tour of Utah this summer. This could be said for many riders that come out and "surprise" or "shock" in their first few years, when their talent should have already spoken for themselves in their development years.

In my attempt to spread the wealth with my U23 knowledge, I'm going to be going through the alphabet, from A-Z (by surname for riders), and giving you an overview of who and what you need to know from the U23 scene going forward. After this, you will be able to act like a hipster while chatting on group rides and hanging out in the bike shop and say how you knew Alexis Gougeard way before VeloNews. (Disclaimer: You might lose friends.)

We shall start light with the letters A and B.


"This is the beginning. We're at ground zero. Maybe you should say a few words, to mark the occassion."

Simone Andreetta (Italy/Zalf-Euromobil/1993) Twitter: @Andreetta93

Nothing to do with cycling. Just Andreetta eating a gummy.

Andreetta might be overshadowed by some of his more prolific Zalf-Euromobil teammates but the Venetian has been able to find his own glory this year and snagged two wins for himself. Before I get too ahead of myself, a little background on Andreetta is appropriate. Simone was a strong junior and was 2nd overall at the Giro Ciclistico della Lunigiana in 2011. After a relatively quiet 2012, Andreetta has been a more prominent figure in 2013 and his defining moment was his win at Bassano-Monte Grappa, a race won by no less than Aru, Cunego, Piepoli, Simoni, Gotti...and Gino Bartali. It is one of the most underrated Italian one-day events and while it is just 107 kilometers, it features a summit finish at the Cima Grappa after 27 kilometers of uphill and 1600 meters of vertical gain. A win at Gerry Gasparotto Memorial along with top 5 placings at UCI 1.2U races such as Trofeo Piva Banca and GP Poggiana are a good indicator of some talent and next year will be interesting as Andrea Zordan will be departing and Andreetta should get more chances instead of working (as much) for others.

Julian Alaphilippe (France/Etixx-iHNed/1992) Twitter: @alafpolak

Photo via @EKOIcycling

Before this season, you wouldn't be wrong to not recognize Julian Alaphilippe's name during the road season. While he has had good results on the road during his career, the bulk of his big results have come from the cyclocross circuit, until this year at least. Alaphilippe was 2nd in the junior World Championships in cyclocross on the ice rink that was Tabor in 2010. In 2011, he began a two-year stint with the Armée de Terre (French Army) team that saw his talent level go even further. Riding on both circuits, Alaphilippe took four road wins including a stage of the Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay in 2012 while contending on the cyclocross circuit with a 3rd place overall on the U23 World Cup circuit in 2011-12 and winning the Rome round of the U23 World Cup in 2012-13. Alaphilippe was also a double French U23 cyclocross champion during this time.

2013 saw Julian join Etixx-iHNed, the start-up development team created by the OPQS World Tour squad. While he had a relatively quiet early season, he hit the on-switch at the Tour de Bretagne with a stage win, two more 2nd places and a 5th place overall. From there on in, Alaphilippe has been one of, if not the, most consistent rider in terms of seemingly always being around the top 10 on all but the toughest of days. Alaphilippe has snagged 25 top ten placings this year in just a bit over 50 racing days. Alaphilippe now has 4 wins this year after his solo victory at the final stage of the Tour de l'Avenir up to Plateau des Glieres. Alaphilippe gets the bulk of his results in mass sprints and sprints from small groups but also has success in prologues, tough one-day races and in breakaways. He does lack consistent performances in the mountains and is by no means a great time-trialist on longer courses.

Alaphilippe will be taking his talents to OPQS next season and he should be able to thrive on a World Tour level. While no one has talked about it, it seems like his cyclocross days will be over or at least reduced to a few races ala Zdenek Stybar.

Maxat Ayazbayev (Kazakhstan/Astana Continental/1992)

Q: Where in the World is Maxat Ayazbayev? A: Ecuador

I'm trying to think of something profound to say about Ayazbayev but I'm blanking. He was a good junior and won the Giro Ciclistico della Lunigiana overall in 2010 ahead of Jasha Sütterlin. Until this year, he was a rider who was pack fill in the U23 ranks unless you count his Tour of Bulgaria overall win last year. This year, Ayazbayev was more active and has had strong rides at Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay (7th overall), Tour Alsace (2nd in mountains classification) and a solo win at the Trofeo Internazionale Bastianelli. Tour de l'Avenir wasn't an amazing result but Maxat was in multiple attacks and teammate Kozhatayev finished 4th so it wasn't a total wash. Look for more from Ayazbayev next year when he will be in his final U23 season.

Astana Continental (Kazakhstan)

As the name dictates, this is the continental squad for the Astana World Tour team, a team which is backed by Samruk Kazyna, the national welfare fund of Kazakhstan (technically a corporation run by the dictator's son-in-law) which owns part or all of many big Kazakh corporations and 56% of the nation's GDP, according to the IMF. I have always liked Kazakh riders and it first started when I started following cycling because of watching Vinokourov attacking on the Champs and winning the final stage of the Tour de France in 2005. Even after the doping fiasco with Vino, Kashechkin and Fofonov, I still find Kazakh riders interesting because of these are guys that use a bike to get out of a repressive dictatorship. Yes, Kazakhstan is a dictatorship with a president for life and is rather ruthless to striking workers getting in the way of profits, seeing as 70 striking oil workers were killed and over 400 injured in the oil town of Zhanaozen. So a team backed by the company that owns the majority of Kazakh companies...where would this team go for a training camp? Of course the obvious answer is Ecuador, one of the more repressive regimes in the world.

When not in media-hating states, the team that was started in 2012 is based out of Italy and takes in a big schedule of races, including a lot of U23 races that are either run under the team or the Kazakhstan National Team. Notable alumni and racers include Alexey Lutsenko, Ruslan Tleubayev, Arman Kamyshev and Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev, among others.

Stay tuned for B-C and the rest of the alaphabet over the coming weeks.

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