With the transfer season still acting at full capacity, development squads and continental teams that are chock full of young talent are announcing new signings and other teams are shuttering their doors at the end of the year. Let's take a recap to see some of these teams.
Argos-Shimano Development (new) (Country: Sweden?)
While cyclocrosser Lars van der Haar is the most publicized signing by the team, this team can be seen as a loose amalgam of Thüringer Energie and People4You-Unaas, both of which are shuddering at the end of the year. Jens Lang, the manager of Thüringer Energie, will be taking the helm at the new development team. Lang brings a lot of experience, having brought up Tony Martin, John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel just to name a few. People4You-Unaas is the team of Aike Visbeek, who is also a DS with Argos-Shimano. P4Y-Unaas was run under Visbeek's management company, Visbeek Cycling. The team ended after some sponsorship turmoil with the secondary sponsor, Unaas. In a series of stories by cyclesport.se, sponsor Unaas Cycling, a Norwegian wholesale bike part company run by the two Unaas brothers, reportedly stopped paying in May of this year and instead pocketed the money for themselves. Then at the U6 Cycling Tour, one of the Unaas brothers, who was acting as a team mechanic, cleaned out of the trailer of all of the wheels, tires, tools, etc. To top it off, after the Tour des Fjords it is reported that the team truck, which was headed towards Stockholm, was stopped by a car on a highway near Oslo. The car, containing one of the Unaas bros. if my translation is correct, demanded the truck be cleared of its parts. Apparently some parts were taken but not all. So definitely some shady shit happened and Visbeek pulled out for 2014.
For 2014, three Thüringer Energie (Germans Jan Brockoff & Maximilian Schachmann and Kiwi Alex Frame) and three People4You-Unaas riders (Swedes Frederik Ludvigsson, Christian Bertilsson and Robert Pölder) join the team. Interesting bit I was told about Pölder's signing was that his father was a bigwig in the former Cykelcity team and is buddies with Visbeek. While Pölder is a very hard worker and can't be slammed too much, there was definitely some nepotism happening.
There were three more signings for the team in Danes Kristian Haugaard & Matthias Rask along with Belgian Jenthe Biermans. Haugaard is a transplant from Leopard-Trek and will be out of the U23 ranks next year, along with Pölder, Bertilsson and van der Haar. Rask and Biermans are transitioning from the junior ranks. Rask is a strong TTer and had success in flat to rolling stage races and Biermans is the current junior champion of Belgium and winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors, along with other strong stage racing results.
The team currently has 6 U23 riders, just enough to enter most U23 races, and will most likely have a healthy diet of 2.2 and 1.2 races, a bit like Etixx-iHNed this year. Ludvigsson will be the leader in the stage races while Schachmann and Rask are strong TTers and Haugaard is a strong rouleur that does well in the classics but can climb well too (l'Avenir KOM winner).
Also, unless they sign more riders, the team will have to be registered in Sweden due to UCI rules where a continental team must register in the country where a majority of riders are from.
Bissell (formerly Bontrager) (Country: USA)
Axel Merckx's squad will be back once again for 2014. After an agonizing few weeks after announcing that the team would shutter unless they found a new sponsor, Merckx will once again run a cosmopolitan squad with riders from the Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. The team will lose 8 riders to do either signing a pro contract or aging out. The core riders that are left from the 2013 team include Tanner Putt, James Oram, Ryan Eastman, Greg Daniel and Alexandre Darville.
Bissell added some firepower by signing climber Clément Chevrier (Chambery CF), Nicolai Brøchner (Bissell-ABG-Giant), and Ruben Zepuntke (Rabobank Development) along with juniors Tao Geoghegan Hart, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Geoffrey Curran. Chevrier is one of the best U23 climbers going right now and had been hoping to turn pro for 2014 but will be back for more in the U23 ranks next year and will be looking towards the Tours of California, Utah and Colorado, all of which have some proper mountains. Zepuntke adds some needed rouleur power to the team while Brøchner is an up and coming sprinter.
Bissell hit the motherload by signing Geoghegan Hart, Van Hooydonck and Curran right out of the junior ranks. Hackney-bred Geoghegan Hart was electric this year by finishing 3rd at Junior Paris-Roubaix and then winning the overall classifications at Tour of Istria and Giro della Lunigiana. He does well in the hills and on any difficult course. He was set to have a big ride at Worlds but a snapped chain in the finale derailed those efforts. Van Hooydonck, nephew of the double RvV winner Edwig, only had one win this year (Keizer der Juniores overall) but he was all over the top 10 this year (17 major races, by my count) and at this point is an all-arounder but looks to be a classics man in the making. He was 2nd in the Junior Paris-Roubaix, 2nd in the National TT, 3rd in Philippe Gilbert Juniors, 4th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors, 4th in GP General Patton and top three on every stage of the Keizer der Juniores before winning the overall. Curran is an American talent that has been all over European podiums the last two years as a junior. Last year, Curran won Drei-Etappen-Rundfahrt overall and placed high in Course de la Paix (5th), Tour de l'Abitibi (3rd), GP Rüebliland (4th) and the Rothhaus Regio Tour (7th). This year, Curran won the Tour du Pays de Vaud and was 2nd in Trofeo Karlsberg and had some good results domestically with a 4th overall in the Pro Men's Sea Otter stage race and Tour of the Gila (Cat 1-2). He can definitely be developed into a stage racing threat.
The team also adds Tanner Putt's brother, Chris, and Keegan Swirbul, a MTB rider and national champion skier who is most known for beating Lance Armstrong in a MTB race as a junior. Chris Putt did well at U23 Nationals this year while I'm still scratching my head at Swirbul because I don't know if he has raced more than a handful of road races but I don't his signing was on just a hunch.
Even though Bontrager lost a lot, they have reloaded yet again and should be one of the best domestic teams in the cycling world next year. Some of the team's existing riders will need to step up as there is an influx of junior and new talent but guys like Chevrier, Geoghegan Hart and Van Hooydonck will be fun to watch in American races.
BMC Development (Country: It's Complicated)
While the team was originally supposed to be a continental squad for 2013 but instead stayed amateur but took on an international program that included races in North America, Europe and Asia. The team was made of a majority of Swiss riders but with Silvan Dillier off to the pros, it remains to be seen what the composition will be.
Two signings the team have made include climber Dylan Teuns and Johan Hemroulle. Teuns loves the mountains and has done well the last two years in Ronde de l'Isard, going 4th (2012) and 3rd (2013) overall. He needs to be more consistent because he has some flashes of brilliance and BMC has a pretty big budget so he could grow within their system. Hemroulle is the son of the head soigneur, Patrice Hemroulle, so I think we can put 2 and 2 together about why he was signed. Johan is pretty good rider but his results are a bit thin compared to others so unless he has some amazing test results, there was some nepotism.
Anyways, I'll update again when more of the roster has been announced.
Etixx-iHNed (Country: Czech Republic)
After a rough start to 2013 due to the team being confused about some pretty basic UCI rules, Etixx-iHNed took some good results and more importantly, graduated 4 riders to the pro ranks including Petr Vakoc and Julian Alaphilippe joining the OPQS World Tour team. While it might seem counter-intuitive for World Tour teams to fund development squads that eventually send riders to rival teams, it is still healthy for the sport. In a perfect world, teams might prefer a tiered racing system where you have the World Tour races and then you have "minor-league" affiliates that you could send riders to and from but that is an entirely different subject.
Etixx-iHNed, like Bissell, is losing a big chunk of its roster but unlike the American squad, Etixx is not strictly a U23 team and has a bit more talent to play with in terms of signings. In addition to Vakoc and Alaphilippe leaving, the team lost Louis Verhelst and Florian Senechal to Cofidis and Czech Tomas Koudela to the Austrian Continental team Arbö Gebrüder Weiss. Belgian Dieter Bouvry was let go by the team (a move that seemed to ruffle his feathers a bit i.e. deleted tweets) and he will be riding for the amateur EFC-OPQS next year.
For next year, the team gets a youthful injection. Young Croat Josip Rumac, who was at the OPQS Talent Identification camp this year, joins the team after a stagiaire role this year. Alvaro Cuadros, a Spaniard straight from Alberto Contador's junior team, was also identified by OPQS management this year. Cuadros had 8 wins on the Spanish scene this year and was 3rd in the junior National TT Championship.
Also joining the team for 2014 are Alexis Guerin, Paco Ghistelinck, Tim Kerkhof and Jan Hirt. Guerin, who rode for Entente Sud Gascogne and was a stagiaire with FDJ, is a strong TTer (6th, European U23 TT) and not too shabby climber (stage win at Ronde de l'Isard in 2012). Ghistelinck was a bit of a surprise to me because while his results are good, they aren't amazing but he did ride for EFC-OPQS. He had two wins in smaller kermises but his two best rides of the year were probably at the Zuidkempense Pijl (2nd) and the ZLM Tour Nations Cup (6th). Dutchman Kerkhof also rode for EFC-OPQS but had a better season in my opinion. He won the Essor Breton overall this year along with a stage win and finished 7th in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad U23. Hirt will be out of the U23 ranks next year but with the dearth of open spots on pro teams this year, he will ride the continental circuit again this year. To put it lightly, it must have been a punch in the gut for Hirt to still be on this level. Just look at his results from this year and you will see: 8th overall, Tour de Azerbaijan and a stage win; 2nd overall, Course de la Paix U23; 4th overall in Tour Alsace along with 3rd on the queen stage; 16th overall in the insanely hard Volta a Portugal; 7th overall, Settimana Lombarda and to cap it off a 12th place, front group finish in the U23 World RR Championship.
The team will remain Czech-based so I will not be surprised to see another Czech come on board. While Sam Spokes is the only rider as of now confirmed to return for 2014, more of the remnants from the 2013 squad will surely be back for another year.
Speaking of OPQS...
EFC-OPQS (Country: Belgium)
The amateur arm of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step conglomerate run by former pro Michel Pollentier has added a large amount after sending 6 riders to continental teams. Ghistelinck and Kerkhof left for Etixx-iHNed; Tom Devriendt, Gerry Druyts and Emiel Vermeulen are all headed to 3M and after some begging and pleading, Piotr Havik left for Rabobank Development. Also, in some rather surprising news, Kiwi Josh Atkins, formerly of Bontrager, is apparently retiring at year's end, at least according to directvelo.com.
The team returns, among others, climbing talent Floris De Tier, David Desmecht, Maxime Farazijn, Daan Myngheer and Belgian U23 RR Champ Jens Wallays. Some older talent in Bouvry and Bert Van Lerberghe join while the team scored some prime juniors in Edward Planckaert (5th, Paris-Roubaix Juniors), Driedaagse van Axel winner Brent Luyckx and Piet Allegaert, who comes from the Avia-Crabbe team, which is in the OPQS pipeline. Allegaert was 3rd in the junior Belgian RR, 6th in Ronde van Vlaanderen, 3rd overall in the Oberösterreich Juniorenrundfahrt and provincial junior RR champ of West Vlaanderen.
All in all, EFC-OPQS had a pretty good offseason.
Hincapie Sportswear Development (Country: USA)
This team has been quiet so far, with one notable exception, this offseason. The team announced the signing of Toms Skujins, the Latvian rider that was one of many victims from the cycling crunch this offseason. Skujins, who won the Course de la Paix, finished top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir and was 5th in the U23 Worlds RR just days after being assaulted by Davide Villella in the Ruota d'Or. It should be a good fit for Skujins and Hincapie and he should be able to take a leadership role if everything goes to plan.
An interesting tidbit about this squad is that George Hincapie seems to have big dreams for the squad. On Mike Creed's OpenMic, Hincapie mentioned multiple times that he wanted to see the team grow into, potentially, a World Tour team in the future. Hopefully Hincapie will still keep some sort of development team around but that is just a wish at this point.
Lotto-Belisol U23 (Country: Belgium)
Winners of the Top Competitie Teams Classification this year, Lotto-Belisol U23 is reloading after losing, most notably, Victor Campenaerts (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Stig Broeckx (Lotto-Belisol). Kurt van de Wouwer's ploeg might have had an even better haul of juniors than EFC. For 2014, 1st year espoirs will include: Mathias Van Gompel (winner, Philippe Gilbert Juniors and 3rd in European Championships), Dieter Verwilst (2nd in both the 2012 Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors and 2013 Belgian National Juniors RR), climber Laurens De Plus and Massimo Vanderaerden, son of Eric Vanderaerden. Massimo, named after dad's former teammate Massimo Podenzana, hasn't had huge results but he definitely has pedigree, seeing as his grandfather, father, two uncles and brother all have been professional cyclists.
The team only has one non-U23 (climber Dimitri Peyskens) and returns stalwarts like Tiesj Benoot, Jorne Carolus, Frederik Frison, Louis Vervaeke and Xandro Meurisse. These are just the big names because the team has even more talent. While it might seem like I'm giving them a handjob right now, this Lotto-Belisol U23 team is better than a lot of continental teams. Add in the signings of climber Brecht Ruyters and TTer Ruben Pols from the defunct Ventilair-Steria squad and they won't miss a beat from last year.
Rabobank Development (Country: All Dutch, All The Time)
After getting rid of the German element this offseason, the Rabobank Development team will fall under the auspices of the KNWU (Dutch Federation) that will ironically include German Grischa Niermann. In any case, this team leviathan in the U23 world over the last decade but next year might be a transition year...maybe. The team unloaded Dylan van Baarle, Nick van der Lijke, Rick Zabel, Ruben Zepuntke, Daan Olivier, Jasper Bovenhuis, Marco Minaard and Lars van der Haar. While they lost that much talent, the team still looks good for 2014. Sticking around are Stan Godrie, Martijn Tusveld, Ivar Slik and most likely, current U23 World CX Champion Mike Teunissen.
The team also signed a truckload of Dutch juniors, which I profiled earlier this year in more depth. Piotr Havik comes over along with the sensation Derk Abel Beckeringh along with Timo Roosen and Jeroen Meijers, who both come over from De Jonge Renner.
What else is there to say about this team? When they produce results year after year without fail, it seems stupid to sit hear and say, "Well I don't know, they could go downhill this year..." because it would be total bullshit.
CULT Energy (Country: Denmark)
Over the last decade, Denmark always seems to have a "next big thing" in the U23 ranks but more often than not, the end up back in the continental ranks after biting off a bit more than they can chew. Mads Christensen, Thomas Vedel Kvist, Rasmus Guldhammer, Andre Steensen, Martin Mortensen, Martin Pedersen, Troels Vinther...and there are a few more. Obviously some are more dramatic falls than others but these are guys that were touted as the next big thing but couldn't cut it in the World Tour. No slight to them because the World Tour is not for everyone; it could have been because of the drugs, the suffering, injuries but whatever the reason, they are just apart of a trend.
CULT Energy is the evolution of the Glud & Marstrand team from years past and 2013 was quite a successful year for the team. While not a team strictly for developing riders, Michael Valgren and Magnus Cort were the headline acts for the Danish team while other young riders such as Ramus Sterobo and Jesper Hansen, who left in August to join Saxo-Tinkoff. With Valgren off to Saxo-Tinkoff, Cort will form the core of the younger riders along with Mads Würtz and now non-U23 Rasmus Sterobo. Two juniors join CULT in Michael Carbel (junior Danish RR Champ) and Mads Pedersen, one of the best juniors in the 2013 class with 12 wins including the Junior Paris-Roubaix, Trofea Karlsberg, Course de la Paix and a 2nd at the World Championship RR. Also joining, on the youth side, include Emil Vinjebo, who finished 25th in the Post Danmark Rundt at just 19.
Remember those examples of Danish riders getting chewed up by the World Tour? Christensen, Mortensen, Steensen, Vinther and Lasse Bøchman will all be on the team for 2014. I assume they will give the youngsters some cautionary tales.
--Some other interesting news is that there will be four, maybe five, continental teams in Italy next year, an improvement from the pitiful one from 2013. Trevigiani will be going continental along with Team Idea and a team known as of now as "Team Cenghialta" as it is run by Bruno Cenghialta. Cenghialta was a DS with Acqua e Sapone and Alessio and when a rider, he was found to have a +50% haematocrit and linked to multiple doping cases. So we still have that bullshit happening.
Vini Fantini amateur is also going pro and merging with the Japanese Nippo team so it isn't known yet which country the team will register in. Swede Kim Magnusson joins along with young Austrian Daniel Paulus and Japanese Shiki Kuroeda.
--Oskar Svendsen will be joined at Team Joker by Odd Christian Eiking while Sondre Holst Enger will stay at Plussbank and Sven Erik Bystrom will stay at Øster Hus-Ridley. So you can't say, "Well what about Norway?"