Wednesday, November 20, 2013

U23 ABCs: H-I


H is probably in contention for the strongest letter in the alphabet this year because of Lasse Norman Hansen, Damien Howson and Silvio Herklotz, just to name a few.

Silvio Herklotz was just a first-year U23 this year and despite his young age, he came out guns blazing and put in some storming rides and signaled to people that German cycling is by no means dead. I did a profile of him earlier this year after he perfomed well at the Istrian Spring Trophy, GP Palio del Recioto and the Giro del Belvedere. He continued to impress going into late spring with a solid ride at the Bayern Rundfahrt (25th overall, 5th youth) and then shredded the pack at the German U23 RR in Ilsfeld-Auenstein to take a commanding victory. At the Thüringen Rundfahrt, he went berserk, per usual, and attacked from 50km out on the 3rd stage and nearly held it to the line until he was swept up in the final kilometer by Julian Alaphilippe and Simon Yates, both of whom are transitioning to the World Tour for 2014. Herklotz held on for 8th overall in the race and then when he lined up for the German Elite RR Championship, he made the front group of 18, nearly all of whom were in the World Tour or Pro Continental, and he finished 7th in the final sprint behind the likes of Greipel, Ciolek and Degenkolb. 

Herklotz then went to the Tour Alsace where he broke away from Heiner Parra (4-72 Colombia) and Jan Hirt (Leopard-Trek) on the queen stage to take a solo victory and after making the front selection again on the final stage, he wrapped up the overall title, becoming the youngest rider to win the race. While his Tour de l'Avenir was a false start due to some illness, Herklotz capped off his season with a storming 8th place in the World U23 RR Championship in Florence. The tall (1.90 meters) Berliner has a long way to go in this sport and hopefully this season is not a one-off bright flash of brilliance because he is a truly exciting rider.

Damien Howson didn't start cycling until 2006 and didn't start racing with the Australian National Team until 2010 as a junior but you wouldn't know it. Originally a basketball player, Howson emerged as a strong junior on the track and road. As a first year U23, Howson won the Oceania Championship and placed high in nearly every important TT, including at the pan-flat Copenhagen World Championships where he finished 9th behind five current pros including two other Australians in Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn. 2012 saw him take a step up by placing higher in both TTs and GCs during the year. In the TTs, he still was second fiddle on the Australian front behind Rohan Dennis but that is necessarily a knock because he grabbed the bronze medal on the hilly Valkenburg course in the U23 Worlds TT. On the GC front, he placed 7th in the difficult Tour Alsace, behind five riders that went professional in 2013. This year, Howson was incredible in time trials and stepped up his game on hillier one day races and in hilly -but not overly so- stage races. Howson won the Australian U23 TT Championship, Oceania U23 TT Championship, Thüringen Rundfahrt prologue, 2nd in the Chrono Champenois and the World U23 TT Championship, which he won by nearly 1 minute over Yoann Paillot. Also, he was on track to win the Tour de l'Avenir prologue before this...

On the hillier and GC front, Howson improved over 2012 with some truly great rides. Top 10 finishes in the early spring 1.2U races, won the Trofeo Alcide Degasperi and placed 3rd overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt thanks to TT prowess and good enough climbing. The Tour de l'Avenir could have ended a lot better than 37th overall if it wasn't for a bad final day where he ceded nearly 20 minutes. He has the potential to become a GC threat in the future because of his TT skills and climbing skills which could improve over time.

Lasse Norman Hansen might be better known to some for his exploits on the track as apart of the Danish team pursuit squad along with the omnium discipline, for which he won a gold medal in the London Olympics, but he will be a force on the road with Garmin-Sharp, as long as Vaughters doesn't fuck him over. LNH has been a dominate force on the track since his junior days, where he was World Junior Pursuit Champion over Dale Parker, the super Australian talent who still holds the Junior Pursuit World Record but retired suddenly in 2012. In the buildup to the London Oympics in 2011 and 2012, many of his results came on the track in the form of National Championships, World Cup podiums and World Championship medals. He made brief forays on the road before London with a stage win at the An Post Ras in 2012 along with medals in the U23 National Championships behind riders like Rasmus Quaade. Once his Olympic goals were met, he went to become a TT stud on the road with a 2nd in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue along with a 4th place in the World Championships in Valkenburg, just two seconds off the bronze medal of Damien Howson.

This year, in his first whole season on the road (after winning two World Championship medals in the omnium and team pursuit in Minsk), Hansen went on a tear. He won the GP Herning out of a two man breakaway, he won the Rund um Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 out of a four man move and then won the Tour de Berlin TT, a race where he eventually finished 3rd (his teammate Mathias Møller won). LNH then went on to win both Danish U23 National titles with impressive displays of power. He was close but not close enough in the Thüringen Rundfahrt where he was just a fraction behind Damien Howson in the GC standings - three seconds - even though he climbed better than the Australian on the hardest stages. The last half of his season was up and down. He was 2nd in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue again but struggled through the mountainous parcours. He finished with a bronze in the World U23 TT, which is a bit dissapointing simply because the flatter course should have suited him better but it seems like his form was not 100%.

Photo: Equipo Coldeportes Claro

Speaking of transitions to the World Tour, Sebastian Henao is meeting with his cousin Sergio at SKY for at least the next two years. While some publications like SBS just put it down as appeasing their "brothers", Sebastian could potentially be a bigger talent than Sergio. Just 20 years old and riding for Colombia-Coldeportes, Sebastian won the youth classification in the Vuelta a Colombia this year and in the last two years, he finished 3rd overall in the Vuelta a Colombia U23. He climbs very well but he did not get the opportunities that Sergio got in terms of racing in Europe and abroad. To cap off the end of his U23 career, he finished 18th in the U23 Worlds RR right around the big guns just behind the solo Matej Mohoric.

Czech 1...2. Jan Hirt and Karel Hnik will be joining forces at Czech-based Etixx-iHNed. Hirt should have went pro after his very good 2013 but due to the diminished transfer market this year, he is forced to spend 2014 on the continental circuit yet again but without the benefit of racing U23 races. Hirt is a strong climber with results such as: winning the queen stage of Tour de Azerbaijan, 2nd in the U23 Peace Race, 4th in the Tour Alsace, 2nd in youth category in Volta a Portugal, 7th in Settimana Lombarda and 12th in the tough U23 World RR Championship. Hnik is also aging out of the U23 ranks but he still has room to grow on the road after spending his junior and most of his U23 years racing cyclocross. Hnik won the "mountains" classification at the Volta ao Alentejo, finished 2nd in the Puchar Uzdrowisk Karpckich and had a fairly successful year without many DNFs. He is capable of dealing with more heavy courses but we'll see if he pans out.

Speaking of strong ex-Leopard-Trek riders that will have to spend another year on the continental circuit, we have Dane Kristian Haugaard. Good in the U23 classics, strong on the hills and a good GC bet if the race isn't too long or too mountainous, Haugaard came into his own this year with Leopard-Trek and the Danish National Team after some good but not spectacular years. Getting nearly 70 race days in this year, he started early with a 7th overall in the Istrian Spring Trophy followed by going off up north with a 5th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and 4th in La Côte Picarde Nations Cups in the span of five days. He then stole a stage win in the Flèche du Sud with a final kilometer attack. Not only was he good at getting results himself, he was a team player and slayed himself for Lasse Norman Hansen at the Thüringen Rundfahrt. He got good GC results at the U23 Peace Race (9th), Czech Cycling Tour (2nd) and Trofeo Joaquim Agostinho (7th), all of which are relatively short and only have one decisive climbing day. The cherry for his cake this year was winning the mountains classification at the Tour de l'Avenir, where he took the first KOM point of the race and after losing in for a stage, attacked over stage 5 and 6 to take his lead back and win comfortably. He got shafted by not getting a pro contract and will be back in the continental ranks with Argos-Shimano development but as one of the team's elder statesman, he should get a very nice schedule and will have a shot to move up to the pro team.

Speaking of countrymen on Etixx-iHNed, the team also have Norwegian brothers Markus and Daniel Hoelgaard. Daniel is the older of the two and is known for his 2012 Kernen Omloop victory over Dan McLay and Tino Thömel. This year, he used his strong sprint to a handful of top five finishes including at Tour du Poitou-Charentes. Markus was just a first year U23 this year who was coming off of a very strong 2012 campaign as a final year junior. Markus has a sprint like his brother but he is more of an all-arounder that can get over bumps better and TTs a bit better.

Before anyone assumes it, Piotr and Yoeri Havik are not brothers. The 22 year old Yoeri is a strong sprinter on the road and rides well on the track, riding a few six days every year and placing highly. This year on the road, he started the spring off well by winning the ZLM Tour Nations Cup and the Himmerland Rundt in a two week span. (He raced six times in April and the lowest he placed was 8th.) After that, he was less consistent and DNFed a lot of races. He will be with De Rijke-Shanks again for 2014, the fourth year in a row. Piotr was a big time junior in 2012, winning the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and the Rothaus-Regio Tour. Piotr has some climbing chops and can get over some hills. (see 10th in Circuit Wallonie and 26th overall at Giro della Valle d'Aosta) He is bolting EFC-OPQS to join Rabobank Development for 2014.

Oscar Hernandez is yet another talented Spaniard that is dealing with the cycling recession. Hernandez is a strong climber and all-around rider who had some good results this year with a 5th in the Vuelta a Navarre, 3rd in the U23 National RR Championship and 7th in the Vuelta a Madrid U23. He has another year in the espoirs left but he needs to be getting some more reps in UCI stage races, which he will not get often on an amateur team.

Unless you follow the MTB circuit closely, you most likely didn't hear about Jack Haig until this season. (I raised my hand to that statement.) Haig signed on with Huon Genesys for this year and proceeded to not only to well but he climbed his way to winning the Australian NRS overall. Haig transitioned from the MTB late last year and took two stages of the Tour of Bright and went to 4th overall. Going to Huon Genesys, he stayed true to his dirt passion and won the Australian U23 XC Championship and finished 2nd in the Oceania U23 XC Championship behind talent Anton Cooper. It was on the road where he was making his biggest inroads. Starting off the year, he went 3rd at the Australian U23 RR Championship behind Jordan Kerby and Damien Howson. He then went on to destroy the NRS season this year by going 3rd in Tour de Perth, 1st overall in Battle on the Border, 2nd in Tour de Toowoomba, 3rd in North Western Tour, 4th in Tour of Great South Coast, 2nd in the National Capitol Tour and to cap it off, he took out the Tour of Tasmania, sealing the NRS overall title over SKY-bound teammate Nathan Earle. Haig hasn't given up on the MTB, saying in interviews that anything is possible in the future, but he is headed towards a career on the road.

Slovenian Aljaz Hocevar won the Trofej Umag in March but unless the course is flat, you won't be seeing him much. Burr Ho is from Hong Kong and while he isn't a Ki Ho Choi, maybe he could keep developing? Whenever my "A Sleepless Kiwi in Wallonia" script is picked up, Kieran Hambrook would surely feature in it. Shane Haga is joining the Smartstop squad for 2014 after DS Mike Creed did some talent spotting thanks to his old teammate - and Shane's brother - Chad Haga, who is off to Argos-Shimano. Shane didn't race a ton the last few years as he was finishing his college degree but according to testing, he has just as big, if not a bigger, engine than Chad. Jez Hunt had quite a career as a classics freelancer and his half-brother Josh Hunt has a fledgling career on the UK scene. With UK Youth this year, he had a nice result in the An Post Ras with 4th on stage 3. This year, he will be joining NFTO Pro Cycling and can get some tips from Adam Blythe. Joining Hunt at NFTO for 2014 is strongman Sam Harrison, a double U23 UK National TT Champion and a Welshman. Harrison splits his time between the road and track, where he is apart of the team pursuit squad, where he gained a silver at the World Championships in Minsk. German Christopher Hatz might ride for Team Mountain Road (Bergstraße-Jennatec) but he is more of a rouleur than anything. While Niko Holler got a stagiaire role with Argos-Shimano this year, he will be back with Team Stuttgart for 2014. The Thüringer Energie rider is a pretty handy climber. Soufiane Haddi had a big 2012 that included a 13th at the U23 Worlds RR but 2013 was a lot quieter for the Moroccan. Haddi stayed mainly in Africa and started well with a 2nd overall at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo but after that? Crickets. Three months later, he had a stage win at Tour du Maroc and then in June, he won the Moroccan Elite TT Championship but he was supposed to do more than this. Perhaps it wasn't his fault as he had a fraction of the racing time in Europe this year compared to last. He will be joining the new SkyDive Dubai team in 2014, where he will hopefully get some more racing time in a more comfortable racing environment with fellow Muslims.


Good god, finally a light letter. Just one. One rider did enough to be mentioned here and that is...Mikel Iturria of Euskadi. Yes, the superstar Iturria took it over a class of next to nobody. The Basque climber raced outside of Iberia for the first time, on the UCI level at least, this year with Euskadi and did well in the mountains with a 7th in the Ronde de l'Isard, 8th in the Vuelta a Madrid U23 and 7th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he was also 2nd on one stage. He has another year left in the U23 ranks and if Miguel Madriaga scraps enough money together, he can do it in his home colors.

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