Anyone still reading these or is this alphabet stuff getting repetitive? Oh well, I've gone too far to quit now.
Stefan Küng has proven himself to be quite versatile after this year with BMC Development and the Swiss National Team. For a rider who says that his ideal rider is Graeme Obree, Küng shadows him by being a strong pursuiter and time trialist. Another reason I like Küng is that he races a lot. Usually after Worlds, most U23 riders shut it down and rest a while before getting ready for the next season. Not Küng because for the 2nd year in a row, Küng went to New Caledonia for a 10-day stage race with some Swiss teammate and then afterwards, him and teammate Thiery Schir headed to New Zealand to race the Tour of Southland.
These string of about 15 racing days came after a successful 2013 for Küng. Starting early in the year, Küng finished 3rd in the Elite Pursuit at the Track World Championships in Minsk. Just a few weeks later, he was in northern France racing the Tour de Normandie, where he road well during the first half of the race. Soon after, Küng found himself in a breakaway at the hilly Giro del Belvedere with Silvio Herklotz and fellow tracky Mitchell Mulhern and Küng used some good positioning skills to launch his sprint from the rear and surprise the quicker Herklotz for the win. Küng went on to win the Swiss U23 TT Championship and multiple European U23 Track Championship medals with gold in the pursuit and team pursuit and silver in the Madison. After Tour de l'Avenir, His last portion of the European season was focused on time trials and getting a medal at U23 Worlds. He was 3rd at the Chrono Champenois, just 14 seconds behind winner Campbell Flakemore and seven behind Damien Howson. While he looked good for Worlds, he came a bit short on the flat, fast Florence course and placed 6th in the end, nearly two minutes behind winner Howson. Expect to see more of Küng on the track in the lead up to Brazil 2016 and I am sure he will continue to shine more on the road as he ages.
Küng also won the Games of the Small States of Europe Time Trial ahead of Luxembourg's Alex Kirsch. Kirsch is the same year as Bob Jungels but his career trajectory has not been equal to the RadioShack rider's. Kirsch seems to do best on hillier routes but not overly so and can ride a decent TT. He was on Leopard-Trek the last couple years but after the team is shuttering, he has to find a new team.
Speaking of French Polynesia, Taruia Krainer, winner of the 2012 Paris-Tours Espoirs, hails from Tahiti and is one of only a few Polynesian riders to break through to the mainland.
Cycling fans seem to go through cycles when it comes to categorizing nearly whole nations of cyclists as "dodgy". For a while, it was Russians and Kazakhs that were seen as automatons who were willing to dope, take bribes, etc. to make it. And now, it is Iranian cyclists mainly because of the actions of Tabriz Petrochemical and by the incredulous amounts that they have been winning by especially in the mountains. In the Tour of Qinghai Lakes, there were four Iranians in the top 10 including winner Mirsamad Poorseyedi, who had just returned from a doping ban a week before the race. He and Tabriz then went to the Tour of Borneo where he and teammate Ghader Mizbani sucker-punched the competition, which included some stout Australian talent, on the queen stage and beat third place rider Joe Cooper of Huon Genesys by over six minutes and SKY-bound Nathan Earle was nearly nine minutes down in fourth. This combined with the lack of testing at some of the Asian circuit races caused a shitstorm on the interwebs and Tabriz even created a twitter account to try and engage and mitigate the damage, to little effect, and to also get Chris Horner's attention for a contract. In any event, there could be Iranian riders that are clean or doped to the gills but it does seem a little unfair to lump them all together.
Two young Iranians to watch are Ali Khademi and Amir Kolahdozhagh. Khademi, riding for Ayandeh Continental, won the Asian U23 RR Championship out of a four man breakaway and placed 5th in the Tour of Iran. Kolahdozhagh is the bigger GC talent but due to political tensions, he might never be able to race against the best. Kolahdozhagh stepped up a level this year and was all over Asia, sometimes playing sidekick to the exploits that raised an eyebrow. Kolahdozhagh was 10th overall in Tour de Langkawi and was 6th on Genting Highlands, just a few seconds behind Peter Stetina in 5th. He was 2nd in Le Tour de Filipinas thanks to an incredible ride on the queen stage with teammate Ghader Mizbani and Dutchman Thomas Rabou, who was dropped before in the finish. After a 3rd in the Tour of Iran, Kolahdozhagh and Mizbani did another unbelievable ride in the Tour of Singkarak, where the duo kicked Oscar Pujol and the rest of the field in the stomach and beat the 3rd place Spaniard by 8 minutes and 3 seconds. Speaking of more unbelievable rides, he and teammate Poorseyedi rode in-tandem at the Tour of Qinghai Lake and won by nearly a minute. What makes the ride more unbelievable is that they did this for something like 90 or so flat kilometers at around 11,500' altitude with a peloton of nearly 40 riders behind them. Okay...enough. If they doped, fuck 'em. If not...then we will be seeing a lot more training camps pics popping up from Iran.
I would like to know what the hell was going through Bjarne Riis' head when he hired Michael Kolar as a neo-pro this year. Kolar comes from the same village in Slovakia as Peter Sagan and the two are good friends and went on vacation together this year. So did Riis think something like, "Kolar lives near Sagan...they are good friends...so through osmosis, he must have gotten some of his talent, right?" Kolar is a good rider but a World Tour rider? I don't know about that just yet. He will not be the worst World Tour rider ever, that belongs to Balint Szeghalmi, but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to stay around for a 2nd year at SaxoBank. Kolar has some endurance issues which saw him DNF a lot of races this year. I can't knock him because he won a few races but all but one were between 120 and 150 kilometers and in sprints. He won the Banja Luka Belgrade I this year which was 180 kilometers but it was pan flat and only a UCI 1.2 race that consisted of mainly Central European teams, which isn't a knock necessarily but the competition level is a lot lower. He better kick up the training this offseason because I feel that a lot of better U23 riders were passed over and he needs to earn his place.
Alexander Kamp is one of the brighter Danish talents and is the son of former Danish politician Tommy Kamp, a Social Democrat who was involved in multiple scandals including drunk driving and bribery and eventually resigned. Kamp was a very talented junior who won races like Liege-La Gleize and Driedaagse van Axel overall in 2011 and signed with Christina Watches in 2012. His transition to the pro ranks was not as seamless as some other riders but he put in some good rides including at Tour de l'Avenir. For 2013, he transferred to CULT Energy and took advantage of some unusual circumstances to get a big win. At the GP Nogent-sur-Oise, Kamp took advantage of the freezing temperatures and a late hailstorm and outsprinted breakaway partner Alexis Bodiot for the win. Kamp also rode well in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (14th) and 2nd to Lasse Norman Hansen at the Danish U23 RR Championship. Kamp is back with Christina Watches for 2014.
The Antipodes offer four "K" riders, two each from Australia and New Zealand. For Australia, we have Jordan Kerby and Jesse Kerrison. Kerby is a former World Junior Track Champion in the team pursuit and and points race but the majority of his track days are done. Kerby stepped up last year on the road by winning the Tour of Thailand prologue and a few Australian domestic races and got a nice result with 10th at the Tour of China II. Along with Mitchell Lovelock-Fay, Kerby ventured to Denmark with Christina Watches in 2013. Before the journey, Kerby was in flying form with wins in the Herald Sun Tour prologue and winning the Australian U23 RR Championship in a sprint over Damien Howson and Jack Haig. In a great piece by Cyclingnews' Jono Lovelock, Kerby detailed the ups and downs of his European excursion. To make a long story short, Kerby had inconsistent racing, struggled with fatigue and eventually left Europe after he wasn't getting any racing and returned to Australia for the Tour of Tasmania. Kerby's performances did not go unnoticed and he will be joining the newly Pro Continental Drapac team for 2014. Kerrison is just a first-year senior but boy did he make an impression late this year during a sojourn in China. Kerrison is a former junior National RR medalist (2nd) as well as on the track in the madison. Kerrison, riding for Budget Forklifts, took wins in the North Western Tour and Tour of the Murray River but it wasn't until the team went to the Tour of Taihu Lake that Kerrison really showed himself. Over the course of 10 days, Kerrison took seven top 10 results including his first UCI win thanks to a relegation of Czech sprinter Alois Kankovsky on stage 6 and finished the race off in 4th overall and won the youth classification. Pretty good showing, eh?
Dylan Kennett and Cameron Karwowski make up the other half of the Antipodean offer. Karwowski is yet another AUS/NZ rider that rides the track as well as the road. A former world junior champion in the team sprint, Karwowski has been cutting his teeth in Belgium the last few years with Marco Polo, 3M U23 and the New Zealand National Team. Karwowski still rides the track and could be in the mix for a spot on the New Zealand Pursuit Squad for Rio but as of now, he isn't on the A squad. Karwowski has gotten some good results in Belgian races and is known to blow a good prologue, coming in the top five multiple times. Karwowski is going full Belgian next year with Veranclassics-Doltcini. Kennett also comes from the track cycling realm and possesses a large amount of talent that has him on track for Rio in the team pursuit. Kennett has won six medals in the World Junior Track Championships but crushingly, none of them are gold. Kennett was apart of the team pursuit squad at the Manchester World Cup that got 6th but they were missing a big gun or two. He could turn into a big time road talent post-Rio.
Ilya Koshevoy laid the pain down on the final rise of the GP della Liberazione and dropped Adam Phelan to solo to the biggest victory of his career. Well at least results wise because Koshevoy was just confirmed to be joining Lampre for 2014. Lampre must have been needing riders on a budget because Koshevoy is another rider that is good but there are better ones out there. The Belorussian had some good results in climbier races such as Trofeo Edil C, GP Capodarco and the U23 World RR Championship, where he finished 20th. He didn't have a lot of racing days this year, or in year's past, so if Lampre are going to use him, then it'll be a test to see if he can stand up to it.
Etixx-iHNed, for a first year team, had a pretty successful year taking over 20 wins but after losing four riders to the pro ranks and unloading a few more, they had to restock. This restock includes Dutchman Tim Kerkhof from EFC-OPQS, the amateur arm of the OPQS leviathan. Kerkhof hans't gotten much time on the Dutch National Team as a U23 so the majority of his results come from Belgium and Northern France. Kerkhof, whose name means graveyard in Dutch, got three wins this year including a stage and the general classification of the Essor Breton and a stage win in Circuit de Saône-et-Loire out of a breakaway of four. Graveyard's other big ride of the year came at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad Espoirs, a UCI 1.2 and Topcompetitie race, where he made a talented chasing group that included Jérôme Baugnies, Topcompetitie winner Nicolas Vereecken, Dylan van Baarle and Mike Teunissen and finished an impressive 7th.
Speaking of which, Etixx-iHNed and Austrian GC talent Patrick Konrad are splitting ways in 2014, a move which I found to be a bit surprising at the time seeing how well Konrad went at big events this year. But when reviewing his results, some of his bigger results came while he was outside of the Etixx-iHNed jersey. This hills are alive with the sound of Patrick Konrad's chain swiftly moving over the cogs and chainrings of his Specialized bike. Konrad is at home on the hills and can take it to nearly anyone. The last two years have seen Konrad place 9th and 3rd overall, respectively, in the Tour de l'Avenir. This year he was one of the more consistent riders in the race in the mountains, including a 2nd on the 4th stage, where Ruben Fernandez streaked to a breakaway win on the Col de la Madelaine. Konrad has been 2nd in the Austrian National Hill Climb Championship that last two years and has done well in other uphill events such as the U23 Peace Race prologue (3rd) and the uphill round of the Austrian Tchibo Cup, where he finished 40 seconds behind Trek recruit Riccardo Zoidl. Konrad finished 10th in the World U23 Road Race Championship, finishing snuggly in the leading chase group. Konrad expressed his wishes to stay with Etixx-iHNed for 2014 but he would be "very happy" with a professional contract for 2014. Perhaps we will be hearing about Konrad's contract soon enough.
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles...Deutschland bringt Jonas Koch und Daniel Klemme. Koch joined LKT Brandenburg this year and the majority of his good results came from racing in Poland but he also had some nice rides in Germany including a 12th overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt. Klemme had some help getting on Leopard-Trek because of his brother Dominic but little Klemme is a pretty good sprinter in his own right, granted he doesn't have many results on the continent. This autumn, Klemme broke out for two sprint wins at the Tour of China II along with a 2nd overall.
Because I lack Russian comprehension, I have little to no idea about the back story to Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev but I definitely know the kid is talented. He cropped up last year after he finished 3rd overall in the Heydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour (now Tour of Azerbaijan) with the Kazakh National Team. He got a ride with Astana Continental this year and took full advantage of it by being, probably, one of the most consistent riders from March to October. Kozhatayev was an attacking machine at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux in March, attacking nearly every day to win the KOM jersey by a healthy 30 points, and followed it up with three strong rides at Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (12th), La Côte Picarde (23rd) and the ZLM Tour (14th), where he attacked late in the finale to no avail. The guy just attacks, attacks, attacks and because he doesn't have a huge amount of racing experience, he goes out there like it is his first race, full of spastic energy. After a 5th place overall in the Coupe des Nations Saguenay Nations Cup, Kozhatayev lit it up in the lead-up to Tour de l'Avenir. After 6th overall in the Tour Alsace and then front group finishes in three straight 1.2U Italian one-day races, Kozhatayev was on form for his first l'Avenir ride. While he wasn't able to match the likes of the Yates brothers and Patrick Konrad all of the time, Kozhatayev was always near the front group and his consistency netted him 4th overall when the dust settled, just 5 seconds behind Konrad for 3rd. And in just his first year of racing against big time talent...
Speaking of riders coming out of nowhere, last but not least is Eritrean Merhawi Kudus. The dude blew up this year after some big time rides as a first year U23 but let's look back to the ride that put him on the map. Because of the way the UCI African and Asian Tours are set up, sometimes the rankings span over the last few months of a year and then through the next year and so on. For example, the UCI Africa Tour for this year started in 2012 and went through May with some Moroccan one-day. Because of this, even though Kudus was just 18 years old and technically a junior, he was able to ride the Tour of Rwanda with the UCI Continental Center. After 12th in the prologue, he won the first stage of the race...who the fuck was this kid? He was climbing with Darren Lill, the heavy favorite, and even took the lead on stage 5 until Lill and co. turned the screws on him and Kudus popped on stage 7 and would eventually finish 6th overall. You can read a great interview about Kudus here from DirectVelo, which sheds light on his upbringing in Eritrea and his early racing this year in Europe. After winning the Cote d'Or overall, Kudus went up against Gianfranco Zilioli, the gaunt Italian who will join Androni in 2014, and beat him at the Freccia dei Vini mountain race in a two-up sprint. Then the press really started to mount after going 2nd overall at the Vuelta a Leon and then riding the Tour de l'Ain with Bretagne-Séché Environment. Everyone was talking him up for a breakout l'Avenir, perhaps not remember his age sometimes, and there was talk of him maybe winning the thing, something which I was a bit guilty of myself.
In the end, Kudus proved that he still had some maturing to do as a rider but his 11th at l'Avenir, the 2nd 1st-year U23 behind Oskar Svendsen, showed he has a big future ahead of him. And do not pigeonhole him as a stage racer as he was in the front group at the Florence Worlds and finished a solid 15th in the first chase group. It is also a blessing that he signed with MTN-Qhubeka because while he probably would have fitted in with a French team like close friend Natnael Berhane with Europcar, he will do well with fellow Eritreans like Daniel Teklehaimanot and Meron Russom.