When I was 17, I started to train on my bike seriously and I was putting in up to 15 hours a week through the winter and when February came around, I found the first race I could do and went to it. Pulling into the gravel lot catty-corner some bar in California, Kentucky, I began to look around at the other competitors. I barely knew anyone other than a few teammates but I distinctly remember a rider in an orange and white Mesa Cycles jersey straddling a Specialized chatting with a teammate before riding down the road to warm up. My race went pretty good that day but I continued to see the same rider throughout the early season and after I finally put two and two together, I realized that he was Adam Leibovitz. Later that same year, after coming back from a disastrous Worlds where he broke a shift cable on the TT start ramp, Leibovitz won the junior national TT title ahead of Ian Boswell, Andrew Barker and Nathan Brown. Then in 2009 with the junior national team, he won the Ster van Zuid-Limburg prologue ahead over Joe Perrett, Dylan van Baarle, Jacob Rathe, Moreno Hofland and others. He was a strong TT rider as a junior, which transferred over to the track where he won a bevy of collegiate titles and the US Elite Pursuit Championship in 2010. Leibovitz wasn't an instant success as a U23 as he spent most of his time racing in the collegiate ranks with Marian University and the amateur Texas Roadhouse. He did spend time with Chipotle in 2012 but after they shuttered, he was back with Texas Roadhouse but this year was different. Leibovitz started to ride like his junior days and began to win and place well. After winning the TTT and 2nd places in the criterium and road race at Collegiate Nationals, Leibovitz went apeshit and won three straight criteriums on Memorial Day weekend, including the vaunted Snake Alley, which is something that has never been done before. He continued to place in criteriums all over including NCC level events like the Glencoe GP and Tulsa Tough. 2014 will see him join Champion System p/b Stan's No Tubes, a team which will focus on criterium and one-day races.
Vive Le France...l'Hexagone brings a whopping seven riders to the plate including two former junior World RR champions. Said riders are 2010 winner Olivier Le Gac and 2011 winner Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier. Le Gac won the 2010 edition in Offida with a well timed late attack to hold off a charging Jay McCarthy and defending championship Jasper Stuyven, who led home a peloton three seconds in arrears. As a U23, Le Gac has come up with a smaller French Division 1 squad, Brest Iriose Cyclisme (BIC) 2000. In his first U23 season in 2012, Le Gac stayed around France mainly, taking three national level wins, but also doing well in GC at races such as Kreiz Breizh Elites (12th) and Coupe des Nations Saguenay (9th), not to mention a few national stage races. This year, he stepped up a level and went 6th at the European U23 RR Championship but his stagiaire with FDJ was ruined with a busted collarbone. While he wasn't able to ride l'Avenir, Le Gac came back late and went 3rd in the Paris-Tours Espoirs. While his U23 results might seem light, do not be fooled. Lecuisinier was a wunderkind junior and won his world title with a late breakaway with two others and took the slightly uphill sprint in Copenhagen for the win. As a U23, Lecuisinier joined Vendée U and in his first year in 2012, he took a shocking overall win at the mountainous Ronde de l'Isard, something that he has described as a one-off due to his focus on flatter races. This year, Lecuisinier won the Boucle de la Marne overall and honed his skills as a prologue rider and in classics style races.
These two are huge talents and in a surprise twist, they will be teammates next year. Le Gac will be joining FDJ this year starting in August while Lecuisinier shocked the French cycling world by defecting from a verbal agreement with Europcar to sign a neo-pro contract with FDJ. Lecuisinier had stagiaired with Europcar for the last two years (along with riding for their development team, Vendée U) and it seemed all but inevitable that he would be joining Bernaudeau's side until this transfer season. Bernaudeau called it a betrayal. FDJ got a huge score with these two talents to go along with Pinot, Geniez, Demare, Bouhanni and co.
While these two are talent, they are only a small part of the French L...egion. Chambery CF's Pierre-Roger Latour might be the next big French climber. While it seems like the French are popping out climbers nearly every year, Latour is legit and at just the tender age of 20, he has already proven himself pretty well in the pro ranks. He showed this talent early as a junior at the Rothaus Regio Tour in 2011. In the opening uphill time trial, Latour destroyed the field and beat 2nd place Silvio Herklotz by 44, Matej Mohoric by 48 seconds and 5th place Calvin Watson by a whopping 1'17". A truly stunning result. As a first year U23, Latour suffered from injuries, including a cyst that required surgery, that limited his season but still road well in hillier events. The electrical engineering student broke his collarbone early in January this year but despite this, he reloaded with Chambery CF and came out swinging in the mountains. At the Ronde de l'Isard, he finished 6th overall, 42 seconds behind Juan Chamorro, and won the youth classification. Notably, he had two teammates finish 2nd and 4th overall but more on them later. From here, he went the even more mountainous Tour des Pays de Savoie and finished 2nd on the opening stage and 8th overall. While he was a bit fatigued at Valle d'Aosta, he came back with a fury for the final part of the year as a stagiaire for Ag2r. A self-confessed attacker, Latour did well in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes, where he was tasked with early breakaways and working for leaders, and did a good time trial (22nd) for a climber and finished 28th overall. In what was his crowning ride of the year, he finished 5th in the Tour du Doubs, a damn hard race not many give a shit about. He also did well in other pro rides including a 13th in the Giro dell'Emilia. To cap off his U23 season, he finished 4th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia.
Latour had two teammates this year in the Le Lavandier twins, Maxime and Mathieu. The two twins from Bretagne have been bouncing from team to team together but for 2014, they will be separating. Both born in 1992, the Le Lavandier brothers rode for Sojasun-ACNC for two years before transferring to Chambery CF this year to ride along with the likes of Chevrier and Latour. The pair are both good climbers but they aren't on the same level as the two I just mentioned. The bright spot for them this year was the Ronde de l'Isard where Maxime finished 2nd and Mathieu 4th in one of the more well attended climbing stage races for U23s. For me, Mathieu is the more talented of the pair as he had other results such as a 14th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and 5th overall in the Giro della Valli Cunessi. Mathieu will be moving to CC Etupes while Maxime will spend his finale U23 season with Chambery CF.
Christophe Laporte showed himself well as a burgeoning sprinter with results such as 6th in the La Côte Picarde, where he won the bunch sprint, and 2nd in the Mediterranean Games along with a few domestic wins in France for AVC Aix-en-Provence. He will be stepping up with Cofidis for 2014. Maxime Le Montagner decided to forgo the amateur side of things halfway into his U23 career and has ridden for Vérande Rideau-Super U and Roubaix-Lille Metropole, his current squad. While this route is a bit more difficult for some, Le Montagner pulled out a few big results including a 6th in the Ronde van Zeeland Seaports and a stage win in the Ronde de l'Oise. He has a lot of DNFs to his name but with age, he might be able to get some more endurance under him and get into more kicks. Pat Lane was a former AIS rider but after a so-so year in 2012, he transferred to Italy full-time with Food Italia this year but that stint was short-lived as he moved up to Synergy Baku, the team he will be staying with for 2014. This year was a decent year but nowhere near his talent barrier by any means. Lane is a handy climber that previously won stages in the Giro della Friuli and Thüringen Rundfahrt but needs to find his feet again. A few years ago, Scott Law was one of the biggest sprinting talent on the Australian scene and a move to AnPost-Sean Kelly was seen as the next link in the chain to a successful pro career. Cue the dramatic music...Law didn't get along with Europe and went back to the criterium and circuit race scene in Australia, where he continued to sprint well. Law will join Huon Salmon Genesys for 2014 and it'll be interesting to see if they can tame Law's vicious speed and keep him in a stable environment and grow his talents, if that is what he truly seeks. Bradley Linfield is on the AIS-track and after an impressive juniors career on the road, Linfield rode all over Europe with Howson, Ewan and co. and did fairly well, including on the rolling terrain. The former winner of the Regio Tour won the Australian U23 Criterium Championship in early 2013 and was 4th in the Herald Sun Tour, which was ahead of World Tour riders among others.
Australia brings four riders to the plate, some of whom are lost talents while others are more up and coming. Mitchell Lovelock-Fay faced the same problems as Jordan Kerby this year with Christina Watches with a lack of racing days and extended breaks between racing. Lovelock-Fay suffered from the lack of racing and didn't have much to speak of other than 11th overall in the Tour du Maroc. Lovelock-Fay is a former junior World Champion on the track in the team pursuit and last year, he really stepped up by winning the Tour of Thailand and placing 6th in the Tour of China II. While 2013 might have been a wash, he will be back with a strong program in 2014 in Huon Salmon Genesys.
Lucas Liß wins the award for the Best U23 cyclist with an Eszett in his name. Liß is a budding track rider who also has a turn of speed on the road. Lulu, his nickname per the Rad-Net Rose site, has his eyes set on the track omnium event in Rio after winning the 2012 European omnium title and placing 4th in the 2013 World Championship omnium. While not on the boards, Liß rides a bit on the road and he has a strong sprint but due to his track racing, he tends to lack the endurance to make it into the bunch kicks.
Another American to watch in Stephen Leece, who is joining Jamis-Hagens Berman for 2014. Leece split time between Cal Giant and the USA National Team this year and experienced a great deal of strong rides. A European campaign that only included one DNF, Leece races all over including the Tour de l'Avenir and the U23 Peace Race, where he rode to a 16th overall. Leece also won the USA Elite Amateur National RR Champion this year in Wisconsin, when he distanced super-climber Cameron Cogburn in the finale. Leece is a pretty good climber, especially on hills that aren't super steep and long, and could develop well around the likes of Daniel Jaramillo, Ben Jacques-Maynes and the rest of the crew.
Estonian Martin Laas was 3rd in the GP Jurmala and won a couple of French amateur events, both in sprints. Norwegian Oscar Landa was 2nd in the Trofej Umag. Dutchman Steven Lammertink is a former Junior Worlds RR medalist from Copenhagen in 2011 and this year with Jo Piels, he was 4th overall at Tour de Berlin and was 2nd at Omloop der Kempen behind Eugenio Alafaci. Next year, his brother Maurits will join the team again after riding with Vacansoleil. Jelly Belly's Luis Lemus Davila has won the last two Mexican Elite RR titles and is a handy climber. Rustom Lim has been racing across Southeast Asia and this year, he won the Philippines Elite RR Championship in a solo breakaway. Latvian Emils Liepins is a good sprinter and has had a handful of top five finished over the last couple of years including at the Jurmala GP and the Baltic Chain Tour.
While everything has been downhill since Gustavus Adolphus' death, the Swedes have found a bright spot in cycling within the last few years. With Tobias Ludvigsson, the Swedes finally have a talent to brag about to get over the embarrassment that is Thomas Löfkvist. With Fredrik Ludvigsson, they might have a talent that will bring back the glory days of Gösta Pettersson and Tommy Prim. As Tobias' younger brother, it is Frederik's responsibility to try and one up his brother in every possible goal and so far, so good. Freddy was a good junior but coming into the U23 ranks, sometimes riders have a few teething issues before they start getting some results. The teething took just a few weeks as Ludvigsson, just like his older bro a few years before, blitzed the Tour de Normandie prologue and went 4th. Thanks to some skills beyond his years along with strong riding in the hills, Ludvigsson finished 5th overall. Still just 18, he went from here to Boucle de l'Artois, where he won the time trial and comfortable held the jersey on the final day to take the overall. Ludvigsson continued to ride well in the first half of the season in one-day races (front group finish at Ronde van Vlaanderen U23) and stage races (2nd place in Tour of Estonia). He cooled off a bit over the summer but was still strong at Thüringen, Tour des Fjords and Arctic Tour of Norway. If this is just his first U23 year...well he has a huge target next year when he joins Argos-Shimano Development. Also for Sverige is Philip Lindau. Lindau was dealt with some shit luck this year including multiple cases of sickness and crashes but he has some talent. In 2011, Lindau pulled off a major upset and at only 19 years old, he won the Swedish National RR Championship. While this result was a bit of an anomaly, Lindau is talented but he needs some good luck next year with Team Joker.