When I first came into cycling, I was a wrestler so once the leaves started to change, my priorities went to a sweaty wrestling room instead of riding my cheap Jamis Satellite. Like many teenagers infatuated with cycling, I hung around the local shop and did my bet impersonation of a sieve; soaking up all the knowledge I could, even during my "offseason". One local rider knew my desperation for cycling magazines and every few weeks, he loaded me up with a dozen or so old VeloNews and Cycle Sport issues, that I promptly read and re-read. One issue included the Cycle Sport issue previewing the 2006 season that had a "Four to watch in 2006" section that included a fresh-faced Gerald Ciolek, Heinrich Haussler, CSC DS Tristan Hoffman and the Shark of the Straits, Vincenzo Nibali. I distinctly remember how clean cut the young Nibali was and how comfortable he seemed with his talent at the tender age of 21. In just his 2nd pro season, his "one to watch" tag turned out to be right as he stole the GP Plouay Pro Tour race ahead of Juan Antonio Fleche, Manuele Mori and Yaroslav Dopovych. While Vincenzo has gone on to some great heights, his younger brother Antonio Nibali could be on his way to similar exploits.
-Antonio has taken similar steps as his brother including coming over from Sicily to the mainland in his teen years and joining the same amateur team, Mastromarco. While Vincenzo was prodigious, Antonio's progress has been a bit more step-by-step. His results have been a bit sparse in his U23 career but he has had good rides, especially going uphill, including the 2011 Cronoscalata del Montemignaio, where he was third behind a streaking Winner Anacona and his ride this year in the Giro Ciclistico Pesche Nettarine di Romagna, known as Peaches and Nectarines around here, where he was 2nd on the queen stage and ended the race 3rd overall. While his results are thin now, he still has another U23 season and he is joining Team Marchiol, a new Italian continental team, which will offer him a better calendar than he has seen in past years. (Side note: Marchiol will be piloted by Mirco Lorenzetto, who rode for Milram, Lampre and Astana among other teams. He was implicated in the Mantova investigation along with many other Lampre riders so hopefully, he won't be allowing dope to be pedaled.) While Antonio might not be the talent that Vincenzo is, I'm curious to see if he will be put in the "other brother" pigeonhole or breakout into his own rider.
-Another Italian to note is Stefano Nardelli, who got a stagiaire role with Accent Jobs this fall. He had a few nice results with a 4th in the GP Liberazione and 9th in the GP di Poggiana.
-Dutchman Bram Nolten raced a slew of Belgian one-days at the end of this year when he stagiaired with Doltcini Flanders, where he did pretty well including a 4th in the Gooikse Pijl. He was also 11th overall at the Tour de Berlin and won the points classification.
-Asian Cycling has been booming the last few years and Thanh Tam Nguyen is one of Vietnam's strongest cyclists. Winner of the Vietnam Elite RR this year, Nguyen has been competitive around Southeast Asia; having a pretty good turn of speed and being able to climb decently well.
-While Rwandan cycling development might have been somewhat abandoned by Jock Boyer and Tom Ritchey, the talented riders haven't disappeared. Jean Bosco Nsengiyumva has cut out a spot for himself on the Rwandan National Team and done well in the Tour of Rwanda (6th overall) and Fenkel Northern Red Sea (10th overall) along with other good rides on the continent. Valens Ndayisenga pulled away from yellow jersey Jay Robert Thomson in the uphill finale of stage 2 of the Tour of Rwanda this year and took the win, at just 19 years old. Valens also pulled off a 7th at the recent African TT Championships.
Speaking of the African Championships, the newly crowned RR champion is Tesfom Okbamariam of Eritrea, who has developed into one of the biggest Eritrean talents this side of Asmara. Okbamariam and Eritrean teammate Merhawi Kudus did the one-two on Namibian and unibrow enthusiast Dan Craven and Okbamariam took the sprint in Sharm el-Sheikh. Last year, Okbamariam took stage wins in the Tour of Algeria and Tour of Eritrea, where he also placed in the top 5 overall. This year, he was once again top 5 in the Tour of Eritrea and even finished the U23 World Championship RR in Italy this year.
-Diego Ochoa and Fernando Orjuela fly the Colombian flag for 4-72 Colombia and put in some rather impressive years. Ochoa was the most consistent rider for 4-72 this year and had results all over Europe and North America. Ochoa has some lineage as his father, Israel Antonio Ochoa Plazas, won the Clasico RNC along with national TT titles, stage wins in the Vuelta a Colombia and a slew of other South & Central American stage races over a 20+ year career. Diego is a junior Vuelta a Colombia stage winner and even won an amateur stage race in Spain last year in his first U23 season, the Vuelta a Segovia. Diego signed on with 4-72 this year, a team which this writer is a fan of because of their use of the bio-passport and staunch anti-doping viewpoint. He started off a bit slow but started to hit his stride in the Ronde de l'Isard, where he was 6th and 5th in the first two stages and supported teammate Juan Ernesto Chamorro to victory. He followed it up with three top 10 stage finished at the Tour de Gironde for 6th overall and then at the Coupe des Nations Saguenay, he made the race-winning breakaway on the first stage, where he got 2nd place, and then finished 3rd overall. Summer break was good to him and he came back flying at the 1.1 Circuito de Getxo, where he finished 5th in the uphill sprint behind JJ Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and was the best continental rider. Ochoa didn't let up as he was 7th in the Vuelta a Leon and won the mountains classifications. Pretty impressive stuff from a 20 year old; he is a combination of sprinter and climber so keep an eye on him. Orjuela is a bit of an unknown commodity but he put in a impressive performance at the Tour Alsace, where he got in a good breakaway on stage one and then climbed pretty well to finish 2nd overall behind Silvio Herklotz. Definitely a climber but doesn't have many other results to speak of.
-Daan Olivier was totally crickets for most of this year because of overtraining that plagued him in the lead up to 2013 and following Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which neutered his season to just a few fall races albeit some good results. He was 11th overall in Languedoc-Roussillon and a 2nd in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, where he made the winning attack but was beat in the two-up sprint by Flavien Dassonville. While Olivier had to deal with his overtraining, he was given the vote of confidence by Argos-Shimano and they gave him a three year deal through 2016. It wasn't like they were taking a shot in the dark because of his terrific 2012 season where he was top 10 overall at: Istrian Spring Trophy (10th), Volta ao Alentejo (10th), Tour de Bretagne (3rd), Tour de Gironde (2nd), Thüringen Rundfahrt (5th), Tour Alsace (8th), Tour de l'Avenir (8th) and to top it all off, the Tour de l'Ain, where he finished 4th overall. He is talented but he might turn into one of those Dutch riders that is perennially there (paging Mr. Gesink) but never seems to break through for a big stage race win.
-Miguel Madriaga has a talent with pulling teams out of his ass with shoestring budgets on short notice. Every year, his Euskaltel-Euskadi team was on the brink of folding and always on the edge and up until this next year, they were always there. His Euskadi continental team had the same issues but always seemed to show up and 2014 will be no different, even though the team seemed dead in the water. I wish there were more Madriaga-like figures in cycling. Haritz Orbe will be there again with the Euskadi team after a redemptive season following a bad 2012. Orbe did well in climbing races like the Ronde de l'Isard and the Vuelta a Madrid.
-While I'm trying my best to forget about Mustafa Sayar's "unbelievable" performance in the Tour of Turkey, the country is developing pretty well and this includes Ahmet Örken. Örken is a former European junior champion in the track omnium from 2011 (ahead of the likes of De Buyst, Doull and Boudat) and is one of the first Turkish riders to have gone up against western junior talent. The Turk, riding for Konya Torku, went off this year with a solo stage win in the Tour du Maroc and two stage wins in the Tour of Serbia. He then finished his season off with nine top 10 stage finishes in China at the Tours of China II, Taihu Lake and Nanjing.
-I remember reading about James Oram when he was coming up out of the junior ranks; doing 25 to 30 hours a week as an 18 year old and really laying down the power that brought him an overall win in the Tour de l'Abitibi and a 2nd place in the Junior World TT Championships in Copenhagen in 2011. The past two years with Bontrager, Oram has been a consummate teammate but has been able to get some good results in time trials and the occasional overall. This year, he really was on his game with lots of good work for riders like Craddock and Mannion but he also won the New Zealand U23 RR, went 17th in the USA Pro Challenge, 5th in the Chrono Champenois and closed out his season with a dominate win in the brutal Tour of Southland. Oram is staying with the Bontrager/Bissell setup for 2014 and you should expect big things from him.