Sunday, December 29, 2013

U23 ABCs: S

Ciao tutti...we will start off the 'S' with a quartet of Italians that are good on the climbs, sprints and the velodrome. Manuel Senni (1992) is a burgeoning climber with Team Colpack, having placed 11th overall in this year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta and 4th at Bassano-Monte Grappa, a hillclimb won by none other than Aru, Cunego, Simoni and Bartali to name a few. While his pro status is already set for 2015 with Bardiani, Simone Sterbini (1993) is still coming into his own as a rider. He is a good climber when on form, especially in an uphill time trial, and can lay down a good time trial. Sterbini was 2nd in an uphill test to super skeletor Gianfranco Zilioli, 6th in the Italian U23 RR Championship, 9th in the mountain top finish at Monte Matajur in Friuli Venezia Giulia and 10th at GP Palio del Recioto. So the talent is there but from his results, it needs to be honed. Zalf-Euromobil won 59 races this year and 8 of those were courtesy of Paolo Simion, the ginger sprinter on the green-red-blue team from Veneto. While one of those wins was from the GP Memorial Carlo Valentini where his teammate Zurlo was disqualified for pulling handlebars in the finale (Zurlo was assaulted after the line by Massimo Coledan), Simion won two UCI races in the Circuito del Porto and in the Giro della Regioni F-V-G along with sprint wins and podium places all across the Italian amateur scene. Simion also has a track background, having an omnium World Cup victory to his name from Cali last year, and is apart of the current Italian team pursuit national champion team. Speaking of the track, last but not least is Michele Scartezzini. Scartezzini is one of the anchors of the Italian team pursuit squad and madison partner for Cannondale speedster Elia Viviani. He is the current national champion in both disciplines and features in the World Cups for the Azzurri. Scartezzini is not half bad on the road either with Trevigiani as he won the Trofeo Piva Banca in a three-man sprint and was 4th in the Trofeo Edil C. If the track never pans out, he could turn into a kick-ass leadout man or sprinter in his own right. He will be heading to Astana Continental for 2014 to continue his collaboration with Specialized and grow on both the road and track.

Ivar Slik was a hot shot junior and has been trying to find that same form in the U23 scene with Rabobank Development. As a junior, he won the GP Denmark, multiple stages of the Drei Etappen Rundfahrt and was all over the podium of races like the GP Patton and Trofeo Karlsberg. In his first U23 season in 2012, he struck gold off the bat by winning the Istrian Spring Trophy prologue and followed multiple breakaways at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux to gain a 2nd place overall at the Belgian event. After a steady diet of French 2.2 stage races, Slik won the Ronde van Midden-Nederland in a solo move and a few weeks later, he finished 5th in the Tour of China I. While this might have seemed like a fantastic start, Slik did struggle with longer distance races and had trouble with numbness in his legs during these longer durations. While nothing was specified (illiac artery?), the issue was cleared up in winter and he was set for 2013. His sophomore effort wasn't as noteworthy as his debut. After riding a strong spring, his form dipped after a DNF at the Tour of Azerbaijan and didn't ride well again until later in summer. Slik is an all-arounder who succeeds on flatter to rolling hills and can do a good time trial so Northern Europe and short stage races are his bag. He had a stagiaire with Belkin this year so look for him to either join the team for 2015 or perhaps head elsewhere because I think this will be his last U23 season.

Bob Schoonbroodt (1991) was a Dutch junior national TT champion but in the U23 ranks, he hasn't been able to hit a signature result. The big Dutchman has done pretty well in hard Belgian races like the GP Stad Zottegem this year, where he was 16th, in the first chasing group. He is also a pretty good climber on not-so-long hills and is pretty good in a time trial, 2nd in the national U23 TT in 2012.

With all of the talent that has come out of Denmark in the last 10 years, it wouldn't be hard to overlook a name or two. Rasmus Sterobo was 7-7-7 in time trials in 2012 as he finished 7th in the Danish Elite, European U23 and World U23 races against the clock. Sterobo had been a good TT rider before but with Glud & Marstrand, he came out of his shell. From the class of '91, this year was the civil engineering student's last to show off in the U23 ranks with CULT Energy. Sterobo rode well in most time trials, including an uphill prologue win at the U23 Peace Race along with longer ones such as nationals and European U23 Championships, and did well on hillier races including 6th on the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 and 16th overall at the Tour de l'Avenir, where he was climbing better as the race wore on. Sterobo will be back with CULT next year in 2014 but he might not be stuck there if he keeps developing his climbing skills.

While I'm never sure about Kazakh/Russian talent, Roman Semyonov seems like a pretty good climber. The young Kazakh, born in 1993, finished the Giro della Valle d'Aosta in 10th overall, spending most of his time just behind the select front groups on the climbers. More Russian talent to be unsure about is Kirill Sveshnikov (Lokosphinx/1992). Sveshnikov is a Russian robot who got a truckload of results on the track and road as a junior and has had a few good rides as a senior. His track results have been quite good with multiple World Cup podiums in various endurance events and a bronze in the points race in Minsk earlier in 2013 at the World Championships. On the road, he has spent the majority of his time in Spain and Italy, with top 20 spots in 1.1 races such as Circuito de Getxo, Vuelta a la Rioja and GP Nobili Rubinetterie. Decent climber, so-so sprinter...don't know how he will pan out. Ivan Savitskiy (Rusvelo/1992) is yet another Russian track rider who is splitting time on the two disciplines. Savitskiy has been subbing in on the Russian team pursuit squad (has World Cup and Euro U23 wins) and is the current madison and team pursuit national champion. While he barely has the endurance to finish a road event, he was on form for the Baltic Chain Tour and thanks to smart riding and getting into the important breakaways, he finished 2nd overall just two seconds behind a 'crosser Philipp Walsleben. Evgeny Shalunov (1992) was a machine as a junior, winning the Junior Peace Race by a wide margin, and as a first year U23, he won eight races including the Vuelta a Bidasoa overall and a mountain stage of the Ronde de l'Isard. This gained him a stagiaire role with Radioshack that year (2011) but it went nowhere and he last two years have been spent with Lokosphinx. 2012 held a solo win in the Vuelta a la Rioja thanks to an attack at 30km to go but past that, it was pretty bare except a good TT in the Vuelta Asturias. This year, he was 10th at the 1.1 Klasika Primavera and 7th at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon but past these two good results, his season was littered with DNFs. I'm figuring he's suffering from the Russian "no structure, no results" curse that has hit a generation or so pretty hard.

Ibai Salas is a well known name to those that follow the Spanish scene. The young Basque rider has ridden for Seguros Bilbao and more recently, Caja Rural Amateurs, while being one of the more successful U23 riders in Spain. The last two years with Caja Rural, he won rounds of the Copa de España in each year and finished 8th (2012) and 6th (2013) in the overall classification, where both times he was 2nd U23. Salas, who is a good climber that excels on explosive finishes, got a bit of time with the pro Caja Rural team as a stagiaire this summer but he will be with Burgos-BH for 2014 to try and get some better pro races on his schedule with proper mountains in them.

Growing up in Northern France does a cyclist wonders for riding on the rivet for hours on end; the wind whipping in your face as the kilometers tick over metronomically. Florian Senechal attacked the leading group in the 2011 Junior Paris-Roubaix and used his upbringing to good use and blasted away from Alexis Gougeard, Maarten van Trijp, Jon Dibben and Ruben Zepuntke to win by over a minute. The budding classics star finished off his season with a 2nd in the Junior Ronde van Vlaanderen, a overall win at the Keizer der Juniores and a 4th in the Junior World RR in Copenhagen, winning the group sprint behind a trio that included winning teammate P-H Lecuisinier. While he shopped around with a few different U23 programs, he ultimately joined EFC-OPQS. He certainly did his best to show his burgeoning classics talents by going 9th at the U23 Paris-Roubaix, 10th overall at the Tour de Bretagne and won the Brussel-Opwijk, a prestigious Belgian race for young talents that even Merckx won as an amateur. Senechal even got a stagiaire with OPQS for the late summer of 2012 and he definitely showed some strength beyond his years with strong rides in the Tour of Denmark (33rd overall) and 47th in Paris-Tours. While just a product of 1993, he really stepped up in 2013 with Etixx-iHNed. While he suffered from herniated discs in January, he was racing by March and nearly won the queen stage of the Boucle de l'Artois, where he finished 2nd on the uphill finish at Mont Saint Eloi. He had high finishes at 1.1 races such as Tour du Finistère (6th), Paris-Arras (8th overall) and the Rund um Köln (12th). After taking wins at the Memorial Henryka Lasaka and the overall of the Okolo Jiznich Czech, Senechal his some cracking season ending form with a 2nd in the Kustpijl and 4th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs. Senechal had been previously promised a spot on the OPQS pro team for 2014 but he was later told that he would have to have another year on Etixx before that would happen. He gave them the "thanks, but no thanks" and bolted for Cofidis, where he was promised a slot for the classics. While that might seem premature for just 20, Senechal is quite developed for his age. While the classics might be where his future lies, his climbing as been improving every year and it would be silly to count him out of week long stage races in the future.

Clément Saint-Martin went 2nd at the French Elite Amateur Championships this summer with Océane U-Top 16. Saint-Martin got a stagiaire spot with La Pomme Marseille and was fed a heaping dish of Asian racing to end his season. He will be joining the continental team full time in 2014, where he will be looking to get a result in a Coupe de France one-day.

Marc Sarreau was a former medalist at the European Track Championships as a junior and he has been able to turn that into some results on the road. Born in 1993, Frenchman Sarreau joined the Guidon Chalettois team when he became a U23 and this year was by far his biggest year. Sarreau, a sprinter, won six races this year including the overall of the Classic Jean-Patrick Dubuisson and the Souvenir Jean Graczyk and had about 20 other top 10 finishes on the season. He also placed in UCI ranked races with a 7th in the ice world that was GP Nogent-sur-Oise and two top 10 finishes in the Tour du Loir et Cher. He will be joining the camouflage Armée de Terre for 2014 to fulfill his military requirements.

While Sarreau might be leaving Guidon Chalettois, Manchester's Ali Slater (1993) will be joining the squad for 2014 after riding the the 100% ME squad, an arm of the GB Development program. In 2012, he was 5th in the GB U23 TT and this year, he went 16th in the An Post Ras, 32nd in the Tour of Britain along with solid rides in the Thüringen Rundfahrt (27th) and the Tour de l'Avenir.

Sam Spokes is apart of the strong '92 class of Australians that includes Jay McCarthy and Damien Howson. During their junior years, Spokes won the Liège-La Gleize overall and had some high placings in Italy during his time. Going into his U23 years, he was picked up by EFC-OPQS, where he spent two years ('11-'12). 2012 was a big year for Spokes as he was 6th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs and won the Tour d'Eure et Loir Espoirs overall. He also rode the Tour de Bretagne, Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir. This year, Spokes moved up to the new Etixx team but had a hard time replicating success. Spokes had top 10 stage finishes in Paris-Arras, U23 Peace Race and the Thüringen Rundfahrt along with a win in the Czech Vysocina stage race. Spokes was really onto good form after Tour de l'Avenir with a 14th place in the torrential rain at the 1.1 Tour du Doubs but he suffered a bad day at Worlds and had to pull out. After a training crash netted him a broken collarbone, the young climber has been back on the road and will be back again with Etixx for his final U23 season.

 Eric Sheppard (1991) is probably one of the better Australians you don't recognize. In 2011 with search2retain, he won the Tour of Indonesia overall and finished 4th overall in the Tour of Thailand. 2012 saw him venture to Italy to get his head promptly kicked in. While it was a tough journey, he had a few bright spots with a 2nd place in the 2nd stage of Peaches and Nectarines and finished 10th in the Memorial Davide Fardelli. This year, he signed with OCBC Singapore halfway through spring after riding some Australian NRS races (4th in the Battle on the Border overall). He climbed well at the Tours of Japan, Kumano and Korea; the latter two he finished 13th and 11th overall. In Korea, he was in breakaways in the final two stages that both went to the line and he got 2nd and 3rd places. He is back with OCBC for 2014 so perhaps he can swing some more results in the Asian scene.

Kiwi Dion Smith (1993) first came over to North America as a junior, where he was top 5 in the NRC Iron Hill Twilight Criterium and then smashed the Tour de l'Abitibi, where he finished 2nd overall. Smith was to be apart of the ill-fated PureBlack team before it was announced they lacked the funding to race internationally. He stuck with them for 2012 but for 2013, he joined the American amateur Predator Carbon Repair team. Smith, who is a strong climber and good on some punchier finishes, started off well with a 20th overall in the Redlands Classic and then 13th overall at the Tour of the Gila thanks to good climbing skills. At the Philly International, he won the KOM competition on his way to finishing 6th overall in the new uphill finish on the Manayunk Wall. After two stage wins at the Tour of America's Dairyland and a 4th at the Tour de Delta, Smith signed on with Champion System for a stagiaire position and boy, did he get his money's worth. Smith went 17th in the Arctic Race of Norway and 26th in the Tour des Fjords and raced all around Europe and even had a ride in the U23 Worlds RR. Smith will join Hincapie Development for 2014 and will be one of the brightest talent on the American racing scene.

With the boom in African cycling, many countries around the continent are seeing a surge in competition and in riders being sent to Europe and other events. Namibia had Dan Craven for a while but now, along with Till Drobisch, there is Costa Seibeb. Seibeb (1992) joined the UCI World Cycling Centre this year where he won the amateur Meisterschaft von Zürich out of a small group sprint and got a spot in the Tour de l'Avenir squad, where he seemingly got stronger as the race went on. Seibeb finished his season at the African Continental Championships and got a top 10 in the Elite TT.

Speaking of young African riders doing well in time trials, there is greenhorn Willie Smit. To my knowledge, Smit (1992) has never raced outside of continental Africa and has been a feature on the continental South African circuit. Over the last few years, Smit has had more than a handful of top five finishes in SA races including a win in the huge one-day 94.7 Cycle Challenge. Perhaps his two biggest rides of the year were a 3rd place in  the South African U23 TT Championship followed by an incredible ride at the African Championships TT, where he was the only rider to get within a minute of Daniel Teklehaimanot, winner of the last three African TT titles, and ended up 2nd, just 32 seconds behind, which also netted him the U23 win. His performance garnered him a contract with the continental Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa for 2014, which will see him head to Europe and Asia for some quality racing.

The demise of Thüringer Energie is a bit of a sad moment for German cycling. With team manager Jörg Werner retiring and Jens Lang moving to Argos-Shimano Development, Thüringer Ernergie shouldn't be forgotten for the precedent they set in U23 cycling. The system goes back to the mid 1990's and nearly every big German racer has been apart of the team. Greipel, Martin, Kittel, Degenkolb, Wagner, Gretsch, Schillinger and more have gone through the ranks of the East German squad. Since he was a junior, Jasha Sütterlin (1992) has been tapped as one of Germany's next big things. As a first year junior, he nearly medalled at the European Championships (4th). As a 2nd year junior, oh brother...he was incredible. German junior TT champion; winner of the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt; Trofeo Karlsberg stage 5 stage races, the lowest overall he placed was 5th in the Driedaagse van Axel. The World Championships proved to be just as fruitful with a 2nd place in the TT and 8th in the road race in a select lead group. His U23 career has boosted his status as a strong TT rider who can go for an overall. He won the Tour de Berlin in 2011 as a U23 rookie. He was German U23 TT Champion in 2012, had strong stage race results such as 7th in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and 26th in the Tour de l'Avenir, where he showed off some of his diesel climbing skills. He capped off 2012 with a strong Worlds where he was 8th overall on the hilly Valkenburg TT course. 2013 saw more variety as Sütterlin had strong TTs including in the pro Bayern Rundfahrt and another German U23 title, won a sprint (and prologue) in the Giro Valle d'Aosta, went well on small hills and nabbed 3rd overall in the Tour de Bretagne and was climbing well late in the Tour de l'Avenir. Sütterlin is on the brink of being like Tony Martin was a few years ago...climbing well enough to go for one-week stage races and perhaps flirt with a GT later in his career but it remains to be seen whether he can handle the heat with Movistar in 2014. Sütterlin's Thüringer teammate Max Schachmann could be described as Sütterlin-lite. As a first year U23 this year, he had good time trial rides with a 2nd at the Valle d'Aosta prologue, 9th in the Euro U23 TT and 12th in the World Championships. He had a bit of a DNF problem in stage races but that can be chalked up to youth. He will move to Argos Development for 2014, where he will look the match or better the bronze medal he got in the junior World Championship TT in 2012.

Whenever I try to judge Jasper Stuyven, I feel like I'm too hard on him. He was talking himself up for the better part of a year about the World course this year in Florence; how perfect it was for him and that he would go out and win for mother and country. Except for the part where he came out flat and finished outside the frount group in 25th, the plan went to a T. Maybe I just have such high expectations because of how good he was as a junior. Hell even at 15 and 16, he was turning heads with age-group national titles and was literally the next big thing. His first year as a junior, he goes out and beats Arnaud Demare and Marco Haller in a sprint in Moscow to win the World Championships. The next year he podiums nearly every race he enters, wins the Paris-Roubaix Juniors and goes 3rd in his World Championships defense. His first go at the U23 Paris-Roubaix? 2nd place, just 9 seconds behind winner Ramon Sinkeldam. In 2012, he finished 7th on the uphill finish on the Citadel of Namur in the GP de Wallonie. This year, he won the Volta ao Alentejo with sprinting and breakaway skills, finished 3rd in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs and the 1.1 GP Jef Scherens and was sprinting well all over with Bontrager. So while he has had a lot of success and promise, I just think he should be winning these huge events that he marks as goals. I'll try to check my expectations at the door when he gets his first taste of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix this spring with Trek Factory Racing.

If the myth of Oskar Svendsen grew any bigger last year, I would have flown to Norway myself to track down the young man to see what he was all about. Seriously, after his win in the World Junior TT Championship and reports of his record high Vo2Max score, Svendsen was immediately touted as one of the greats of the future. So when his first U23 year came about this year, you expected to see him demolishing the competition. Nope, not even close. Svendsen DNFed or placed low, except for a TTT win, all the way through June. His early summer was nothing to write home about with only a decent European Championships TT to hang his hat on. Where was this wunderkind? After inklings of form at the Tour des Fjords, Svendsen was flying at the Tour de l'Avenir. He did a shit prologue but then climbed with Merhawi Kudus to the finish on the first mountain stage. The final two mountain stages notched up two top 10 stage finishes and in the end, he finished 5th overall after a season of next to nothing. That continued after l'Avenir, when he DNFed a few more races before calling it a year. Seriously, this kid is an enigma to me.

Last but not least is EC favorite Toms Skujins, the Latvian who will be taking a voyage to America for 2014 with Hincapie Development. Latvia isn't what you'd call a cycling powerhouse. Ugrumov, Vainsteins, Saramontins...the list isn't exactly long. Skujins is apart of a young generation of young Latvians that have been breaking through and been doing well on the international scene. Skujins broke out in 2010 with strong results including a 6th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, 2nd in the 1.1 Tartu GP and 5th overall in the Tour du Gévaudan. A two year stint with La Pomme Marseille netted fine results such as a 4th in the Classic Loire Atlantique, 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, 5th in the Riga GP along with a heap of racing across Europe and Asia. He was dumped in 2013 by the French squad and that probably wasn't the best decision. Heading back to hometown Rietumu-Delfin, Skujins rode an Algerian Grand Tour (12 races in 13 days including a stage win) and was on all cylinders for Flanders, where he was 7th in the final group sprint at the U23 Ronde. After three top 10 finishes in Scandanavia, he went 10th overall at the Tour of Norway after a 6th on the queen stage. Then the gem in his season was a breakaway stage win at the U23 Peace Race that was enough to wrestle away the overall title. He won the U23 Latvian RR, went 3rd on the quite hilly European U23 RR course and spent a week in the sun in the leadup to l'Avenir in Guadeloupe, where he finished 7th after 9 days of racing. Showing his versatility, Skujins was climbing at some of his best ever at the Tour de l'Avenir, where he was able to follow the best in the mountains on the final stage to secure a solid 9th place overall. Following an incident with Davide Villella at the Ruota d'Or, where the Italian punched Skujins off his bike, the young Latvian came to the start line of the World Championships with shooting knee pains. While it felt like an icepick was stabbing his knee for a while, an unscheduled bike change seemed to settle him and he grew stronger as the race went on. As Matej Mohoric basked in the glow of his victory, Skujins was battling for the bronze medal and on the line, he finished 5th place, just ahead of Davide Villella in 6th. Vengeance is sweet. While Skujins probably deserved a pro contract with a WT or PC team, he will be crushing skulls in the USA this year with Hincapie, no doubt about it. His talent is evident and it is only a matter of time before big results follow....perhaps a win on the Manayunk Wall in Philly.

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