While I said previously that Kazakh/Russian talent can be a bit of crapshoot these days, Maidos Tilegen has been proving his climbing skills to be for real. Born in '93, Maidos comes from the extreme east of Kazakhstan in Oskemen, which lies near the border with Russia, Mongolia and China and is situated nearly 1000 kilometers away from Astana. Maidos was a strong climber as a junior and placed highly in climby Italian stage races as a junior such as the Giro della Lunigiana and Giro di Basilicata. After signing with Astana Continental for 2013, Maidos chewed up kilometers in the spring and then came alit at the Tour of Slovenia, where he finished 7th on the summit finish queen stage to Vrsic and 9th overall. Following an impressive 3rd in the Kazakh Elite RR, Maidos supported three teammates into the top 5 at the Tour of Qinghai Lake. He was able to take his form to the Tour de l'Avenir, where he finished 11th overall thanks to good climbing on the two biggest mountain stages while teammate Kozhatayev finished 4th overall. Definitely a good climber when the gradients hit double digits for multiple kms and could be a l'Avenir 1-2 with Kozhatayev next year. While Maidos is rising, Nikita Umerbekov is fading into darkness. Umerbekov can best be remembered for a stage win in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon over Thomas Voeckler before heading to a 4th place overall finish. This year? Crickets. He had a few good rides early in Monts et Chateaux and Tour de Azerbaijan but soon after, it was DNF after DNF. We'll see what happens, I guess. Kazakh Ivan Tsissaruk put his track power to good use in 2012 as he rode in breakaways to an overall win in the Tour of East Java (Indonesia) with the Astana Track Team. Tsissaruk has been apart of the Kazakh team pursuit on the track for the last few years after a strong junior career on the road. While he rode the World Championships on the track in 2013, I haven't been able to find out any racing since then so no idea if he is still active.
To be completely honest, I have no idea where Meron Teshome (1992) came from or his roots in cycling. He had to have raced before in Eritrea because he got a Tour de l'Avenir place in 2012, which he dropped out of after a few stages. But in 2013, he has been one of the best young Eritreans on the scene. Top 10 overall at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo (9th), Fenkel Northern Red Sea (6th) and the Tour of Eritrea (4th overall plus a stage win). He won the Eritrean National RR out of a small group and was apart of the group that won the African TTT Championship for his nation. I have no idea about 2014 re a team and no idea what he is doing now or where he is going except he is down to ride the Bongo Tour in early 2014. Brilliant reporting, per usual of this establishment. I've talked about it before but Rwanda was the touchstone of the major African cycling development for the last decade and while they have been going through a rough patch, they are still getting support from MTN-Qhubeka and the World Cycling Centre, who jointly fielded a team in 2013 that included Rwandan Bontaventure Uwizeyimana. Uwi raced in a good chunk of east and southern African races and had some good climbing results such as 15th overall in the Tour of Eritrea. When I look at his palmares and see a win in the Genocide Memorial...that pulls at every last heartstring. Many kids of his generation don't have parents and many siblings due to the insanity of 1994 and I can't but help to be overjoyed to see some of these guys getting a chance of a lifetime.
He isn't a talent for the ages by any means but Alex Turrin of Zalf-Euromobil has had a few successes over the years including 2nd in the Imola prologue for Peaches and Nectarines in 2011, 5th at the Giro del Belvedere in 2012 and 3rd this year in the Giro del Medio Brenta. He is going to Mastromarco with ginger teammate Paolo Simion for his last U23 season in 2014, where hopefully he should get a healthier schedule as he has been pretty lean on racing over the years. Speaking of Zalf, there are two more T's there to take care of. Andrea Toniatti had 5 of the wins in Zalf's record haul this year including a transitional stage win in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, the Trofeo G. Bianchin and the Ruota d'Or. This is in addition to 2nd in the Italian U23 TT, 3rd in the Piccolo Giro dell'Emilia and 4th overall in the Peaches and Nectarines. Toniatti can climb well but the high mountains are a bit of a struggle and can launch a good sprint out of a smaller group. He has another U23 year but Zalf is looking to go continental in 2015 so perhaps he will be staying on board for the long haul. Alessandro Tonelli had two wins this year along with a 4th place in the GP San Giuseppe along with top 15 places in the hard Coppa della Pace, GP di Poggiana and Piccolo Giro di Lombardia.
For our French Connection, he have a few including the Turgis brothers. Jimmy Turgis, born in 1991, has been a fixture with CC Nogent-sur-Oise through his U23 career. As a junior, Turgis was 3rd in the l'Etape du Tour in 2009 that finished on Mont Ventoux, finishing behind then French Elite RR Champ Dimitri Champion and pro Jean-Marc Bideau, and was 2nd in the French Junior TT Championship. Jimmy split his time between the road and cyclocross, where he excelled in France and at some World events. 2011 saw him hit some highs with a 12th at Liege-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs, an 8th at the World U23 Cyclocross Championship in Sankt Wendel and 5th overall in Boucle de l'Artois. 2012 saw a more concerted effort on the road as he placed 5th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs, won two French amateur races and got a stagiaire role with Cofidis, where he got through a good amount of pro races without too much damage. After not being picked up by Cofidis on a pro contract, Jimmy came back and placed top 20 at both the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and had podium places at a Ronde de l'Oise stage (2nd behind Faboi Silvestre) and at the GP Ville de Pérenchies (3rd). He was one of the most consistent U23 riders in France (8th in the Challenge DirectVelo Espoirs) and has decided to jump to Roubaix-Lille Métropole for 2014, which is revamping their roster in hopes of getting a few call-ups to Belgian events, which is right up Turgis' alley. Jimmy's younger brother is Anthony Turgis, a first year U23 in 2013. As a junior, he was 2nd in the European Championship RR and Paris-Roubaix along with being the French Champion in the TT. This year on the road, Turgis was 20th in the L-B-L U23 and scored multiple points in Coupe de France races for CC Nogent-sur-Oise. Turgis, like his brother, is a cyclocross fiend and recently placed won the Championship of Picarde, was 3rd in a French National U23 race in Quelneuc behind super strong U23s Venturini and Menut and was 14th in the mudder that was the Namur World Cup on the 22nd of December. Anthony is back with CC Nogent for 2014 and will get a little advice from Tour de France stage winner Jimmy Casper, who will be joining as a part-time director. Elsewhere in the hexagon, La Pomme Marseille Grégoire Tarride rode the 2nd most races (behind teammate Thomas Rostollan) where the race ended in a bunch sprint with 52. Tarride had his best finishes in climbing races with a 23rd overall in the Tour of Qinghai Lake and Tour de l'Ain.
Navarra Basque racer Beñat Txoperena had a breakout season with Gipuzkoa this year with two amateur wins, a 2nd in the Spanish U23 RR Championship and 6th overall in the Vuelta a Madrid. Txoperena got a Tour de l'Avenir ride and supported Ruben Fernandez to his surprise Tour de l'Avenir win. Txoperena will be joining Euskadi for 2014, where he should get a healthier schedule of climbing stage races outside of Iberia.
Low to High...High to Low. Don't know how to describe riders from the Low Countries rising up but we have a couple from both Belgium and the Netherlands. This year with Rabobank Development, Martijn Tusveld finished 4th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23, 26th at the 1.1 Münsterland Giro along with top 20 finishes overall at the Volta ao Alentejo, Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour and Tour du Gévaudan. Mike Teunissen might be known more for his cyclocross exploits but this year, he really began to focus on the road after years of focusing on the dirt and doing the road to build fitness for winter. After Teunissen won the World U23 Cyclocross Championship in Louisville earlier this year, he made his road debut in April. After a 2nd in the Arno Wallard Memorial to Coen Vermeltfoort in a small group sprint, he finished 12th overall in the Tour de Bretagne. He was in a lot of breakaways this year including at the Thüringen Rundfahrt, Tour de l'Avenir and the Trofee Jong Maar Moedig I.W.T. At the Kreiz Breizh Elites and the Tour des Fjords, he finished 8th overall thanks to good time trialling and climbing. To cap off his year, he and a group of six others broke off the front of the Rabo Baronie Breda Classic and Teunissen won the sprint for the win. Teunissen is back with Rabo Devo for two more years, where he will split time with the road (working on his rouleur skills) and dirt. Teunissen has kept up with 'cross this year with top 10 finishes in all of the U23 World Cups he has entered including a 3rd at Zolder behind Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, the two wunderkinds of cyclocross this year. Belgian Dylan Teuns has shown his climbing chops the last couple of years at the Ronde de l'Isard, where he has finished 4th (2012) and 3rd (2013) overall. This year, with Ventilair-Steria, he finished 5th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 and the final stage of the Tour Alsace. Teuns is hoping over to BMC Development for 2014 for his final U23 season, where he should get a good helping of hilly races.
Probably the moment that I started to follow U23 cycling closely was back in the spring of 2010. I had just gone through a rough breakup and was living alone in a studio apartment with no air conditioning and letting my emotions get the best of me. My obsession with cycling had gone to a new level and I was following races like never before. The Triptyque Monts et Chateaux that year was stacked with talent including Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb, Jetse Bol, Wilco Kelderman and many more. The final stage was a slightly uphill cobbled finish into Tournai and was surely going to be won by one of the names above. Coming into the final bend, Phinney, Degenkolb and Bol were heading for the line together until a mysterious rider in a white jersey headed out early and stuck it to the line. That mysterious rider was Edward Theuns, then an unhearlded 18 year old, and his win was immortalized in this picture. At that time, I found that picture to be so badass because of the sheer effort and grit that you can see on everyone in the picture. Riding with the VL Technics-Abutriek through his U23 career, Theuns split time between cycling and school, where he studied physiotherapy at the University of Gent. Theuns is a classics rider that can throw down a time trial, as he is a multiple East Flanders Provincial TT Champion. In 2012, he won the sprints jersey at the Giro della Friuli Venezia Giulia, won a few provincial events and placed 8th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, which was good for 2nd in the bunch sprint behind the breakaway up the road. This year was the best for Ward Theuns, as he seemed to step up to another level from his previous years. He won the Ronde van Oost-Vlaanderen prologue along with the time trial in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, ahead of Dylan van Baarle. He went well in La Côte Picarde (10th, 5th in bunch sprint) and 6th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where he won the bunch sprint behind the front five. He placed 3rd in the Belgian U23 TT Championship and won the mountains classification in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and had a top 20 overall in the mountainous Ronde de l'Isard. He is a true rouleur; getting it done on all sorts of terrain with a strong sprint and good climbing chops. After another 8th place in Paris-Tours Espoirs, Theuns finished 3rd in the Belgian track pursuit championship. Theuns is joining Topsport Vlaanderen in 2014 and while I've been trying my best to be objective, I hope to hell he can breakthrough for a healthy pro career. Good luck Ward.