Thursday, January 2, 2014

U23 ABCs: W-Z

You read that right, I skipped the letter V for now because I just need a little bit more time to get it done. Since I wasted a bunch of time looking for part-time jobs and worrying about money, I might need to extend this a bit into the new year. So on to W-Z...


While Phil Lavery and Sam Bennett might have been getting most of the attention as the next Irish big thing, Jack Wilson has been carving his own path with AnPost-Chain Reaction. Wilson was the junior national RR champion in 2010 and in 2012, finished 19th in the 1.2 Ronde van Limburg. This year with the boys in green and black, he won the Irish U23 Championship and was riding well in all of the Belgian 1.1 races that AnPost entered including a 14th in the Druivenkoers. Just to clarify, the Druivenkoers has 46 categorized hills and while the results might make it seem like your average Belgian race, it is so fucking hard. Not every rider is a Tour stage winner and some of them slug it out day after day on roads that reek of cow shit and factory pollution.

Deutschland haben drei Radfahrer in die "Y" Kategorie. Willi Willwohl might have "Marla" tattooed on his right forearm but there was nothing silly about his three straight wins at the Tour de Berlin this year. At just 19, he took another stage win at the Dookola Mazowsza Tour to notch his win total up to four for the year. He has the talent to be one of the best German bunch sprinters of his generation if he keeps it up. Max Werda of Stölting was 3rd in the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 and thanks to good climbing, he was 2nd in the German U23 RR and top 10 in the Thüringen Rundfahrt queen stage. Anyone able to get me a Heizomat jersey? Seriously those jerseys are pretty with some flames on them, can't beat that. Johannes Weber rides for said squad and in his first U23 season in 2013, he did well in selective races such as the German Elite RR Championship, where he made the front selection for 11th and had a top 10 on the first stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt.

Tyler Williams of BMC Development is gearing up for his 2nd season with BMC Devo. Williams got his first taste U23 racing this year where he rode a few stage races including the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he posted a few good sprints, along with a win in the California State Championships. He broke his collarbone in a crash at the Tour de l'Avenir but should be ready to bounce back for 2014. The boy from Bakersfield who grew up on a small farm is doing well for himself.

Some countries have a hard getting a steady development going and Poland is one of them. While you have Michal Kwiatkowski on the one hand, he didn't spend much U23 time in Poland as he chose to ride with foreign teams. Lukasz Wisniowski is one of the brighter spots for the Poles and while he won't be a U23 in 2014, he could have a bright future. Wisniowski won the Junior Peace Race in 2009 ahead of the likes of Kelderman, van der Lijke, Van Keirsbulck and others. He also placed 8th in the World TT Championship. His U23 career started out small but did a nice slow burn and by 2013, he was riding very well. This year, he was a double Polish U23 Champ, finished 4th overall in the Boucle de l'Artois and on the first stage of the Thüringen Rundfahrt, he broke away on the final lap with Silvio Herklotz and won the two-up sprint. He even got a top 20 overall at the Tour du Poitou Charentes. So while he isn't going pro for 2014, Etixx is a good team to eventually make the jump from, if that is what he is looking to do.

The Danes are one of the dominate nations in junior cycling but it doesn't exactly translate into the pro ranks. Mads Würtz Schmidt is hoping to buck the latter trend. In his first junior year in 2011, he shocked with a home win in the Copenhagen World Championships in the Junior Men's TT just seconds ahead of James Oram. Then as a 2nd year junior, he goes and wins the Paris-Roubaix, a stage in the Peace Race and the Driedaagse van Axel overall plus two stage wins. So you'd expect him to be crushing skulls in 2013, right? Not just yet. With CULT Energy, Würtz had an up and down season but had a few bright spots with a 7th in the Ster van Zwolle and best young rider at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. Look for some better results in 2014 from him.

So I still can't wrap myself around Trek's decision to sign Calvin Watson for 2014...does he know someone? Is he riding for free? He must have had some jaw dropping test results because while he might be a nice bloke and a pretty good racer, there are other guys that definitely got picked over. Watson was a good junior that had top 10 finishes at the World Championships RR, Ronde van Vlaanderen and won the Tour du Valromey. As a U23, he joined the AIS in 2012 and did well in Italy, where he was top 10 in multiple one days and 4th overall in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. He joined the Italian amateur Food Italia for 2013 but before he left for Europe, he won the Herald Sun Tour. He went over to Europe post the Tour Down Under and while he did well in the one-day races, he fell flat in the stage races and his Tour de l'Avenir was spent mainly in the grupetto. I could be wrong and he could be the next Australian star but I think Trek are taking a big punt on him.

Jens Wallays (EFC-OPQS) was one of the most successful U23s on the Belgian circuit in 2013 as he won 7 races including the Belgian U23 RR Championship. While you might assume he has to be a sprinter, you would be wrong. The majority of Wallays wins came in breakaways that went the distance, something that would make his older brother Jelle (Topsport Vlaanderen) pretty proud. Niels Wytinck finished 5th place in the ZLM Tour Nations Cup this year and seemed to finish the majority of big races but he will be moving from AnPost-Chain Reaction to the amateur Soenens team in Belgium.


Pretty much just chose Bulgarian Yovcho Yovchev for his name. Tested positive in 2011 for ephedrine and haven't seen him race since 2012 so no idea if he is still kicking around or not.

Genki Yamamoto won a stage of the Tour of Hokkaido in a solo breakaway. The Japanese rider has twice been the Japanese U23 RR Champ (2010-11) and the U23 TT Champ (2013) along with a 2nd and 4th the last two years, respectively, in the Asian U23 TT Championship. It was enough to get him on Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa for 2014.

Kirill Yatsevich has suffered from the Russian syndrome of being so good as a junior then never hitting those heights again. As a junior, Yatsevich was the European TT Champion, 4th in the Paris-Roubaix and 8th in the World TT Championship. In 2012, he finished 2nd in the Brutal Dictator (Heydar Aliyev) Tour and had some strong rides in Italy with the national team. This year, he joined the Helicopters team, where he was 3rd in the ZLM Tour and 2nd in a TT behind Marlen Zmorka. He has another U23 year but that Russian syndrome will probably be his bane. He can climb well and TT well on good days but he just needs to put it all together.

With the Y's, there is no doubts about the Yates twins. Hailing from the Manchester area, the duo of Simon and Adam electrified the scene in 2013 with some incredible rides that secured the professional contracts with Orica-GreenEdge for 2014 and beyond.

Simon Yates was by no means an unknown talent before this year. He started his career with big successes on the track, winning a world junior title in the madison with Dan McLay. In his first U23 season in 2011, he stormed to some big road results including 9th in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir, where he won a bunch sprint ahead of Filippo Fortin and Tom Palmer. While his 2012 was quieter, he still made a statement with an 8th place on the queen stage to Caerphilly in the Tour of Britain. This was only a prelude for what was to come in 2013. While Europe was bracing for a cold spring, Sim was heating it up on the Minsk velodrome, where he took out a World Title in the Points Race ahead of Eloy Teruel and Kiriil Sveshnikov. His road debut came at the spring Nations Cups, where he went 20th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, 3rd in the La Côte Picarde where he launched the attack that drew out the winning breakaway and 17th at the ZLM Tour. He then proceeded to hit the podium on all four stages of the Arden Challenge including one stage win and the overall title. He showed off his rouleur skills with aplomb through the rest of early summer with strong sprint finishes (a good portion of stage podiums) and good overall finishes including 10th at Fleche du Sud, 9th and best young rider at An Post Ras and 10th at both the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Czech Cycling Tour. His Tour de l'Avenir didn't start out amazing but boy did he end it well. After a good prologue, Yates was a bit behind on the summit finish on the Col de Madeleine but that disappointment was turned around quickly. On stage 5, he broke away with Adam and Alexis Gougeard with the twins taking the 1-2 on the line. Simon was in the breakaway again on stage 6 and this time on the uphill finish to Châtel, he distanced Matej Mohoric and Clement Chevrier for his 3rd career l'Avenir stage win. Even with the bad first mountain day, he clawed back to 10th overall in the standings. So with a season like that, you would expect a wind down by this point, yes? Nah. For those ignorant of the Tour de l'Avenir, the Tour of Britain was Simon's coming out party. On the 2nd stage to Kendal, Simon was able to follow a group off the front and finished 4th on the slightly uphill finish. After a good time trial, Simon just lit it up on the first summit finish in ToB history at Haytor where he distanced himself from an elite selection and was able to raise his arms for his first professional road win. That ride secured him a spot on the overall podium, 3rd, at the end of the race and the mandatory fawning treatment by the cycling press. This also included a few words from Bradley Wiggins, who said Yates could easily be the next great British cyclist.

Adam Yates, on the other hand, was not as heralded as his twin brother. While Simon was on the Olympic Development track, Adam chose to head to France as a U23 with UCVA Troyes and this year, CC Etupes, the feeder team for FDJ. His first two U23 years with UCVA Troyes were a bit anonymous to the greater public as he rode a bunch of French amateur races and had some successes. His move to CC Etupes provided a stronger schedule of opponents. Adam placed 12th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs and after a good Tour de Bretagne, he won a stage at the Tour de Franche-Comte and finished 3rd in the overall. In June, he underwent testing with FDJ for a potential neo-pro contract. After a 2nd place on the lumpy final stage of the Tour Alsace, it was all systems go for the Tour de l'Avenir, where he just tore down every expectation. In the haze of the confusion on the summit finish on the Col de Madeleine about who should be chasing down Ruben Fernandez, Yates pulled off a 3rd place finish, which set the tone for the rest of the race. The next day, he attacked with Simon on the finish to Morzine and gained valuable GC time. On the final stage to Plâteau des Glières, he attacked the chasing group that included all of the GC favorites and finished 3rd on the stage, sewed up 2nd overall and confirmed both his climbing ability and penchant for attacking.

While the speculation about who would sign for what team was brewing before, during and after the World U23 Championships, the twins had already made their decision. While SKY courted Simon and they had offers from Lampre, FDJ and others, Orica-GreenEdge had the golden ticket as they offered the best program and were willing to take both of them on as neo-pros. Adam even rode a Scott Foil during the World U23 RR, where the twins finished in the front group (Simon, 17th, and Adam, 19th). I had questioned the move myself because I had assumed Simon would be going for a place in the British Olympic track team for Rio but this moves signals a departure from the boards and a focus towards the road.


Rick learned from daddy's Milan-San Remo mistake
While it is the last letter in the alphabet, it is by no means the least talented. Since he was knee high, he was on Tour de France podiums, wearing a over-sized green jersey with a too big PMU hat. Erik Zabel has set a huge shadow in front of his son, Rick Zabel, in terms of being a successful professional cyclist; perhaps the biggest shadow since Eddy and Axel Merckx. Rick Zabel was originally racing on the track, netting multiple medals at the junior national championships, before really dedicating himself to the road. After a successful final junior season in 2011 that included a 4th in the Driedaagse van Axel and a 5th at the World Championships in Copenhagen, Zabel dropped out of high school to sign with Rabobank Development, a decision that Papa didn't like very much. While he didn't exactly show his sprinting talents right away, 2012 was a good 1st season for Ricky as he won the German U23 RR Championship after a long breakaway with a small group, 2nd in the Ronde van Limburg in a bunch sprint and top 20 finishes in the Paris-Tours Espoirs (12th) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (20th).

With a year under his belt, Zabel seemed to get a spark and his hard training, no doubt influenced by his father, who was one of the most dedicated trainers of his era, was to make dividends in 2013. With Rabobank Development this year, Zabel opened his account early in the Tour of Normandie, where he took the stage 5 bunch gallop into Bagnoles de l'Orne. In late March, he laid down a superb time trial at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux (6th) which netted him 12th overall heading into the spring Nations Cups. With the Belgians talking big game heading into the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, Zabel was able to come in under the radar. After Alexis Gougeard was brought back and the last ditch escape attempts were shut down heading back into Oudenaarde, Rick Zabel was able to hold off Dylan van Groenewegen and Magnus Cort to lift his hands in triumph. Just like Pop, Rick is not just a one-dimensional rider. He rode well on the queen stage of the Olympia's Tour, finishing in the 2nd chasing group, and finished off 8th overall while in the Tour de Gironde, he finished 4th overall due to some good breakaway riding. He showed off a good bunch kick in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Tour de l'Avenir but he was definitely a level away from purer sprinters like Caleb Ewan. To end his season, he finished 7th in the Münsterland Giro, where he won the bunch sprint behind a six man breakaway, and 6th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, where he came in with the remnants of the winning breakaway.

He is heading off quite early to the pro ranks at just 20 years old but he has shown that he can step up to a challenge. He has been on Mallorca for a couple months now training and in just three short weeks, he will be making his World Tour debut with BMC at the Tour Down Under. Just remember, he isn't his father.

The other German with Zabel at Rabobank Development this year was Ruben Zepuntke. With Rabobank Devo ending their support for riders outside of the Netherlands, it was a big year for Zepuntke to get some good results. Hailing for Nordrhein-Westfalen (Düsseldorf/Dortmund) like Zabel, Zepuntke rode the track as a junior and was a double team pursuit national champion but like many, the track took a backseat to the road and the results rolled in. Zepuntke was the German Junior TT Champion and was all over the results at German stage races like the Rothaus Regio Tour, Trofeo Karlsberg, 3-Etappen-Rundfahrt and the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt. In 2011, he was 5th in the Paris-Roubaix Juniors and won a stage of the Peace Race over Danny van Poppel and Olivier Le Gac. As a first yea U23 in 2012, he was 7th in the Paris-Roubaix U23 behind a Bob Jungels freight train and 4th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23. This year his standout result was a 9th place in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux thanks to a 3rd place in the time trial. While he didn't have any wins, he placed consistently well and rode a ton of support for Dylan van Baarle and others. Zepuntke got a lifeline from Bissell for 2014 and will be salivating the return of the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He has two more U23 seasons left and has plenty of time to capitalize on his junior successes.

After a rather frustrating defeat in a time trial this year where he had a minute taken out of him on a 40km course, Davide Martinelli referred to Ukranian Marlen Zmorka as an alien. While it wasn't exactly the best compliment to give a racing cyclist, Zmorka can put in some insanely quick rides. The TT is his speciality and he turned heads in 2012 in just his first U23 season with 5th in the U23 European Championships TT, 4th in the Memorial Davide Fardelli and 6th in the hilly U23 Worlds TT in Valkenburg. This year, he started off huge with a solo win in Vincenza-Bionde, where he stuck a solo move from about 40km out and still had 12 seconds to spare at the end. While I'm pretty sure he has next to no fast twitch muscle in his body, Zmorka did some good road races including 8th at the GP San Giuseppe, 7th at the ZLM Tour and 6th at GP Industria e Commercio. He had a good TT at the European Championships, where he was 4th on a difficult course but he fell quite flat at the U23 World TT, where he placed 15th on the pan flat course (needs some hills in hindsight). Interesting tidbit on his name...Marlen is a compound word between Marx and Lenin. The name was chosen by his father, so yeah.

Ending the Z's are a pair of Italians. Having written about Andrea Zordan previously, I will try to make this brief. Zordan was a strong junior who got some negative attention for having a hematocrit over 50%, which was then written off as natural. He is a rider that sprints very well but also has the climbing chops to survive a lot of the hills that would take other sprinters out. 2013 was definitely his biggest year to date as he won 10 races including the Italian U23 RR Championship, Trofeo Edil C and GP di Poggiana. Zordan will be riding with Androni for 2014 and while he had a bunch of sprint wins, they are mainly in amateur contests so it remains to be seen if he can step up. Federico Zurlo might be more known for his incident with Massimo Coledan this year than anything else he did on the bike. In the Memorial Carlo Valentini, Coledan was crashed out with 1500m to go and blamed Zurlo, who in the end won the sprint (but later DQed). Coledan decided to attack Zurlo with his bike after the finish line and sends Zurlo to the hospital, even though Zurlo might not have caused the crash. In just his first U23 season, Zurlo this year won three races, all in sprints including a stage of the Coupe des Nations Saguenay. Very strong sprinter who could be an asset for Zalf with Zordan leaving.

No comments:

Post a Comment