While the USA is not exactly known as a hub for U23 racing, they still have a presence when they go abroad and any time on of their sprogs is racing in one of the big American races. Since the Americans don't have a sprawling amateur scene with an abundance of U23 races, we will be going by American U23 performances both domestically and abroad.
-One of the sensation of the year was Dan Eaton. Riding for Canyon Bicycles - Shimano, the Arizona native started out early this year by winning the Valley of the Sun stage race after putting in a strong ride in the TT and then riding himself in the leader's jersey. This was the first in a string of strong results including top 10 GC finishes at the Tour de Murrieta, Tucson Bicycle Classic, San Dimas Stage Race and Redlands Bicycle Classics, the latter being on the NRC calendar. These results propelled Eaton on the US National Team and getting starts in the Tour de Bretagne, Olympia's Tour and Paris-Roubaix Espoirs.
-Some of the American's on the European track got their season's started at the Volta ao Alentejo, a fun little 5-stage race in the southern, agrarian region of Portugal. Tanner Putt was the GC leader, having gone 14th there in 2014, and he improved with a 10th overall place. Greg Daniel nearly stole a stage win on stage 2 but was swallowed up just 200 meters from the finish. Ryan Eastman put in strong sprint finishes along with 4th on stage 3 and two other top 10s. Along with 10th on GC, Putt took home the best young rider jersey.
-With the majority of the experienced riders going to the Volta Limburg, the young guns got a chance to shine at the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, a 3-day, 4 stage race in Belgium. Eamon Lucas, who was targeting the TT, went 5th in the TT just a few seconds behind the likes of Jon Dibben, Owain Doull, Alex Kirsch and Kristian Haugaard. On the final stage, Justin Oien was able to get 10th place while Geoff Curran won the best young rider's jersey, which was for 1st year U23 riders.
-Tanner Putt put in a strong one-day campaign in Europe with a 16th place in the 1.1 Volta Limburg and then 9th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, which was technically 5th in the bunch sprint behind the breakaway, which was caught on the line but not passed. This isn't the last time I will bring him up for his one-day ability. I think his future is going to be in the Ardennes and other hilly one-day races that end in a small sprint.
-It has been a while since America has had a big classics U23 to get excited about. Probably since Phinney. But this season, some of the younger U23s got the hopes up yet again. In the ZLM Tour, first year Justin Oien made the breakaway with big talents such as Ryan Mullen, Sven Erik Bystrøm and Thomas Boudat. Oien was able to hang on for 8th place, which comparing to recent USA attempts in the Nations Cup, is fantastic. Tyler Williams, riding for BMC Development, got away with Mike Teunissen and teammate Bas Tietema in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs and while Teunissen dropped a bomb about 20 kilometers to go, Williams hung on solo for 2nd place while first-year Logan Owen finished in 8th place. Not to be outdone by the youngins, Ryan Eastman made the front group at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 only to get held up in the sprint crash to finish 13th.
-A rider who rides outside of the National Team bubble is Alexey Vermeulen. Since Vermeulen rides with BMC Develpoment, he gets more European racing days in places like Italy. In spring, Vermeulen had some nice rides in the big back-to-back one days, Giro del Belvedere and Palio del Recioto. He made the front chasing group at both and registered 15th and 20th respectively. He is just a 2nd year U23 and I think next year is going to be the year we see a breakout from the Michigan native.
-Greg Daniel nearly stole a stage win at the Tour of California. Well stole isn't the right word...he nearly manhandled it out of the hands of some much more experienced pros. On stage 4 to Cambria, Daniel got into the breakaway and after riding the cranks off his bike, he nearly pipped Will Routley on the line but had to settle for 2nd on the line.
-The Peace Race is gaining momentum and hopefully keeps growing because I think it is fantastic. Alexey Vermeulen took advantage of the leadership role and finished 6th overall in the Czech race, which was even better than Robert Power.
-One of the best kept secrets in American development is Jeff Perrin. Along with Chris Putt, brother of Tanner, the duo carrier the Americans in the Ronde de l'Isard. After an admittedly shitty first day, Perrin got into the breakaway on stage 2 to Bagneres de Luchon. While Lilian Calmejane attacked the breakaway on the final climb, Perrin kept a strong tempo and while the freight train of Louis Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot was bearing down, Perrin was only passed by Vervaeke on the line and held on for 3rd on the day. Perrin and Putt held down through the next few days and came out 8th and 11th overall respectively at the end. The new P&P for cycling. No more fucking Phil and Paul...Perrin and Putt please.
-TJ Eisenhart is on the cusp of being a really great rider but he is just a chain-skip away from getting there. Granted he is only 2nd year U23 but he shows his potential in the time trials. Eisenhart rode a strong TT on July 4th to take the Stars and Stripes. He even went 2nd in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta time trial prologue but just 2 stages later, he DNFed. He is super strong but he was all over the board this year in terms of results. One great ride, getting his hopes high and then a so-so ride. Here is to a big 2015.
-Vermeulen rode a steady eddy Valle d'Aosta to finish 17th overall. That race is as hard as balls. Later in the month, Vermeulen finished 20th overall in the Tour Alsace, yet another hard as balls race.
-One of the bigger enigmas of this year was Keegan Swirbul, the gangly mountain kid from Colorado who can climb really fucking fast. He is a hill-climb sensation but with next to no road results coming in to this year, it was a fairly quick transition to climbing in the top 20 at the Tour of Utah. Swirbul was climbing very well in Utah and was around the top 20 (19th and 21st) on two huge mountain days before having to pull out on the final stage due to tendonitis. He has some crazy potential. I hope the National Team can get a hold of him for a little bit and put him in some stage races with steep, long stages like l'Isard.
-How have I come this far and not discussed Robin Carpenter? Seriously, this kid is a terrier in the breakaways; just never quits. He showed his true colors on stage 2 of the Tour Pro Challenge of Colorado States of USA where despite a crazy fuck-up by the officials, who stopped him and the peloton temporarily, Carpenter fought through the shit show and survived the final climb up to Crested Butte to take a narrow stage win ahead of Alex Howes and Van Garderen.
-Well um...l'Avenir was certainly a test. Perrin saved it, sort of, by going 18th overall but I'm sure they wanted a little bit more than that.
-Worlds weren't too bad for the Americans. Tanner Putt laid it out on the line during the last lap but timed it a bit wrong. Still, he finished 13th which extended to the USA's streak of coming 13th at U23 Worlds to two (Nate Brown was 13th in Florence).
-Yannick Eckmann made an appearance at the Ruota d'Or by snatching 8th place in the first chasing group behind the breakaway. Eckmann is mainly known for his 'cross stuff but that was a damn good ride.
-Guess who it is making the top 20 of an Italian one-day race? Alexey Vermeulen. He got 17th at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, which was at the tail-end of the leading chase group.
In all, it was a fairly good year for the USA. The U23 guys got a good amount of results state-side and then results here and there abroad. There is a lack of true GC heir apparent but there are multiple candidates including Vermeulen, Eisenhart, Perrin, etc. I'm looking forward to Oien getting another year under his belt and seeing what he can do in the classics.
Other riders to look out for that I missed...
-Ben Wolfe - The Connecticut product reminds me of Adam Leibovitz. Tall, strong and can make buckets of watts. He had some issues with leg numbness early in the season but once he got those sorted, he was going very strong through the summer. He was 3rd at the U23 TT Nationals and won probably 5 criteriums in the Northeast by going solo off the front and hammering away. With his health sorted, watch out next year.
-Miguel Bryon - 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors in 2013, Bryon got some rides with the National Team this year and showed that he has a pretty good sprint on him, especially in the flatter Belgian and Dutch races. Perhaps next year, he will be a bit wiser and able to contest some of the bunch kicks.
-Alex Darville - The former standout junior who is only 20 won the National Points Race Championship ahead of evergreen Bobby Lea. The Bissell rider raced a bit on the road but seems fully committed to the track in the possible Rio 2016 run.