As I plow through top 5 lists for the 2014 season, the next one will focus on riders that busted out of their cocoons and into bad ass bike racers. While I did a post about 5 riders that dropped off their 2013 performances, these are 5 riders that got an "Exceeds Expectations" on their 2014 report cards. Like the majority of these lists, they are not 100% foolproof and the top 5 is in no particular order.
1. Eduard-Michael Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo - Romania)
Heading into 2014, the Romanian Eduard-Michael Grosu was stepping up a level in competition after riding with the Romanian National Team for a couple years as well as Overall Cycling on the Italian amateur circuit in 2013. He had racked up some results in the Tour of Romania, including a stage win in 2013, and won a small Italian race in a sprint over Paolo Simion, who is joining Bardiani-CSF for 2015. Grosu had a handful of top 10 finishes in Italian races but he was seemingly always a step behind the pure sprinters in Niccolo Bonifazio, Nicola Ruffoni and Nicolas Marini. (Apparently if you are named Nico-something in Italy, you are looking good for the sprints.)
In 2014, Grosu joined Vini Fantini-Nippo, the new Italian-Japanese fusion team, and made his mark early. While he didn't win the Carpathian Couriers Tour, he was easily the strongest rider there. In 6 stages, his lowest placing was 6th place in the ITT and he won the final two stages to finish 2nd overall to Gregor Mühlberger. Bunch sprints, breakaways and solo...he did it all. In the Tour of Estonia, an amalgam of former one-day races, the Tallinn-Tartu GP and the Tartu GP, Grosu won the first stage and was 2nd on the second stage to win the overall by 6 seconds.
One of his more impressive performances was a 2nd place in a stage of the Tour of Slovenia, where he was only behind Elia Viviani and beat riders like Michael Matthews, Borut Bozic and European Tour winner Tom Van Asbroeck.
Grosu went to the Tour of Qinghai Lake, one of the longest and hardest races no one gives a shit about, with a very strong Vini Fantini squad that included Grega Bole, Takashi Miyazawa and others. Grosu had 5 top 10s including 1 stage win into Zhongwei while Bole also had a stage win.
Now Grosu had some issues in longer Italian one-day races, where he DNFed pretty much everyone in the late season, and while he attempted to escape in the World U23 RR, he DNFed the race fairly early. So his season was a huge improvement from 2013 but there is definitely room to grow. Grosu is staying with Vini Fantini as they move to the Pro Continental ranks but he will need to keep the improvement going if he plans on getting onto the A-squad.
2. Phil Bauhaus (Stölting - Germany)
Okay, maybe this isn't a "breakthrough" more as logical improvement. Bauhaus was a good first-year U23 and won a stage in the Tour of Bulgaria but his improvement in 2014 was pretty stark. Bauhaus didn't start really going until late April where he was 2nd in Zuid Oost Drenthe, 7th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt (4th in the bunch sprint), winning Skive-Løbet and had 2 more top 10s in the Himmerland Rundt and Destination Thy.
Bauhaus was a presence in pro bunch sprints only as a 19-year old by going 7th in the Velothon Berlin, 4th and 5th in two stages of the Bayern Rundfahrt and 6th in a Tour of Luxembourg stage. He was 3rd in the German Elite RR, where he was only behind Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb.
Bauhaus really heated up towards the end of summer when he won 5 races including 2 stages of the Volta a Portugal, 1 stage of the Baltic Chain Tour and winning the Kernen Omloop.
While he was a good junior but Bauhaus made a huge jump this year in his sprint. He was being courted by Caja Rural but decided to sign with Team BORA for 2015, the new sponsor for NetApp-Endura, after Stölting announced they weren't moving to the Pro Continental level.
3. Emanuel Buchmann (Rad-Net Rose - Germany)
Speaking of Germans, Emanuel Buchmann showed everyone why he is one of the best kept secrets in the U23 ranks with his climbing skills. Buchmann had been a solid climber through his U23 years including top 20 finishes in the Tour de l'Avenir, Tour of Azerbaijan, Tour Alsace and the Mzansi Tour. His year in 2014 was a vast improvement upon anything he has done before.
Buchmann started off strong at the Mzansi Tour, where he went up against the MTN-Qhubeka juggernaut and came away with 8th overall. He continued the trend by going 8th overall in the Tour de Azerbaijan, which was just 3 seconds off Robert Power.
It was his late summer that really saw him shine. A 14th overall in the Tour Alsace got the ball rolling and it was continued with 14th in the GP Poggiani, which was in the 1st chase group behind Power, and 7th in the GP Capodarco. This form continued into the Tour de l'Avenir where Bachmann survived the opening few stages and then got better as the race went on with 11th, 10th, 9th and 7th on the final 4 mountain stages to finish l'Avenir 7th overall, a vast improvement from his 17th a year prior. Buchmann capped his season off with a win in the queen stage of the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia) and 3rd overall.
It was a big jump for Buchmann from being top 20 pack fill to being at the front of the races and fighting for wins. He is another rider joining Team BORA for 2015 and he I'm sure he is gunning for races with steep mountains.
4. Kevin Ledanois (CC Nogent sur Oise - France)
At the Arctic Tour of Norway, the breakaway on the first stage was expected with all of the big hitters but what wasn't expected was young Kevin Ledanois riding just on their coattails with fellow stagiaire Loic Vliegen (BMC). Ledanois finished 8th on the stage to North Cape and following his 6th place on the final stage to Tromso, he locked up 6th overall in his pro debut. What does one do after this? Why of course win the 1.2 Tour du Jura out of a 5-man group. Duh.
Ledanois really pushed himself to a new level this year by going 6th in the Tour de Normandie, after he made the breakaway on the final stage. He followed this up by 11th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, which was good for 7th in the group sprint which caught the breakaway on the line.
Ledanois was a bit inconsistent over the year as a whole but he showed some big promise in his races with Bretagne-Seche Environment and on hilly/selective courses as a whole. He will be joining Bretagne for 2015 and could make an immediate impact in some smaller races.
5. Kristofer Skjerping (Joker - Norway)
In both 2012 and 2013, Kristoffer Skjerping showed some potential as a cyclist by getting some top 15 results in races such as La Côte Picarde, Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen and Kernen Omloop as well as top stage results in races like Rhône-Alpes Isere and Tour du Loir-et-Cher. While he had gathered some good results, it was just good results at that point. Yeah, he was a young rider that looked promising but he still hadn't made "the big step". 2014 would change that for Skjerping.
In March, he made the breakaway at Paris-Troyes and was only beaten by spring chicken Steve Tronet, who has made a career out of winning spring races and costing off his results the rest of the year. He then had a very strong Tour de Normandie that included a 2nd place on stage 5 in a mass bunch sprint behind Marco Benfatto. He would have been much higher on GC but he missed the important split on the final stage and settled for 21st.
After a strong March, Skjerping was flying two weeks later at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 where he survived the late race carnage and what was becoming a motif for the season, settled for 2nd behind winner Dylan Groenewegen. Skjerping continued this trend of finishing off hard races strong by going 3rd in the Ringerike GP, 5th in the queen stage of the Tour of Norway and 3rd in a stage of the Tour Alsace. Enough of the fucking minor placings.
On the opening stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, Skjerping tagged the opening breakaway with Asbjørn Kragh and Sjoerd Van Ginneken. Skjerping was the best sprinter in the breakaway and only had to not get dropped. Skjerping succeeded in this and with Kragh having the yellow jersey, Skjerping outsprinted Van Ginneken for the win. Pretty awesome for his first UCI win.
His season was capped off by a stellar result at the U23 Worlds RR. Coming in with a stacked Norwegian team. Skjerping, who had showed his mettle in longer, harder races, stayed with the peloton throughout the race and when his teammate Sven Erik Bystrøm attacked in the final kilometers, Skjerping was the joker that was marking Caleb Ewan in case everything that came back together. Short story short, the race didn't come back together and Bystrøm stayed away in the end to take the big win while Caleb Ewan was scrapping up the silver medal and Skjerping right behind in 3rd place. In just his first selection for Worlds, Skjerping goes away with medal and then he signed a World Tour contract with Cannondale-Garmin. That is a pretty big step in just one year.
Why do I feel like that list is just...too mainstream? I will add a few more...exotic...picks for you.
6. Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development - USA)
Mr. Carpenter was a really good rider but in his final year as a U23, Carpenter seemed to step it up a level. He had top 30 finishes at Volta ao Alentejo, Tour de Beauce and Tour of Utah. The highlight of his season was obviously his solo win at the Tour of the USA Pro Colorado Challenge Cyclisme, where he survived idiotic judgement calls by the officials and held off the stream train of Tejay van Garderen and Alex Howes to take the win.
Carpenter is a boss. Not to mention that before this year he was a full-time college student and graduated on the same day as Philly this year. He won't be a U23 next year but I have a feeling it is going to be a huge year for him.
7. Joaquim Silva (Portugal)
Silva was the best Portuguese U23 rider this year after having some promising albeit not amazing results in years prior. He was 15th in the Volta ao Alentejo (3rd in youth by just 10 seconds) and then 8th overall in the Taça de Portugal, a series of 5 one-day events in Portugal with all of the big Portuguese teams. He then won the National U23 RR by a huge margin after going solo and winning by over 2.5 minutes.
The rest of summer saw what a stage racing talent that Silva is. He was 2nd in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro by a couple of seconds to younger stud Ruben Guerreiro. He finished the Volta a Portugal very well for a U23 with a 25th overall in the 10-stage affair and was the best U23 by 14 minutes. Silva climbed very well at the Tour de l'Avenir and in his first (and last) attempt at the race, he was 8th overall. He capped the whole season off with a 16th place front group finish at U23 Worlds.
Silva isn't linked to anyone right now for 2015 but after what he showed in l'Avenir, he could be one of the brightest Portuguese talents that you might never hear of again thanks to the insular worlds of Portuguese cycling.
8. Salah Eddine Mraouni (Morocco)
From January to May, Salah Eddine Mraouni was riding all over the Africa, mainly in the Maghreb in Northern Africa. (The Maghreb is the northern part of Africa including Muslim countries Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morrocco and Mauritania, which translates to the Berber World.) He started in Gabon by riding 10th overall in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo Bongo Bongo. He followed this up by strong riding in the Algerian Grand Tour, with placings all over the top 10, and culminating in strong rides in his home Morocco.
Mraouni rode to 7th overall in the Tour de Maroc, which was good enough for the best rider, and was top 5 in all 3 Challenge du Prince races. He capped off his long early season by going 2nd place in the Moroccan Elite RR, losing in a two-up sprint to Adil Jelloul. He promptly dropped off the face off the planet only to resurface at U23 Worlds, where he put in underwhelming rides in the RR and TT.
Moroccan riders, or pretty much everyone in the Maghreb outside of Algeria, have found it a tough transition to the ranks of the pro cycling elite. It is literally being shot to the moon for many North Africans if they get the chance to race in Europe and it is hard for many to show that promise that they show in Africa. Keep an eye on Mraouni in the early season in 2015 to see if he can once again go up against the European professionals.
9. Joey van Rhee (Jo Piels - Netherlands)
There are so many talented Dutch riders in the junior and U23 ranks that it is hard to get lost in the sea of them. Joey van Rhee has been racing through the junior and U23 ranks pretty anonymously up until his 3rd place last year in the National U23 RR. While he didn't make a dramatic step up this year, he certainly progressed with a top 10 finish in the 1.1 Dwars door Drenthe, 3rd in the Tour de Berlin TT and 7th overall as well as a top 15 in the Paris-Tours Espoirs.
10. Michael Gogl (Gebrüder Weiß - Austria)
The last two seasons with Arbo Gebruder Weiss have been trying for Michael Gogl. He was getting some rides in UCI races but had no standout rides to judge his progression on. This year was different though. In April, he won a stage of the GP Sochi and after multiple top 10 stage finishes, he came out with 11th overall, which was the first non-Russian/Ukrainian by two minutes. He followed this up by a first-chase group finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and then a 4th place stage finish in the Carpathian Couriers Tour.
Gogl got through the Tour of Austria but during the whole year, he wasn't able to string together a strong GC performance. He checked that box at the Tour de l'Avenir. On stage 2, he came out of nowhere in the difficult bunch sprint to place 4th. While I thought at the time, "Oh well that is awesome...I'm sure he will be at the back." Gogl proved me wrong by riding fairly consistently in the mountains and ending up as Austria's best finisher with 15th overall, which is awesome for his first participation in the race.
Gogl is transferring to another Austrian team for 2015, Felbermayr-Simplon, which is the same team that Riccardo Zoidl and Patrick Konrad have ridden for in recent years. He should be targeting the Tour de l'Avenir as well as other hard-one day races and stages. Look for him...seriously, you better.
I have another that I'm keeping an eye on as well...
11. Valens Ndayisenga (Rwanda)
Born under the auspices of genocide, Valens Ndayisenga has been the phenom of the Rwandan cycling boom and if he continues to develop, he could be following in the footsteps of Adrian Niyonshuti. Ndayisenga was the youngest Rwandan winner of a stage in the Tour of Rwanda, when he won stage 2 of the race last year with teammate Abraham Ruhumuriza. He rode well in the Algerian Grand Tour this year with 7 top 10s. He followed this up by doing the double in the Rwandan Nationals, winning both the RR, in solo fashion, and the TT. He even got the nod to start the Commonwealth Games TT, where he finished 23rd. He rode both the TT and RR at the U23 World Championships. His results might be not very impressive to some but when he is riding a bike that isn't exactly state of the art and trains primarily in a country who has a large amount of dirt roads, any results he puts up are exemplary, in my opinion.
Keep an eye on Mr. Ndayisenga in 2015. He trained at the UCI World Cycling Centre this summer and is targeting the GC overall in Tour of Rwanda, which begins on the 16th of this month.