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Friday, November 27, 2015

Neo-Pros 2016: Pro Continental Lowdown, Pt. 1

Perhaps it is just my hyper-focus on this issue but it seems like this year, compared with others in recent past, is seeing a larger number of young riders making the leap to the World Tour and Pro Continental level to try and hack it as professional cyclists. The top 13 overall riders from the Tour de l'Avenir have secured pro contracts for next season while 10 out of the top 15 from the U23 World RR have a contract for 2016 with a World Tour or Pro Conti team.

And remember, since we are going by the book, a neo-pro is a rider that is in his 25th year or younger and starting their first season as a professional. Technically, a rider in their 2nd year of a neo-pro deal can still be referred to under the term but now we are just splitting hairs.

Now it is time to go through, team by team, and examine the new signings with Pro Continental teams. Had enough yet? You might need to get a cuppa before sitting down for this. And this is only the first part...

ActiveJet
-Stanislaw Aniolkowski
-Adrian Banaszek
-Norbert Banaszek
-Jonas Koch
-Daniel Staniszewski

4 Poles and a German walk into a bar...seriously, Jonas Koch is the only one that I have any inkling of. If you are ignorant of the U23s and this is your first time reading this blog then I'm shame on you but I'm glad you have seen the light. Also, you would need to be familiarized with Jonas Koch's epic breakaway at the Tour de l'Avenir. Epic is an overused term to some but Koch's solo breakaway on stage 1 certainly warrants its use. You can read about his exploits here.

Give Koch a hard course and you will most likely see him attack at some point. His new team will be begging for face time so his attacking disposition should be a net benefit.

Androni
-Egan Bernal
-Luca Pacioni

That sly dog Gianni Savio is trying to turn cheap talent into marketable results once again and is bringing in a junior and a sprinter to help his low budget team.

Egan Bernal is Colombian. Egan Bernal rides mountain bikes really fast. Egan Bernal hasn't been in a competitive road race, at least from scouring the internet for any results. Bernal is a sensation on dirt after hitting the podium of the Junior World MTB XC twice in two years (2nd and 3rd) among some other nice wins. Yet with all of this withstanding, Savio decides to take a chance on him and signs Bernal to a four-year contract. Yes, for the entirety of his U23, Bernal has a ride with Savio. I have a bad feeling about this...

EDIT: Bernal has ridden in one road race in Italy, which he won this past year. You can read more about it here. The race? Dreaming of The Tour of Flanders. Mainly some hills with dirt sections but it suited him well.

Pacioni is a sprinter that spent the majority of his U23 days with Colpack before moving the Viris Maserti for a bit more freedom. Probably not his wisest move since his wins dropped from five to just two however he is capable of taking some scalps if he is on form. I don't know if he will come in like a world beater but Savio will be hoping for some production from him in Italian races.

Bardiani-CSF
-Giulio Ciccone
-Mirco Maestri
-Lorenzo Rota
-Simone Velasco

I would love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting of the Reverberi brothers discussing the new season. "Roberto, we only had 4 wins last year. What do we a do ah?" "Bruno, we get younger!" Yes, the youngest professional team has decided to get younger for 2016 with their average dropping to an acne-filled, voice cracking 23.8 years.

Simone Velasco is going to be the youngest rider on the team as he has yet to turn 20 just yet. Velasco has been all over the Italian one day races with two wins (Coppa della Pace & Ruota d'Or) and was very consistent in the Giro della Regioni with top 10 finishes on all of the stages and 4th overall. He doesn't seem like a high mountains contender but look for him in hillier Italian one-day races and rolling stage races.

Maestri is one of the oldest on the team and is just making his pro debut. Honestly, he was a good amateur but as a pro? Not holding my breath.

Rota will be the 2nd youngest on the team and his best chance for development seems to lie in one-day races. 7 top ten finishes for a rider that isn't a sprinter is pretty good. The problem? He is too young. He isn't that type of rider that can just jump into the pro ranks and dominate. He will most likely struggle. He could have used with another year....

Ciccone is a pure climber that will find his best results in the bigger hills. He had a biblically slow first part of the season but came back for the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and won the KOM classification after multiple days out front gaining points. He proceeded to have a steady Tour de l'Avenir, where he mainly stayed with Simone Petilli, and he eventually finished 6th overall. The last call of his season came at the Piccolo Lombardia, where Ciccone was essentially the sacrificial lamb for his teammate Fausto Masnada. Ciccone could have dropped Masnada multiple times but thanks to a large gap, the lithe climber stayed with Masnada and in the final straight, he dipped behind and gifted the win.

I'm skeptical that a team fixes its problem of lack of wins by brining in less experienced riders. But what the fuck do I know.

Bora-Argon 18
-Silvio Herklotz
-Gregor Mühlberger
-Lukas Pöstlberger

Bora-Argon 18 is trying their best to recreate the Anschluss by beginning in Berlin by signing Herklotz and taking Austria with the signings of Mühlberger and Pöstlberger.

Herklotz has been one of the most exciting U23 riders to watch when he is healthy. Again, when he is healthy. Herklotz had a normal spring with 3rd in the Istrian Spring Trophy, 5th in the Giro del Belvedere, 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in a tight sprint against solo rider Guillaume Martin and break partner Tao Geoghegan Hart followed by 5th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour overall. After a top 10 in the Grody Tour, Herklotz dropped out of the Bayern Rundfahrt. He came back for a couple races but then proceeded to drop out of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and did not reappear until the final German race of the year, the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, where he was an anonymous 102nd. Herklotz has been prone to illness, especially in the spring where a bout of bronchitis seems to be seasonal with him. While not a threat in the high mountains, Herklotz has the potential to be an Ardennes favorite for the next decade.

Mühlberger is on the cusp of being a potential GC threat but still has some consistency issues to work on. He is certainly a power in hilly one day racing, where he likes to breakaway and go on some death defying mission. He won GP Izola that way as well as the GP Judendorf in this fashion. In terms of his GC threat, he showed this with great aplomb in the Zavod Miru U23, where he accelerated away from the favorites and held this off with style on the slopes of Praded before sealing the win the next day. Oberösterreichrundfahrt? Huge solo win on the final stage to take the overall. In the Tour de l'Avenir, he had two amazing mountains days and one horrible one. He took the leader's jersey on stage 5 after nearly hunting down stage winner Guillaume Martin (probably would have caught him if he wasn't diverted inside the final kilometer) but exploded in stage 6 to lose 10 minutes. He came back for 4th on the final stage to salvage an 11th overall which is under his liking but he got some takeaways from the race. He could go top 10 or 15 in pro stage races this year, if the wheels stay true, but he certainly has some panache.

Pöstlberger is another that lives and dies by the breakaway. He won a stage in the Osterreich Rundfahrt this year by holding off a split peloton to take his first pro win. He won the An Post Ras before that by breaking away on stage one and then taking more time away from those behind him. I don't think he is consistent enuogh to be a GC threat besides the occassion where he would take it out of a breakaway and hold it. He can climb when on form but can't hang with the best of them. He will most likely turn into a strong work horse that is a breakaway threat.

Caja Rural
-Alberto Gallego
-Jonathan Lastra
-Jaime Roson
-Diego Rubio

Aupa! Or whatever. The green-white and gold of Caja Rural are bringing in some more Spanish talent and things are looking...good. Let me explain...

Gallego has been on the Portuguese circuit the last couple of season but this year, he was a GC standout where he was in the top 10 overall five times. His breakout ride was in the Route du Sud, where he finished 7th overall behind Contador, Quintana and Pierre-Roger Latour. Not a pure climber but a strong all-around rider for those Spanish races Caja Rural will get plenty of.

Lastra is a former cyclocross rider that has transitioned to the road but that is still an ongoing project. He was 6th this year in the Volta a Portugal U23 and he is good on punchy courses. He is new to the road, especially in a long season with 50+ race days, so Lastra will be a bit of an unknown.

Something Caja Rural is good at is brining up homegrown talent. Along with Lastra, Roson has been in the development pipe the last couple of seasons. Roson won the Trofeo Lehendakari (think Basque Cup) and nearly took a stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in 2014. This year, he stepped up and won the Spanish U23 RR, won a round of the Copa de Espana, and then went to the USA Pro Challenge and finished 12th overall. Impressive climber that could show himself in some smaller Spanish races as well as the USA, if Caja Rural comes over again.

Thanks to a dearth of Spanish professional teams, Diego Rubio was forced to Portugal to ride with Efapel and do his best to seek his a way out. Rubio won the Portugal Cup this year after winning the first round and was 2nd overall in the Vuelta a Madrid. Bit of a rouleur but will be most likely breakaway fodder.

CCC Polsat
-Alan Banaszek
-Felix Großschartner

Banaszek is coming straight out of the junior ranks because a) he is Polish and b) he had a hell of a ride in the European Championships. He made the breakaway and proceeded to tear legs off. He more or less led the sprint out from a kilometer out and held off the only real challenger, Stan Dewulf. Will most likely need time to develop but perhaps he can replicate the performance down the road. Next year will just be about hanging on for dear life.

Grossschartner is the only pro cyclist with three consecutive s in his name. He also is a bit of an opportunist. He is a good climber but doesn't necessarily have the stuff to go for GC wins but rather sitting well in the top 10. He gets into good breakaways and comes out on top sometimes. Example being the Trofeo Piva this year, where he and Artem Nych got away and the Austrian proceeded to drop Nych and take the win just ahead of a hard charging sprint. He won the Osterreich Rundfahrt KOM thanks to a few breakaway opportunities and taking advantage of a field not filled with super climbers, he won the 2nd stage of the Giro della Regioni. He will be useful in difficult stages to set up a climber like Jan Hirt and if the team needs it, a presence in the breakaway.

Cofidis
-Rayanne Bouhanni
-Hugo Hofstetter
-Anthony Perez

The pair that are joining Cofidis were both stagiaire with the team last summer. One is a brother to a current team member and the other is a much-tattooed rider with a penchant for sprints.

Bouhanni is the brother of rough and tumble Nacer Bouhanni, who took 11 wins this year. One would be mistaken to think that Rayane is the same rider as Nacer. Okay, it isn't that drastic. Rayane does have a little sprint on him but he doesn't climb like a stone. As a junior, he won the French Junior RR Championship in a two-up sprint, the Tour de l'Abitibi in Canada and was 2nd overall in the Zavod Miru Junior to Magnus Bak Klaris. This year, he rode with AWT-Greenway and it was...a long year. A lot of DNFs but some good top 10s in regional French races including the Paris-Arras Tour and some time in breakaways.

Personally, it is too early for Bouhanni to go pro and he would benefit from another year developing but what do I know, I just write about these guys.

From the extreme east of France from the Sundgau territory in the Alsace region, Hugo Hofstetter could joined the sprint train for Cofidis straight away. Known as a joker that even live tweeted and took a selfie during the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia last year, Hofstetter didn't even have a coach until he was 18, when someone Cofidis took over the coaching duties at his club in Altkirch. He was slowly introduced to the Cofidis staff. In 2014, he took 14 top five places and had a nice 6th place in the Paris-Tours Espoirs. This year, his season got off to a slow start due to a professional internship but got heated up later in the spring and was capitalized by a 3rd place in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, where he was 2nd in the sprint behind a solo Lukas Spengler. The Alsatian was on super form for the European Championships in Tartu but coming into the finale, a touch of wheels saw Hofstetter break three spokes and knocked him out of contention. His frustrations were translated into the French U23 RR Championsips, where he attacked inside the final kilometer and won in solo fashion.

If he continues the upward trajectory, he could work into the rotation with Jonas Ahlstrand & Geoffrey Soupe for Bouhanni while getting a chance or two for himself in some smaller French races.

Perez (right) stealing a win from a celebrating Romain Campistrous
A late announcement was made with Anthony Perez joining the team. Perez, who comes from AVC Aix-en-Provence, had an emerging year after winning the Circuit de Sâone-et-Loire overall as well as the final stage, which was his major goal for the season. He was also on the podium of two Coupe de France one day races, 3rd on two stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie, and a handful of regional wins. Perez isn't a pure climber by any means but works best from small groups and from breakaways. He can climb pretty well and can also sprint a bit. He credits his surge in results to actually using a power meter (he was sans power before this past year) and honing his training so that he wasn't wasting time plodding about the countryside. I can see him being a large part of Cofidis' team that rides on the French continental circuit.

CULT Energy-Stölting
-Lennard Kämna
-Thomas Koep
-Sven Reutter
-Jonas Tenbrock
-Alexander Kamp

With the merger of the top Danish team CULT Energy and the development focused Stolting, the team it trying to set itself up with some riders that will be valuable in the long run.

Lennard Kämna is one of the brightest German talents to emerge since...dare I say, Ullrich? The young rider from Wedel, which is outside of Hamburg, grew up in the RSC Cottbus team, which is on the opposite end of the country. A side note on RSC Cottbus because they are one of the most storied clubs in Germany. Since 1990, they have seen Olaf Pollack, Danilo Hondo, Heinrich Haussler and Nikias Arndt among a slew of others track cyclists. Kämna's talent as a time trialist was evident by his torrid 2014 season where he blew out Adrien Costa in the Junior Men's TT. His maiden U23 year was slower but in May, he finished 13th overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt. This was followed up by a 6th in the Zavod Miru Nations Cup, which highlighted his climbing abilities against more experienced competition. He beat out Katusha-bound Nils Politt for the U23 TT title before winning a superb solo victory in Valle d'Aosta after attacking his breakaway mates. His shining moment was Richmond Worlds, where Kämna overcame bad conditions in the TT to manage a 3rd place and then went 10th in the road race. He will most likely ride a lot of U23 races mixed with pro events but it will be hard to miss his talent.

The other Germans joining him from Stölting are...okay. Koep is older and a good worker. Reutter showed some good climbing skills this year but is very young; he will need time to develop and see if he can work on his time trial skills that saw him breakout as a junior. Tenbrock is a developing classic rider that was 13th in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs and has had some other good one-day results.

The other "big" signing is Alexander Kamp, the Danish talent that was incredible as a junior but a bit mercurial at times in his U23 years. After some promising results but losing out on most of his 2014 due to the horrible management at Christina Watches, he got it mojo back after winning a couple of Danish one-days and showed his sprinting and classics chops in Danish and some other European races. He was 3rd on the queen stage of the Tour of Denmark and ended up 9th overall. Kamp then made his presence known again in Richmond, when he survived the carnage to place 5th in the U23 RR. Classics potential. Sprint potential. Keep him in check and CULT-Stölting could have a nice (and cheap) pick up here.

Drapac
-Brendan Canty
-Jason Lowndes
-Gavin Mannion
-Tom Scully

They come from a land Down Under. Drapac is going through a bit of a transitional phase as they are cutting many of the riders that they brought up through the continental ranks and trying to compete for bigger races.

Canty was a stagiaire with the team in 2014 and with Budget Forklifts this year, he was 7th in the Herald Sun Tour and 11th overall in both the GP de Saguenay and Tour de Beauce, the latter of which where he won the TT. This isn't over the moon by any means but Canty has had a metoric rise with just two years of high level racing under his belt now. He capped off his season with 13th in the Abu Dhabi Tour while riding with Drapac, which was by far the team's best finish.

A former MTB rider, Lowndes rode in North America this year with the Garneau-Quebecor outfit. He showed some promise as a sprinter with wins in the Sea Otter Classic and a stage of the Tour of Delta. Probably going to need some work getting the endurance up to make an impact.

Tom "Scud Missle" Scully has been toiling around British continental teams the past few years and splitting time between the road and track. He is world class on the track with silver medal in the 2014 Worlds Points Race. While he has gone away from the track a bit, he has been riding a lot of criteriums in England and winning a few. He could be an asset in harder one-day races as Scully seems to enjoy races such as the Tour de Normandie, where he was 3rd overall this year.

After staying on the continental level for a couple seasons after finishing top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir, Mannion is finally getting his shot with a professional outfit. Mannion has continued to develop as a stage racing talent with 2nd in the Redlands Classic, 3rd in the Tour of the Gila & Cascase Classic and 4th in the USA Pro Challenge as evidence from just this year alone. For some unbeknownst reason, bigger teams haven't touched him until now but Drapac will be doing a happy dance if Mannion continues on this upward trajectory.

Fortuneo-Vital Concept
-Franck Bonnamour

The solo neo-pro joining the team formerly known as the Bretagne-Séché Environment has been courted by the team for years now. The European Junior Champion in 2013, Bonnamour has been sticking home in Bretagne and building slowly. This year, he took three wins including the Coupe de France Prix Gilbert Bousquet, which he won in a solo move. He was 5th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, where he was in the 1st chase group behind the winning group. As a stagiaire this year, his best result came at the GP Wallonie, where he survived the inevitable attrition up the Citadel  de Namur and ended up 8th. He is green but he has a huge upside.
Fun Fact: Bonnamour is joining World U23 TT Champion Kevin Ledanois on the team next year. Their fathers, Yves Bonnamour and Yvon Ledanois, were teammates for two years on Super U and Castorama in 1989 and 1990.

Roompot
-Antwan Tolhoek

The rise for Antwan Tolhoek from amateur to pro was very rapid. Tolhoek spent less than a full year with a continental team, Rabobank Continental, before getting a stagiaire place on Tinkoff and then signing a deal with Roompot. Originally, Tolhoek was a marathon speed skater before switching over to cycling. His father, Patrick, also rode for Superconfex and Buckler and took part in two Tours de France.

He was with the Dutch De Jonge Renner team in 2014 but results were fairly slim. He got picked up by Rabobank Continental this year and was top 20 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and won the KOM in the Tour de Bretagne.

It was announced he would be joining Tinkoff-Saxo as a stagiaire after having a successful training camp with the team in Livigno in July. He hit it off very quickly at the Tour of Norway, where he finished 6th on the final stage and ended up 12th overall, which was the team's highest finisher. He got through the Tour of Britain and some other one day races pretty well but some other ones, not so much. So...fingers crossed? Obviously he impressed Tinkoff but it is translating it onto the road consistently that will be the issue.

UnitedHealthcare
-Dan Eaton
-Daniel Jaramillo
-Ty Magner

The American team that spans back over a decade now is downsizing from their 2015 roster with noticeably less Italians and less big names. While the team is losing the likes of Kiel Reijnen and Alessandro Bazzana, they are brining on some young talent that has already turned more than a few heads.

Eaton comes from Axeon Cycling, where he raced his first full season on the continental level. Splitting time with the national team, Eaton was top 20 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and finished solidly in California. Known as "Swole" to his teammates, Eaton won the U23 National TT this year by 42 seconds on LottoNL-Jumbo signing Alexey Vermeulen. Eaton then exceeded expectations at Worlds when he finished 10th in the TT, less than 10 seconds out of 4th place.  He has GC potential in flatter stage races so whenever UHC goes on a Belgian excursion or if Tour of Alberta is still around next year, Eaton could be an outside GC favorite.

Magner has been spent about the last decade with the Hincapie team...okay, it has only been 4 years. The Georgia native has been transitioning from a criterium sprinter to taking on harder one-day races like the Winston Salem Classic, where he was 5th this year. Magner will need to string together a full season as he has been up and down in his time with Hincapie.

Jaramillo is a previous winner of the Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia (2011) and also 2nd place in the race (2013) before hopping over to America with Jamis. In his first season in America, he won the two hardest stages of the Tour of the Gila and went to finish 5th overall. He was top 20 in the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge of the American state of Colorado. He came into the season hot by finishing top 10 in the Tour de San Luis, finishing 2nd in the Colombian National RR and 2nd overall in the Tour of the Gila. Jaramillo has a quieter end to the season but did finish 5th in Philly Classic. He has a huge upside but seems to be a bit mercurial in terms of bringing in results. If UHC treats him right and adds him to the climbers in Busche and Brajkovic, he could blossom.

Wanty Groupe Gobert
-Antoine Demoitie
-Guillaume Martin
-Robin Stenuit

A good little group of riders here that are undervalued by some. Mark McNally will also be considered to be a neo-pro by some since he spent the last half decade with AnPost-Sean Kelly and most recently with Madison-Genesis, where he was 3rd in GP Jef Scherens, which is right in WGG's wheelhouse. While he is a bit too old for this post, he should have a few opportunities for next year.

Demoitie has been one of the best sprinters on the continental circuit the past two seasons that seems to gravitate towards places 3rd through 8th. He has had 23 top 8 finishes over the past two seasons with two wins. The question here is if he will progress past being bunch sprint filler and start fighting for wins. He is a tough sprinter and does well out of breakaways and more selective courses so there is some room to grow as WGG gets bigger invites.

Robin Stenuit was one of the only stagiaires, with Fernando Gaviria being the only other to my knowledge, to win with his team. Stenuit blossomed this year following a move to Veranclassics-Ekoi after an extended time with Wallonie-Bruxelles. The Walloon won six races through June, including UCI wins in the GP Nogent-sur-Oise & Memorial Van Coningsloo, both of which were in small bunch sprints. Stenuit got a ride with WGG and after a month of toiling through some bigger races, he got his chance at the revamped Schaal Sels, which featured sections through polders and corn fields. Stenuit got away with Topsport Vlaanderen's Oliver Naesen and out sprinted him for the win. He is a bit like Demoitie in that he can gravitate towards 4th-10th places but perhaps he has that kick for the win Demoitie lacks? Splitting hairs, I know.

The final neo-pro is Guillaume Martin, who erupted this year for a win in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, a huge breakaway win in the Tour de l'Avenir and high GC showings in races such as the Ronde de l'Isard and Tour de l'Ain. He just seems a bit...out of place. Martin has stagiaire roles with Sojasun and FDJ so getting stuck with a team such as WGG seems like Martin had to settle a bit. While he will get a lot of starts in the Ardennes and other hillier races, his heart lies in the mountains and with a team like this, he will most likely be found lacking. A one-year stay could be possible if he gets a few good results in bigger races and he finds a team with a schedule that is more suited to him.

2 comments:

  1. Great article. This and the others on wt neopros are the best ones of the whole offseason. Thx a lot

    ReplyDelete