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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Neo-Pros 2016: The Pro Continental Lowdown, Pt. 2

So I do not spend sleepless nights having convoluted dreams of being in a breakaway with a Moroccan, Estonian and a Taiwanese rider, I'm going to try something new and give a brief overview of these neo-pro riders instead of effusive paragraphs. By brief, I mean two sentences or less for each rider. Long winded-ness doesn't get you the attention of magazines. Or maybe EC will go Buzzfeed and do this in listical form. Or perhaps I'll ride my bike off a cliff. Onward.

Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM
-Asbjørn Kragh Andersen
-Mikel Aristi
-Romain Combaud
-Frederik Galta
-Martin Laas
-Quentin Pacher

The multi-cultural squad is losing a distinct amount of its French identity and be split 50% French/foreign for the upcoming season. If you connect with its VC La Pomme feeder team days, they have a strong connection bringing in foreign talents that thrive (think Ramunas Navardauskas) so this isn't necessarily stupid.

Asbjorn is the older of the Kragh Andersen brothers and is the better sprinter of the two, however he can survive splits in windy races with small hills. He has already been knipping at the heels of big sprinters so he could bring DMPKTM a much needed win early on.

Rising from the ashes of Euskadi, Aristi had a huge year domestically with 8 wins and another handful of podium places. Aristi can climb fairly well for a sprinter and growing pains aside, he should slot in well to the hardman, sprinty types at DMPKTM.

After a strong year with Armee de Terre where he had 8 top 20 places in French 1.1 races and 21st in Paris-Tours, Combaud is brimming for a win in a French one-day race this upcoming season. He gets into the deciding breakaways quite well, which DMPKTM will need with their step up.

A Norwegian on a French team isn't a new thing and Galta, being the rouleur he is that can thrive on flat to rolling terrain, should be at home in many of the French races. Galta was 4th overall in the Tour of Norway and won two consecutive split stages in the Kreiz Breizh Elites, one out of a breakaway and one in a sprint.

Coming from Pro Immo Roux, Laas is a bit of a sprinter but not pure by any means. He can get up in a bunch sprint but won't win by 5 bike lengths; he is one that needs to find a small group and then go from there.

Another Army recruit for DMPKTM is Pacher but he is a bit more...eh? I'm struggling to find words to describe his riding because he is good at a lot but not great at anything. Chalk him up as a rouleur...job done.

Direct Energie
-Lilian Calmejane
-Romain Cardis
-Jeremy Cornu
-Fabien Grellier

This team is...a bit up in the air at this point. Money troubles are the norm with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, who seemingly has a yearly battle with the budget.

All four of these signings come from Direct Energie's feeder team, Vendee U. These guys aren't afraid to get into a crosswind and make people wish that they would crash into the ditch next to the road.

Calmejane won what was probably my favorite stage of a race ever in 2014 when he won the 2nd stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in the sleet and snow up to Bagneres du Luchon ahead of a motoring Louis Vervaeke. While he isn't at home in the high mountains, he loves a rolling to hilly course & he is never afraid to attack, which will be needed with his new team looking for attention.

Cardis was a machine this year in terms of getting on the podium (9 wins and 22 podiums overall) and was Vendee U's best sprinter. Cardis did well in amateur French races but on the UCI level, Cardis was a bit flaky so it will be interesting to see if he will be a bit more consistent.

Cornu is another rouleur but he seems a bit anonymous? Good rider that can do hard work but perhaps destined for the role of the yeoman in the pro ranks.

Grellier is a puncheur that does well in one-day events from cobbles (8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen) and hills (top 20 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege). He won 5 times in 2015 and will most likely be seeking breakaways this year and perhaps getting a top 10 or two in a French 1.1.


ONE Pro Cycling
-Tom Baylis
-George Harper
-Joshua Hunt
-Samuel Williams
-Hayden McCormick
-James Oram
-Dion Smith

New Zealand's golden trio join a British team that are moving up with some homegrown talent.

After an extended stay in America with Hincapie, Smith straddles the line between sprinter and overall GC talent by being able to survive some mountains, hit a time trial and play into the GC in races such as the Tour de Beauce (3rd), Joe Martin (4th) and Tour of Alberta (5th). He hasn't raced in Europe much over the past two years so there will be an adjustment period to get used to the significant change of racing style.

Oram is the same year as Smith (1993) but he will be facing a crossroads in the coming years in that is he a GC rider or just a time trial specialist? He shows glimpses of brilliance including an opening win on an uphill finish to Castelo de Vide in the Volta ao Alentejo and was 6th in the World U23 TT Championship but he isn't getting huge results every other week. He needs to find himself in his neo-pro days and build off of that.

The final of the trio of Kiwis is McCormick, who unlike the other two has been keeping himself in Europe with Lotto-Soudal U23. His racing days were a bit limited this past year but he was 10th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, so he isn't a hack.

And then we get to the British riders...

Sam Williams has only gotten results in criteriums and past that, there isn't much to go on. George Harper? No, I'm sorry, I don't think this level is going to suit you. Baylis seems to have some talent behind him as he was 4th in the British U23 TT but he was only a first year this year and one needs to have special talent to survive on the Pro Continental level at age 20. Josh Hunt is the half-brother of journeyman pro Jez Hunt and has showed glimpses of being a strongman but on the British schedule, it hasn't been that easy.

I hope that these riders are not ditched after one season but I think that ONE Pro Cycling is going to be in for a rude awakening in 2016. They are going to have to rely heavily on riders like Steele Von Hoff, Marcin Bialoblocki and Matt Goss to get through this year relatively intact.

Roth-Skoda
-Lukas Jaun
-Dylan Page
-Colin Stüssi
-Roland Thalmann
-Giacomo Tomio
-Valentin Baillifard
-Dimitri Bussard
-Marco D'Urbano
-Lucas Gaday
-Frank Pasche
-Nicola Toffali

Seriously...do I really have to do this? That is 11 riders out of 24 for the team that are neo-pros this year. This team is going to be a shit show unless a select few riders get the majority of results. I hope the team management weren't expecting 20 wins this year.

Jaun is a bit of a sprinter that got a handful of top 10s this season but will most likely be thrown into the sprint train.

I talked up Page earlier this year with his sprinter ability and he did...alright. The young Swiss rider probably saw his best result in the 1.1 ranked Tour de Vendee, where he sprinted to 8th.

Stüssi had a relatively quiet year besides the Giro della Regioni, where he finished 3rd overall thanks to some a breakaway in stage 1 and consistent climbing thereafter. Not much to go on after that so he is going to really have to step it up.

Thalmann...does he deserve to be at this level? That is questionable but he was 8th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia so he will needed to build off that. A lot. Same thing with Tomio.

Coming from BMC Development, Swiss Baillifard had a huge ride on the final stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie to take 3rd place on the summit finish at Valmeinier. Good climber but needs to work on his consistency.

Other than his 2nd place in the late season Tour of New Caledonia, Bussard hasn't done much of anything so yeah.

D'Urbano won the 2nd stage of the Rhône Alpes Isere after getting into a breakaway of 5 and outsprinting Jerome Mainard. He doesn't have a specialty and tries to get something wherever he can so he will be thrust into the breakaway as frequently as possible as this team will need it.

Probably their most talented signing, Gaday was somewhat inconsistent this year but has moments of sheer brilliance including his upset of Simone Consonni in the GP Liberazione and 8th in the tough Richmond U23 RR with a depleted Argentinian team. If properly nurtured and not pressured for results, Gaday could be a gold mine for Roth-Skoda.

While Pasche isn't a half bad sprinter on the road, his main focus has been on the track with the team pursuit squad, which has been turning in some wicked fast times including a 3:57 in the European Championships. Pasche will most likely be focused on a Rio qualification so his road time and endurance might be limited but he could surprise for a result in a continental race.

In his first season out of the U23s, Toffali didn't mess around and took 6 wins, mainly in breakaways, including a three-up Zalf-Euromobil win in the opening Coppa San Bernardino and a solo win in the Piccolo Giro dell'Emilia. Toffali has not raced much on the UCI level so I would be wary on backing him until he proves himself.

Gazprom
-Aleksey Rybalkin
-Evgeny Shalunov
-Kirill Sveshnikov

Russian climber...Russian puncheur...and a Russian doper. Sounds like a party.

After a podium finish in the Tour de l'Avenir, Rybalkin took a bit of a step back this year in a way by going 12th in the French race but he did finish 16th in the Volta a Portugal. A strong climber on his best day but like so many Russian riders, he is inconsistent.

At one point, Shalunov was a stagiaire with Radioshack but has stuck with Alexander Kuznetsov's Lokosphinx the last 4 years and have struck gold in the past couple of seasons in hillier racers including wins in the GP Liberazione and Trofeo Matteotti. When he in on form, Shalunov is a weapon in hillier races with sprints and even breakaways but he will be on another level this year and unable to take easy scalps.

Kirill Sveshnikov got off easy for doping and never served a proper suspension. He had shit for results this past year so perhaps karma does happen and doesn't even warrant a preview on here.

Southeast (or Tharcor or whatever)
-Julen Amezqueta
-Matteo Draperi
-Gilbert Ducournau
-Daniel Felipe Martinez
-Cristian Rodriguez
-Mirko Trosino

Oh Southeast, you somehow keep on surviving. You use a shell company in Britain to dodge Italian taxes. You have multiple riders go positive through your existence and yet, you still grace us with your oily presence.

The Colombian Martinez is the best pickup here as he is brimming with talent in the mountains but being just 20 in April of this coming year, he will still be coming into his own. What Martinez will need is race days to continue his development.

Spaniards Amezqueta and Rodriguez join the team after being stagiaires last year. Amezqueta won the Volta a Portugal do Futuro after a solo win on the queen stage. He is a rider for the hills and not the mountains where he prefers to use his strength to win out of breakaways. Rodriguez is a future GC talent in the rough as he did wonders with Caja Rural's amateur team with a win in the Vuelta a Leon thanks to a solo mountain stage win. He isn't half bad in a time trial but he seems to be on the wrong team if he wants future GC stardom.

Does Draperi know a sponsor? Because he is...alright. Pro Continental level? Hell no.

I ask the same question about Ducournau because in terms of results, I see next to nothing for him besides some results racing in America. Unfortunately, he does not deserve a place on a professional roster.

Trosino is a good one-day racer that has some nice results in Italy but on the amateur level. He will need to step up his level to compete on the professional level but could see himself make a few appearances.

Topsport Vlaanderen
-Aime De Gendt
-Maxime Farazijn
-Ruben Pols
-Dries Van Gestel
-Kenneth Van Rooy

Basically the best Belgian talent that didn't get picked up by a World Tour team. Every year, they are reloaded with new talent while those exiting (usually) go up to the World Tour or down to the continental level/retire.

De Gendt is a strong rouleur that won three overall classifications this year (Tour du Moselle, Triptyque Ardennais and Tour du Piemont Vosgien) thanks to some strong time trial work and getting into some decisive breakaways. 3rd in the national U23 TT, he should be a rider that focuses on short stage races and time trials.

Just like his daddy Peter, Maxime Farazijn has a penchant for the classics and will be looking to get into the Topsport classics squad this upcoming season for some reps. He was top 5 in both Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours, 6th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and won a sprint stage of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux just this year alone and seems to be an interesting prospect, as long as he doesn't do what some Topsport riders have done in the past and hit a lull in results.

The same ilk as former Topsport rider Victor Campenaerts, Ruben Pols is a time trial specialist that fell a bit flat at Worlds and is a bit spotty at times in the discipline but does have some talent against the watch. He isn't bad in road racing either if he builds well, he could be another that focuses on shorter stage races.

The last two riders, Van Gestel and Van Rooy, both were stagiaires with Lotto-Soudal this past year. Van Rooy had a great first half of the season with consistency all over including 20 top 10s mostly in sprints and classics with 4th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the European Championships being his top results. While he was sidelined with bacterial infection after dropping out of the Tour de l'Avenir, Van Rooy could had instant results in one-day races (he was 7th in the RideLondon Classic) and stages in races like 4 Jours de Dunkerque. On the other hand, Van Gestel has a penchant for getting into breakaways and came away with some strong results including a stage win in the Carpathian Couriers Tour and 3rd overall, 2nd place in stages of the Ronde de l'Isard & Tour de l'Avenir along with 4th in Paris-Tours Espoirs. He can do a bit of everything and could be Topsport's saving grace in some lumpy races in France and Italy.

That wraps up the Neo-Pro Lowdown for 2016 so I now have time to actually cover the news that is going on.

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