Thursday, January 7, 2016

Team Preview: Axeon Hagens Berman

There is something a little...disheartening when the top US development team absorbs two other development teams and leaves a huge amount of people left out of rides and management spots. I like the set-up that Axeon Hagens Berman has developed over the last half decade. It's healthy. Whatever you may think about dopers being involved with development, which is something I have been rather vocal about, Axel Merckx has created a sustainable system that seems to be, more or less, squeaky clean.
The team has come a long was since its first iteration in 2009. Taylor Phinney was the headline name but the team also include current World Tour riders Ben King, Jesse Sergent and Sam Bewley as well as other strong riders like Julian Kyer and Bjorn Selander. The team developed and brought on even more talent as the years went on. Joe Dombrowski, Nate Brown, Alex Dowsett, George Bennett, Ian Boswell, Lawson Craddock, Carter Jones, Gavin Mannion, Jasper De Buyst, James Oram, Jasper Stuyven, Antoine Duchesne, Tanner Putt, Clément Chevrier and Ruben Zepuntke. That is an incredible list and is really just riders that have graduated to the World Tour/Pro Continental ranks and is not including riders from last year's team. It wasn't all sunshine and roses as there were many that didn't work out but that is a list of 20 riders over that are in the pro ranks.

The 2015 squad had a good season with a fairly young team with 5 UCI wins and won three national championships. Logan Owen showed himself in bunch sprints including a win in the Tour of Utah, Tao Geoghegan Hart finished 3rd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Greg Daniel showed everyone that he is a diesel truck in disguise. The team had a European foray early on but then stuck to North American soil for the majority of the season. The budget isn't unlimited so if others want to race more in Europe, they usually get rides with the national team.

The team only has 4 riders departing from the 2015 team with three riders aging out of the program and one moving on. Dan Eaton and James Oram are both moving to Pro Continental set ups with Eaton to UnitedHealthcare and Oram to ONE Pro Cycling. Chris Putt is moving to Jelly Belly while Keegan Swirbul, the Colorado climber, is transferring over to BMC Development to get more exposure in Europe.

8 riders return from last year, well 9 if you include Chad Young, who rode the USA Pro Tour Challenge of the Colorado Front Range with the team after signing after nationals. Along with Young, the others coming back include Will Barta, Geoffrey Curran, Greg Daniel, Ruben Guerreiro, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Phil O'Donnell, Justin Oien and Logan Owen.

Barta was 8th in the Tour de Bretagne but it will be interesting to see if he races more with the team this year as he spent the vast majority of the season in Europe with the national team. Curran and Oien both had the honor of a month and a half racing block that saw them take in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, Trofeo Almar, Tour Alsace, Tour de l'Ain, Tour de l'Avenir and the Tour of Alberta. Georgian Phil O'Donnell was on a similar trend of more national team appearances but was strong at Nationals and in Alberta.

As said before, Daniel is basically an autobot and can swing at the sky, mainly from breakaways, when he is on form as he has nearly taken stage wins in all of the major American stage races. Geoghegan doesn't need much introduction as he is basically ready to go professional but he could make strides to improve in stage race overalls while trying to continue to be a one-day force. Guerreiro has the tools to be a great GC rider but always seems to be just a little bit off. He put it together early in his home GP Liberty Seguros but it would be good for him, in his final U23 year, to get a high GC finish.

Since Logan Owen is pretty damn good at cyclocross, he can't be faulted for being a being a bit flat at the beginning part of the road season. Once he gets going though, he is a fine sprinter that can win on tough courses. Mainly, this year could be used on getting more experience to surf field sprints and get some more one-day racing in such as his preferred Paris-Roubaix and more in Europe. Schedule is TBD, that is a bit open-ended at this point.

With the team expanding to 16, there are 7 new riders coming into the fold. Two juniors in Jonny Brown and Adrien Costa are coming in while Eddie Dunbar (NFTO), Colin Joyce (Cal Giant), Krists Neilands (Rietumu-Delfin), Neilson Powless (Cal Giant) and Tyler Williams (BMC Development) complete the roster.

I don't think Adrien Costa needs much of an introduction but he is probably the biggest American talent since...Van Garderen? It is a good question because I could go on for a while about Costa and how he could be a once-in-a-generation talent. He is a talented time trialist but his heart lies in climbing. Costa danced away from most juniors and I can see him doing it again in the U23 ranks. If he keeps on his current track, GC glory lies in his near future.

The other junior signing, Jonny Brown, is the younger brother of former alumn Nate Brown and won the US National Junior RR the last two years running.

Ireland has been a small gold mine for talent in recent years and Eddie Dunbar is the latest one. A strong time trial rider, Dunbar was a gem as a junior where he won the Trofeo Karlsberg (technically 2nd but winner was popped for doping). This year with NFTO, he didn't get a ton of racing but was 2nd in the Elite Irish Championships in both the TT and RR, 9th in the European TT and made it through the Tour of Britain.

After countrymen Toms Skujins and Andzs Flaksis have hit gold in America, Latvian Krists Neilands signed with ABH. He has seen success in harder road races that end up in sprints. He can mix it up in bunch sprints and get into breakaways and go for a KOM jersey. Krists is strong like ox that is fueled with Latvian potato.

Coming from Cal Giant are Colin Joyce and Neilson Powless. Joyce was a mainstay on the national team where he was the most consistent rider after going 7th in the La Cote Picarde Nations Cup, 3rd overall in the GP Liberty Seguros and top ten finishes over Europe. He has a good sprint but does well on harder races that have uphill finishes or hard sprints. Powless rode mainly with the national team in Europe and did pretty well by making it through the races and was top 20 in the Tour de Namur.

Last but not least is BMC Development transfer Tyler Williams is coming on board after an up and down year last season. He will be looking to get back on the form that saw him go 2nd in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 2014.


While the team looks stronger than ever, it is unclear if the team is going to be heading to Europe more than they did in previous years. So even though they have a bolstered roster, it could mean waiting until April before some riders get their first racing days for the year instead of cutting their teeth on the small, tight roads of Europe. While many will be with the national team during the year, the team should still target big results including Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Paris-Roubaix and the big American tours.

Prediction: 8 UCI wins (14 wins total)

1 comment:

  1. "There is something a little...disheartening when the top US development team absorbs two other development teams and leaves a huge amount of people left out of rides and management spots." -- the thing that has been spoken a lot privately. Glad to see you say it in print