Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Best U23 Riders for 2018 (through early May)

Top U23s through (the real) Labor Day

Robert Stannard (Mitchelton-Scott)

After having some nice successes as a first year last year, Stannard was looking like a future classics stud after going 2nd in the Trofeo PIVA, winning the Giro del Belvedere and then going 3rd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen (his teammate James Whelan took the win). Stannard continued through to the Tour de Bretagne, where he was able to take a brilliant stage win on the final stage in Dinan after missing out on stage 4. He should certainly be back for the Baby Giro, where he will likely be an outside favorite for the overall plus a heavy favorite for a stage win. 

Max Kanter (Sunweb Development)

Max Kanter's year so far has been filled with near misses. He was 6th in the Trofej Umag including 4th in the bunch sprint. In the Kattekoers Nations Cup, Kanter and the peloton caught the breakaway as they were hitting the line. Kanter ended up 8th, which was the best from the peloton. 

Okay so a little annoying since he is fast but just not quite had the luck yet. Then comes the Ronde van Vlaanderen, where Kanter won the bunch sprint...for 2nd. Australian James Whelan took the win solo while Kanter took the scraps.

This continued on the next weekend at the ZLM Tour, where Kanter took 3rd in the bunch gallop behind Matteo Moschetti and Sasha Weemaes. This isn't mentioning his 5th and 2nd places on the opening stages of the Tour de Bretagne.
Outside of his German U23 RR Championship last year, Kanter hasn't won a UCI race as a U23. He definitely has the talent to get through a tough day on the bike and then sprint for a win but one thing he needs to do is JUST WIN BABY. I hard can it be?

Sean Bennett (Hagens Berman Axeon)

America always seems to be in search of the next big rider and grasping at anyone that shows themselves, especially in stage races. Every now and then, you see we have a rider that starts riding well in Europe in both stage races and one-day races, which usually gets people going. It can be said that Sean Bennett's year might be the most underrated of all of the riders included on this list.

First off, he wasn't even on the juggernaut of US development cycling before the year started. After hopping from Hagens Berman amateur team to An Post Sean Kelly to Jelly Belly, Bennett was originally down for CCB-Sicleri, Bennett got the opportunity to ride for Hagens Berman-Axeon after the shooting star-esque career of Adrien Costa came to a halt. While he was on Axel Merckx's radar, Neilson Powless' recommendation after last year's Tour de l'Avenir sealed the deal.

Riding for the USA National Team, Bennett started his year by going 8th in the Istrian Spring Trophy, which got Espoirs Central's attention. After riding the Driedaagse De Panne quite well support Jasper Philipsen, Bennett proceeded to go on a run of strong rides in the next two weeks including 7th in the Kattekoers Nations Cup (made the breakaway), 13th in Trofeo PIVA (front group in bunch sprint), 11th in the Giro del Belvedere (first chase group) and then 7th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (6th in bunch sprint for 2nd). Okay so a solid spring campaign and easily his best rides to date.

Oh wait, time to fly back to the US for some stage races. In the Tour of the Gila, Bennett was climbing well and following his 10th place in the TT, he was setting himself up for a nice overall result. On the Gila Monster stage, which is hands down one of the hardest race days in the US every year, Bennett was 7th on the stage and ended up 8th overall, which was the best U23. Could it get better? Bennett is currently at Redlands with his Hagens Berman-Axeon and on the first stage with the hill top finish at Oak Glen, guess who was 3rd place behind his winning teammate Tom Revard? Bennett. He ended up hanging on for 3rd overall in Redlands, which underline

From cobbles to mountain climbs, this guy can seemingly do a bit on just about any terrain. Obviously if you are a talent, you can show on nearly any course but it is certainly fun to watch.

Jasper Philipsen (Hagens Berman Axeon)

It is very rare when a 2nd year U23 is ready for the professional ranks but Jasper Philipsen seems like one of those gems. Last year as a first year, we won Paris-Tours U23, won Triptyque Monts et Chateaux overall plus stages in the Tour Alsace, the Baby Giro and the Olympia's Tour. This isn't even taking into account his 2nd places in the ZLM Tour, Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 along with top 5 places all over the place.

Philipsen could get some press since he is from Mol, which is also the hometown of Tom Boonen, but Philipsen isn't a carbon copy of Tommeke. A stronger time trialist than Boonen ever was plus he can sprint like a younger Tommeke. He doesn't have the physical presence of Boonen so how that will affect him as a classics specialist remains to be seen.

This year, Philipsen is just trying to blow the Belgian public's expectations sky high. After a few races, Philipsen made the splits at the ironically titled Driedaagse De Panne one-day race and ended up in 3rd place behind Viviani and Ackermann. The dude just turned 20.

Coming back to defend his Triptyque Monts et Chateaux title, Philipsen proceeded to take the first two stages in a row, both in bunch sprints. He then went to take 4th in the time trial and even had two teammates in the top 4 overall with Stan DeWulf sandwiched in there in 2nd overall. The final stage, which is probably one of the hardest in the races history, saw DeWulf trying anything to get some time on Hagens Berman Axeon and while he got the stage, Philipsen won the overall.

While Philipsen was a bit off in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, he seems to have come back to some form by winning this weekend's Trofee Maarten Wynants.

Matteo Moschetti (Polarctec-Kometa)

My feelings on Moschetti have been well documented. I do not think he is the next messiah. Yes, he can sprint well but do I think he is the next coming of Cipollini? No. That being said, he does have a fast sprint. He is the winningest U23 on the calendar so far with 7 wins including the ZLM Tour Nations Cup along with two wins at the Tour de Normandie. He tailed off a little bit at the Tour de Bretagne with a couple of top 5s but ended up DNFing the final stage.

I'm assuming he will take a bit of a break now until the Baby Giro most likely. He already has a two-year contract with Trek-Segafredo so anything he does for the rest of the year is bonus.

Tadej Pogacar (Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum)

Pogacar burst onto the scene last year with some very impressive results as a first-year U23 in stage races, capped by his 5th place in the Tour of Slovenia, where was just 48 seconds behind Rafal Majka. Pogacar also does well in one-day events where he is usually in the main splits and can do really well but never seems to pull off a win.

This year, Pogacar's profile is a bit higher but he is still getting pretty great results though without a breakthrough win including 3rd in the Istrian Spring Trophy, 2nd in Palio del Recioto along with top 15 finishes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Giro del Belvedere.

I don't want to say that he was disappointing in the Tour of Croatia because going 13th overall but after his 5th last year in Slovenia, there were some expecting a little bit more. Granted he lost a lot of time on the massive climb to Sveti Jure, which felt like it was never going to end watching it, but he did bounce back on the other mountain stage, where he got away with Niklas Eg to finish 5th.

Definitely look for him at the Tour of Slovenia but the rest of his summer is up in the air. Slovenia is on the fence for a Tour de l'Avenir bid so if he does get a big there, he will certainly be going for GC but he will also like the hilly course in Innsbruck for the World U23 RR.

Brandon McNulty (Rally Cycling)

Talk about a rider forging his own path. Barely any time with the national team over the past few years and eschewing the usual U23 races so far this year for some desert racing and time in the Iberian peninsula. McNulty, whose time trialing prowess has umpteen pro directors salivating, nearly pulled off an insane win in the Dubai Tour on the climb to Hatta Dam after being caught a mere 50 meters from the line when his legs gave out on the steep ramps. In a race that contained no time trial, his 14th overall has very impressive considering he was surrounded by World Tour talent and it was a boon to Rally Cycling's credibility.

McNulty proceeded to go top 15 in races like GP Miguel Indurain and Klasika Primavera followed by 5th overall in the GP Beiras and then 17th overall in Castille y Leon, where teammate Colin Joyce was 4th overall. While he wasn't burning up the rankings with wins here and there, McNulty's different path could be a guide to some others that don't ride all of the traditional races.

Stan Dewulf (Lotto-Belisol U23)

Kurt van de Wouwer might be a name that very few people outside of the know recognize but the former professional rider has probably eclipsed anything he did riding a bike with what he has done leading Lotto-Soudal U23 over the past few years. From Louis Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot to Bjorg Lambrecht and now the new flavor is Stan Dewulf.

After a quiet start to the season, Dewulf came out blazing in Monts et Chateaux when he won the final two stages on the trot and nearly stole the overall away from Philipsen. He was strong in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (main pack finish after some attacks) and Liege Bastogne Liege U23 (he got trapped with team tactics and had to settle for 6th).

As I wrote in my Tour de Bretagne piece, DeWulf rode a very strong race for 2nd overall but he did make some tactical errors that would have tightened up the GC race even further and possibly take the win. After a slight break from racing, which was only ten days, Dewulf went up to Norway with his teammates where he bagged 3rd in the Ringerike GP.

Andrea Bagioli (Colpack) *Best First Year U23*

The only first year U23 in the top ten, Bagioli hasn't raced a ton but when he has, it has been done very well. Bagioli made the breakaway in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and while he wasn't able to mark winner Joao Almeida but was able to hang on for 2nd place ahead of the hard charging back.

The Colpack rider came back to the Toscana Terre di Ciclismo and put on a masterclass over the three days. Riding off the front or attacking the pack, Bagioli went 5th, 2nd and 1st over the three stage race to win the overall over Aleksandr Vlasov.

The Italian will surely be back for the Baby Giro and probably a few different races between now and then.

Sacha Weemaes (EFC - L&R - Vulsteke)

Probably the biggest surprise on this list (and maybe the most debatable) is the inclusion of Weemaes, the fast man from EFC. Hailing from Sint Niklaas, Weemaes was prolific as a younger rider with provincial (East Flanders) and Belgian Championships on the road and track. As a junior, Weemaes was mainly known for his sprinting prowess but always had a knack for time trialing.

Last year, Weemaes took three wins, all of them in sprints, while he also got a good handful of top 10s in Belgium. After getting into the track team for Belgium, Weemaes was apart of the 2nd place team in the team pursuit in the European Championships and being a part of the squad that got them under the 4 minute barrier for the first time. Weemaes was down for the World Championships in Apeldoorn but went out due to illness.

That track form seemed to come out on the road so far this year as Weemaes has been on absolute fire. He started off with a sprint win at the Handzame Classic, 2nd in the Zuid-Kempense Pijl, 4th in a stage in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux followed by 6th in the TT stage. Two days later, he won the provincial TT Championship. The next week, he won in Evergem and the finished 2nd in the ZLM Tour Nations Cup, where he thought he might have had form to beat Moschetti if he didn't misjudge the finale.

Within three days of each other, Weemaes won the Belgian U23 TT along with the opening TT of the Essor Breton. Even with this success, Weemaes isn't going to be focusing on the time trial and really, his success comes down to his strength in bike handling and being able to put out a boatload of power over a short course.

Sport Vlaanderen were impressed with his beginning of the season so much that he will be starting with the team on July 1st through 2020. 

Keep Watching: Harm Vanhoucke, James Whelan, Tom Wirtgen, Julius van den Berg, Ziga Jerman, Marc Hirschi, Gab Cullaigh, Giovanni Lonardi, Stefan De Bod, Niklas Larsen

(Other) Best First Year U23 Rider: Filip Maciejuk (Leopard Cycling)

I just couldn't resist here. Maciejuk, who was 3rd in the Junior World ITT last year in Bergen, has gotten his season off to a good start in thanks to his time trial ability. The Pole was 6th in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux thanks in part to his TT as well as some decent climbing abilities. While racing for the Polish National Team in the Carpathian Couriers Tour, Maciejuk was able to weather the storm before making the decisive breakaway on the final stage to take the overall win. He should have a pretty good calendar the rest of the year so he is definitely one to keep watching in the time trials and shorter stage races.

Anyways, I will try to keep this an updated as possible but keep an eye out with the Ronde de l'Isard preview along with results from a good amount of .2 races coming next week.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Rasmus Byriel Iversen has been ripping up the italian scene so far this season. He might be worth keeping an eye on.