Wednesday, September 25, 2013

U23 World RR Championship Preview

After Damien Howson put on a time trialling clinic Monday to claim the U23 World TT Championship, the road race beckons and it will turn out to be a very interesting affair. With more climbing than any course since Mendrisio, the course in and around Firenze could be as easy to predict as a round of roulette. A few contenders have emerged but just like the TT showed, if you are just a little bit off form then it is game over.

The Course

Starting in Montecantini Terme, the U23 racers will take a 57 kilometer route, which will follow the TT route once the race passes through Pistoia. Once the race hits the Nelson Mandela Forum, the riders will take on a 16.6 kilometer course 7 times before finishing back in the forum. The laps contain two important climbs in the Fiesole, a 4.4 kilometer climb that averages 5.2%, and the Via Salviati, which is short at just 600 meters but hits grades of nearly 20% at its steepest and over 10% average. For good measure, there is a short section within the last three kilometers that hits 10%.

Videos come from the apt website, so thank you to them. Here is the link to the full course preview.

So now that we have a course that features a Ardennes-like climb followed by a climb that would be appropriate in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, it will take a jack-of-all-trades type rider to come out on top for this race. There are some starting that will love the long climb but won't have the pop to hang with some on the shorter, steeper sections while the sprinters are going to have a hell of a time trying to hang onto wheels when the road tilts upwards.

Who's Who from Argentina to USA

(This is in alphabetical order, by country, and not a top to bottom ranking)

  • While Eduardo Sepulveda put in a strong TT performance Monday for Argentina, I wouldn't put my money on the Bretagne-Séché Environment rider hanging with the climbers in the road race. But lest we forget that just a year ago, Sepulveda was 14th in the Tour de l'Avenir and if his form is as good as his TT suggests then perhaps he could hang around in the finale if the pace is steady and a group is brought to the finish line.
  • Aussie-land brings a lot of talent to the road race but I'm not quite sure who they are backing. Obviously, they have Caleb Ewan, the compact jet engine, and he can handle some climbs but this will be a true test of his climbing ability and I don't think he will be able to hang. The team also has TT Champ Howson and Adam Phelan, both of whom are able climbers. One that I am watching is Etixx-iHNed rider Sam Spokes. Spokes injured his shoulder at Tour de l'Avenir but suffered through and had an impressive 14th at Tour du Doubs, which was contested in an all-out rain storm, and was apart of the Etixx-iHNed team that was in the TTT World Championship.
  • Patrick Konrad will lead the Austrian team and should not be taken lightly by his competitors. While he might not have the name recognition of some, Konrad was 11th last year in Valkenburg and has been top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir two years in a row, this year on the podium in 3rd overall. While I think Konrad can make the final selection, I don't think a win is in the cards because he lacks finishing speed and on the flat finish, he would not be winning a sprint. He will have a strong team with Tour de l'Avenir stage winner Lukas Pöstlberger and Felix Großschartner.
  • Ilya Koshevoy is the only notable on the Belarus roster. He finished in the front group in Valkenburg last year and as the winner of the GP Liberazione, he could produce a top 20 finish.
  • Even with Sean De Bie sitting at home, Belgium has one of the strongest squads in the race with multiple options for the finale. De Bie was one of the backed riders originally but he pulled out last week due to poor form, which is a big move in itself, and Dieter Bouvry was given the spot. In any case, the team is stacked and hopefully they don't blow a big opportunity. The obvious favorite is an on-form Jasper Stuyven, who is suited the climbs on the course and has a finishing kick on him that can rival nearly survivors from the climbs. Another rider I am looking at is Tiesj Benoot. While he is only a first year rider, Benoot had been making waves with his riding in recent weeks by winning the Tour de Moselle and going 17th in the Tour de Wallonie, finishing with guys like van Avermaet, Gilbert and Chavanel. Who finished even higher in that race? Topsport Vlaanderen's Zico Waeytens was 7th at GP Wallonie thanks to a strong effort in the breakaway. Waeytens has his first half of the season wiped out thanks to four different surgeries but will be a valuable domestic. With help from Louis Vervaeke and Edward Theuns, the Belgians will be one of the main threats on Friday.
  • Canada has one in Antoine Duchesne. Top 20 finish will be the goal.
  • I don't know what to think of the Colombia team after their Tour de l'Avenir performance. The majority of the team can climb well but who can fight for a result? Heiner Parra is the best bet as he has been in good form this season. Sebastian Henao, cousin of Sergio and signing for SKY in 2014, has mainly raced in Colombia this year but it'll be interesting to see if he can do anything. No idea if Juan Chamorro is back in form but if he is, the longer climb could provide a launch pad but I don't see him factoring based on his recent results.
  • Czech Republic was dealt a blow when Petr Vakoc pulled out of the event due to illness. Jan Hirt and Karel Hnik will take up the torch but both will need to be on some amazing form to replace Vakoc.
  • The Southern Vikings of Denmark will once again be fielding a strong team with Michael Valgren being one of the main favorites. The double L-B-L U23 winner will be at home on the circuits and will have a strong supporting class in comeback story Marc Garby, Tour de l'Avenir KOM winner Kristian Haugaard and a darkhorse Magnus Cort, who could potentially profit from Valgren's favorite status. Cort has done well on hilly races this year and the flat finish will suit him if it regroups as he has a kick on him. Very interesting to see how the team dynamic plays out.
  • Richard Carapaz is a good climber for Ecuador and one that I neglected to mention in my C post of the U23 ABCs (which will be back post-Worlds). He is the current Pan-American Champion in the U23 RR so he could get a decent result here.
  • Eritrea is not a super strong nation in the U23 ranks when it comes to one-day events but they have an ace up their sleeve in Europcar rider Natnael Berhane. I am not a big fan of pro continental riders being able to ride in the U23 World Championships but then again, I am not in charge. But just because you are a pro continental rider does not mean you are guaranteed a results, see Fabio Felline last year in Valkenburg. Super-climber Merhawi Kudus will also be present for the East African nation along with Tour of Eritrea winner Mekseb Debesay. Kudus could produce a nice result if the climbers really attack on the climbs but he will need a big gap on faster sprinters if he has any dreams of winning.
  • Julian Alaphilippe has a big fat favorite sticker on his ass for this race after he has been following his Tour de l'Avenir performance. Since his queen stage win in l'Avenir, Alaphilippe went 2nd in the Tour de Moselle by 1 second to Benoot and appears to be on some ripping form for Friday. He has a big team behind him with Clément Chevrier and Olivier Le Gac for the climbs along with rouleurs in Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier and Alexis Gougeard.
  • If Silvio Herklotz is on form following a break after his illness at Tour de l'Avenir, he could make the podium. I know that it must seem that I go on and on about this kid but he is just that good on this kind of terrain. He can go uphill and downhill very fast, sometimes too fast (see Palio del Recioto crash). He finished 20th at the Ruota d'Oro on Tuesday in the 2nd chase group at +13" so watch for a crazy attack from Herklotz in the finale. I know Rick Zabel is here but the climbs will probably be a bit too much for him but if sprinters do survive, then look for him. Emu Buchmann and Johannes Weber should be with Herklotz in the hills, at least the early part, while Jasha Sütterlin should provide all-around support.
  • The Yates twins are the headlining act for Team GB this year and it will be Simon's time to shine once again. While that seemingly overlooks good riders such as Owain Doull, Simon Yates will be one of the big favorites to win the rainbow stripes. Yates already won a world title on the track this year in the scratch and after his awesome performance in the Tour de l'Avenir with two stage wins, it is very attainable. Adam Yates will of course be providing help on the climbs. I still don't understand the move to GreenEdge, if it does prove true, but it just does to show how big the future is for these two.
  • Hong Kong's Choi Ki Ho, who I profiled in the C edition of the U23 ABC's, is a strong climber and while he hasn't raced much this summer, he is not to be underestimated.
  • To start off, Davide Villella is a fucking prick. He used to have a penchant to rub his victories in the faces of his competitors but if this story is even half-true, with verifiable evidence of course, then he should have to face a racing ban. Full disclosure: I admire Toms and have been a fan of his racing ever since I first saw his name. Given that, I also know Toms to be a straight-shooter and tends to cut out the bullshit so I give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. The incident was in the Ruota d'Oro and the resulting crash gave Toms a knee injury that could jeopardize his Worlds race. The crazy thing is that home team Villella is a big favorite for the race, not some two-bit racer, and hopefully he has to face something for this actions, though I doubt that would occur. While Villella is one of the more complete riders in the field, Italy also brings star sprinter Andrea Zordan, rouleur Alberto Bettiol and climber Davide Formolo. Zordan has a boatload of wins and strong placings this year and if he can get over the climbs, which he has been known to do, and stay within a shout of the leaders, then he is the overwhelming favorite for a sprint. Bettiol can work on a variety of terrain, finishing high in the European Championships (7th), Italian U23 RR (3rd) and Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (10th). Formolo is the best climber next to Villella but his finishing kick nor punching ability is nowhere near as strong.  
  • Kazakhstan has been doing well this year and will bring Maxat Ayazbayev, Daniil Fominiykh and Bakhtiyar Kozhatavey to challenge for a high placing. Kozhatayev, who was 4th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir, has been racing well in Italy this year and has had many front group finishes this year but he is another that lacks a finishing kick to breakthrough. Fominiykh has been on good form this year and after his 9th in the TT, he should be willing to show his legs on the climbs. 
  • Not to dwell on Davide Tyson Villella but he might have ruined the chances of Toms Skujins, who has been having a good year and is still searching for a contract for 2013. Skujins was 3rd in European Championships and 9th overall in Tour de l'Avenir and has been on some good form but some prideful buttock might have ruined his hopes. Andzs Flaksis will also start for Latvia and could provide a nice attack to watch.
  • Netherlands are another team that is strong but I cannot pick out a potential winner in the bunch. There is the ever-present Dylan van Baarle but he hasn't been on the same dynamite form in the last few months as he was in the beginning of the season. He can still climb well enough and if it comes about, he has the TT ability to make a move near the end. This is also similar to Nick van der Lijke, who was 3rd at GP de la Somme last weekend. Perhaps the most interesting rider is Mike Teunissen, winner of the recent Breda Classic, who is a strong rouleur and could be a presence in the finale.
  • Norway is filled with talent but I have doubts they will be able to produce a result on this type of course. Sondre Holst Enger and Sven Erik Bystrøm will anchor the team but both would like a course with a few less climbing meters. Oskar Svendsen is here but he has literally had one good race on a international level, the Tour de l'Avenir, and nothing else so I can honestly say I have no idea what he is going to be like.
  • Russia...well who the hell knows. They have Alexander Foliforov but he pulled out of l'Avenir and hasn't done much since. Gennadiy Tatarinov was 10th at yesterday's Ruota d'Oro so there are signs of life there in an otherwise dead season. Shaymuratov...Yatsevich...they all could go between 30th and 50th. Seriously, Russian talent is down this year.
  • Slovenia is quite an emerging cycling nation and bring two talents in Luka Pibernik and Matej Mohoric. Pibernik is one of my darkhorses for the race and is a climber that can sprint or a sprinter that can climb...whatever. He can make it over the climbs and would be a danger man if he was able to go to the line with someone. Mohoric is more of a stage racing talent but he will be present on the climbs while rouleur Mark Dzamastagic will be a right hand man to whomever is feeling the strongest.
  • Spain has Tour de l'Avenir champ Ruben Fernandez but he likely won't be much of a factor at the business end of the race. Or maybe he will because he tends to slip through the cracks when I preview races. Carlos Barbero would like to do well here but the climbing is something that he can only do so much of before he is out the back. Mario Gonzalez Salas won the country's U23 RR but has not proven much elsewhere. The team has strong climbers in Iturria and Orbe but they won't factor much.
  • Sweden has two interesting guys in Frederick Ludvigsson and Kim Magnusson. Ludvigsson has had a stellar first year on the U23 scene and would thrive on a course like this and will be aiming high. Magnusson, who is based in Italy and son of the former pro Glenn, has ridden this course during the season and will have local knowledge of the roads. Magnusson has also come on in recent weeks and could be a nice surprise in the top 20 if all goes to plan. 
  • While Stefan Küng might be known for his TT ability now, he also won the Giro del Belvedere ahead of Silvio Herklotz this year and is a nice dark horse for a podium spot if he and some others are able to slip away. 
  • Team USA is fielding one of its deepest teams in years for the U23 event with Gavin Mannion, Lawson Craddock and Nate Brown all taking the start. Mannion is the team's best climber and can do well on a classic's style course, as proven earlier this season. Craddock was on some stellar TT form but what he could do in the RR is up in the air. He could be anywhere from a mid-race DNF to taking a flyer in the final few k's. Brown was 2nd in L-B-L U23 this year and the climbs will suit him well. Nate Wilson is also a solid climber who will be willing to be a team player as well. Tanner Putt, the USA U23 RR Champ, is not a perfect fit for the course but he always seems to run pretty well at these international events.
And now for some picks...sometime soon! So stayed tuned and follow me on twitter @Vlaanderen90 for more of my musings and angry rants about Evander Villella.


  1. Nice preview! And highly entertaining Vilela snark :)
    Jasper Stuyven's confident: "Yes, I'll be on the podium"

  2. It was a great race, made more enjoyable by your excellent analysis of the riders - many thanks!