Sunday, November 24, 2013

U23 ABCs: K

Anyone still reading these or is this alphabet stuff getting repetitive? Oh well, I've gone too far to quit now.

Stefan Küng has proven himself to be quite versatile after this year with BMC Development and the Swiss National Team. For a rider who says that his ideal rider is Graeme Obree, Küng shadows him by being a strong pursuiter and time trialist. Another reason I like Küng is that he races a lot. Usually after Worlds, most U23 riders shut it down and rest a while before getting ready for the next season. Not Küng because for the 2nd year in a row, Küng went to New Caledonia for a 10-day stage race with some Swiss teammate and then afterwards, him and teammate Thiery Schir headed to New Zealand to race the Tour of Southland.

These string of about 15 racing days came after a successful 2013 for Küng. Starting early in the year, Küng finished 3rd in the Elite Pursuit at the Track World Championships in Minsk. Just a few weeks later, he was in northern France racing the Tour de Normandie, where he road well during the first half of the race. Soon after, Küng found himself in a breakaway at the hilly Giro del Belvedere with Silvio Herklotz and fellow tracky Mitchell Mulhern and Küng used some good positioning skills to launch his sprint from the rear and surprise the quicker Herklotz for the win. Küng went on to win the Swiss U23 TT Championship and multiple European U23 Track Championship medals with gold in the pursuit and team pursuit and silver in the Madison. After Tour de l'Avenir, His last portion of the European season was focused on time trials and getting a medal at U23 Worlds. He was 3rd at the Chrono Champenois, just 14 seconds behind winner Campbell Flakemore and seven behind Damien Howson. While he looked good for Worlds, he came a bit short on the flat, fast Florence course and placed 6th in the end, nearly two minutes behind winner Howson. Expect to see more of Küng on the track in the lead up to Brazil 2016 and I am sure he will continue to shine more on the road as he ages.

Küng also won the Games of the Small States of Europe Time Trial ahead of Luxembourg's Alex Kirsch. Kirsch is the same year as Bob Jungels but his career trajectory has not been equal to the RadioShack rider's. Kirsch seems to do best on hillier routes but not overly so and can ride a decent TT. He was on Leopard-Trek the last couple years but after the team is shuttering, he has to find a new team.

Speaking of French Polynesia, Taruia Krainer, winner of the 2012 Paris-Tours Espoirs, hails from Tahiti and is one of only a few Polynesian riders to break through to the mainland.

Cycling fans seem to go through cycles when it comes to categorizing nearly whole nations of cyclists as "dodgy". For a while, it was Russians and Kazakhs that were seen as automatons who were willing to dope, take bribes, etc. to make it. And now, it is Iranian cyclists mainly because of the actions of Tabriz Petrochemical and by the incredulous amounts that they have been winning by especially in the mountains. In the Tour of Qinghai Lakes, there were four Iranians in the top 10 including winner Mirsamad Poorseyedi, who had just returned from a doping ban a week before the race. He and Tabriz then went to the Tour of Borneo where he and teammate Ghader Mizbani sucker-punched the competition, which included some stout Australian talent, on the queen stage and beat third place rider Joe Cooper of Huon Genesys by over six minutes and SKY-bound Nathan Earle was nearly nine minutes down in fourth. This combined with the lack of testing at some of the Asian circuit races caused a shitstorm on the interwebs and Tabriz even created a twitter account to try and engage and mitigate the damage, to little effect, and to also get Chris Horner's attention for a contract. In any event, there could be Iranian riders that are clean or doped to the gills but it does seem a little unfair to lump them all together.

Two young Iranians to watch are Ali Khademi and Amir Kolahdozhagh. Khademi, riding for Ayandeh Continental, won the Asian U23 RR Championship out of a four man breakaway and placed 5th in the Tour of Iran. Kolahdozhagh is the bigger GC talent but due to political tensions, he might never be able to race against the best. Kolahdozhagh stepped up a level this year and was all over Asia, sometimes playing sidekick to the exploits that raised an eyebrow. Kolahdozhagh was 10th overall in Tour de Langkawi and was 6th on Genting Highlands, just a few seconds behind Peter Stetina in 5th. He was 2nd in Le Tour de Filipinas thanks to an incredible ride on the queen stage with teammate Ghader Mizbani and Dutchman Thomas Rabou, who was dropped before in the finish. After a 3rd in the Tour of Iran, Kolahdozhagh and Mizbani did another unbelievable ride in the Tour of Singkarak, where the duo kicked Oscar Pujol and the rest of the field in the stomach and beat the 3rd place Spaniard by 8 minutes and 3 seconds. Speaking of more unbelievable rides, he and teammate Poorseyedi rode in-tandem at the Tour of Qinghai Lake and won by nearly a minute. What makes the ride more unbelievable is that they did this for something like 90 or so flat kilometers at around 11,500' altitude with a peloton of nearly 40 riders behind them. Okay...enough. If they doped, fuck 'em. If not...then we will be seeing a lot more training camps pics popping up from Iran.

I would like to know what the hell was going through Bjarne Riis' head when he hired Michael Kolar as a neo-pro this year. Kolar comes from the same village in Slovakia as Peter Sagan and the two are good friends and went on vacation together this year. So did Riis think something like,  "Kolar lives near Sagan...they are good through osmosis, he must have gotten some of his talent, right?" Kolar is a good rider but a World Tour rider? I don't know about that just yet. He will not be the worst World Tour rider ever, that belongs to Balint Szeghalmi, but he has a lot of work to do if he wants to stay around for a 2nd year at SaxoBank. Kolar has some endurance issues which saw him DNF a lot of races this year. I can't knock him because he won a few races but all but one were between 120 and 150 kilometers and in sprints. He won the Banja Luka Belgrade I this year which was 180 kilometers but it was pan flat and only a UCI 1.2 race that consisted of mainly Central European teams, which isn't a knock necessarily but the competition level is a lot lower. He better kick up the training this offseason because I feel that a lot of better U23 riders were passed over and he needs to earn his place.

Alexander Kamp is one of the brighter Danish talents and is the son of former Danish politician Tommy Kamp, a Social Democrat who was involved in multiple scandals including drunk driving and bribery and eventually resigned. Kamp was a very talented junior who won races like Liege-La Gleize and Driedaagse van Axel overall in 2011 and signed with Christina Watches in 2012. His transition to the pro ranks was not as seamless as some other riders but he put in some good rides including at Tour de l'Avenir. For 2013, he transferred to CULT Energy and took advantage of some unusual circumstances to get a big win. At the GP Nogent-sur-Oise, Kamp took advantage of the freezing temperatures and a late hailstorm and outsprinted breakaway partner Alexis Bodiot for the win. Kamp also rode well in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (14th) and 2nd to Lasse Norman Hansen at the Danish U23 RR Championship. Kamp is back with Christina Watches for 2014.

The Antipodes offer four "K" riders, two each from Australia and New Zealand. For Australia, we have Jordan Kerby and Jesse Kerrison. Kerby is a former World Junior Track Champion in the team pursuit and and points race but the majority of his track days are done. Kerby stepped up last year on the road by winning the Tour of Thailand prologue and a few Australian domestic races and got a nice result with 10th at the Tour of China II. Along with Mitchell Lovelock-Fay, Kerby ventured to Denmark with Christina Watches in 2013. Before the journey, Kerby was in flying form with wins in the Herald Sun Tour prologue and winning the Australian U23 RR Championship in a sprint over Damien Howson and Jack Haig. In a great piece by Cyclingnews' Jono Lovelock, Kerby detailed the ups and downs of his European excursion. To make a long story short, Kerby had inconsistent racing, struggled with fatigue and eventually left Europe after he wasn't getting any racing and returned to Australia for the Tour of Tasmania. Kerby's performances did not go unnoticed and he will be joining the newly Pro Continental Drapac team for 2014. Kerrison is just a first-year senior but boy did he make an impression late this year during a sojourn in China. Kerrison is a former junior National RR medalist (2nd) as well as on the track in the madison. Kerrison, riding for Budget Forklifts, took wins in the North Western Tour and Tour of the Murray River but it wasn't until the team went to the Tour of Taihu Lake that Kerrison really showed himself. Over the course of 10 days, Kerrison took seven top 10 results including his first UCI win thanks to a relegation of Czech sprinter Alois Kankovsky on stage 6 and finished the race off in 4th overall and won the youth classification. Pretty good showing, eh?

Dylan Kennett and Cameron Karwowski make up the other half of the Antipodean offer. Karwowski is yet another AUS/NZ rider that rides the track as well as the road. A former world junior champion in the team sprint, Karwowski has been cutting his teeth in Belgium the last few years with Marco Polo, 3M U23 and the New Zealand National Team. Karwowski still rides the track and could be in the mix for a spot on the New Zealand Pursuit Squad for Rio but as of now, he isn't on the A squad. Karwowski has gotten some good results in Belgian races and is known to blow a good prologue, coming in the top five multiple times. Karwowski is going full Belgian next year with Veranclassics-Doltcini. Kennett also comes from the track cycling realm and possesses a large amount of talent that has him on track for Rio in the team pursuit. Kennett has won six medals in the World Junior Track Championships but crushingly, none of them are gold. Kennett was apart of the team pursuit squad at the Manchester World Cup that got 6th but they were missing a big gun or two. He could turn into a big time road talent post-Rio.

Ilya Koshevoy laid the pain down on the final rise of the GP della Liberazione and dropped Adam Phelan to solo to the biggest victory of his career. Well at least results wise because Koshevoy was just confirmed to be joining Lampre for 2014. Lampre must have been needing riders on a budget because Koshevoy is another rider that is good but there are better ones out there. The Belorussian had some good results in climbier races such as Trofeo Edil C, GP Capodarco and the U23 World RR Championship, where he finished 20th. He didn't have a lot of racing days this year, or in year's past, so if Lampre are going to use him, then it'll be a test to see if he can stand up to it.

Etixx-iHNed, for a first year team, had a pretty successful year taking over 20 wins but after losing four riders to the pro ranks and unloading a few more, they had to restock. This restock includes Dutchman Tim Kerkhof from EFC-OPQS, the amateur arm of the OPQS leviathan. Kerkhof hans't gotten much time on the Dutch National Team as a U23 so the majority of his results come from Belgium and Northern France. Kerkhof, whose name means graveyard in Dutch, got three wins this year including a stage and the general classification of the Essor Breton and a stage win in Circuit de Saône-et-Loire out of a breakaway of four. Graveyard's other big ride of the year came at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad Espoirs, a UCI 1.2 and Topcompetitie race, where he made a talented chasing group that included Jérôme Baugnies, Topcompetitie winner Nicolas Vereecken, Dylan van Baarle and Mike Teunissen and finished an impressive 7th.

Speaking of which, Etixx-iHNed and Austrian GC talent Patrick Konrad are splitting ways in 2014, a move which I found to be a bit surprising at the time seeing how well Konrad went at big events this year. But when reviewing his results, some of his bigger results came while he was outside of the Etixx-iHNed jersey. This hills are alive with the sound of Patrick Konrad's chain swiftly moving over the cogs and chainrings of his Specialized bike. Konrad is at home on the hills and can take it to nearly anyone. The last two years have seen Konrad place 9th and 3rd overall, respectively, in the Tour de l'Avenir. This year he was one of the more consistent riders in the race in the mountains, including a 2nd on the 4th stage, where Ruben Fernandez streaked to a breakaway win on the Col de la Madelaine. Konrad has been 2nd in the Austrian National Hill Climb Championship that last two years and has done well in other uphill events such as the U23 Peace Race prologue (3rd) and the uphill round of the Austrian Tchibo Cup, where he finished 40 seconds behind Trek recruit Riccardo Zoidl. Konrad finished 10th in the World U23 Road Race Championship, finishing snuggly in the leading chase group. Konrad expressed his wishes to stay with Etixx-iHNed for 2014 but he would be "very happy" with a professional contract for 2014. Perhaps we will be hearing about Konrad's contract soon enough.

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles...Deutschland bringt Jonas Koch und Daniel Klemme. Koch joined LKT Brandenburg this year and the majority of his good results came from racing in Poland but he also had some nice rides in Germany including a 12th overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt. Klemme had some help getting on Leopard-Trek because of his brother Dominic but little Klemme is a pretty good sprinter in his own right, granted he doesn't have many results on the continent. This autumn, Klemme broke out for two sprint wins at the Tour of China II along with a 2nd overall.

Because I lack Russian comprehension, I have little to no idea about the back story to Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev but I definitely know the kid is talented. He cropped up last year after he finished 3rd overall in the Heydar Aliyev Anniversary Tour (now Tour of Azerbaijan) with the Kazakh National Team. He got a ride with Astana Continental this year and took full advantage of it by being, probably, one of the most consistent riders from March to October. Kozhatayev was an attacking machine at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux in March, attacking nearly every day to win the KOM jersey by a healthy 30 points, and followed it up with three strong rides at Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (12th), La Côte Picarde (23rd) and the ZLM Tour (14th), where he attacked late in the finale to no avail. The guy just attacks, attacks, attacks and because he doesn't have a huge amount of racing experience, he goes out there like it is his first race, full of spastic energy. After a 5th place overall in the Coupe des Nations Saguenay Nations Cup, Kozhatayev lit it up in the lead-up to Tour de l'Avenir. After 6th overall in the Tour Alsace and then front group finishes in three straight 1.2U Italian one-day races, Kozhatayev was on form for his first l'Avenir ride. While he wasn't able to match the likes of the Yates brothers and Patrick Konrad all of the time, Kozhatayev was always near the front group and his consistency netted him 4th overall when the dust settled, just 5 seconds behind Konrad for 3rd. And in just his first year of racing against big time talent...

Speaking of riders coming out of nowhere, last but not least is Eritrean Merhawi Kudus. The dude blew up this year after some big time rides as a first year U23 but let's look back to the ride that put him on the map. Because of the way the UCI African and Asian Tours are set up, sometimes the rankings span over the last few months of a year and then through the next year and so on. For example, the UCI Africa Tour for this year started in 2012 and went through May with some Moroccan one-day. Because of this, even though Kudus was just 18 years old and technically a junior, he was able to ride the Tour of Rwanda with the UCI Continental Center. After 12th in the prologue, he won the first stage of the race...who the fuck was this kid? He was climbing with Darren Lill, the heavy favorite, and even took the lead on stage 5 until Lill and co. turned the screws on him and Kudus popped on stage 7 and would eventually finish 6th overall. You can read a great interview about Kudus here from DirectVelo, which sheds light on his upbringing in Eritrea and his early racing this year in Europe. After winning the Cote d'Or overall, Kudus went up against Gianfranco Zilioli, the gaunt Italian who will join Androni in 2014, and beat him at the Freccia dei Vini mountain race in a two-up sprint. Then the press really started to mount after going 2nd overall at the Vuelta a Leon and then riding the Tour de l'Ain with Bretagne-Séché Environment. Everyone was talking him up for a breakout l'Avenir, perhaps not remember his age sometimes, and there was talk of him maybe winning the thing, something which I was a bit guilty of myself.

In the end, Kudus proved that he still had some maturing to do as a rider but his 11th at l'Avenir, the 2nd 1st-year U23 behind Oskar Svendsen, showed he has a big future ahead of him. And do not pigeonhole him as a stage racer as he was in the front group at the Florence Worlds and finished a solid 15th in the first chase group. It is also a blessing that he signed with MTN-Qhubeka because while he probably would have fitted in with a French team like close friend Natnael Berhane with Europcar, he will do well with fellow Eritreans like Daniel Teklehaimanot and Meron Russom.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

U23 ABCs: J

As a fan of the Cycling Inquisition blog, I don't like to pigeonhole Colombian cyclists into the stereotypical poor scrapper who pulled himself up by his boot straps and climbed his way to the Tour de France by climbing faster than any Westerner thought possible. Just because someone might look "poor" by western standards doesn't mean they are truly poor and some western cycling media get this contrived idea in their head that every Colombian came from the dregs of poverty. While some were poor, some came from working class roots who had food in their bellies and a roof over their head. So when I talk about Daniel Jaramillo, I won't be waxing lyrically about how every Colombian boy dreams of being a climber in the Tour de France on their straw cot while looking at the stars

Jaramillo (Photo: Coldeportes Claro)

Daniel Jaramillo is a climber and a really good one at that. Hailing from Antioquia, Jaramillo won the juniors version of the Vuelta del Porvenir de Colombia, the junior version of the Vuelta a Colombia and won by the likes of Rigoberto Uran (twice), Juan Mauricio Soler and Darwin Atapuma. He has pedigree as his older brother Carlos is a former winner of the Vuelta a Colombia and raced the Tour de France with Cafe de Colombia and Postobon. As a U23, Jaramillo won the Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia, the U23 version of the Vuelta a Colombia, in 2011. 2012 saw him finish 3rd in the Vuelta Mexico Telmex along with placing in multiple Colombian races. That is a recurring item about Jaramillo's career thus far is that he hasn't gotten much race time outside of Latin America save for the 2010 GiroBio and a little this year in Italy. Joining Colombia-Coldeportes this year, Jaramillo was 3rd in the youth classification at the Vuelta a Colombia and 2nd overall at the Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia. Jaramillo got into the Colombian National Team for Worlds and finished a respectable 35th. There were talks of Jaramillo heading to Orica-GreenEdge for 2014 but after losing some equipment this year and losing racing time, he will be heading to Jamis after Garmin recruit Janier Acevedo tipped off DS Alexandre Sebastian of Jaramillo. It is a good move for him as Jamis is a strong system and gets good invites to races all over the Americas.

Does anyone remember that video of a rider doing a bike exchange in the Junior Worlds Road Race in Valkenburg that was utterly seemless for someone in road cleats?

That would be Quentin Jauregui using his cyclocross skills to stay in the big race where he would finish anonymously in 46th, deep in the front pack. Jauregui was a talented junior both in cyclocross and on the road. In 'cross, he finished 3rd in the 2012 Junior World Championships behind Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert and 2nd in the 2011-12 World Cup behind van der Poel. On the road, he was just as talented as he won the GP General Patton Nations Cup, two stages at Liege-La Gleize and a slew of top 10 placings.

Jaurqgui's first year in the U23 ranks has been a bit rough. After some top 20 placings in U23 cyclocross World Cups, he broke his collarbone at the end of 2012 which pretty much stopped his 'cross season in its tracks. Riding for BKCP-Powerplus, Jauregui had a very light road season and didn't begin until May and included a steady diet of kermis racing. He had a good ride at the Thüringen Rundfahrt, including a 4th place on one stage, and he was surprisingly picked up by Argos-Shimano on a stagiaire role. Jauregui did well in the World Ports Classic and then was fed a steady diet of Belgian 1.1 races, most of which he DNFed.

2014 sees him transitioning to the road with Roubaix-Lille Métropole and leaving cyclocross as just a passion. According to an interview with Directvelo, he is hoping to get a birth with the French National Team for U23 Nations Cups including the Tour de l'Avenir, which will suit his climbing nature, and focusing on getting more racing days in on the road.

August Jensen doesn't have a deep history racing but in the last two years, he has made a name for himself in Scandanavia. With Trondheim VK in 2012, Jensen outsprinted Sven Erik Bystrøm to win the Norwegian U23 RR Championship. After this win, he joined Øster Hus-Ridley and took on Stein Ørn as coach, who is also the coach and stepfather of Alexander Kristoff. This year, he had a steady diet of stage races and one-day races and got his best results in Norway, where he was 18th overall at the Tour des Fjords, among other results. He's back with Øster Hus for 2014.

Marcos Jurado hit some heights in 2012 with a Spanish U23 TT Championship but come 2013, the Seguros Bilbao rider faced dissapointment when he lost his title to Alberto Just by 8 seconds. Despite this, Jurado plowed on to a 3rd place overall finish at the Vuelta a Madrid U23, showing off his climbing skills against the like of Haritz Orbe and winner Petr Vakoc. Jurado hasn't secured a pro contract and while it has become harder for him to turn pro due to the state of Spanish cycling but for Jurado, "cycling is not an obstacle but a philosophy." While hanging up the bike at his age is perfectly legitimate, cycling in his words is, "not just a sport or a hobby, it's my lifestyle." His climbing and TT abilities shouldn't keep him in the amateur ranks for too much longer, as long as the passion is there to drive him.

James Judd made the big jump across the world in 2013 as he went from his native New Zealand and made camp with the Parkhotel Valkenburg amateur team. Judd, an economics student at Auckland University, ventured to Limburg in January and had a shock to the system when his bags were not there and he spent the first few hours there in freezing temperatures in jeans and a t-shirt. Judd got his first taste of cobbles, hit the deck a couple dozen times and broke his elbow but after showing the team some grit in just his first U23 season, he was rewarded with a contract for 2014, which will see Parkhotel join the continental circuit.

Hands of who knows Ji Min Jung? Didn't think it would be too many. The young Korean won the Korean Elite RR Championship in a solo breakaway ahead of Tour of Japan stage winner Sung Baek Park. Jung came close on two stages this year, one in both of the Tour de Langkawi and Tour de Korea. In Langkawi, he was 2nd behind the solo Tom Leezer in a torrential rain storm while in Korea, Jung attacked in the final two kilometers with Optum's Eric Young but was distanced on the line by the fastman and multiple Little 500 champion Young.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

U23 ABCs: H-I


H is probably in contention for the strongest letter in the alphabet this year because of Lasse Norman Hansen, Damien Howson and Silvio Herklotz, just to name a few.

Silvio Herklotz was just a first-year U23 this year and despite his young age, he came out guns blazing and put in some storming rides and signaled to people that German cycling is by no means dead. I did a profile of him earlier this year after he perfomed well at the Istrian Spring Trophy, GP Palio del Recioto and the Giro del Belvedere. He continued to impress going into late spring with a solid ride at the Bayern Rundfahrt (25th overall, 5th youth) and then shredded the pack at the German U23 RR in Ilsfeld-Auenstein to take a commanding victory. At the Thüringen Rundfahrt, he went berserk, per usual, and attacked from 50km out on the 3rd stage and nearly held it to the line until he was swept up in the final kilometer by Julian Alaphilippe and Simon Yates, both of whom are transitioning to the World Tour for 2014. Herklotz held on for 8th overall in the race and then when he lined up for the German Elite RR Championship, he made the front group of 18, nearly all of whom were in the World Tour or Pro Continental, and he finished 7th in the final sprint behind the likes of Greipel, Ciolek and Degenkolb. 

Herklotz then went to the Tour Alsace where he broke away from Heiner Parra (4-72 Colombia) and Jan Hirt (Leopard-Trek) on the queen stage to take a solo victory and after making the front selection again on the final stage, he wrapped up the overall title, becoming the youngest rider to win the race. While his Tour de l'Avenir was a false start due to some illness, Herklotz capped off his season with a storming 8th place in the World U23 RR Championship in Florence. The tall (1.90 meters) Berliner has a long way to go in this sport and hopefully this season is not a one-off bright flash of brilliance because he is a truly exciting rider.

Damien Howson didn't start cycling until 2006 and didn't start racing with the Australian National Team until 2010 as a junior but you wouldn't know it. Originally a basketball player, Howson emerged as a strong junior on the track and road. As a first year U23, Howson won the Oceania Championship and placed high in nearly every important TT, including at the pan-flat Copenhagen World Championships where he finished 9th behind five current pros including two other Australians in Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn. 2012 saw him take a step up by placing higher in both TTs and GCs during the year. In the TTs, he still was second fiddle on the Australian front behind Rohan Dennis but that is necessarily a knock because he grabbed the bronze medal on the hilly Valkenburg course in the U23 Worlds TT. On the GC front, he placed 7th in the difficult Tour Alsace, behind five riders that went professional in 2013. This year, Howson was incredible in time trials and stepped up his game on hillier one day races and in hilly -but not overly so- stage races. Howson won the Australian U23 TT Championship, Oceania U23 TT Championship, Thüringen Rundfahrt prologue, 2nd in the Chrono Champenois and the World U23 TT Championship, which he won by nearly 1 minute over Yoann Paillot. Also, he was on track to win the Tour de l'Avenir prologue before this...

On the hillier and GC front, Howson improved over 2012 with some truly great rides. Top 10 finishes in the early spring 1.2U races, won the Trofeo Alcide Degasperi and placed 3rd overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt thanks to TT prowess and good enough climbing. The Tour de l'Avenir could have ended a lot better than 37th overall if it wasn't for a bad final day where he ceded nearly 20 minutes. He has the potential to become a GC threat in the future because of his TT skills and climbing skills which could improve over time.

Lasse Norman Hansen might be better known to some for his exploits on the track as apart of the Danish team pursuit squad along with the omnium discipline, for which he won a gold medal in the London Olympics, but he will be a force on the road with Garmin-Sharp, as long as Vaughters doesn't fuck him over. LNH has been a dominate force on the track since his junior days, where he was World Junior Pursuit Champion over Dale Parker, the super Australian talent who still holds the Junior Pursuit World Record but retired suddenly in 2012. In the buildup to the London Oympics in 2011 and 2012, many of his results came on the track in the form of National Championships, World Cup podiums and World Championship medals. He made brief forays on the road before London with a stage win at the An Post Ras in 2012 along with medals in the U23 National Championships behind riders like Rasmus Quaade. Once his Olympic goals were met, he went to become a TT stud on the road with a 2nd in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue along with a 4th place in the World Championships in Valkenburg, just two seconds off the bronze medal of Damien Howson.

This year, in his first whole season on the road (after winning two World Championship medals in the omnium and team pursuit in Minsk), Hansen went on a tear. He won the GP Herning out of a two man breakaway, he won the Rund um Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 out of a four man move and then won the Tour de Berlin TT, a race where he eventually finished 3rd (his teammate Mathias Møller won). LNH then went on to win both Danish U23 National titles with impressive displays of power. He was close but not close enough in the Thüringen Rundfahrt where he was just a fraction behind Damien Howson in the GC standings - three seconds - even though he climbed better than the Australian on the hardest stages. The last half of his season was up and down. He was 2nd in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue again but struggled through the mountainous parcours. He finished with a bronze in the World U23 TT, which is a bit dissapointing simply because the flatter course should have suited him better but it seems like his form was not 100%.

Photo: Equipo Coldeportes Claro

Speaking of transitions to the World Tour, Sebastian Henao is meeting with his cousin Sergio at SKY for at least the next two years. While some publications like SBS just put it down as appeasing their "brothers", Sebastian could potentially be a bigger talent than Sergio. Just 20 years old and riding for Colombia-Coldeportes, Sebastian won the youth classification in the Vuelta a Colombia this year and in the last two years, he finished 3rd overall in the Vuelta a Colombia U23. He climbs very well but he did not get the opportunities that Sergio got in terms of racing in Europe and abroad. To cap off the end of his U23 career, he finished 18th in the U23 Worlds RR right around the big guns just behind the solo Matej Mohoric.

Czech 1...2. Jan Hirt and Karel Hnik will be joining forces at Czech-based Etixx-iHNed. Hirt should have went pro after his very good 2013 but due to the diminished transfer market this year, he is forced to spend 2014 on the continental circuit yet again but without the benefit of racing U23 races. Hirt is a strong climber with results such as: winning the queen stage of Tour de Azerbaijan, 2nd in the U23 Peace Race, 4th in the Tour Alsace, 2nd in youth category in Volta a Portugal, 7th in Settimana Lombarda and 12th in the tough U23 World RR Championship. Hnik is also aging out of the U23 ranks but he still has room to grow on the road after spending his junior and most of his U23 years racing cyclocross. Hnik won the "mountains" classification at the Volta ao Alentejo, finished 2nd in the Puchar Uzdrowisk Karpckich and had a fairly successful year without many DNFs. He is capable of dealing with more heavy courses but we'll see if he pans out.

Speaking of strong ex-Leopard-Trek riders that will have to spend another year on the continental circuit, we have Dane Kristian Haugaard. Good in the U23 classics, strong on the hills and a good GC bet if the race isn't too long or too mountainous, Haugaard came into his own this year with Leopard-Trek and the Danish National Team after some good but not spectacular years. Getting nearly 70 race days in this year, he started early with a 7th overall in the Istrian Spring Trophy followed by going off up north with a 5th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and 4th in La Côte Picarde Nations Cups in the span of five days. He then stole a stage win in the Flèche du Sud with a final kilometer attack. Not only was he good at getting results himself, he was a team player and slayed himself for Lasse Norman Hansen at the Thüringen Rundfahrt. He got good GC results at the U23 Peace Race (9th), Czech Cycling Tour (2nd) and Trofeo Joaquim Agostinho (7th), all of which are relatively short and only have one decisive climbing day. The cherry for his cake this year was winning the mountains classification at the Tour de l'Avenir, where he took the first KOM point of the race and after losing in for a stage, attacked over stage 5 and 6 to take his lead back and win comfortably. He got shafted by not getting a pro contract and will be back in the continental ranks with Argos-Shimano development but as one of the team's elder statesman, he should get a very nice schedule and will have a shot to move up to the pro team.

Speaking of countrymen on Etixx-iHNed, the team also have Norwegian brothers Markus and Daniel Hoelgaard. Daniel is the older of the two and is known for his 2012 Kernen Omloop victory over Dan McLay and Tino Thömel. This year, he used his strong sprint to a handful of top five finishes including at Tour du Poitou-Charentes. Markus was just a first year U23 this year who was coming off of a very strong 2012 campaign as a final year junior. Markus has a sprint like his brother but he is more of an all-arounder that can get over bumps better and TTs a bit better.

Before anyone assumes it, Piotr and Yoeri Havik are not brothers. The 22 year old Yoeri is a strong sprinter on the road and rides well on the track, riding a few six days every year and placing highly. This year on the road, he started the spring off well by winning the ZLM Tour Nations Cup and the Himmerland Rundt in a two week span. (He raced six times in April and the lowest he placed was 8th.) After that, he was less consistent and DNFed a lot of races. He will be with De Rijke-Shanks again for 2014, the fourth year in a row. Piotr was a big time junior in 2012, winning the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and the Rothaus-Regio Tour. Piotr has some climbing chops and can get over some hills. (see 10th in Circuit Wallonie and 26th overall at Giro della Valle d'Aosta) He is bolting EFC-OPQS to join Rabobank Development for 2014.

Oscar Hernandez is yet another talented Spaniard that is dealing with the cycling recession. Hernandez is a strong climber and all-around rider who had some good results this year with a 5th in the Vuelta a Navarre, 3rd in the U23 National RR Championship and 7th in the Vuelta a Madrid U23. He has another year in the espoirs left but he needs to be getting some more reps in UCI stage races, which he will not get often on an amateur team.

Unless you follow the MTB circuit closely, you most likely didn't hear about Jack Haig until this season. (I raised my hand to that statement.) Haig signed on with Huon Genesys for this year and proceeded to not only to well but he climbed his way to winning the Australian NRS overall. Haig transitioned from the MTB late last year and took two stages of the Tour of Bright and went to 4th overall. Going to Huon Genesys, he stayed true to his dirt passion and won the Australian U23 XC Championship and finished 2nd in the Oceania U23 XC Championship behind talent Anton Cooper. It was on the road where he was making his biggest inroads. Starting off the year, he went 3rd at the Australian U23 RR Championship behind Jordan Kerby and Damien Howson. He then went on to destroy the NRS season this year by going 3rd in Tour de Perth, 1st overall in Battle on the Border, 2nd in Tour de Toowoomba, 3rd in North Western Tour, 4th in Tour of Great South Coast, 2nd in the National Capitol Tour and to cap it off, he took out the Tour of Tasmania, sealing the NRS overall title over SKY-bound teammate Nathan Earle. Haig hasn't given up on the MTB, saying in interviews that anything is possible in the future, but he is headed towards a career on the road.

Slovenian Aljaz Hocevar won the Trofej Umag in March but unless the course is flat, you won't be seeing him much. Burr Ho is from Hong Kong and while he isn't a Ki Ho Choi, maybe he could keep developing? Whenever my "A Sleepless Kiwi in Wallonia" script is picked up, Kieran Hambrook would surely feature in it. Shane Haga is joining the Smartstop squad for 2014 after DS Mike Creed did some talent spotting thanks to his old teammate - and Shane's brother - Chad Haga, who is off to Argos-Shimano. Shane didn't race a ton the last few years as he was finishing his college degree but according to testing, he has just as big, if not a bigger, engine than Chad. Jez Hunt had quite a career as a classics freelancer and his half-brother Josh Hunt has a fledgling career on the UK scene. With UK Youth this year, he had a nice result in the An Post Ras with 4th on stage 3. This year, he will be joining NFTO Pro Cycling and can get some tips from Adam Blythe. Joining Hunt at NFTO for 2014 is strongman Sam Harrison, a double U23 UK National TT Champion and a Welshman. Harrison splits his time between the road and track, where he is apart of the team pursuit squad, where he gained a silver at the World Championships in Minsk. German Christopher Hatz might ride for Team Mountain Road (Bergstraße-Jennatec) but he is more of a rouleur than anything. While Niko Holler got a stagiaire role with Argos-Shimano this year, he will be back with Team Stuttgart for 2014. The Thüringer Energie rider is a pretty handy climber. Soufiane Haddi had a big 2012 that included a 13th at the U23 Worlds RR but 2013 was a lot quieter for the Moroccan. Haddi stayed mainly in Africa and started well with a 2nd overall at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo but after that? Crickets. Three months later, he had a stage win at Tour du Maroc and then in June, he won the Moroccan Elite TT Championship but he was supposed to do more than this. Perhaps it wasn't his fault as he had a fraction of the racing time in Europe this year compared to last. He will be joining the new SkyDive Dubai team in 2014, where he will hopefully get some more racing time in a more comfortable racing environment with fellow Muslims.


Good god, finally a light letter. Just one. One rider did enough to be mentioned here and that is...Mikel Iturria of Euskadi. Yes, the superstar Iturria took it over a class of next to nobody. The Basque climber raced outside of Iberia for the first time, on the UCI level at least, this year with Euskadi and did well in the mountains with a 7th in the Ronde de l'Isard, 8th in the Vuelta a Madrid U23 and 7th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he was also 2nd on one stage. He has another year left in the U23 ranks and if Miguel Madriaga scraps enough money together, he can do it in his home colors.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

U23 ABCs: G

One of the sensations of the season came on the opening stage of the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta when Marc Garby dropped Louis Vervaeke at the foot of the La Magdeleine climb and soloed through the rain to a 54 second victory over Vervaeke and ahead of Davide Villella, Davide Formolo, Alexander Foliforov and Clement Chevrier by over two minutes. Who was this Garby? Looking at his results, some people might think he hadn't raced since 2010. He continued to impress by being able to hang on to the leader's jersey for two more days before being worked over by Villella and co. on the final mountain stage where he was dropped early but clawed back before the finishing climb, where he was dropped for good, exhausted. Garby went to finish 6th overall in the race and was finally able to show the climbing ability that growing up in Denmark and injuries prevented him from doing in the past.

In a two part interview with Garby on Espoirs Central, he revealed that he had a kink in his iliac artery and after a long, tedious process of dealing with misinformed doctors and insurance, it took the better part of two years before he was training 100% again. Taking a chance and moving to Italy, he was able to join Team General Store and finally get a chance to race in the hills and mountains that suit his body type. He placed well in harder races like GP Palio del Recioto (15th) and Trofeo Piva Banca (19th). He has dreams of making it to the pro ranks but next year, he will be staying in the Italian amateur scene.

Couple of other Italians to mention...Davide Gabburo, who will be going full-time with Ceramica Flaminia in 2014, and Garby's teammate at General Store, Roberto Giacobazzi. Gabburo seems to go pretty well on the hillier courses while Giacobazzi could turn into a pro grimpeur with results like 11th in the 2012 GiroBio, 10th in the Giro del Friuli this year along with top 10 finishes in GP di Poggiana and Giro del Media Brenta.

Many riders from the Balkans or there about usually find there way into the Italian amateur scene and Romanian Eduard Michael Grosu is no different. The Romanian won a stage in his home tour over drug dealer Ivan Stevic and former pro Eric Baumann along with winning the Romanian TT National Championship. Riding for Overall Cycling, he won the GP Sannazzaro over Paolo Simion in a tight sprint.

Stan Godrie is yet another Dutch 'crosser that is doing double duty with the field and the road. As a junior, he was a junior RR National Champion and accumulated a large amount of road results while hitting the podium at cyclocross races. As a first year espoir in CX, he hit the podium in a U23 World Cup and multiple C1 races. This year, he took on a full road year with Rabobank Development and showed off his sprint and all-around skills. He didn't forget CX by any means as he placed 4th in the first U23 World Cup this year in Valkenburg. Another Dutchie to watch is Dylan Groenewegen, who over the last two years has been sprinting to some big results. As a first year U23, he was top 10 in four UCI 1.1 races including a 3rd in the Münsterland Giro behind Marcel Kittel and Michael Van Staeyen. This year, he was 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, had two sprint wins and was 5th overall in the Olympia's Tour, which showed some all-around skills.

Jens Geerinck and Ruben Geerinckx might have similar names but they have different styles on the bike. Riding for EFC-OPQS, Geerinck got himself into a few breakaways that netted him some nice results in the Antwerpse Havenpijl and the Omloop van het Waasland. Riding for Ovyta-Eijssen, Geerinckx is more of a sprinter, who netted podium finishes in the Giro della Friuli and the Thüringen Rundfahrt. Paco Ghistelinck is getting a nice call-up to Etixx-iHNed for 2014 after finishing in the 6th in the ZLM Tour Nations Cup along with two wins and some more top 10's on the Belgian continental circuit.

Romain Guillemois was a talented junior and in his espoirs career, he has molded himself into a rouleur. This year was his breakout campaign with a stage win in the Boucle de la Mayenne, finished 6th overall in the Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay, 7th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and had multiple top 10's in single day races and stages alike. After three years on Vendée U and two stagiaire roles with Europcar, Guillemois is headed to Europcar for next year. Alexis Gougeard cemented his stagiaire status this year with impressive breakaway performances and strong time trial rides. His year started with a long solo breakaway at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 Nations Cup, where he spent the majority of the day off the front. Gougeard went on to win the opening stage of the Coupe des Nations Saguenay but was knocked off for the overall win by Sondre Holst Enger due to time bonuses. He TTed to 7th in the Meditteranean Games, 5th in the European Championships and 3rd in the French U23 Championships.  He topped his season off by winning the Tour de l'Avenir prologue and holding the yellow jersey for three days. Gougeard, who won nine races in total in 2013, was surprised mid-season by a contract from Ag2r La Mondiale and will be riding in brown shorts for the next two years. 
Apparently all these French 'G's are rouleurs because we have another one in Alexis Guerin. He was 6th in the European U23 TT Championship and 2nd in the Kreizh Breizh Elites TT, where he ended up 4th overall when it was all said and done. Guerin finished the season with a third in the Chrono des Nations Espoirs and signed on the dotted line with Etixx-iHNed. Pierre Gouault finished on the podium 18 times this year, including two overall podiums, and rode to 13th overall at the Tour de l'Avenir after he had to take over the GC helm from Clement Chevrier after a bad day. Romain Guyot won the opening stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in a two-up break against Haritz Orbe (Euskadi) and went on to finish 9th overall. 

If you don't follow the U23 scene with at least half-interest, it is always hard to know which riders to watch unless VeloNews or someone does a top 10 list. Fernando Grijalba is one to watch so mark it down on your lists at home. Grijalba won the junior ranking of the Copa de España in 2009 and this year with the Caja Rural amateur team, he won the Elite/U23 classification, which has been won by Alejandro Valverde in years past. He can race well in the hills along with handling a sprint so it'll be interesting to see his transition with Caja Rural this year. Mario Gonzalez won the Spanish U23 RR Championship this year after a day long breakaway with Benat Txoperena, which more than made up for his "dissapointing" 3rd place in the U23 TT, where he was hoping to win after winning the title in 2011 along with multiple Cantabrian Championhips. This year, he won the Bidasoa Itzulia overall. He 

Oleksandr Golovash is a Ukranian robot that doesn't show up at the World championships. Seriously, Golovash is a horse and has won the last three Ukranian U23 Time Trial Championships and finished on the podium in the last two European U23 TT Championships and yet the last two years, Golovash finished 17th (2012) and 16th (2013) in the last two World U23 TT Championships. We'll see if he is able to hang on and eventually get a pro ride.

Argentinian Lucas Gaday was 12th in Vuelta a la Rioja at just 20. Other Kazakhs might be more talked about but Vladislav Gorbunov put in some impressive rides that were not as talked about. Still a U23, he finished 12th overall in the Volta a Portugal, which was good enough to net him the youth classification and 2nd best non-Iberian behind Marcel Wyss. Unless something big happens, he will be on Astana Continental for a few more years. Frederik Galta (Norway) won the Hadeland GP (1.2) out of a breakaway that included SaxoBank signing Jesper Hansen and Frederik Ludvigsson. Awit Gebremedhin is another Eritrean up and comer that was 2nd in the Fenkel Northern Red Sea Tour and 6th in the Tour of Eritrea. He still has another U23 year next year and could see a bigger racing calendar outside of his home country soon enough. Colombian Javier Gomez Pineda is a bit of a high-altitude specialist, which might sound cliché seeing as nearly every rider from his country is pigeonholed into that category. At just 18 in 2010, he won the Vuelta a Colombia U23 ahead of the likes of Heiner Parra, Carlos Betancur and Juan Chamorro. Last year, he was apart of the Colombian contingent at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, where he finished 19th overall and 3rd in the youth classification. This year, he finished 2nd in the Clasica de Funza behind SKY signing Sebastian Henao and won a stage in the recent Vuelta a Bolivia, the highest altitude UCI stage race, and finished 6th overall.

When I was a junior, I felt like it was sometimes a curse to be born in late in December like Austrian Felix Großschartner because you could be competing against a guy the same age who is nearly a whole year older than you. Like really, couldn't mom just keep the the baby in the oven for another week? Großschartner won the Burgenland Rundfahrt, the 9th round of the Austrian Tchibo Cup, and had good overall finishes in the Circuit des Ardennes and the U23 Peace Race. He is a rider that seems to do well on courses that are hilly but not overly so. Luke Grivell-Mellor was 4th last year in the Tobago Cycling Classic and raced Tour de Normandie and the Tour of Britain with Rapha Condor. Gleb Gorbachev Gorbachev (Uzbekistan) will most likely never make it to the big time. He might never race a .HC UCI race. But in the name department, he has a gold star...and perhaps a port-wine stain.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

U23 ABCs: F

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." - Everyone's favorite anarchist-burning imbiber, Winston Churchill

Why did I do this again? Seriously, I have 21 riders that I feel deserve some mention and I am only at F. There are still 20 letters after this and I know there are some letters that will have more riders than this. Sometimes I would rather give myself a lobotomy during this series but no sense in turning back now.

First off, let's start with Tour de l'Avenir winner Ruben Fernandez of Spain. You won't be getting much about him because he was already a pro cyclist with Caja Rural when he won l'Avenir and while he might have been an U23 rider, he will only be getting a little blurb. My take on his victory? A bit of a fluke. He has talent - he wouldn't be a pro without it - but nearly all of his other results would dictate that while he is good, he is not that good and he took advantage of the circumstances of stage 4 on the Col de la Madeleine. I know that expectations will be piled on him for years so while I might think his l'Avenir overall win was a little bit of a fluke, I still think he could do something in the pro ranks. But no matter, Fernandez is already a pro - making pro money - and actually has a ride for 2014, unlike many graduating from the U23 ranks.

Marcus Fåglum (@FaglumMarcus) might not be a name that anyone outside of Sweden (or the cycling nerd circles) but he descends from the first family of Swedish cycling. Fåglum's grandfather is Sture Faglum Pettersson, one of the famed Pettersson brothers from Sweden who were double Olympic medalists in the Team Time Trial, bronze in Tokyo and silver in Mexico City, and three-time World Amateur Champions in the same discipline. Gosta is the most famous brother as he went on to win the 1971 Giro d'Italia and placed on the podium of the 1970 Tour de France. Sture, Erik and Tomas took up Fåglum as a surname, which was the club that they rode for at the time of their greatest success. So Marcus definitely has some pedigree no?
As a junior, Marcus was a double Swedish champion in the TT and was an accomplished time trialist, finishing 4th in the 2011 World Championships in Copenhagen (12th in 2012 in Valkenburg) and 5th in the 2012 European Junior Championships. His TT skills propelled him to top stage racing results in 2012, placing high in Trofeo Karlsberg and Niedersachsen Rundfahrt overall. As a first year U23 this year, Fåglum didn't have a ton of results as he rode for a Swedish club team and sparingly for the national squad but he did have some nice stage results in the Baltic Chain Tour and finished 22nd in the U23 World TT Championship, which was good for 4th among first year U23 riders.

I have to admit that I'm not very good when it comes to just about anything Central or South America cycling. Okay, I follow a lot of the race results but for some reason, my lack of Spanish understanding really makes it hard for me to follow more in depth. Thus, I miss a lot of the talented riders and rely on the better informed to feed my addiction. I've found a couple of riders from these parts in Venezuelan Jhorman Flores and Mexican Eder Frayre.

Flores is a younger rider, born in 1993, that was the winner of the youth classification at the Vuelta a Tachira in January of this year and finished 16th overall. Flores was announced as one of a group of young Venezuelans, as apart of the U23 National Team, that will be receiving support from the national federation in the buildup for the Rio 2016 Olympics and will include some European racing opportunities. I couldn't dig up much about him but he won a few smaller national races and was 7th in the U23 National RR, 1'07" behind Androni-Venezuela signing Yonder Godoy.

Frayre was in his final year in the U23 ranks this year and made some of his best results. Frayre, who comes from Ensanada, Baja California, won the Mexican U23 RR this year in Guadalajara and on the domestic front, he was 3rd in the Vuelta a Mazatlán and won the Vuelta Mexicali earlier this month. Frayre, being so close to the USA, races in California and on the west coast. He finished in the top 20 of the San Dimas Stage Race and Cascade Classic, where he finished on the same time as Tanner Putt. He has a good kick on him but he can survive over the hills. He spent time in Valencia, Spain with the amateur Mutua Levante squad in 2011 and 2012, which, according to him in an interview after his Mexicali win, is where he learned what it takes to be a pro and everything that it entails. He was 22nd overall in the 2012 Vuelta a Mexico and finished 3rd in the U23 classification, 8 minutes behind Jamis-Hagens Berman signing Daniel Jaramillo. His biggest ride of 2013 was his ride for Mexico at the U23 World RR Championship where he finished 44th, 2'33" behind winner Matej Mohoric, in a group that included Magnus Cort, Mike Teunissen, Duchesne, Beckeringh, Vervaeke and others. He was looking for a ride in the United States or somewhere close to home for 2014.

Continuing this strange journey, let's go to Kazakhstan where he have Daniil Fominykh and Artur Fedosseyev. I seem to have a soft spot for Kazakh riders because normally, they have to live under an autocratic regime and cycling is a way of escaping that, just like with Soviets in the 70's and 80's. It is still a country where striking workers will be mowed down by machine gun fire and formerly was the home of Soviet nuclear testing and anthrax production. (I'm sure there are nice things about the country.) So when a Kazakh dopes, I can at least understand part of the reason why they are doing it, if they are wanting a way to get out of the country anyways. They also have to deal with a pretty insular system where only a few are able to break through to the Astana Pro Team and unless they ride out of their skin, they usually have a spell on the Astana Continental team. Hell, there was only one Kazakh on a foreign World Tour team, Valentin Iglinsky with Ag2r, in 2013. Anyways...

Daniil Fominykh has been one of the Kazakh's biggest talents since his junior days and will be joining Astana for 2014 on a neo-pro contract. Fominykh was a good junior and was 3rd overall in l'Abitibi overall behind winner Nate Brown, had two Worlds appearances and was 2nd in the Asian Junior TT Championship in 2009. As a first year U23, he came 3rd in the Kazakh Elite TT Championship and the next year, he finished 22nd in Tour de l'Avenir along with riding in nearly every Nations Cup race. In 2012, he finished nearly every race, 3rd in Kazakh Elite TT, 20th in l'Avenir and 9th in Thüringen. He was Asian U23 TT Champion, 3rd in the Kazakh Elite TT (a bit of a trend, no?), 3rd overall in Qinghai Lake around some dodgy Iranians and Kazakhs, 14th overall in l'Avenir and 9th in the U23 World TT Championship. He be Kazakhstan's next big rider or he could turn into yet another Kazakh drifting around the Asian Tour. This year, he showed that he is a freaking horse...Okay, maybe not the best description for a cyclist but he didn't drop out of a single race this year and while he wasn't always near the front, he was never all the way at the back either.

Fedosseyev is a 1st year U23 and a promising rider for the future. He was the junior Kazakh RR Champion in 2012 and had some good rides in the climbing stages of the Giro della Lunigiana. This year, he was 8th in the Tour of Iran along with some good rides in Italy with the Kazakh National Team and Astana Continental.

Let us journey northwest to the oligarchy of Russia, where we find Alexander Foliforov, yet another strong Russian U23 from the RusVelo system. I know most people tend to lump all of the Russian teams together because of the oligarch Igor Makarov...and you would be right, albeit for some managerial differences. The man behind ITERA Natural Gas is one of three partners in the Russian Global Cycling Project, the money source for Katusha, Itera-Katusha, RusVelo and Helicopters. Foliforov signed with Itera in mid-2011 and at that year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta, he finished 5th on the final day uphill TT behind Fabio Aru, Kenny Elissonde, Joe Dombrowski and Ilnur Zakarin, all of whom are professionals now. In 2012, now full time with Itera-Katusha, Foliforov rode a stage race heavy program and had some nice results including 10th overall at the Toscana Terra di Ciclismo Nations Cup and 3rd in the final TT at Valle d'Aosta, behind teammate Chernetskii and Fabio Aru. His long season took a toll on him and by l'Avenir, he was exhausted and had to pull out. His season was good but he definitely had problems with consistency.

2013 saw him join Helicopters, which was new for 2013. Based in Bergamo, Italy, it is the feeder team for RusVelo, which houses many of the endurance riders in the Russian track program. Foliforov was a rider that spent the majority of his racing time somewhere near the front for the first half of the year but he was one of those riders that was invisible at times. In stage races, he would have strong rides on some stages but lose times on others and finish lower on GC. In the harder one-day races, he was near the front group or just behind but never deciding the win. It wasn't until Valle d'Aosta until he really had a meaningful result. Foliforov made the front groups on the climbing stages and finished 2nd on the last mountain stage, a scant second behind Davide Villella, to wind up 5th overall. He continued his hot form at the U23 European Championships, where he finished 5th in the road race and in the leading group. After this? Well he had a few good rides in Italy but the rest of his season was a dud, DNFing l'Avenir again and pulling out of the World Championships.

Foliforov still has another year in the U23 ranks and could do some good things in the mountains but there is always that looming question with Russian riders...will he do anything if he goes pro? Russians riders come from a dog-eat-dog system that is still very tough to breakthrough. So when these riders finally make it to the big time, what happens when that rigid system goes away and they are left to their own devices. Just look at the last decade and the Russian riders that tore up the U23s and haven't reproduced results: Timofey Kritskiy, Egor Silin, Mikhail Ignatiev, Evgeni Petrov, Alexander Khatuntsev, Sergey Kolesnikov and Ivan Rovny, just to name a few. (Also, Nikita Novikov aka The Terminator)  So while Foliforov is improving now, it remains to be seen whether he can buck the trend of recent Russian riders and break through to a successful career.

Let us go from repressive dictators and oligarchs to a country that has the record for the longest period without an elected government. Belgium brings us Frederik Frison, Wout Franssen and Maxime Farazijn. Frison (@FrederikFrison) is one of the best Belgian U23 time trialists and while Belgians TTers are notorious for not performing to expectations at Worlds, Frison finished a commendable 11th place. Riding for Lotto-Belisol U23, Frison battled with teammate Victor Campenaerts in multiple TTs over the course of the year with Frison, a former Belgian junior TT champion, winning the Antwerp Provincial TT and the test in Angreau and nearly upsetting Campenaerts at the U23 Belgian TT Championship, where the elder Campenaerts won by just 5 seconds on the flat course in Maldegem. In addition to his TT prowess, Frison did well in road races including the Belgian U23 Championships (3rd), getting into a breakaway on stage 3 of the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia) and ending up in 11th overall along with a handful of results in regional events.

Wout Franssen, at least in his U23 years, has been light on results but since he is riding with AnPost-ChainReaction, obviously some talent is there. As a junior, Franssen scored some nice results with a win in the GP Bati-Metallo along with an 8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors. GP Bati-Metallo might not sound like a huge deal but when you look to the results, it is a different story. Franssen was in a breakaway of five that went to the line and he outsprinted Danny van Poppel, Dieter Bouvry and Bob Jungels for the win. Pretty stout effort, no? In his first two years in the espoirs with Roch Werchter, he didn't chalk up a lot of results other than a win in his local kermis, Houthalen-Helchteren. This year, we won the pro kermis in Houthalen-Helchteren ahead of Clement Lhotellerie and Floris Goessinen, he was 9th (5th in the bunch kick) at U23 Nationals and was 5th at the Gooikse Pijl. The last result might sound like nothing but he won the bunch kick over Baptiste Planckaert, a pro with Crelan, and Timothy Dupont, who won 16 times in 2013. He'll be back in 2014 with AnPost.

Maxime Farazijn (@De_Max_) is a young buck and son of Peter Farazijn, a 9 time GT finisher and a pretty handy classics rider. Maxime is a first year U23 and he had a lot of solid results as a junior. No wins but he was in the top ten a handful of times in some bigger juniors events and had a nose for a sprint. Riding for EFC-OPQS in his first year, he was in a few more bunch sprints and hung around on some tougher courses, including the queen stage of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. He finished the season off strong with a 13th at Paris-Tours Espoirs as he was in the main breakaway and eventually rolled in with Julian Alaphilippe and Tiesj Benoot. He is back with EFC for another season in 2014.

Now where can we go to find a government (and country) that seems to run on organized chaos? You're right...Italy. Italia brings four F's to the table for dissection.

Davide Formolo is going pro with Cannondale next year and there is no doubt why. Little dude can fly up hills. While he isn't the most tactically adept at times, Formolo can climb with the best in his age group and will certainly figure into long term plans for Cannondale with regards to the Giro d'Italia. I've written about Formolo's exploits before but let us review. Good results as a junior but nothing too big; no major wins but a 3rd overall in Tre Bresciana. Good first year as U23; no wins but a few good climbing performances. 2012? He went ape-shit and won Peaches & Nectarines overall, 2nd in Palio del Recioto, 8th in the GiroBio, 2nd in the National U23 RR and topped off with a 4th overall at Giro della Valle d'Aosta overall. He was climbing around the like of Fabio Aru, Manuel Bongiorno, Gianfranco Zilioli and the like. Another thing...Formolo can't win a sprint for his life of him unless the road is tilting upward and even then, he has work to do. This year was even better for Formolo. Strong results in Italian one-day races, another overall win in the Peaches and Nectarines, 4th in the Italian U23 RR (lost a sprint) and then went on to great performances at Giro della Valle d'Aosta and Tour de l'Avenir. Valle d'Aosta proved that Formolo was the best climber behind Davide Villella and if the stage finishes were as difficult as in years past, it might have suited Formolo better but there is no reason to scoff at 2nd place. l'Avenir saw Formolo go well in the mountains and apart from one bad day that saw him lose overall time, his 6th overall on a reduced Italian team was a good way to cap off his U23 stage racing career.

Andrea Fedi (Ceramica Flaminia - Fondriest) went pro with a year left in the U23s and has shown himself to be a good rouleur, with a sprint win this year in the Tour of Slovakia along with some top 10's in 1.1 and 1.2 races. He has consistency issues that need to be ironed out but he could a solid one-day racer in the future. Iuri Filosi broke out in 2013 with Viris Maserati, the same team as Niccolò Bonifazio, and won the famed Milano-Rapallo one-day race in solo fashion. It might not sound like much but this race has been won by racers such as Giuseppe Minardi, Dino Bruni, Francesco Moser, Giorgio Furlan, Gabriele Colombo, Leigh Howard, Enrico Battaglin and some fucker named Ricco.
Giuseppe Fonzi has a great name and he isn't bad at racing a bike either. This year, The Fonz was 5th at the GP Liberazione and won the Trofeo Citta di Bevagna. He was very good in the junior ranks and is slowly meeting those expectations.

Portugal is another country that I always struggle with when it comes to following the scene because of my lack of Portuguese comprehension. Two Portugalese riders who are graduating from the U23 ranks this year that should be watched are Frederico Figueiredo and Daniel Freitas. Figueiredo broke out in 2011 when he finished 7th overall in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro. In 2012, he finished 4th in the same race along with other results in Iberia like 8th in the Volta a Coruña and winning the GP Cidade de Vigo. This year, Freddy was 15th in the Volta ao Alentejo, a race which I covered pretty thoroughly earlier this year, won the KOM at the Vuelta a Madrid U23, 3rd in the National U23 RR along with more results from Iberia. His best result of the year was a 14th at the U23 World Championship RR in Florence, which put him in some pretty good company on a difficult course. He joins Radio Popular Onda for 2014, which will have about half of the Volta a Portugal top 10 from this year. (The team also known for these kits this year...and last year.)

Freitas was a talented junior (5th in the World Championship RR in Moscow) but is still trying to fulfill that promise. Freitas is a competent sprinter and can get over a few hills but as of now, lacks a burst to really contend in the sprints and is too heavy to be a true climber. He was 7th overall in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro, 4th in the National U23 RR and 13th in La Côte Picarde (8th in the peloton sprint).

To finish, we have a few more miscellaneous to sort through...

Australian Campbell Flakemore was the TT revelation of the season after winning the time trials at the Olympia's Tour, Thüringen-Rundfahrt and the Chrono Champenois. He was a bit flat at the U23 World Championship TT, which was the longest and fastest course of the year, and missed the bronze medal by just 12 seconds, having to settle for 4th. Riding for Huon Salmon-Genesys and the Australian National Team this year, Flakemore raced mainly in Europe and outside of TTs and some other races, he was in a support role for riders like Damien Howson and Caleb Ewan. He has another year left in the U23 ranks and should be featuring even more next year and perhaps targeting a few GC results, as he did in 2012 when riding on the Australian continental circuit.

Latvian Andzs Flaksis had a rough early season this year with injury but once he got going again, he was strong as an ox. Flaksis is apart of a strong generation of young Latvian cyclists that have come up in the past few years. His first big result was a 3rd in the 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, finishing just behind his teammate Toms Skujins (2nd). 2012 saw him join the Chipotle Development squad and he chewed up the kilometers in some hard ass races. He finished 20th in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs (the pro race is his dream event), won the Riga GP solo and broke away with Jan Tratnik at the U23 European Championship RR and the duo held off the bunch on the flat course with Tratnik beating Flaksis in the two-up sprint. With the demise of Chipotle, Flaksis joined Bontrager for 2013 but an injury took out the first half of his season and he only started racing in June. After winning the Latvian U23 TT for the 3rd consecutive time, he went to the European Championships in Czech-land and went 5th in the TT against some good competition. Flaksis rode well in the Tour of Utah with his Bontrager team that included a lot of support riding and a couple of attacks and then went to the Tour de l'Avenir in support of Toms Skujins, who eventually finished 9th. Flaksis deserves a chance in the pros but as of now, there has been no news on a contract for next year.

Alex Frame was the lone Kiwi on Thüringer Energie in 2013 and he will be following DS Jens Lang along with a couple teammates to Argos-Shimano Development for 2014. Frame is a big, strong rider who has his roots on the track and has transitioned nicely onto the road. For a bigger rider, he can deal with a few hills, which he showed on the final stage of the Boucle de l'Artois, where he finished 7th on Mont Saint Eloi to finish the race 6th overall. Frame also had a front group finish in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and was able to mess around in some sprints in the Thüringen Rundfahrt.

Swiss Killian Frankiny joined BMC Development for 2013 after some good results as a junior and definitely had some first year problems. He only finished 4 UCI races, albeit one of those was the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Frankinny is a good climber but he needs more racing and at this point, I have no idea if he is being kept by BMC Devo.

When you look at the results from this year Boucles de la Mayenne, you see a relative no-name rider in Marc Fournier in 2nd place behind winner David Veilleux of Europcar. Riding for the French Division 1 CC Nogent sur Oise, the former team of guys like Arnaud Demare, Yoann Offredo and others, the 18-year old Fournier broke away on stage two of the race with Veilleux and Romain Guillemois of Vendée U, who would eventually join Europcar as a stagiaire later in the year. He admittedly was too excited for the sprint and this caused him to lose to Guillemois but it was an excellent result nonetheless. Fournier was 3rd in the French Junior RR in 2012 and as a first year U23, he won the U23 French Points Race Championship on the track and was 4th in the Elite Pursuit Championship. Fournier will be back with CC Nogent next year and should be a presence on the road and track.