Saturday, December 13, 2014

2015 Team Preview: Axeon Cycling

I'm struggling to come up with words about my feelings about Axeon Cycling. I am a big supporter of development teams and taking riders on the right way from juniors to riders ready for the professional ranks. While I support this strongly, there is the other side of the story where the vast majority of the backers, sponsors and directors of these teams were involved in institutional doping throughout their career or at least were apart of the the deafening Omerta that still is ongoing.

Let us look at Axel Merckx, who is a prime example of this. Merckx rode through the muck of the 90s and early 00s with teams that have had buckets of riders either test positive, confess or be announced in big dossiers as clients of doping doctors. Merckx rode for teams like Telekom, Motorola, Polti, Mapei, Domo-Farm Frites & Phonak and was a client of Michele Ferrari, the Italian "preparer" who had a full rolodex full of clients. His re-tested sample from the '99 Tour came back as suspicious for EPO use. Has there been any kind of confession? No. Any penalty? No. Merckx has gotten off essentially scot free in his retirement from racing by keeping his mouth shut and not owning up to his past wrongs. And what did he do after his racing years? Take impressionable young riders and develop them into professional cyclists. It is just good to always remember that in all of this talk about cleaning up cycling and a "new generation" that many of the people behind the scenes were in the muck and the mire of the dirty times. It isn't an indictment that Merckx is doping his young charges by any stretch of the imagination but it seems like the vast majority of people go with the "that was then, this is now" line when it comes to Merckx and his peers.

But I digress.

What was known as Bissell Development in 2014 is now know under the name of Axeon Cycling. Pronounced "Ak-shun" (directly from their press release), the team will once again be an independent development team that is focused mainly on developing American riders however not exclusively. The team is moving away from Trek Bikes and their loose affiliation with Trek Factory Racing and picking up MCipollini as their bike sponsor with SRAM as their component supplier. Need I remind that Cipollini was swirled into many doping rumors during and after his career and now he will be sponsoring (and making money) off the backs of young, clean racers.

But again, I digress.

The team lost a nice chunk of their core from 2014 with arguably their 2 strongest riders in Tanner Putt and Ruben Zepuntke both getting pro contracts with Putt going to United Healthcare and Zepuntke heading to Cannondale-Garmin. Both Nicolai Brøchner and Nathan Van Hooydonck are heading back to Europe as they head to Riwal and BMC Development, respectively. Alex Darville is focusing more on the track side of things it seems like and will be moving over to Airgas-Safeway for next year. Clement Chevrier will move to IAM Cycling for 2015 while Ryan Eastman is stepping away from cycling, at least for the mean time.

While this is a pretty big loss for the team, they are keeping a solid chunk of their 2014 roster that should garner results. James Oram will be entering his 4th year with the squad and it is a big year for him. Oram was a standout junior who won the Tour de l'Abitibi overall in 2011 as well as a 2nd place in the Junior Worlds TT. Oram has gotten more consistent as the years have gone on but he doesn't have a standout result to hang his hat on. He had some success in America with a stage win in San Dimas and 2nd overall in Redlands and managed a 10th place overall in the Tour of Alberta. He was 10th overall in the U23 Worlds TT in Ponferrada but I'm thinking he will step up in 2015 to become a top 5 hopeful. Oram has the skills and has shown them. It is just filling the shoes as one of the team's senior riders and going out there and doing it that remains to be seen.

Joining Oram as the old men of the team are Daniel Eaton and Chris Putt, both '93 products and holdovers from last year's team.

Eaton was a big surprise in 2014 as he started the season with Utah-based Canyon Bicyles-Shimano and went on a rampage on the US domestic squad in the early spring to bulldog his way on the USA National Team. While he didn't officially finish a race in Europe (he got through most of the way in the Olympia's Tour), he showed promise and Bissell signed him up in August. After finishing his home Tour of Utah with some aggressive moves, he went to the USA Cycling Gods Pro Challenge Race For The Cure: Colorado Edition, got into the breakaway on stage 5 to Breckenridge and finished 6th. He finished the season off well with a 14th overall in Alberta, one of 3 Bissells in the top 15 overall.

Chris Putt is the younger brother of Tanner Putt and another Utah native. Riding for Canyon Bicycles-Shimano in 2013, Putt put in a strong ride in the National U23 RR in Madison with 9th in the U23 RR, which his brother won. Chris got a contract with Bissell for 2014 and split time with them and the USA National Team. Putt finished 11th in the Ronde de l'Isard, which features some big time mountains, and finished Fleche du Sud well in 27th. I like Putt because he doesn't DNF a lot and seems to be fairly consistent in stage race so I'm expecting big things for 2015.

The 'tweener child that returns is Greg Daniel. Daniel was another American that was a force as a junior (must be the hormones in the food or something) who won the junior National TT championship and finished 11th in the Juniors Worlds TT in Valkenburg. After a good first year, he took on the team helper role many times. Daniel got one of the results of the year for Bissell when he got into the breakaway with 6 others on the way to Cambria. He was pulling a little too much but fuck he looked strong. Will Routley timed a move very well in the last 500 meters and Daniel had to settle for 2nd but he looked so good. Daniel can put out a ton of power but the consistency is what needs to be worked on. If he can get that T'ed up on just a few more days in 2015, then everyone watch out.

The majority of the team's returning starters were 1st years in 2014 including Tao Geoghegan Hart, Logan Owen, Keegan Swirbul and Geoffrey Curran. Axeon has more talent than they know what to do with.

Let us start with the Hackney born and bred Hart. This kid's talent level is off the charts. Like a fine diamond, time and pressure will procure something magical. As a lithe climber, he made the front group in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and was top 20 in La Côte Picarde. With a depleted Bissell squad, he made a late breakaway and fearful of getting caught, he lead out the sprint and still hung on for 3rd place. He got through the Tour of California but injured himself along the way and had to take time off the bike, thus stunting his impressive spring. Hart bounced back for a strong comeback at the Tour of Utah, which was used as a springboard to a 10th overall at the Tour de l'Avenir and 15th in the Tour of Britain. The latter would be a top 10 overall performance if it wasn't for a ass over tea kettle moment into Brighton. If he keeps it up, there is a GC win in his near future.

While Owen has made a name for himself in the mud in cyclocross, he rode quite well as a rookie U23 with Bissell and the USA National Team.For a first year rider, Owen rode a quite packed schedule with over 50 racing days on the road when you include his domestic races that he did. Owen's season was consistent with flashes of brilliance. He was 6th in a stage of the Tour de Bretagne and was 8th in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He rarely DNFed and was active in breakaways...there isn't much more to say. If he keeps this up, he could be just as much of a road star as he is on the dirt.

One of the sensations of the year was Keegan Swirbul. I questioned his signing at the beginning of the year because I only remembered him from when he was a 16-year old that beat a retired Lance Armstrong in a mountain bike race. Before this year, Swirbul never raced on the road other than a handful of times and was a junior national XC skiing champion. Swirbul started out...slowly. After getting some racing in his legs, he showed himself pretty well at Tour of Gila with a decent ride in the TT, especially for an 18-year old. He won 2 hill climbs in Colorado, the Sunshine Hill Climb and the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, which showed his pure climber skills. At nationals, he peaked in the RR when he flew up the steep climbs on the Blue Mound circuit and broke away with teammate Tanner Putt to take a 1-2 (Swirbul in 2nd) in the race. Perhaps his best race of the year was the Tour of Utah as he was getting into the top 20 on some brutal mountain days and if it wasn't for knee tendonitis before the final stage, he might have been Bissell's highest finisher. If he can continue to develop and not turn into a one-trick mountain pony like converted MTBers before him then you better start putting your money down for a big pro stage race win within 5 years time.

Geoff Curran raced like once this year with Bissell. Besides the National U23 RR, he was almost exclusively racing in Europe with the U23 National Team. He was the best young rider in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux (16th overall) and finished every race in Europe this year. He was a fantastic junior and with a year under his belt, we'll see what happens.

4 riders join the team with 3 Americans, including 2 juniors, and Portugal's 2nd best U23 rider.

Justin Oien rode this year with the US National Team and had  a fabulous sprint including 8th in the ZLM Tour Nations Cup as well as finishing Monts et Chateaux and Tour de Bretagne in strong position. One of America's best classics hopes going forward with Owen and BMC Devo's Tyler Williams.

The two juniors joining the team as "club" riders (usually meaning they will be "signed" to the team sometime during the season) are Phillip O'Donnell and Will Barta. O'Donnell is the more unheralded of the two but he was 4th in the Pays du Vaud and won the KOM classification and won the Sea Otter RR while racing with Hot Tubes. Barta is one of the strongest American juniors coming up for 2015. He liked getting 2nd in TTs is seems because he was 2nd place a stunning 6 times. Thanks to his TT skills and consistent riding, he was top 6 overall in stage races 5 times including 4 UCI races. I bet he joins the 'A' team in the first half of the season or gets to ride some European races with the national team.

The most interesting signing is of Ruben Guerreiro, the 2nd best U23 rider from Portugal. First, if you are going to sign a Portuguese rider, they should have signed Joaquim Silva because he is better. Second, this signing seems a bit random. Guerreiro won the Volta a Portugal do Futuro (along with the queen stage) and was 14th in the Tour de l'Avenir. He is a good rider (no Joaquim Silva) but how will he handle the culture shock? He has mainly raced in Iberia and coming out of there to a mainly American schedule will be a big change of pace.

Prediction: 2 UCI Wins (11 wins overall)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

2015 Team Preview: Zalf Euromobil Desiree Fior

After their 2nd hugely successful season in a row, it might be back to the drawing board for the pinstriped Venetian team. After a 57 win season, they are shipping off 7 riders to the pro ranks including Simone Andretta (Bardiani-CSF), Giacomo Berlato (Vini Fantini-Nippo), Daniele Casavin (Team GM), Nicolas Marini (Vini Fantini-Nippo), Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF), Eugert Zhupa (Neri Sottoli-Alé) and Federico Zurlo (UnitedHealthcare). With other riders leaving the team, Luciano Rui and Gianni Faresin will only be left with 8 riders from their 2014 squad that accounted for 16 wins. They are losing a massive chunk of their sprint train as well as 72% of their wins. They will need to re-invent themselves and they need to be prepared for a "down" season.

Let's focus on who they have returning to the squad. The bigger names returning include Gianni Moscon, Simone Velasco and Andrea Toniatti. Moscon was an emerging star last year that truly blossomed at the end of last year by winning the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia in a two-up sprint ahead of Dylan Teuns. He is a great one-day racer and with more defined leadership, he could pick off some more wins next year. I'm looking for him to break through in more UCI races and in the mountains. Velasco was heralded coming out of the junior ranks and for a first year U23, he put up some nice results including 2 wins and a close 2nd place in the 1.2 Trofeo Edil C. Velasco found his legs in 2014 but next year, I expect him to bloom in the mountains. Toniatti has a down year by my accounts simply because he failed to match his 2013 results that included 2 UCI wins in the Ruota d'Oro and a stage in Valle d'Aosta. He could be one of the big winners for Zalf this year after 17 top 5 finishes in '14; he will just need to make that step from podium filler to consistent winner.

The other riders returning include Gianluca Milani, Nicola Rossi, Enrico Salvador, Nicola Toffali and Giacomo Zilio. Milani is good on a variety of courses and like Toniatti, he could break through for a handful of wins. Toffali won 4 races this year but they were all small regional races.

In all, their returning riders are...a bit lacking. The new riders are also a bit light on experience but there are certainly bright spots.

14 new riders join the team and they are as follows: Pietro Andreoletti, Nicola Bagioli, Gianmarco Begnoni, Andrea Borso, Marco Gaggia, Marco Maronese, Daniel Pearson, Filippo Rocchetti, Niccolo Rocchi, Daniel Rupiani, Mirco Sartori, Alessandro Savignano, Gianluca Vecchio and Andrea Vendrame.

The first name that will jump out to most is an English name. Daniel Pearson rode British, Italian-based Zappi's Pro Cycling run by strong anti-doper and former professional Flavio Zappi. Pearson was the British junior champion in 2011 in a solo move that saw him stave off a chasing pack. Pearson jumped to Italy with Zappi in 2013 and this last year, he had some strong results including 2nd in the UCI 1.2 Coppa della Pace as well as 8th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and 9th in the Peaches & Nectarines. Pearson has a fighting spirit to him that isn't hard to like and his move to an established Italian team should do him even better than the shoestring budget Zappi's was run on.

Andreoletti had a quiet year in his first U23 season but he is a strong attacking rider in the hills and is good friends with Simone Velasco.

Luciano Rui seemed to tout Vecchio and Vendrame as two that the team would build around. Vecchio...not too sure about since his results are quite lean since his junior days. Vendrame on the other hand seems to be up and coming with some promising results last year in sprints and some more selective racing.

Bagioli had a good first U23 season and even won a race. He showed some climbing promise in a few races but like most young riders, he needs to focus on getting through races. Another first year U23 coming to Zalf is Daniele Rupiani, who was a strong junior in 2013 with 5 wins and rode well with General Store in the early season with two top 25 placings in Palio del Recioto and Piva Banca plus he finished Valle d'Aosta fairly well. Borso is another younger rider that could be an addition to a sprint train after some decent rides for Team Friuli last year. Rupiani got nice results as a junior in 2013 while 2014 was a learning curve with General Store. He should be up to speed in 2015 and he should be ready to add to Zalf's climbing power.

Zalf got a big score with Gianmarco Begnoni, who was one of the most successful Italian juniors in 2014. He won 7 races including sprint wins in the 1st stage of the Junior Peace Race and the 2nd stage of the GP Rüebliland. This isn't including his win in the Italian Junior Omnium championship ahead of Attilio Viviani, the younger brother of Elia. Harness this right and Zalf has themselves a huge talent. Another junior they got was Filippo Rocchetti, who won a stage in the UCI Le Tropheé Centre Morbihan and was 2nd in the GP dell'Arno. Seems strong as a climber and in the breakaways. The other junior coming on is Saroti, who was 2nd in the Italian junior points race and has a pretty good kick on him, it seems like.

To counteract the influx of young riders, the team is brining in an older rider to be the general on the road. Marco Gaggia has been kicking around the Italian amateur scene for the last half decade and has put up some decent results throughout the years. He lacks a signature win but has a handful of 3rd-10th placings to his name in good races. He is going to be 25 through next year and will be someone that the younger riders look to for some guidance. Another non-U23 who has some experience is Niccoló Rocchi. Rocchi rode with Roth-Felt last year and comes from a track background but has turned into a rider that can make selections in difficult one-day races.

Maronese seems to be a pretty decent rouleur. Also he is a Christmas baby. Also, I can't find much to say about Savignano as he doesn't have a lot of results to go on. Fingers crossed with him?

So while Zalf lost a lot after 2 huge seasons in a row, it seems like they won't be half bad for 2015. They will of course stack their win column with low quality regional races but they could take a few big races this year.

Prediction: 1 UCI win (37 wins overall)

Monday, December 1, 2014

2015 Team Obituaries: Laying to rest those that won't be joining us in the new year

And lo, it is the time of year that teams are locking up the service course doors for the last time and trying to sell the remainder of their team bikes on eBay. In the current state of cycling, teams come and go every year with some going just anonymously as they came. Others demises are emotional, involve last-minute saves that do not come to be and riders scrambling to keep the dream alive. Let us go through the development teams whose jerseys will not be seen in the peloton come January.

4-72 Colombia
One of the most tragic stories from the transfer season has to be the demise of 4-72 Colombia. A couple of months ago, there was talk that 4-72 Colombia was going to go Pro Continental. In September, it was announced they would stay as a continental team for '15 but they would be making their move to the Pro Conti ranks in '16. Okay, fine. Two months later, there is the announcement that their potential sponsor deal fell through in the 11th hour and they didn't have enough money to pay the UCI bank guarantee, which meant that the team was forced to move to an amateur setup for 2015.

4-72 Colombia was a beacon in Colombia cycling because of their internal bio-passport program and transparent approach to racing in a country that still suffers from doping problems. The team itself has seen criticism from some in Colombia because of their staunch clean position and has had multiple issues from the Colombian federation.

They have produced big results (especially if you include their predecessor Colombia Es Pasion) including 2 Tour de l'Avenir winners in Nairo Quintana and Estaban Chaves, Tour de l'Avenir podium finisher Juan Chamorro and others including Heiner Parra, Jarlinson Pantano, Juan Villegas, Diego Ochoa and Giro della Valle d'Aosta winner Bernardo Suaza.

What happens from here is still to be decided. Many riders, even without the funding, are pledging their allegiance to the team because of the values they stand on. Big riders like Suaza seem to be looking around a bit with the climber being linked to the new GM Cycling team in Italy.

I hope the team isn't dead. This project was a true glimmer of hope and was cycling done the right way. Anyone who isn't saddened, at least in cycling terms, needs to get their priorities straight.

Development Team Giant-Shimano

Development Team Giant-Shimano, we hardly knew ye. While the World Tour team was able to get a new sponsor and live on as Giant-Alpecin, the development team that was new in 2014 is being stopped after only 1 season.

The project was originally driven by Aike Visbeek, who is a coach with the World Tour team. He had been involved in the People4You-Unaas Cycling until the end of 2013, when the team had a rough breakup. Visbeek brought with him Swedish talent Frederik Ludvigsson, the brother of pro Tobias, along with Robert Pölder, whose father is buddies with Visbeek, and Christopher Bertilsson. The big signing was that of Lars van der Haar, the cyclocross sensation who would be riding in the team's colors on the dirt and on the road.

They assembled a pretty good team of U23 and younger non-U23 talents but it wasn't exactly the season they were hoping for. They ended up with 2 wins and some high placings courtesy of Kristian Haugaard but they were dealt with big blows when Mathias Rask suffered knee problems that saw him compete in just 1 race while Ludvigsson had iliac artery issues that bothered him all season and he ended up going under the knife early in the the off season.

To say the team was successful would be...ehhh. Max Schachmann and Jan Brockhoff did themselves favors by getting some strong results and getting off the AWT-Greenway for 2015. Van der Haar showed to everyone that watched that while he could potentially do well on the road, he is certainly home in the dirt. He and Ludvigsson will be moving up to the Giant-Alpecin team for 2015 with the former still concentrating on cyclocross full-time. The team's demise wasn't great for all as Haugaard, Pölder, Bertilsson and Kiwi Alex Frame are all without confirmed rides for 2015.

The team is moving away from a direct development team in favor of testing riders multiple time during the season and if they check out along with getting some results, they will be offered a ride. It does cut down on the huge expense of running another team but it take away a personal connection. I mean, the way that the World Tour is currently is set up, a direct World Tour feeder team doesn't make too much sense simply because only a couple of riders can graduate to the pro team at a time and in many cases, there are more riders ready than riders needed.


This one is only a partial death. The passion of Miguel Madarriaga will live on with the Euskadi team but, at least for 2015, the team well be reverting to amateur status. The year after Euskaltel-Euskadi finally kicked the bucket, Madariagga ran out of money after the Vuelta a Burgos and the team more or less ceased to exist after that. I got a lot of my grieving out last year about the demise of Basque cycling and I have a feeling that it won't be too long before we see some sort of Euskadi-like team in the future. Even for 2015, there is a new Spanish continental team called Murias Taldea that is essentially Basque with nearly all of their riders coming from the Basque Country or Navarre.

Also, if anyone could procure me a Euskadi jersey, I would be indebted to you. Love the jersey. Size Large, please and thank you.

Other continental teams that are stopping include: Koga (Netherlands), BDC-Marcpol (Poland), Christina Watches (Denmark), EPIC Janom Greenway (Slovakia), Firefighters Uppsala CK (Sweden), Gebruder Weiss (Austria), Josan-ToWin (Belgium), SP Tableware (Greece)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2015 Team Preview: Lotto-Soudal U23

Kurt van de Wouwer is a leftover from a generation that many people are trying to push themselves away from. Riding over 13 years, his best results came in the late 90s and early 00s including 3 top 20s in the Tour de France with his best finish being 11th in the '99 Tour. Many write any rider in the top 20 from that era off as a doper. Van de Wouwer was never linked with any doping during his career or after and while this makes sense with his results, many cynics will think that it is only a matter of time until something is found. He has said that while he heard the conversations of doping, he chose not to, equating it to people choosing to drink or do drugs. Believe him or not, Van der Wouwer went and joined Lotto cycling after his retirement and for the last few years, he has been the man behind the Lotto cycling U23 team, which has been churning out droves of talent and been like a peptic ulcer for Pat Lefevere.

2014 was probably the most successful year for the team all-around. Louis Vervaeke won the big stage races in Pays de Savoie and l'Isard, Benoot was an animal with results all over the board, Jef Van Meirhaeghe won the Belgian U23 RR while Dan McLay came into his own as a sprinter with stage wins in Tour de Normandie, Paris-Arras and the Tour de l'Avenir.

They are graduating a record number of riders to the pro ranks with Vervaeke and Benoot heading to the Lotto-Soudal pro team, Van Meirhaeghe and Amaury Capiot heading to Topsport Vlaanderen, McLay heading to Bretagne-Seche Environment and a host of other riders heading to continental teams including Xandro Meurisse (An Post-Chain Reaction), Rob Leemans (SEG Racing) and Dimitri Peyskens (Team 3M). Other riders they are losing include former Belgian U23 RR Champ Jorne Carolus, who is retiring to focus on school, and Thomas Vanbesien, who leaves to BCV Works-Soenens.

While a large chunk of riders are leaving, let's see what is left for Van de Wouwer to work with. Riders (all Belgian unless indicated) returning for 2015 include Maarten Craeghs, Laurens De Plus, Kevin Deltombe, Frederik Frison, Alexander Geuens, Hayden McCormick (New Zealand), Ruben Pols, Brecht Ruyters, Dries Van Gestel, Mathias Van Gompel, Kenneth Van Rooy, Massimo Vanderaerden and Dieter Verwilst.

The glazed-over eyes are probably setting in now so I'll just give you the riders you need to know. Craeghs and Frison are the only two non-U23 riders on the roster. Craeghs won a stage in the Ronde van Oost-Vlaanderen and does pretty good on classics-style courses. Frison is a TT specialist that was 9th in the World U23 TT and can time trial among the best in Belgian. He struggled outside of time trials in 2014 and hopefully he can get back to his 2013 form, which saw him get into breakaways and climb relatively well. Deltombe is a young classics-style rider with a nose for bunch sprints; he had multiple top 10s last year in UCI races included 8th in the Dorpenomloop, 3rd in the GP Criquielion and two 6th places in the Circuit des Ardennes. De Plus got through his first year as a U23 pretty well and showed some talent as a climber by getting through the Giro della Valle d'Aosta pretty well, especially in the climbing time trials. McCormick was a standout junior and had some good results this year including 15th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour, 3rd in the Tour of Southland as well as some top 25 performances across the continent. He is an all-around talent that I don't think has been used to his potential. Pols is another time trial rider that can ride a flat to rolling stage race well (using the TT to gain time) and does decently in the one-day races but lacks some pop. Without having to shepherd Louis Vervaeke, Ruyters could burst through for a nice result in 2015. He was incredibly valuable to Vervaeke as a mountains domestique and if he was able to protect himself more, he could certainly get into the top 10 overall multiple times. Van Gestel was 5th in the U23 Peace Race and 9th in the Okolo Jiznich Cech; it does show he can ride in the Czech Republic but if he is on form in a medium mountains race, then he could produce similar results. Van Rooy could take the mantle as a leader on the team after his Worlds selection and consistent results in the one-day races. He has shown he can make selections and get close in a bunch sprint. 2015 will be the year to show he can do more than that.

That was a wall of text. Tedious but important. This preview is a lot more intensive than others I have done because Lotto-Soudal U23 is an amateur team, which means they don't have to pay riders. Since they don't pay riders, they can spend get more riders on the roster and spend more on getting them to races. The roster is pro-sized with 25 riders and while they ride a lot in the Belgian amateur scene, they also have a fairly strong calendar that takes them around Western and Central Europe.

For 2015, Lotto-Soudal U23 is bringing in a strong group that includes: Jean-Albert Carnevali, Steff Cras, Michael Goolaerts, Steff Hermans, Mathias Krigbaum (Denmark), Senne Leysen, Milan Menten, Emiel Planckaert, James Shaw (Great Britain), George Tansley (Australia), Joachim Van Reyten and Enzo Wouters.

Carnevali is an interesting pick-up from Verandas Willems. He showed himself very well in the stage races with 7th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour & Fleche du Sud along with 12th in the Ronde de l'Isard. Throw in his 16th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and he looks like a pretty good prospect for the hills. Cras is one of the first year U23s joining the team and looks like another rider that can potentially do well in the hills. He won a stage of the Tour de Valromey and had multiple top 10s in one day racing. You just need to watch juniors that are touted as climbers because some of them climb well as juniors but when they begin to specialize in the senior ranks, some tend to lose that ability. Goolaerts is another coming from Verandas Willems that can make a strong breakaway and even sprint but his consistency is lacking. Krigbaum is one of the more surprising transfers of the season. He was a stunning talent as a junior, especially in the time trial, but when he joined Riwal for his first U23 season, it was quite a rough transition. He was splitting time between the track, where he was being put in the Danish team pursuit squad for the Rio Olympics, and the road and wasn't getting anywhere with his form in either. He ended his contract with Riwal after June and rode on the Danish amateur circuit before signing on with Lotto. He intends to go full bore on the road, having broke off from the Danish National Team, and seems to be excited about the change of scenery.
Australian Tansley is a bit of an unknown entity as he really just emerged in Belgium this year with 6 wins riding for the Illi-Bikes team. Also, look at that beard? Damn right they gave him a contract. He seems to be able to do a bit of everything so, with a better schedule, I'm interested in seeing what he does.
Coming over from EFC-OPQS is the Limburger Vanreyten. He is a typical Belgian in that he does well in the Belgian one-day races, seems to be his best on a flat to rolling course and can mix it up in a bunch sprint sometimes. He hasn't had a signature result as a U23 yet but after some promising results in the Fleche Ardennaise and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad U23, look out for him in similar races next year.

Hermans, Leysen, Menten, Planckaert, Shaw and Wouters are all coming from the junior ranks. Hermans seems to climb pretty well. Leysen is the son of ex-pro Bart Leysen, who is a director with Lotto-Belisol, and is a strong time trial rider but isn't one-dimensional as he can climb fairly well and has a good kick on him if he needs to sprint. Leysen was good friends with the late Igor DeCraene and would love to keep making his friend proud. Menten is a good sprinter with a stage win in the Trofeo Karlsberg to his name and multiple top 10s across a slew of stages and one-day races. Planckaert is the younger brother of Roubaix-Lille Metropole rider Baptiste Planckaert and he has been incredibly consistent with 12 top ten rides in UCI races and winner of the Rund um Düren. He can make the front groups, he can follow breakaways and can even sprint a bit. He isn't built for the mountains but will be looking for the flat and rolling terrain to make an impact. Brit Shaw won the junior versions of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, both in solo runs to the line. Shaw can roll a good time trial and loves to go solo on a classics style course. Perhaps he can emulate Dan McLay at Lotto U23 and get a pro ride in a couple years time.  Saving the best for last, Wouters is the rider that is probably the most celebrated in the Belgian junior class. Enzo Wouters had 15 wins in 2014 including the Belgian junior RR and 5 other UCI wins, nearly all in sprints, as well as 3rd in Paris-Roubaix Juniors.

If any of you are still with me here then I congratulate you. Another new addition to the team is DS Walt De Winter, who retired after this season with Verandas Willems. It certainly helps to get a recent pro on the director team as they can tend to be a bit more sympathetic to the riders.

That was a bit exhaustive but I'm pretty sure you know every damn rider on their roster in some form or fashion. I think I might avoid this in future previews because I'm even becoming bored. In any case, Lotto-Soudal U23 seems primed for 2015 but I'm not so certain that they will be able to meet their 2014 marks. A young team and some riders that are a bit green will hold them back in some areas.

Prediction: 6 UCI wins (27 overall wins)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2015 Team Preview: BMC Development Team

Over the past couple seasons, Rik Verbrugghe has crafted a well-oiled machine at the BMC Development Team that has churned out 3 professionals and soon to be 4 when Loïc Vliegen turns pro in July with BMC. The team has also succeed in a place that has given Patrick Lefevere near heart attacks in that all of the riders to turn pro from the team have gone to the BMC pro team. Lefevere had multiple conniptions about his development riders heading to different teams and it got to the point that he quit funding the EFC-OPQS team because he wasn't seeing the results.

2015 is going to be different for BMC Development. Rik Verbrugghe is gone to IAM Cycling. He was the mind behind the team that has produced Silvan Dillier, Stefan Küng and Dylan Teuns. Replacing Verbrugghe is another Belgian ex-pro in Geert Van Bondt, a former winner of Gent-Wevelgem as well as a director with Garmin-Sharp for the last 3 years.

Unlike the teams that I have previewed so far this year, BMC Development is bringing back a large chunk of its team with 10 riders from their 2014 roster. These riders include Valentin Baillifard, Tom Bohli, TJ Eisenhart, Killan Frankiny, Johan Hemroulle, Lukas Spengler, Bas Tietema, Alexey Vermeulen, Loïc Vliegen and Tyler Williams. While they are losing some of their big guns, they still have some interesting young talent that could make the next step next year. Obviously Vliegen is going to be one of the cornerstones of the team but the Americans in Vermeulen and Eisenhart will be looking to step in in the GC realm and in the mountains while Williams, Spengler and Tietema have done well in the one days and should keep it going.

There are 5 new additions to the team that should give them a good depth and should get them even more wins than last year. The new additions include:
-The obvious big signing for the team is Australian sprinter Jesse Kerrison, who is coming from Budget Forklifts. The big test will be if Kerrison can adapt to the longer, harder racing and if he can, he has the finishing kick to take some wins in Europe. He took 11 wins in 2014, mainly on the Australian NRS circuit, but he did take 2 sprint wins in the late-season Chinese races. He probably would have won some more if he didn't come down with illness at Taihu Lake.

-Floris Gerts comes from Rabobank Development after his final year as a U23 and he showed some promise in one-day races, especially in the late season. His season was scattered with top 15 placings and he did ride the 2.1 Tour des Fjords, where he finished 25th after making the front groups on every stage. While he will be in his first year as a non-U23 senior, Gerts has not been racing seriously for very long and really emerged in 2013. Look for him in hard one-days in Northern Europe and in breakaways.

 -Coming from the junior ranks is the Swiss wunderkind Patrick Müller, the winner of the last two Swiss Junior RR titles and multiple Swiss and European medals on the track. He has won multiple stages in the Pays de Vaud over the last couple of years. BMC Development has had great success with young Swiss road and track riders such as Stefan Küng and Silvan Dillier. I expect no less from Müller.

-Speaking of strong, young Swiss track riders, Théry Schir comes over from EKZ Racing and should be able to make an instant impact in the classic races, time trials and even as a lead-out man for the designated sprinter. Schir has a bronze Worlds medal to his name in the Madison (with Stefan Küng) and has made a name for himself on the track with 2 European U23 titles in the team pursuit. On the road, he won the U23 Swiss TT (since Stefan Küng didn't start) and is a good rouleur.

-Lastly, BMC Devo has Nathan Van Hooydonck coming over from Bissell. The nephew of Edwig, Nathan didn't race a lot with Bissell this year as he was still finishing school and spent the first half fo the year riding kermesses in Belgium. He did win 5 races in Belgium this year, albeit the majority of them were small races without a lot of other talent. He takes after his uncle in that he is a classics talent and will most assuredly be a factor in a few one-days this year. Also look for him in the Nations Cup races with Belgium, if he get selected by the national team.

Something interesting about BMC Development is that they chose to keep their amateur status and not be a UCI Continental team. While this means they don't get a chance to race any .1 or .HC races, they get a steady diet of continental races as well as amateur races in America, Asia and Europe. Van Bondt highlighted that the team would be targeting similar races in 2015 that they did in 2014 including Tour de Normandie, Tour de Bretagne, Giro della Valle d'Aosta, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Roubaix.

2014 is going to be a tough act to follow with the departures. All of their 8 UCI wins last year came from Stefan Kung, Dylan Teuns and Ignazio Moser, all of whom are leaving the team. Vliegen won the Triptyque Ardennaise in Belgium and should get the team a few wins before departing to the mothership. Spengler got close a few times in some one-day races and could make the step up to take some wins. Perhaps the Americans or Tietema could breakthrough for one. It will be interesting see as well if Van Bondt can keep the team as well oiled as Verbrugghe had them going.

Prediction: 6 UCI wins (15 overall including amateur races)

Friday, November 21, 2014

2015 Team Preview: SEG Racing

The logo for SEG Racing in 2015 (via SEG Racing)
New for 2015 comes yet another development team but the first sponsored by a sports agency. The cycling arm of the Sports Entertainment Group (SEG) was created in 2007 and is currently headed by Eelco and Martin Berkhout. SEG Cycling currently represents some very big names such as Dan Martin, Bauke Mollema, Sep Vanmarcke, Niki Terpstra, Wout Poels, Rory Sutherland and others. What would go better with represent your riders than hiring your own performance team to coach your up and coming stars on your own UCI team?

Being based in the Netherlands, the majority of the team is Dutch. The team is also not strictly a U23 team with a few riders outside of that parameter.

The two "elder statesmen" of the team are Yoeri Havik and Jasper Bovenhuis. Havik is a strong sprinter and classics rider that also has a penchant for the velodrome. Havik won the Antwerpse Havenpijl in a difficult sprint ahead of Ivar Slik (Rabobank Development). He also had ten top 10 finishes this year and won the Amsterdam Six Day with Niki Terpstra a few weeks ago. If he really puts his nose to the grind, he could break through for a few more wins in 2015. Bovenhuis rode for Rabobank Development for his entire U23 career and then with Koga this year. He had some of his better years in 2011 and 2012 but he is a pretty good sprinter that can survive a longer day and rides a good prologue. In any case, both riders are going to need to be strong examples for the crop of younger riders coming in that includes 4 juniors.

6 more Dutchman are joining SEG for the 2015 season. They include:

-Koen Bouwman comes over from Jo Piels. He is a developing all-arounder entering his last U23 season. He finished 4th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour after a very strong time trial and was 3rd in the KOM classification. Speaking of KOMs, he was also 2nd in the classification in the Oberösterreichrundfahrt. In one-day racing, he was 10th in the 1.1 Volta Limburg Classic. Look for him in some potential GC races and harder one-days.

-Davy Gunst comes over from EFC-OPQS after a good first year as a U23 but still has lots of room to improve. Gunst was a very strong junior rider in 2013 with a UCI win in the Ronde des Vallees stage 1 and multiple top 10 finishes in UCI races. In 2014, Gunst put in some good rides like a 20th overall in the Kreiz Breizh Elites, winning a few Belgian kermesses and finishing the Giro della Valle d'Aosta in a decent 46th. Gunst will be looking to gun for some hillier races and see if he can make an impact in some UCI races.

-Fabio Jakobsen is one of the juniors joining the squad. He was a tremendous sprinter with 10 wins by my count (11 by SEG's count) this year. Now all of these wins came in the Netherlands against mainly Dutch competition. Any time he faced international competition, he was either pushed down the podium or didn't make the bunch sprint. It'll be a big step up to elite competition

-The best junior Dutch talent SEG will have for 2015 will be Julius van den Berg. Van den Berg had 4 UCI wins in 2014 including a stage win and the overall in the La Coupe du President Grudziadz stage race along with a stage in the International Neidersachsen-Rundfahrt. He was 2nd in the Dutch Junior TT as well as 2nd in the Sint-Martinusprijs Kontich. He likes a breakaway and should be a good one to watch in 2015 to see if he can pull a UCI win.

-Ricardo van Dongen has shown his penchant for the classics but now he has to think about the rest of the calendar. He won the Junior Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2012. This year, he was 4th in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, which won the bunch sprint just behind breakaway rider Bas Tietema. Van Dongen seems to like these races but past them, he seems to make the major race splits but doesn't factor in the sprint. Example being he made the cut int he Sparkassen Münsterland Giro but finished 12th. This is an important year for him to step and see if he can turn these top 15s into top 5s and more importantly, some wins.

-The final Dutch rider was actually their first signing for 2015 and might be their biggest result getter for next year. Steven Lammertink won the Dutch U23 TT this year and finished 4th in the European U23 TT. I thought he would be set for a potential top five ride at Worlds but it was not to be and he settled for 14th place instead. Lammertink has the tendency to DNF a fair amount of races but when he is on then he can certainly produce. For example, he nearly stole a stage win in the Vuelta a Burgos this year after a botched lead-out saw Lammertink go for it on his own (instead of leading out Thomas Damuseau) and he was just passed by Matteo Pelucchi. Huge potential in Lammertink and could be a threat for ITT Worlds next year but he needs to become more consistent. I feel like I say that like it is so easy but it is so important for a rider to become consistent if they have any shot at becoming a professional.

The foreign signings for SEG Racing include:

-Jenthe Biermans and Rob Leemans are the two Belgians joining up with the team. Biermans come from Giant-Shimano Development and won the Belgian Junior RR and the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors in 2013. Biermans had an alright season but should be getting a better calendar and more chances to shine in 2015. Leemans is coming from Lotto-Belisol U23 after having his best season as a U23. He won 3 regional races in Belgium against some pretty good competition. He had some top 10 finishes in UCI races and also, he is built like fucking Popeye.

-Following a powerful sprint win in the World Junior RR Championship, SEG locked down German Jonas Bokeloh. Now I don't want to say that his Worlds win was a fluke but..yeah. Bokeloh did with the German Junior RR but that was his only other major win on the season. He did tally 6 other wins but they were minor wins in Germany. Bokeloh did ride a good amount of UCI races but for the most part, he was beat by riders such as Enzo Wouters, Izidor Penko and Gianmarco Begnoni. Bokeloh, to me, isn't going to be a bunch sprinter.

He is going to need more selective courses to thin out the guys with the biggest kick and then he will be able to pounce. Even with that in mind, his Worlds sprint was surprising. He attacked late in the race with just over 6 kilometers left, joined the breakaway and he was brought back by the peloton. He was doing work inside the last 2 kilometers but thanks to riders getting mixed up, he was able to get a little rest in the last 600 meters before leading out from the front and holding everyone off. He seemed to be the beneficiary of circumstances. I just hope people are not expecting big bunch sprint results out of him right out of the gate.
-Speaking of super talented juniors, Magnus Bak Klaris is yet another super-talented young Dane to come through the system. The question is, along with many young Danes that have been coming through, if he will actually show his true potential or if he will never reach the heights of his early career and hit a massive wall. I could list a whole bunch of names like Thomas Vedel Kvist, Rasmus Guldhammer, Andre Steensen, Jonas Aaen, Rasmus Sterobo and so on but it has certainly been a theme in Danish cycling. Bak Klaris took out the Paris-Roubaix Juniors this year after launching a late attack and held off a reduced bunch sprint of 14 riders. He won the Junior Peace Race after making the breakaway on the final two stages, got two 2nd places and stole the GC on the final stage from Rayane Bouhanni. He took two more breakaway wins in Gent-Menen and the 4th stage of the GP Rüebliland. He even got into the mix in the World Junior RR sprint with 5th place to cap off his season. The young kid from Copenhagen obviously has the talent but it will be interesting to see if he is another statistic in the problematic development of Danish cyclists or he continues to excel to a pro career.

-The Irish-Australian Robert-Jon McCarthy had a really good first half of the season with AnPost-Chain Reaction but the 2nd half of the season was a disaster. McCarthy finished 2 races, both in the 100s, out of 9 races. McCarthy has some strong sprinting talents judging by his wins in the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour and the opening stage of the An Post Ras. If he could duplicate the opening of 2014 over the whole season in 2015, then McCarthy will have no problems.

-The final rider for 2015 with SEG is Alex Peters, one of the sensations of the 2014 season with the Madison-Genesis team. The Brit Peters, who is one of the only Hackney riders on the circuit, won the Tour of Reservoir this year on the British Premier calendar before breaking out for some big UCI rides. He was 2nd overall in the An Post Ras by just 25 seconds and won the youth classification. He had just turned 20 and on his steel bike, he was turning heads. He was 2nd in the KOM classification in the Kreiz Breizh Elites and while he finished 36th in the Tour of Britain, he would have finished so much better if it wasn't for a disastrous TT where he finished in dead last (105th at +7'33") after crashing in the final bend and having to walk his bike across the line. If it wasn't for that, he probably would have finished somewhere inside the top 30.

The roster looks fairly good for 2015. They are lacking a big name rider with a track record of success but this is a development team so the goal will be getting one or two of their riders to really make the next step to winning races.

The team is bringing on a pretty good director staff with some ex-pros to lead the team and a coach from outside the usual loop.

-Ton Welling will be joining as the team manager for 2015, coming over from the Koga team that will be defunct as of January 1.
-Michiel Elizjen rode for 5 years professionally and then hung up the wheels at just 28 years old and became a director in 2011. He will join as the performance director for the team after 2 years of directing at Belkin.
-Peter Schep was a World Champion in the points race in 2006 and was a force on the track for the first decade of the 2000s. Schep will be one of the performance coaches on the team and he has been working with some of the riders already.
-Some of you might recognize the name Vasilis Anastopoulos from when Thomas Dekker made his comeback with Garmin. Anastopoulos was a professional with Volksbank for 5 years and has been managing and coaching SP Tableware for the last few years. He will be responsible for the testing and data analysis for the entire team.
-Joining Elizjen in the team car will be Brit Neil Martin, the father of Garmin pro Dan Martin, who is also a SEG client. Martin is a former British National RR Champion and has been the Irish National team coach for the past several seasons.

Also, the team will be riding Koga bikes (Ton Welling connection) on Shimano components.

Verdict: 5 UCI wins (maybe 10 if they ride amateur races)

I find it a bit confusing when teams count very small amateur races towards their win total but I feel like SEG will have a pretty good year. They have a very young team so they will be relying on their elder statesman for support but their young guys could produce a few wins. I'll be looking forward to see how the rider agency backing a team works out because it could be something that happens more in the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2015 Teams Preview: AWT-Greenway

What the fuck is this? AWT-Greenway? What the hell 2nd-rate team from Eastern Slovakia is this? Well for those that have been a little late following the news, the former Etixx development team got a new name. With Etixx taking over the title sponsorship of OPQS for 2015, the development team found new title sponsors so as not to create more confusion than they did before.
Let us begin with the new sponsors. AWT is a logistics firm in the Czech Republic that specializes in intermodal transportation and dealing a lot with rail lines. AWT is also owned by Zdenek Bakala, who is the head honcho of Etixx-OPQS. GreenWay is a Slovak company that specializes in electric vehicles. Go here to view their website.

Enough with the sponsors, the actual riders a most important. This biggest news here is that there are only two holdovers from 2014. Two. That is basically a whole new team. The two that they are keeping are Frenchman Alexis Guerin and Spaniard Alvaro Cuadros. Guerin had a career year with multiple top 15 in big one days like the Rund um Köln and the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He was 4th overall in the Tour de Bretagne and 5th in the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia). He won't be a U23 in 2015 but that might be fine. Cuadros is meh to me. He had one good ride this year in the U23 Peace Race but that was it. He is very young so I cannot judge too much but a lot remains to be seen.

It should be mentioned that as a development team they did accomplish their most important goal, which is the actual development of the riders. They sent five riders to World Tour or Pro Continental teams including Karel Hnik (CULT Energy), Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi), Sam Spokes (Drapac), Tim Kerkhof (Roompot) and probably most importantly, Lukasz Wisniowski, who went to the mother team Etixx-OPQS.

The other riders going away include Czech Radovan Dolezel, Belgian Paco Ghistelinck (retiring at the tender age of 21), Croat Josip Rumac (Adria Mobil) and the Hoelgaard brothers Markus and Daniel, who are heading to Øster Hus and Team Joker, respectively.

While they lost a lot, they might be gaining a lot more. Many times last year I was certainly left wondering where the hell Etixx was. Next year might be a bit better in that regards. Let us start with their foreign talents.

-The German duo of Jan Brockhoff and Max Schachmann are coming over from the now defunct Giant-Shimano Development team. Schachmann is certainly a force in the time trial at just 20 years old. He was 5th in the World Championships, just 37 seconds down on winner Campbell Flakemore, and he even crashed. Without that, he would have been close to a podium performance. He is still developing in other areas and it remains to be seen where he can go but his engine is powerful. Brockhoff adds depth in a jack-of-all-trades way. He can make it through a tough course and can sprint a bit, TT pretty well and climb when asked. Still finding himself as a rider but as his Tour Alsace stage win shows, the talent is there.

-Spaniard Ivan Garcia Cortina is just 19 and doesn't have a big palmares to his name but comes off the recommendation of old dope bags Carlos Barredo and Chechu Rubiera. He won the Spanish junior RR championship in 2012 and put in a few nice rides this year but nothing huge.

-Probably one of the best signings was Pole Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz from Bauknecht-Author. The 20-year old showed some strength this year with a breakaway stage win in the U23 Peace Race and a 3rd overall in the Carpathian Couriers Tour. He showed some toughness by only having one DNF on the year and even finished the Tour of Poland, albeit in 125th position. Expect some nice rides by Kasperkiewicz this coming year in the breakaway.

-The rider that could bring the most immediate affect on AWT-Greenway for 2015 is Slovak Erik Baska. The sprinter clocked up 3 UCI wins in 2014. Granted they were all in Central Europe but he certainly has a strong kick and could fill the hole left by the Hoelgaard brothers. The only concern with Baska is if his endurance is high enough to be able to contend sprints in harder and longer races, which is something he didn't have this year.

-Probably the most surprising signing by the team was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger brother of soon-to-be Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. Bouhanni is not as one-dimensional as his brother and put up a staggering amount of results in 2014. He nearly won the Junior Peace Race but was unseated from the lead on the final day to Magnus Bak Klaris. Following double 10th place performances in the European RR and TT, Bouhanni jumped over the pond to the Tour de l'Abitibi. He got into the breakaway on the first stage with guess who...Magnus Klaris Bak...and won the stage. He gained some bonus seconds here and there and after Bak Klaris faltered, he took the overall for good, which made him the first Frenchman to win Abitibi since Arnaud Jouffroy in 2008. He then proceeded to win the French Junior RR and took 2nd in the TT.

That might have sounded like a big jerk-off paragraph but Rayane is just so different than his brother. Now his results could be a product that he was just on another level from other riders but I think he will be more of a rider that will be focused on breakaways, small sprints and trying to go for overall GC in races that require a good TT and a little attacking panache.

-Being a Czech team, the management had to bring in a bunch of Czech riders to get past the UCI rule mandating that the team have a majority of riders from the country where the team is licensed. The most experienced rider on the team will now be Jakub Novak, who comes over after two seasons with BMC Development. Novak had a very strong 2013 that included 4th in the Cascade Classic, 11th in the Tour of Alberta and 6th in the Chrono Champenois. He had a good early season as a domestique that saw teammates win the Tour de Normandie (Stefan Küng) and 2nd in the Tour de Bretagne (Dylan Teuns) but Novak didn't see many results himself. Novak needs to have a big season in 2015 if he is looking to continue his professional career.

Michal Schlegel was 2nd in the Czech U23 TT this year by just 1 seconds in just his first U23 season after winning the Czech Junior TT in both 2012 & 2013. He was 4th in the stupid hard (and longest fucking named race) GP Kralovehradeckeho kraje, which was on the same time as Etixx-OPQS signing Lukasz Wisniowski.

The other two Czechs, Roman Lehky and Matej Bechyne, are both coming out of the junior ranks. Lehky was 2nd in the Czech Junior TT this year while Bechyne rode for the Belgian Tietsle Renners in 2014, the same club that former World Junior TT Igor DeCraene rode for before his passing. While they seem to be good riders, it does speak some volumes that the team wasn't able to sign the best Czech junior from their class, Adam Toupalik, who was the main UCI point scorer for the country.

Let us not forget who are in charge of these young riders. Pavel Padrnos is one of the sports directors. This is a rider who was caught with banned products in the San Remo raids and was home boys with Lance. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. Martin Riska is the new director joining for 2015. He was 5-times the champion of Slovakia in the RR and retired back in 2011. This is probably a big boost for the team because they lacked a director that had more recent racing experience.

In any case, the team looks like it could do well for 2015. It certainly isn't the most talented team and will not get the biggest results but there are some gems here.

My prediction: 8 wins. They lost so much of their core that this year is about rebuild and try to see where they can shine when they can.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Espoirs of 2014

It is finally the post that you all have been waiting for. No more looking at 1st years and riders who bombed. No, no. It is finally time to unveil Espoirs Central's Top 5 Espoirs of 2014 list. If you have read any of my other previous lists, you know that I have a tendency to be effusive and I'm not very good at sticking to just 5. As with every article, if you disagree or just want to congratulate me on my brilliance, then please leave a comment, tweet me @Vlaanderen90 or send me an email (look to your right for that).

1. Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development - Netherlands - 1992)

This could very well be the Dutch's next classics star. Mike Teunissen won the U23 World Cyclocross Championship in Louisville in 2013 ahead of emerging stars Wietse Bosmans and Wout van Aert. This capped off a year that saw his win the European U23 Championship and win the Tabor World Cup. Following his successful 2013 campaign, Teunissen virtually gave up the dirt for a chance as a career on the road and he hasn't looked back since.

2014 saw Teunissen be a classics juggernaut. Anything from flat pavé to steep climbs saw the Limburger do well this year. Teunissen got started a little later with Triptyque Monts et Chateux in April but after keeping within striking distance, he went on a balls out attack on the final stage to try and take back the overall. Teunissen and his breakaway mates were gobbled up in the final lap but he was able to hang on for 2nd on the stage and 6th overall. The next weekend, he finished 5th in the crash-ridden finale of the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 where his Dutch National teammate Dylan Groenewegen won. The young guy even finished Tro-Bro Léon, probably my favorite French one day race that is the Bretagne cousin to Paris-Roubaix filled with farm tracks and shit conditions.

In any race the he runs, Teunissen seems to try and go for the win. He doesn't have the sprint to stay with any pure sprinters but he can out sprint many. He can't out climb every rider but he can hang on when many can't. He is also a damn good teammate. He finished 13th in the Tour de Bretagne overall when his teammate Bert-Jan Lindeman won the race overall.

The obvious gem of his season was his U23 Paris-Roubaix win in June when he just rode Tyler Williams and Bas Tietema off his wheel and soloed to a huge win in the Roubaix velodrome. It was a display of raw power that most will never be able to produce themselves and is a key sign that Teunissen is ready for the big leagues. Many could just rest on their laurels and ride out the rest of the season but he wasn't about to do that. He grabbed 3rd overall in the 2.1 Boucles de la Mayenne (best U23) and was 20th overall in the 2.1 Ster ZLM Tour. Then at the Dutch Nationals, his season hit the emergency brake. After 2nd place in the U23 TT to Steven Lammertink, Teunissen broke his collarbone on the final lap of the road race. Back to the drawing board...

His season was nearly derailed on his comeback. Teunissen came back in August with a good showing at the Kreiz Breizh Elites in 15th overall but following a DNF in the Tour de l'Ain, it was announced Teunissen would not be apart of the Tour de l'Avenir selection for the Netherlands. Ruh roh.

While it was a temporary disappointment, Teunissen built up for a strong cap to the end of his season. After a top 10 at the GP Jef Scherens, he repeated at the Rabo Baronie Breda Classic. He went on to finish in the front group at the World Championships on a course that wasn't quite hard enough.

To end his U23 career, Teunissen did what he does best. He broke away. With Sam Oomen and Martijn Tusveld, Teunissen did a 3-man TTT through the finale of the Paris-Tours Espoirs. In the finale kilometer, Teunissen broke away to take the solo win to cap off what was a great season and a preview of what is to come.

2. Robert Power (Australia - 1995)

I have written effusively about the 1st year U23 from Western Australia to the point that if I'm sure some of you could write an article about himself yourself. Robert Power made a name for himself as a junior but this year, he took himself to another level as a prodigious climber and as someone who isn't afraid to stick it into the big ring and ride people off his wheel.

While he had strong performances through the spring, the highlight of his season was a stretch through August when barely anyone could hold his wheel. He beat the Zalf-Euromobil juggernaut in Briga Novarese, he won solo in the GP Poggiana and then bridged up and dropped the breakaway at GP Capodarco to win solo. He even went up against Miguel Angel Lopez in the high mountains of the Alps and while he finished 2nd overall, he did prove his versatility in terns of different climbs.

You better savor him in 2015 because I'm guessing it'll be his last as a U23.

3. Magnus Cort (CULT Energy - Denmark - 1993)

I always seem to talk about Robert Power's trifecta or Louis Vervaeke's big stage race wins in l'Isard and Pays de Savoie but it is hard to get past how prolific Magnus Cort was in 2014. The Danish rider from the island of Bornholm had 11 UCI wins in just 47 race starts (including 1 TTT), which is a winning percentage of 23.4%. That is astronomical for a rider who isn't a bunch sprinter and in the his first 24 racing days of the year, he clocked up 5 stage wins, 3 one-day race wins and 2 overall victories at the Ronde de l'Oise and Istrian Spring Trophy. He had a 33% winning percentage through early June if you don't count his overall wins. Fucking insane. Yeah, it might just be the continental level but that level of success boggles the mind.

He scored 2 professional wins on the year with stage wins in the Tour des Fjords and Post Danmark Rundt, the former being a small select sprint ahead of Michael Valgren and Jerome Baugnies while the later was a bigger bunch sprint.

The one mark against Cort was that he didn't really produce in any U23 races where he was denied a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir, having to settle for two 2nd places in a row, while his best U23 one-day race was 6th in the U23 Eschborn-Frankfurt, where teammate Mads Pedersen won. That is a fairly small mark considering his wins are arguably more important than U23 competition but he also did seem to peter out a little bit at the end of his season with a much more quiet finish than his beginning.

4. Miguel Angel Lopez (Colombia - 1994)

Heading into 2014, I don't know many people that had Miguel Angel Lopez on their mind. Having had multiple injuries and being racked with a stabbing attack while on the bike in 2010 that garnered him the monicker "El Superman", Lopez hadn't had much racing time and was a bit of an enigma.

I first became aware of Miguel Angel Lopez after his performance at the Vuelta de la Juventud, the U23 version of the Vuelta a Colombia. Lopez, riding for the Boyaca Lottery, took down overall leader Brayan Ramirez on the queen stage to take the overall lead and eventually the win. Lopez was dominant in Colombia this year with 12 wins in his home country including an uphill time trial win over dipshit Oscar Sevilla.

Lopez, in an interview with El Pais, came across as a very serious rider who seems annoyed with a lot of questioning and doesn't understand the need for lengthy interviews. His coach, Rafael Acevedo, spotted him as a junior and got a house for Lopez on his farm so he could keep a closer eye on his development. A little strange by some standards but Lopez, who comes from a farming family, showed tenacity and his engine when climbing was incomprehensible.

Lopez's first trip outside of Colombia was to Europe this year with the Colombian national team. While he DNFed the GP Capodarco, he put in a strong prologue at l'Avenir with 13th and was able to get through the sprint stages unscathed. Lopez's climbing was unmatched in l'Avenir. On the first climbing stage to Plateau de Solaison, Lopez dropped Robert Power and Pierre-Roger Latour to take 3rd on the stage and slip into the overall lead, which he would not relinquish. Lopez got his stage win on stage 6 when he broke away with Rob Power and out sprinted him for the win. With the overall win in hand, Lopez followed wheels on the final day and was the 3rd Colombian in 5 years to win the race.

Lopez is joining Astana for next season, which is going to be a sink or swim for the Colombian. He is young and not very tested over a long season. His climbing is great but how will be do on small roads for the majority of the year? I didn't think it was a good idea when it was announced but Lopez is tough mentally and if he can handle the isolation or being on a foreign team, then he should be able to improve off his l'Avenir ride.

5. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23 - Belgium - 1994)

If we were looking at the most consistent rider of the season, Tiesj Benoot might be at the top of that list. The only thing missing from his season was a win, which ranks him lower on this list.

His season started off electric with two stage podiums and a 2nd place overall in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux followed by two top 5 one day performances with 3rd place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and 5th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, where he won the group sprint that caught the breakaway on the line. So he was close but no worries, a win should be just around the corner.

Well Benoot came with his Lotto-Belisol U23 team to the Ronde de l'Isard and was the right hand man for teammate Louis Vervaeke, who was gunning for the overall win. Benoot rode one of the best performances on stage 2 when on Bagneres de Luchon, he rode Vervaeke across a nearly 2 minute gap to get Vervaeke into the overall lead, which he would keep to the end. Benoot held on for 3rd overall and his took his only "win" of the season, the youth classification. Benoot showed more versatility with a 15th place overall in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, 5th in the Fleche Ardennaise (won the group sprint) and 6th in the European U23 Championships (3rd in the bunch sprint).

Benoot got a stagiaire ride with Lotto-Belisol and rode the Tour of Denmark in August. Benoot made a huge impression on the 3rd stage when he got 3rd place, which was just behind Matti Breschel, and moved up to 2nd overall. He held that spot until the time trial where he put in a good ride in 17th but he slid down to 10th overall. Benoot kept up the good impression with the pro team by going 4th in the GP Stad Zottegem.

He dropped out of l'Avenir after becoming ill. He again showed himself in the sprint in the World U23 RR Championship with 4th place, which was 3rd in the bunch sprint behind a solo Sven Erik Bystrøm. He put an exclamation point on his season by getting 8th place in Binche-Tournai-Binche, a 1.1 race, and 16th in Paris-Tours, which is a 1.HC.

I've been throwing out all of these results and many of you will begin to skim and get a glazed over look in your eyes. The point being about Benoot is that he isn't the first rider to be this consistent. There have been many riders get a string of steady results but don't breakthrough for wins. What do pro teams want? A rider that gets 5 top-5 finishes or a rider that gets 1 win? Benoot goes on to Lotto-Soudal for 2015 & 2016 and I think he is going to be a good pro but a winner? That remains to be seen.

5b. Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23 - Belgium - 1993)

Louis Vervaeke turned pro halfway through this season but the first half of his season was done as a U23. The way that he dominated in the mountains of France in the late spring and then later in the summer certainly warrant him to be on this list.

Vervaeke, who was 4th in both Tour des Pays de Savoie and Giro della Valle d'Aosta in 2013, started the season a bit slow but after a 5th in the Circuit de Wallonie, he showed he was ready to take on the Ronde de l'Isard. After showing himself with 3rd on stage 1, Vervaeke took advantage with a dominant ride on stage 2 with Benoot to move into the overall lead. Vervaeke  played defense the rest of the race and secured the overall by 1'22" on Maxime Le Lavandier.

He came back the next month in the Alps in the Tour des Pays de Savoie but had a little bit harder go of it. In the finale of stage 1, Dmitriy Ignatiev took off and took a minute out of the rest of the front group. Vervaeke blew up from chasing but came around and finished in 4th place, 1'19" down. With a sufficient hole dug, it was time to claw that time back. Stage 2 saw Vervaeke and 2nd place overall Jesus Del Pino crack Ignatiev on the climb to Plateau d'Assy, with the duo taking 53 seconds out of the Russian, who had a mysterious two-year break from cycling that I don't think was due to injury.

After trading some seconds in the split stage day, it came down to the final day where Vervaeke needed to take 28 seconds back from Ignatiev. The final day included two summits of the Col des Glieres with the final climb coming on the side of the Plateau des Glieres, which is famous for a brave stand by the Maquis (French Resistance fighters) against the Nazis. Vervaeke launched an attack an attack on the slopes of the Plateau and put Ignatiev on the back foot. Ignatiev wasn't catching him. Vervaeke had pulled off the coup. With his arms spread wide, he took the stage and by the time Ignatiev crossed the line, Vervaeke had 29 seconds. He cut it pretty fine but a win is a win.

Vervaeke had a rough transition to the pros due to some illness but came back for the Tour de l'Avenir. Vervaeke had up front in the mountains but he wasn't as dominant as he was earlier in the year. While his GC hopes were shot by the final doozy of a stage up to La Toussuire, Vervaeke through caution to the wind and bridged up to the breakaway on the first climb, the Col du Molard. He joined up with teammate Loïc Vliegen, who piloted him through the rest of the climb and at the foot of the Croix de Fer with 50 kilometers to go, Vervaeke went for it. Riding with the recent news of the tragic passing of Igor Decraene, Vervaeke went solo and didn't look back. GC hopes were out the window but he didn't care. He wanted something. Even as the gap plummeted, Vervaeke salvaged his race with a pretty damn awesome stage win ride and a great tribute to his fallen friends.

So Vervaeke was a U23 for half the year and he could have been higher up on this list but since he did turn pro, he is just being added because I like him.

Do you disagree? I know there are some that are very close on this list. Some of those include: Stefan Küng, Phil Bauhaus, Bernardo Suaza, Asbjørn Kragh, Simone Andreetta, Thomas Boudat, Dylan Teuns and others. I think I'm done talking about 2014. I want to look forward now. Look for stuff from the present and 2015. See you next time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Rider Breakthroughs

As I plow through top 5 lists for the 2014 season, the next one will focus on riders that busted out of their cocoons and into bad ass bike racers. While I did a post about 5 riders that dropped off their 2013 performances, these are 5 riders that got an "Exceeds Expectations" on their 2014 report cards. Like the majority of these lists, they are not 100% foolproof and the top 5 is in no particular order.

1. Eduard-Michael Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo - Romania)

Heading into 2014, the Romanian Eduard-Michael Grosu was stepping up a level in competition after riding with the Romanian National Team for a couple years as well as Overall Cycling on the Italian amateur circuit in 2013. He had racked up some results in the Tour of Romania, including a stage win in 2013, and won a small Italian race in a sprint over Paolo Simion, who is joining Bardiani-CSF for 2015. Grosu had a handful of top 10 finishes in Italian races but he was seemingly always a step behind the pure sprinters in Niccolo Bonifazio, Nicola Ruffoni and Nicolas Marini. (Apparently if you are named Nico-something in Italy, you are looking good for the sprints.)

In 2014, Grosu joined Vini Fantini-Nippo, the new Italian-Japanese fusion team, and made his mark early. While he didn't win the Carpathian Couriers Tour, he was easily the strongest rider there. In 6 stages, his lowest placing was 6th place in the ITT and he won the final two stages to finish 2nd overall to Gregor Mühlberger. Bunch sprints, breakaways and solo...he did it all. In the Tour of Estonia, an amalgam of former one-day races, the Tallinn-Tartu GP and the Tartu GP, Grosu won the first stage and was 2nd on the second stage to win the overall by 6 seconds.

One of his more impressive performances was a 2nd place in a stage of the Tour of Slovenia, where he was only behind Elia Viviani and beat riders like Michael Matthews, Borut Bozic and European Tour winner Tom Van Asbroeck.

Grosu went to the Tour of Qinghai Lake, one of the longest and hardest races no one gives a shit about, with a very strong Vini Fantini squad that included Grega Bole, Takashi Miyazawa and others. Grosu had 5 top 10s including 1 stage win into Zhongwei while Bole also had a stage win.

Now Grosu had some issues in longer Italian one-day races, where he DNFed pretty much everyone in the late season, and while he attempted to escape in the World U23 RR, he DNFed the race fairly early. So his season was a huge improvement from 2013 but there is definitely room to grow. Grosu is staying with Vini Fantini as they move to the Pro Continental ranks but he will need to keep the improvement going if he plans on getting onto the A-squad.

2. Phil Bauhaus (Stölting - Germany)

Okay, maybe this isn't a "breakthrough" more as logical improvement. Bauhaus was a good first-year U23 and won a stage in the Tour of Bulgaria but his improvement in 2014 was pretty stark. Bauhaus didn't start really going until late April where he was 2nd in Zuid Oost Drenthe, 7th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt (4th in the bunch sprint), winning Skive-Løbet and had 2 more top 10s in the Himmerland Rundt and Destination Thy.

Bauhaus was a presence in pro bunch sprints only as a 19-year old by going 7th in the Velothon Berlin, 4th and 5th in two stages of the Bayern Rundfahrt and 6th in a Tour of Luxembourg stage. He was 3rd in the German Elite RR, where he was only behind Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb.

Bauhaus really heated up towards the end of summer when he won 5 races including 2 stages of the Volta a Portugal, 1 stage of the Baltic Chain Tour and winning the Kernen Omloop.

While he was a good junior but Bauhaus made a huge jump this year in his sprint. He was being courted by Caja Rural but decided to sign with Team BORA for 2015, the new sponsor for NetApp-Endura, after Stölting announced they weren't moving to the Pro Continental level.

3. Emanuel Buchmann (Rad-Net Rose - Germany)

Speaking of Germans, Emanuel Buchmann showed everyone why he is one of the best kept secrets in the U23 ranks with his climbing skills. Buchmann had been a solid climber through his U23 years including top 20 finishes in the Tour de l'Avenir, Tour of Azerbaijan, Tour Alsace and the Mzansi Tour. His year in 2014 was a vast improvement upon anything he has done before.

Buchmann started off strong at the Mzansi Tour, where he went up against the MTN-Qhubeka juggernaut and came away with 8th overall. He continued the trend by going 8th overall in the Tour de Azerbaijan, which was just 3 seconds off Robert Power.

It was his late summer that really saw him shine. A 14th overall in the Tour Alsace got the ball rolling and it was continued with 14th in the GP Poggiani, which was in the 1st chase group behind Power, and 7th in the GP Capodarco. This form continued into the Tour de l'Avenir where Bachmann survived the opening few stages and then got better as the race went on with 11th, 10th, 9th and 7th on the final 4 mountain stages to finish l'Avenir 7th overall, a vast improvement from his 17th a year prior. Buchmann capped his season off with a win in the queen stage of the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia) and 3rd overall.

It was a big jump for Buchmann from being top 20 pack fill to being at the front of the races and fighting for wins. He is another rider joining Team BORA for 2015 and he I'm sure he is gunning for races with steep mountains.

4. Kevin Ledanois (CC Nogent sur Oise - France)

At the Arctic Tour of Norway, the breakaway on the first stage was expected with all of the big hitters but what wasn't expected was young Kevin Ledanois riding just on their coattails with fellow stagiaire Loic Vliegen (BMC). Ledanois finished 8th on the stage to North Cape and following his 6th place on the final stage to Tromso, he locked up 6th overall in his pro debut. What does one do after this? Why of course win the 1.2 Tour du Jura out of a 5-man group. Duh.

Ledanois really pushed himself to a new level this year by going 6th in the Tour de Normandie, after he made the breakaway on the final stage. He followed this up by 11th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, which was good for 7th in the group sprint which caught the breakaway on the line.

Ledanois was a bit inconsistent over the year as a whole but he showed some big promise in his races with Bretagne-Seche Environment and on hilly/selective courses as a whole. He will be joining Bretagne for 2015 and could make an immediate impact in some smaller races.

5. Kristofer Skjerping (Joker - Norway)

In both 2012 and 2013, Kristoffer Skjerping showed some potential as a cyclist by getting some top 15 results in races such as La Côte Picarde, Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen and Kernen Omloop as well as top stage results in races like Rhône-Alpes Isere and Tour du Loir-et-Cher. While he had gathered some good results, it was just good results at that point. Yeah, he was a young rider that looked promising but he still hadn't made "the big step". 2014 would change that for Skjerping.

In March, he made the breakaway at Paris-Troyes and was only beaten by spring chicken Steve Tronet, who has made a career out of winning spring races and costing off his results the rest of the year. He then had a very strong Tour de Normandie that included a 2nd place on stage 5 in a mass bunch sprint behind Marco Benfatto. He would have been much higher on GC but he missed the important split on the final stage and settled for 21st.

After a strong March, Skjerping was flying two weeks later at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 where he survived the late race carnage and what was becoming a motif for the season, settled for 2nd behind winner Dylan Groenewegen. Skjerping continued this trend of finishing off hard races strong by going 3rd in the Ringerike GP, 5th in the queen stage of the Tour of Norway and 3rd in a stage of the Tour Alsace. Enough of the fucking minor placings.

On the opening stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, Skjerping tagged the opening breakaway with Asbjørn Kragh and Sjoerd Van Ginneken. Skjerping was the best sprinter in the breakaway and only had to not get dropped. Skjerping succeeded in this and with Kragh having the yellow jersey, Skjerping outsprinted Van Ginneken for the win. Pretty awesome for his first UCI win.

His season was capped off by a stellar result at the U23 Worlds RR. Coming in with a stacked Norwegian team. Skjerping, who had showed his mettle in longer, harder races, stayed with the peloton throughout the race and when his teammate Sven Erik Bystrøm attacked in the final kilometers, Skjerping was the joker that was marking Caleb Ewan in case everything that came back together. Short story short, the race didn't come back together and Bystrøm stayed away in the end to take the big win while Caleb Ewan was scrapping up the silver medal and Skjerping right behind in 3rd place. In just his first selection for Worlds, Skjerping goes away with medal and then he signed a World Tour contract with Cannondale-Garmin. That is a pretty big step in just one year.


Why do I feel like that list is just...too mainstream? I will add a few more...exotic...picks for you.

6. Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development - USA)

Mr. Carpenter was a really good rider but in his final year as a U23, Carpenter seemed to step it up a level. He had top 30 finishes at Volta ao Alentejo, Tour de Beauce and Tour of Utah. The highlight of his season was obviously his solo win at the Tour of the USA Pro Colorado Challenge Cyclisme, where he survived idiotic judgement calls by the officials and held off the stream train of Tejay van Garderen and Alex Howes to take the win.

Carpenter is a boss. Not to mention that before this year he was a full-time college student and graduated on the same day as Philly this year. He won't be a U23 next year but I have a feeling it is going to be a huge year for him.

7. Joaquim Silva (Portugal)

Silva was the best Portuguese U23 rider this year after having some promising albeit not amazing results in years prior. He was 15th in the Volta ao Alentejo (3rd in youth by just 10 seconds) and then 8th overall in the Taça de Portugal, a series of 5 one-day events in Portugal with all of the big Portuguese teams. He then won the National U23 RR by a huge margin after going solo and winning by over 2.5 minutes.

The rest of summer saw what a stage racing talent that Silva is. He was 2nd in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro by a couple of seconds to younger stud Ruben Guerreiro. He finished the Volta a Portugal very well for a U23 with a 25th overall in the 10-stage affair and was the best U23 by 14 minutes. Silva climbed very well at the Tour de l'Avenir and in his first (and last) attempt at the race, he was 8th overall. He capped the whole season off with a 16th place front group finish at U23 Worlds.

Silva isn't linked to anyone right now for 2015 but after what he showed in l'Avenir, he could be one of the brightest Portuguese talents that you might never hear of again thanks to the insular worlds of Portuguese cycling.

8. Salah Eddine Mraouni (Morocco)

From January to May, Salah Eddine Mraouni was riding all over the Africa, mainly in the Maghreb in Northern Africa. (The Maghreb is the northern part of Africa including Muslim countries Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morrocco and Mauritania, which translates to the Berber World.) He started in Gabon by riding 10th overall in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo Bongo Bongo. He followed this up by strong riding in the Algerian Grand Tour, with placings all over the top 10, and culminating in strong rides in his home Morocco.

Mraouni rode to 7th overall in the Tour de Maroc, which was good enough for the best rider, and was top 5 in all 3 Challenge du Prince races. He capped off his long early season by going 2nd place in the Moroccan Elite RR, losing in a two-up sprint to Adil Jelloul. He promptly dropped off the face off the planet only to resurface at U23 Worlds, where he put in underwhelming rides in the RR and TT.

Moroccan riders, or pretty much everyone in the Maghreb outside of Algeria, have found it a tough transition to the ranks of the pro cycling elite. It is literally being shot to the moon for many North Africans if they get the chance to race in Europe and it is hard for many to show that promise that they show in Africa. Keep an eye on Mraouni in the early season in 2015 to see if he can once again go up against the European professionals.

9. Joey van Rhee (Jo Piels - Netherlands)

There are so many talented Dutch riders in the junior and U23 ranks that it is hard to get lost in the sea of them. Joey van Rhee has been racing through the junior and U23 ranks pretty anonymously up until his 3rd place last year in the National U23 RR. While he didn't make a dramatic step up this year, he certainly progressed with a top 10 finish in the 1.1 Dwars door Drenthe, 3rd in the Tour de Berlin TT and 7th overall as well as a top 15 in the Paris-Tours Espoirs.

10. Michael Gogl (Gebrüder Weiß - Austria)

The last two seasons with Arbo Gebruder Weiss have been trying for Michael Gogl. He was getting some rides in UCI races but had no standout rides to judge his progression on. This year was different though. In April, he won a stage of the GP Sochi and after multiple top 10 stage finishes, he came out with 11th overall, which was the first non-Russian/Ukrainian by two minutes. He followed this up by a first-chase group finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and then a 4th place stage finish in the Carpathian Couriers Tour.

Gogl got through the Tour of Austria but during the whole year, he wasn't able to string together a strong GC performance. He checked that box at the Tour de l'Avenir. On stage 2, he came out of nowhere in the difficult bunch sprint to place 4th. While I thought at the time, "Oh well that is awesome...I'm sure he will be at the back." Gogl proved me wrong by riding fairly consistently in the mountains and ending up as Austria's best finisher with 15th overall, which is awesome for his first participation in the race.

Gogl is transferring to another Austrian team for 2015, Felbermayr-Simplon, which is the same team that Riccardo Zoidl and Patrick Konrad have ridden for in recent years. He should be targeting the Tour de l'Avenir as well as other hard-one day races and stages. Look for him...seriously, you better.

I have another that I'm keeping an eye on as well...

11. Valens Ndayisenga (Rwanda)

Born under the auspices of genocide, Valens Ndayisenga has been the phenom of the Rwandan cycling boom and if he continues to develop, he could be following in the footsteps of Adrian Niyonshuti. Ndayisenga was the youngest Rwandan winner of a stage in the Tour of Rwanda, when he won stage 2 of the race last year with teammate Abraham Ruhumuriza. He rode well in the Algerian Grand Tour this year with 7 top 10s. He followed this up by doing the double in the Rwandan Nationals, winning both the RR, in solo fashion, and the TT. He even got the nod to start the Commonwealth Games TT, where he finished 23rd. He rode both the TT and RR at the U23 World Championships. His results might be not very impressive to some but when he is riding a bike that isn't exactly state of the art and trains primarily in a country who has a large amount of dirt roads, any results he puts up are exemplary, in my opinion.

Keep an eye on Mr. Ndayisenga in 2015. He trained at the UCI World Cycling Centre this summer and is targeting the GC overall in Tour of Rwanda, which begins on the 16th of this month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Race Days

I don't have quite enough time to pour over the whole of the 2014 U23 season but even without a lot of TV coverage, there were some races that had my hair standing on end just from the words. This article will present you with, in my opinion, the top 5 racing days of the 2014 season. If you have any objections, please feel free to let me know. Or even better yet, if there is a U23 reading this that has a vote on their favorite racing day from 2014, please feel free to let me know and I'll add it on here.

These are in no particular order but without further adieu...

1. Ronde de l'Isard stage 2: Muret to Bagneres de Luchon (May 23rd)

After Alexander Foliforov took the yellow jersey into stage 2 after a dominant performance on the opening stage of the Ronde de l'Isard, Lotto-Belisol U23 was pretty determined to take back the yellow jersey. A sunny day was short-lived as attacks flew off the front while Itera-Katusha controlled the pace from behind. An attack, spearheaded by 4-72 Colombia's Diego Ochoa, led out front with chasers including Pierre-Roger Latour, Lilian Calmejane (Vendée U) and Jeff Perrin (USA).

Riding into the Hospice de France climb at Bagneres de Luchon, Calmejane had attacked and brought with him Romain Campistrous, Loïc Bouchereau and Perrin. Campistrous had attacked on the climb but in the final kilometers, he was brought back and passed by Calmejane, the cylocross rider who was beginning his best season on the road ever.
Behind it was chaos. Foliforov was on a horrible day and Louis Vervaeke and co. had succeeded in dropping the Russian on the early stages of the final climb. Vervaeke was piloted by Brecht Ruyters through the shallow lower sections before Tiesj Benoot took over on the final half of the climb. I have yet to mention that the climb was under a sleeting wintry mix that made conditions down right miserable.

While Calmejane was being chased by Perrin nearly 2 minutes ahead with 3 kilometers to go, Benoot hit the gas and dropped everyone besides Vervaeke and Maxime Le Lavandier. When the slopes hit 13%, Le Lavandier was dropped and the Belgian duo were scorching the remote climb. In the final two kilometers, the duo made up 1'20" on the front riders and while Calmejane was able to take the win solo, Vervaeke came storming across the line in 2nd just ahead of an exhausted Jeff Perrin.

Foliforov lost nearly 5 minutes to Vervaeke, who took the overall win a few days later. Vervaeke would then go on to win the Tour des Pays de Savoie and begin his pro career with Lotto-Belisol.

2. Trofeo Sportivi di Briga - Briga Novarese (August 7th)

This was the race that should have showed every keen observer how badass Robert Power is and is going to be. Power, the New-Zealand born Western Australian with an American grandfather, had a strong season going but he had not been able to get a win yet. His biggest opponents were the riders of Zalf-Euromobil. For those unaware, Zalf is the top dog team on the Italian amateur circuit that finished with 56 wins this year, which is just 3 wins off their best ever that was set last year. Zalf doesn't like to lose home races. Zalf had controlled the race to perfection and into the final kilometers, they had a train at the front of the race that was whipping the pace up to an insane rate for the final uphill finish.

What happens in the final kilometer is a thing of beauty. It was Power's first win as a U23.

3. Tour de Normandie stage 6: Torigni-sur-Vire to Caen (March 30th)

Coming into the final stage of the Tour of Normandie, Lukasz Wisniowski riding high on some of the best form of his career and was looking to secure the overall. Wisniowski had a slight lead on Bert-Jan Lindeman but lurking 18 seconds back was Stefan Küng, the Swiss prodigy from BMC Development. On the stage commemorating the invasion of Normandie on Omaha Beach, Küng and BMC launched an assault on the race that flipped it on its head.

On the rolling, windy terrain of northern France, Küng and teammate Tom Bohli hit out early with a group of nearly 20 including Alex Kirsch (Leopard-Trek), Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano), Kevin Ledanois and many others. No Wisniowski. No Etixx. Uh oh.

The breakaway held a good 2 minute gap all of the way down Omaha Beach and even as the peloton tried to chase through the big right hander towards Caen, the gap was not falling. They had a gap of over 1'30" by the first of the local laps in Caen around the hippodrome. Wisniowski was taking turns on the front but the gap was still hovering around 1 minute with one lap to go. Benoit Jarrier took the stage while Küng rolled in with the breakaway, quite content with his accomplishments on the day.
It was one of Küng's 5 wins on the road and it went a long way of showing his future capabilities as a pro.

4. Trofeo Antonietto Rancillo - Villastanza, Italy - (March 30th)

On the same day as Stefan Küng pulled a coup in Northern France, there was a major upset in the suburbs of Milan. Caleb Ewan came into the season as the next sprinting god who was going to vanquish anything that came his way. The Australian National Team, lead by their faithful leader James Victor, came strolling in declaring that this was a training race in preparation for the upcoming Nation Cups. They proceeded to sit on the front and control the race in preparation for Ewan to unleash his big sprint, which everyone expected.

It was a little bit too textbook though. While Ewan has an incredible turn of speed, it seems like they hadn't done their homework in terms of possible riders that could upset everything. In the final 10 kilometers, the Australians hit the front and got everything back together. They were feeling quite confident in themselves. In the final 250 meters, Caleb Ewan came off his final lead out and launched his sprint on the inside barriers, quickly getting an advantage. With 100 meters, there was a green/black bullet that had drawn himself equal to the powerful Australian. The challenger had his chest on his stem; churning the bars and trying to snap them off in his hands. With 50 meters to go, he drew clear of Ewan and in the end, he had enough time to post up and salute with Ewan nearly a bike length back in 2nd.

Jakub Mareczko, up until that point at least, had only won a single race in 2014 but this was the turning point that saw the Polish-Italian rider go for 13 wins and 19 total podiums. Mareczko, who is done to ride with Neri Sottoli for 2015, has a style that reminds me of an early Mark Cavendish. He gets his chest down to the handlebars and the bike is the one holding on for dear life while his legs churn away. While he struggles with some longer races, he could be a force to be reckoned with a in a couple of years time.

Australia tried to write off the defeat by saying that they were just focusing on everyone getting through (instead of winning the thing) but they were upset, hands down. Mareczko handed Ewan a beat down and it was pretty fun to watch.

5. Vuelta de la Juventud stage 4: Villa Leyva to Alto del Crucero (June 6th)

While I know that there are some other major races I'm going over, I feel like the queen stage of the Vuelta de la Juventud deserves its place because it was the race that one of the revelations of the season, Miguel Angel Lopez, busted out. "El Superman", riding for the Boyacan Lottery, was sitting high on the GC but about a 10 seconds behind leader Brayan Ramirez. Lopez, who had gained the Superman monicker after being stabbed by would-be robbers yet still being able to fight them off. He would use that on the 24 kilometer climb of El Crucero.

Heading into the finale, a breakaway including Daniel Rozo had been brought back and while there was a temporary lull, Lopez attacked with 8 kilometers to go and the only one able to respond was Brayan Ramirez. Ramirez's latch onto the GC lead was short-lived as Lopez accelerated with 4 km to go and went streaking through the mist. It was a precursor to the season that would come and Lopez gave everyone a taste of his explosive power, which was relatively unknown up to that point because of his lack of racing.

Lopez would go on to take the GC lead by 42 seconds on Ramirez by the end of the day and would end up winning the race overall. It was the 1st of 5 GC wins that Lopez had on the season including his incredible Tour de l'Avenir win. While I think Lopez is moving too fast to the pro ranks with Astana, this was the victory that sparked it all.