Tuesday, January 28, 2014

U23 Ride of the Week: 1/20-1/26

It was a pretty light week on the U23 front as both the Tour Down Under and Tour de San Luis dominated the road coverage. Seeing as neither of these races had a large amount of U23s racing, this week's ride of the week is...

Jack Haig's win in the Tour Down Under Youth Classification

While Caleb Ewan was the talk of the UniSA composite team after his win in the Australian U23 RR, Jack Haig was the star of the team. The Victoria product, who was the youngest winner ever of the Australian NRS overall last year, survived a small crash on the first stage, made the right splits and excelled on the Willunga Hill stage to finish the Tour Down Under in 17th overall.

On the Corkscrew stage, Haig made the big split and while he wasn't able to make the front selection behind Cadel Evans but got a minute gap over OPQS rider Carlos Verona. Haig then made the split on stage 4 and was able to hang with a good group on Willunga Hill, where he hung in for 20th on the stage. Haig, who transitioned to the road from MTB, comfortably took the win in Adelaide on Sunday and declared his first WorldTour race a success. Haig still has plans to race in the MTB XC race at the Commonwealth Games but in the end, his ambitions lie on the road and he said that he wouldn't mind giving l'Avenir a crack this year.

The other notable ride for last week was...

Emiliano Contreras getting 2nd place on 1st stage of Tour de San Luis - The young Argentinian made the long breakaway that contained eventual-2nd place on GC Phil Gaimon. Contreras was one of the more unlikely candidates for a result at San Luis as I have been able to find next to nothing on him except for a couple podium placing as a junior at his National Championships.

Some other notable U23 news of the last week or so included...

-Sondre Holst Enger attended IAM Cycling's team camp and will be joining as a stagiaire and most likely as a full pro in 2015.

-USA U23s went to Mexico and built a house for an under-privileged family. They are now in Chula Vista, CA for their first training camp.

-One of my favorite races, the GP San Giuseppe, has been taken off the UCI calendar for 2014. I loved the finish of the race in the old city of Montecassiano.

-Canadian U23 Alex Cataford, who is with Amore & Vita this year, was hit by a car in training last week in Tucson, AZ but is recovering.

-Danish Continental team CULT Energy, the team which has housed Michael Valgren and Magnus Cort, has plans of moving up to the Pro Continental ranks for 2015. With Tinkoff-Saxo now Russian registered, the Danes are keen to have another professional team to call their own. CULT was even talking about moving up for 2014 but with no Danish professional teams now, it looks more realistic.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

U23 Ride of the Week 1/13-1/19

In a new, and hopefully recurring segement on Espoirs Central, I'll be giving out a "Ride of the Week" honor for the best U23 performance of the week. This honor will go to a rider who gets a nice win or just sticks it out in the breakaway for 130 kilometers and it is a good way to look back on the week that was. So without further ado, the ride of the week goes to...

Bonaventure Uwizeyimana and his Stage 5 win in Tropicale Amissa Bongo

Uwizeyimana, who was included in the U23 ABC's, rode to an impressive solo win after a long day in the breakaway. Riding for the Rwandan National Team, Uwizeyimana was apart of the main breakaway of 10 that got away early but when the race wound down, he attacked with Moroccan Mouhcine Lahsaini with less than 10 kilometers to go. The duo worked well together and the gap opened up. Coming into the last kilometers, Uwizeyimana attacked Lahsaini and opened up a gap that he would stick until the line; a nice reward for a hard day's work.

While Uwizeyimana got the Ride of the Week, let's give out of a few nods to other U23s getting it done...

-Florian Senechal won the youth classification at Tropicale Amissa Bongo after getting into a breakaway on stage 1 of the race. He dropped off the front group but still got 8th place, which is the place he held overall for the duration of the race. Yet since Senechal has a fat pro contract with Cofidis, he runs into Espoirs Central's rule about U23s racing in the Pro Continental ranks, which strikes him from getting a huge write-up on here because he is already a professional rider. Kudos to Florian on the nice ride though.

-Since Senechal isn't a "pure" U23, my unofficial Espoirs Central youth classification winner for Amissa Bongo is Moroccan Salah Mraouni. While Mraouni is about 7 months older than Senechal, he rides for the Moroccan National Team and this result could be the first of many this year. Mraouni, who has gotten the majority of his results in Morocco and ridden the last two U23 World Championships, got into the same breakaway as Senechal did on the first stage but came in with a group that was around three minutes down. Mraouni finished well over the rest of the week and thanks to a few time bonuses, slotted up into 10th overall when it was all said and done. Finishing 2nd and 3rd on the unofficial youth classification were Eritrean Metkel Eyob (13th overall) and Namibian Costa Seibeb (21st).

-For the 2nd year in a row, Venezuelan Jhorman Flores won the youth classification of the Vuelta a Tachira. The 20 year old, who is in the Androni-Venezuela pipeline, finished 19th overall in the difficult January stage race.

-Caleb Ewan finished 3rd in the Tour Down Under Classic behind Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. The TDU Classic is the criterium that proceeds the stage race proper and while not counting for any UCI points, the sprinters are keen to show their form. Look for Ewan this week on some of flatter stages of the TDU.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Thoughts on AUS/NZ Nationals

There are always things that can be talked about until the cows come home but you know in the end that the inevitable will happen. The politician promising change will be elected even though he is more of the same. Kids still have to eat their vegetables. Unless the hand of god came down and wrecked him out himself, Caleb Ewan was inevitably going to win the Australian U23 RR. I could have talked about how Jordan Kerby, Robert Power, Robert-Jon McCarthy and Jack Haig but it wouldn't have mattered. Ewan proved his climbing skills last autumn when he finished 4th in the Florence Worlds to many people, including me, who thought it would be too tough for him. Seeing as he was the fastest sprinter and had the talent to stick with any rider in the race, it was next to impossible for someone other than him to win.

1. Caleb Ewan is an animal

Nothing new. We knew this since he was about 16 years old but it is so impressive to see him put out results like a young Peter Sagan. Ewan won the U23 criterium on Thursday after weathering all of the attacks and dusting everyone in the sprint. Ewan came into the U23 RR as a hot favorite but after an early breakaway group was reeled back in, Ewan and a few others attacked with a couple laps left. Ewan was cramping on the last summit of the climb but held on to the lead group and was able to take out the final sprint by a couple of bike lengths. He should line up at the Tour Down Under with UniSA so we shall how he copes with the pro peloton and he is able to shove his way into the bunch kicks. 

2. Robert Power is a bundle of talent

While Ewan took the sprint in the end of the U23 road race, young Robert Power was flying in just behind him and flew past as they crossed the line. Just 18 years old, Power is starting his maiden U23 season off early and showing the talent that got him some big results as a junior. 

3. Woah...Harry Carpenter

So Harry Carpenter gets the most improved medal for the day. The South Australian mechanical engineering student came off a good season with the Euride team and had multiple top 10 GC results on the Australian NRS Circuit, some good time trials and even a ride (and finish) at the Tour of Qinghai Lake with the Australian National Team. Coming into the Australian Nationals, he was off of my radar but he did a good job of putting himself on it. Kitted out on Merida TT bike with a Lightweight disc wheel, Carpenter smashed his time trial and by the time he was done, he smashed Sam Spokes time and was the provisional leader. It wasn't until Jordan Kerby came through that he was unseated and it was by an agonizing .02 seconds; just a hair's breadth from the green and gold bands. The next day, Carpenter attacked the U23 criterium and was solo throughout the majority of the event. While he was caught in the end, he won the points jersey for the race. Then just two days later, Carpenter made the selection in the U23 RR and was putting in digs in the final kilometers before finishing an impressive 4th. Not exactly sure of his plans for 2014 yet but his impressive Bay Crits and Nationals run might get him onto the UniSA team for the Tour Down Under in a bit over a week's time. Keep an eye on him.

4. Fraser Gough isn't just Westley's cousin anymore

The last couple of seasons, Fraser Gough has been trying to cut his teeth in Europe in hope of getting into the European peloton, something his cousin Westley hasn't been able to do. Westley Gough was apart of the New Zealand bronze medal team pursuit from the Beijing and London Olympics but past his track accolades, he is still trying to find his place in the road cycling world. His cousin Fraser has ridden for Rock Werchter and the Royal Antwerp Cycling Club and had a stagiaire place with Doltcini-Flanders at the end of the year in 2013. Fraser really started 2014 well by winning the U23 New Zealand TT ahead of James Oram, who is a stud against the clock, and Dion Smith. Seems like Gough is still trying to lock down a ride for 2014 and this will help that search.

5. Hayden McCormick

Good ride by the Lotto-Belisol U23 rider at the NZ U23 RR, where he outsprinted Dion Smith and James Oram to take the win. I thought Smith would win the sprint in that group but McCormick has been on the track this winter and won the UCI Invercargill Scratch Race ahead of stalwarts Shane Archbold and King Lok Cheung so his sprint legs were pretty sharp.

6. It is January. If guys aren't on their A-game right now, then there is no reason to freak out.

Seriously. The European season for U23s doesn't really start in earnest for another three months so if guys are peaking now and don't take a big rest before then? They'll probably be fatigued and won't do much. I'm not too worried about Campbell Flakemore, Dylan Kennett or Mitchell Lovelock-Fay not being on top form because when it boils down, it is just nationals and there is a long season ahead. Aussie or NZ Nationals can be important indicators but they aren't the end all be all.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Six First-Year U23s to Watch in 2014

With a new year upon us, there is new talent moving up from the junior ranks to the espoirs ranks and we will see if their results match their promise. As opposed to my magnum opus that was the U23 ABC's, I will be limiting myself to just six riders, ranked in no particular order. Boy, this is going to be a challenge...

Photo: @Toscana2013

There will be one big exclusion from this list even though he might be the strongest all-around rider that has come out of the junior ranks in a long time. After going undefeated as a junior in the 2012-13 cyclocross season that included a World Championship, Mathieu van der Poel won 13 races on road including the World Junior RR Championship. It was rare for him to be outside of the top 10 and even more for it to happen in two consecutive races. While he was one of the most dominant juniors on the road, he has said that he will be mainly focusing on cyclocross with the road taking a backseat for now. I'm sure he will be seen at U23 Nations Cups and other select events with his BKCP-Powerplus team.

1. Mads Pedersen (Denmark - CULT Energy Vital Water - 1995)

Next to van der Poel, Mads Pedersen has been the most consistent junior over the last two years on the international scene with 20 wins including 5 stage race overalls and a Paris-Roubaix Juniors. Pedersen is an all-arounder who has won in time trials, sprints, breakaways but is just a bit behind on the biggest climbs, which seem to be one of his only weaknesses at this point. He won Paris-Roubaix in a three-up ahead of Nathan Van Hooydonck and Tao Geoghegan Hart. He won the Junior Peace Race by making all of the important breakaways, crushing the time trial and winning a bunch sprint. In every stage race he entered this year, he won at least one stage. Even after Mathieu van der Poel broke away at the end of the Worlds RR, Pedersen won the bunch sprint just behind him. I've learned to take young, successful Danes with a grain of salt because of their propensity to not make it as pros. Need I mention riders such as Guldhamer, Vedel Kvist, Mads Christensen, etc. and the recent retirement of Peter Mathiesen, a talented Danish junior that won the Pays de Vaud in 2011 but lasted just one year in the senior ranks before calling it quits. It isn't a knock on the Danes by any means as they seem to want to do more than just sport but for people looking for a long-term investment, Pedersen will have more to prove as a U23 and beyond.

2. Hernán Aguirre (Colombia - 4-72 Colombia)

If Hernán Aguirre ever gets big and Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwan are still kicking around, I am sure there will be a mention of Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" because of the young Colombian's penchant for climbing. Aguirre hails from southwest Colombia from the province of Nariño, which is where former Tour de l'Avenir podium winner Juan Chamorro hails from. While he doesn't have a lot of international presence, Aguirre showed his wrath on the queen stage of the Vuelta del Porvenir Juniors (Junior Tour of Colombia), where he took the win solo and went on the win the overall, a race that has been won by Mauricio Ardila, Rigoberto Uran, Juan Mauricio Soler and Darwin Atapuma. He has signed with 4-72, which is a bright spot in Colombia as it is a on the bio-passport and uses modern training techniques thanks to the team's leader Luis Saldarriaga.

3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (UK - Bissell Development)

With the emergence of the Yates brothers, it is no surprise that the British junior ranks include some gems including Hackney Tao Geoghegan Hart. London isn't exactly known for producing racers but Tao is in good company as the most famous Hackney rider happens to be Brad Wiggins. Tao was originally competitive as a track cyclist but after some good results in 2012, he really stepped onto the scene in 2013 with the national team. His season started off as best as it could with a 3rd place in the Paris-Roubaix juniors, after making the breakaway with Mads Pedersen and future teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck. He then went on to win the hilly Tour of Istria after he made the selections and sprinted to a stage win out of a reduced bunch on stage 2. The results kept coming and Tao was always near the top 10 overall before he busted out at the Giro Internazionale della Lunigiana. At Lunigiana, he simply rode away from the front group on the uphill finish on the first stage and won by 5 seconds. On the queen stage, Tao marked Australian Robert Power and let Power take the stage win as Tao solidified his overall lead. After finishing 2nd again on the final stage, Tao won the overall, the KOM and points jersey, a might haul in a race that has been previously won by the likes of Bortolami, Simoni, Guerini, Bruseghin, Cunego, Nibali and Mohoric. Tao will join Bissell Development for 2014, where he will be one of four first year U23s that will be on the non-UCI roster but could get cracks at domestic US races along with races for their national teams. Look for Tao in hillier races, stage races along with any course that is demanding enough to seek out the best talent.

4. Nathan Van Hooydonck (Belgium - Bissell Development)

Many remember Edwig Van Hooydonck for his two emotional victories, which were the source for his Eddy Bosberg monicker, and for his early retirement, which happened just as the EPO era in cycling really took off. His nephew Nathan Van Hooydonck is keen to keep the family legacy going and has been using his uncle's success as a goal to aim at. Van Hooydonck began his cycling career in cyclocross but transitioned into the road and by the age of 15, he was working with a trainer. He was the Belgian Novice TT Champion in 2011 and his time trialling carried over into his juniors career. He was provincial champion in 2012 and 6th in the World Championships, just 19 seconds off the winner Oskar Svendsen. Also in his first year of the juniors, he podiumed the Ronde van Vlaanderen (3rd) and the Belgium Junior RR (2nd). In 2013, his consistency only rose as he was all over the top 10 in one-day races as well as stage races. He was 2nd in Paris-Roubaix, 7th in the Peace Race, 4th in the GP Patton and Ronde van Vlaanderen. After a 2nd in the Belgian Junior TT Championship to future World Champion Igor DeCraene, he was 3rd in La Philippe Gilbert and won the Keizer der Juniores overall. According to an interview with Cafe Roubaix, his best moment of his season was at a regional race in Tollembeek, where he broke away solo and won by a hefty advantage of 2 minutes 40 seconds. The Belgian will follow the same path as his good friend Tao Geoghegan Hart and join Bissell Devo's club team because he is still having to finish school and traveling back and forth between the United States would make things a bit too difficult. Watch for a new Van Hooydonck to come to the classics sometime in the near future.

5. Elie Gesbert (France - Pays de Dinan)

Back in 1972, a then young rider from Bretagne won the French Junior National Road Race just a year after taking to cycling. Following a break for military service, the young man went on to do great things on a bike and his tenacity was a thing of legend. In 1995, a baby was born just six miles from where this cyclist, who had long been retired, hailed from on the jagged northern coast of Bretagne. 31 years after Bernard Hinault won his first tricolour, Elie Gesbert won the French Junior National Road Race in Albi in a style that would make Hinault proud. After a lead group had taken an advantage of 40 seconds, Gesbert attack with one lap left in the race and caught the leaders and dropped them to take a solo victory by 30 seconds. It was Gesbert's 2nd title in three days after he took out the French Junior TT by 20 seconds before the road race. After beginning with cyclocross, Gesbert was strong as a first year junior on the road in 2012 that included multiple domestic wins, a KOM jersey at the GP Rüebliland, a 10th overall Junior Peace Race Nations Cup and 15th in the Worlds TT in Valkenburg.

Following an appearance at Junior Cyclocross Worlds in Louisville that didn't go to plan (29th), Gesbert rested for a big 2013 campaign. He started off slow on the domestic front but built quickly and by sping, he was 5th in the Tour of Istria Nations Cup, 19 seconds of winner Geoghegan Hart, and 4th in the Junior Peace Race, where he took out the queen stage ahead of a select group. After being diagnosed with tendonitis in after the Peace Race, Gesbert was forced to take a break but this was probably beneficial in the long run. Come July, Gesbert was going toe to toe with Mathieu van der Poel and came 2nd to him in the Tour du Valromey, where he was the only rider to consistently stay with him including on the final stage, where they rode in tandem to the finish together and finished 1-2. The next week, he was 2nd in the demanding European Championships RR behind teammate Franck Bonnamour. His summer was just one more highlight after another; 4th overall in Le Trophée Centre Morbihan; an overall win in the Ronde des Vallées over the likes of the Russian National team and Julian Lino, son of Pascal Lino; his double Nationals wins; a 4th overall in the Giro di Basilicata, on the same time as Italian Lorenzo Rota and Australian Robert Power.

While he crashed in Junior Worlds, Gesbert finished his season with a 2nd in the Chrono des Nations Juniors behind World Champ Igor DeCraene. Gesbert is a jack-of-all-trades that can seemingly get it done on all types of terrain. Probably will develop as a rider for hillier one-day races and stage races but the U23s can be a strange trip. Remember Marcel Kittel was originally a stud TTer before even trying sprinting.

6. Logan Owen & Geoffrey Curran (USA - Bissell)

I know that this list is filled with Bissell kids but Axel Merckx vacuumed up a lot coming into 2014. Even though I spent a few days compiling this list, I couldn't decide between Logan Owen and Geoffrey Curran because both made a name for themselves in 2013.

Owen has been known for a while because of his cyclocross exploits but the Washington native has done well for himself on the road. As a first year junior, Owen finished 2nd in the US Junior RR and 2nd overall and a stage win in Vermont's Green Mountain Stage Race behind Tim Johnson. After a successful 'cross season, he was back on the road and in May, he finished 2nd overall at the Junior Peace Race thanks to a 3rd in the TT and making the selection on the queen stage. Owen returned to the US and won the final stage of the Mt. Hood Classic before heading to Wisconsin for Nationals, where he won the Junior Road Race and Criterium. Owen headed back over to Europe in late summer and spent time in the breakaway in the Keizer des Juniores stage race in the lead up to the World Championships. On great form, Owen came into the Florence Worlds RR with a bone to pick with rival Mathieu van der Poel, who he had only been able to beat once on the road. When van der Poel accelerated on the final uphill, Owen stuttered and had to wait for the bunch sprint, which he came 3rd in. While disappointing to miss the podium, Owen has the talent to medal in the U23 Worlds RR.

While Owen might have some stage race results, Geoffrey Curran might be the brightest stage race talent coming out of the junior ranks for America. Curran has been racing and winning in Europe the last two seasons along with getting a few key results stateside. Hailing from the LA area, Curran lit it up in 2012 as a first year junior with a 5th in the Junior Peace Race; winning the Drei-Etappen Rundfahrt time trial and overall; 3rd in the Tour de l'Abitibi behind BMCers TJ Eisenhart and Alexey Vermeulen; 4th in the GP Rüebliland along with a solo stage win and a 7th in the Rothaus Regio Tour. This is as a first year junior and he hadn't even turned 17 yet...yikes. Joining the Get Crackin' squad for 2013, he lined up for the Merco Cycling Classic and on the first stage, he rode into the finish in 4th with former Garmin pro Kirk Carlsen and Jamis' Ben Jacques-Maynes, with only Phil Gaimon, now with Garmin, up the road. Before heading to Europe, he finished 4th in the Sea Otter P-1-2 Stage Race and won a stage in the Category 1 Tour of the Gila along with a top 5 overall. In his first European race of the year, Curran broke away on an uphill finish in the Tour du Pays de Vaud and won solo on the Col des Mosses, which propelled him to the overall victory. He then went on to finish 2nd in the Trofeo Karlsberg, 18 seconds behind Mads Pedersen. Curran can definitely climb as well as time trial and could develop as a stage racing threat as a U23.

Owen and Curran will be with Bissell's club team for 2014, which should allow them to race in Europe with the national team along with select events in the US with the continental squad.

Honorable Mentions

There will be more than just six riders to watch so let me give you a few of them...

Australian Robert Power climbed like a bat out of hell in Italy during the late summer. After winning the Elite Western Australian Hill Climb Championship in 2012, Power came over to Europe with the national team in 2013. He was the closest to Mathieu van der Poel in the queen stage of the GP Rüebliland and less than a week later, he took out the queen stage of the Giro della Lunigiana, where he went on to finish 3rd overall. He finished his season with a win in the climby Trofeo Buffoni and a 3rd overall in the Giro di Basilicata, which was followed by a 19th place in the World Championship RR, tucked safely in the front group.

Slovene David Per is a good TT rider, winning his national championship TT in both junior years. He used the skill to win a stage in the Tour of Istria (2nd overall) and a stage of the Oberösterreich Rundfahrt Juniors, where he won the overall. He joins Adria Mobil for 2014, where he will get a strong diet of European and Asian races.

Jenthe Biermans could be one of the Belgians that could solo to a win in the Ronde van Vlaanderen when he gets older. Biermans won the Belgian Junior RR and the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors, both in sprints. Biermans is also a good TTer, which has brought him good overall results in stage races such as the Junior Peace Race, Driedaagse van Axel and the Keizer der Juniores. Biermans signed with Argos-Shimano Development for 2014.

Miguel Bryon is perhaps the USA's best shot at a future classics star. The Miami native won the 2012 USA Junior RR, won multiple stages in the Tour de l'Abitibi and finished 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen this year. He was snapped up by Hincapie Development and should split time with them and the National team.

Dmitriy Rive is a Kazakh talent that was the Kazakh Junior TT Champ, the Asian TT Champ, won the Drei-Etappen Rundfahrt along with the prologue and was 8th in the World Championship TT.

Lorenzo Rota and Simone Velasco are two of Italy's best juniors that graduated to the U23 ranks for 2014. Rota took 8 wins in 2013 including a solo victory on the Madonna del Ghisallo and placed 5th in the World RR Championships in Florence. Rota joins the former Trevigiani set-up, MG. KVIS-Treviso, for 2014. Look for him in hillier one-day races and hard races where a bigger group comes to the line. Velasco took 10 victories in 2013 including the UCI races GP dell'Arno and Trofeo Citta di Loano, both in solo escapes using climbs as launching pads. He had two podium placings at the Giro della Lunigiana and ended up 5th overall when it was all done. Watch for him in hilly races and in a lot of attacks with Zalf-Euromobil in 2014.

Alex Aranburu has done cyclocross for a while but was the Spanish Junior RR Title in 2013 and should develop through the Caja Rural system, as he was apart of their juniors team.

Mathias Rask is nearly the youngest on the new Argos-Shimano Development squad but his TT skills are going to be what carries him during his transition to the U23 ranks. The young Dane is pretty stout for cyclists at 75kg but he isn't pudgy by any means. Rask was strong in many time trials in 2013 including podiums at the Driedaagse van Axel and Trofeo Karlsberg. Rask also took out a few reduced group sprints including at the final stage of the Driedaagse van Axel and at the Omloop Mandel-Leie-Schelde.

I know there are more but we shall leave it here for now.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Bay Crits

With Twitter becoming a more important to connect with the media, athletes, etc., I've found that this connection has taken a bit of the surprise out of some cycling journalism. I always like going in blind to new interviews with riders or not excepting to see them on the frontpage of such and such magazine but with the media trying to contact riders through twitter and both parties announcing the event sometimes, it loses a little something.

I couldn't help but chuckle though when looking at Velonews' Dan Wuori's twitter page...

I see lots of blogs do this to riders but seeing a publication like VeloNews do it is a little bit different. I guess Ewan is a hard interview right now for the non-Australian press. Not a surprise seeing as his stock has seemingly been rising all off-season since the announcement that he signed a pre-deal with Orica-GreenEdge that will see him join the team as a stagiaire later this summer and as a full pro starting in 2015.

While the article linked in the tweet has some poorly written parts about his transfer, it did have some nice little gems such as his decision to stop school after Year 11. Ewan did start his 2014 campaign at the Bay Crits, a yearly tradition for many Aussies that want to get some speed into the legs before Nationals.

As the picture above shows, Ewan hit the deck in training a few days before the New Year and headed into the first round of the Bay Crits a bit banged up. The first stage of the race series was the Ritchie Boulevard Criterium and featured a group of seven lapping the field including GreenEdge riders Luke Durbridge and Matt Goss. While Ewan missed the break and settled for a peloton finish, the group contained multiple U23s in Felix English (Rapha-Condor), Harry Carpenter and Luke Parker. Irishman English missed the win in a close sprint Zakkari Dempster.

The next day at the Eastern Gardens crit, English was in the attack again but OGE was on the front and shutdown the move with a sprint being inevitable. In the final straight, Ewan wasn't able to beat out Matt Goss for the win and settled for 2nd with English in 8th place.

On the tough Portarlington circuit, Luke Durbridge repeated his 2013 feat and won for the 2nd year running. Ewan held down the fort in the peloton and won the bunch sprint for 5th with fellow U23 Robert-Jon McCarthy coming in 7th place.

On the final day, it was all Ewan as the race stayed together and Ewan unleashed a mid-2000's-esque Robbie McEwen sprint and dusted everyone for the win. While Ewan was celebrating, the overall series was being decided with a tight bunch sprint between former MTBer Brenton Jones and Zak Dempster, with Jones taking 2nd place on the day and the overall win by one point with Ewan in 3rd place.

So in short, Caleb Ewan is really fucking fast and is going to be an animal when he gets to the pros, barring an unforseen incidents. While not a U23 but still young, Brenton Jones should be an interesting one to follow with Avanti Pro Cycling, the former Huon-Genesys setup. He is pretty new to the road scene, at least full time anyways, and could pop up in some Asian Tour sprints this year. Felix English is going into his 3rd year with Rapha-Condor and his last as a U23 and could do well this year in some sprints if his Bay Crits form is a good indicator.

Speaking of which, Australian Nationals are this week. Campbell Flakemore should win the U23 TT if in shape but if not, there are a few riders behind him in the wings. Alex Morgan was the runner-up last year and is on the start list. Others for the top 5 include Australian Junior TT Champ Tom Kaesler, Jordan Kerby and Jack Haig. It really comes down to who is in shape right now because Flakemore, who is the best current U23 TTer for Australia, only finished 3rd last year behind Damien Howson and Morgan but was a Worlds contender later in the year. Pick your battles and if Flakemore doesn't win, I wouldn't be too concerned at the moment.

Australia is stupid for keeping the Nationals on the same course for every year because it ends up with the same result. The course ends up splitting the pack apart and a breakaway wins with the bunch close behind. It follows a script to a T and while it is difficult, the same type of riders keep winning. Jordan Kerby returns as the defending champion and will have to make it very hard for Caleb Ewan because the New South Welshman can climb better than most sprinters. Others to watch are last year's bronze medalist Jack Haig, Sam Spokes, Mitchell Lovelock-Fay and Robert Power, the new Australian sensation who can climb out of his skin.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

U23 ABCs: V

Because of a bit of a time crunch, I decided to get W-Z out of the way before doing V simply because of the great amount of riders in the V category. So let's finish this off before I can finally get you back to some regularly scheduled programming.

Let's start off with some 'crossers who have good results on the road. Lars van der Haar made the big decision to leave Rabobank Development for Argos-Shimano Development. While he will not be abandoning 'cross by any means, he will be riding a beefier road schedule with a bit of a leadership role in mind. It also helps that his girlfriend Lucy Garner is on the women's Argos-Shimano squad. In just a three month span in 2013, van der Haar put in 33 UCI racing days, which included a 5th overall in the Tour of Azerbaijan thanks to some good climbing. So while 'cross will be the man focus for van der Haar going forward, look for him in continental Europe mixing it up on some climbs as well as select sprints. David van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) is the brother of wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel, son of former World Champ Adri van der Poel and grandson of Raymond Poulidor. While not as heralded as his younger brother, he is a consistent top 10 finisher in the U23 World Cup 'cross races and is the current Netherlands U23 champion. On the road, he is a rouleur that can mix it up in the sprints but can hang on over some punchy climbs. He showed this in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he was 4th in a sprint and 4th on the queen stage, which netted him a solid 15th overall at the end. He has one more U23 year on the road and BKCP, who locked him down through 2017, usually lets him go do his thing in late spring-midsummer. Gianni Vermeersch burst through the U23 'cross scene rather late but the young West Flanders product has been getting a lot of podiums for Sunweb-Napoleon Games this year, including at World Cups. This year alone he has 10 podium finishes including a 3rd place at the European Championships in Czechland. On the road with Sunweb, he has a strong sprint (multiple top 10 finishes) and is a pretty good rouleur with results that include a 15th at the Kreiz Breizh Elites and 11th at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad U23. Clément Venturini is France's strongest U23 'crosser as he is a former junior world champion and has placed consistently in the top 10 in World Cups this year. He has won seven 'cross races this year including the Rhône-Alpes Championship. On the road, he placed 2nd on the final stage of the Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour and won multiple amateur races with Team Vulco. He is graduating to Team Cofidis next year as a neo-pro and has expressed a desire to be like Francis Mourey, where he can have the freedom to race 'cross at a high level but also get some good races on the road. Pretty bold for such a young rider but he might have the talent to back it up.

Michael Valgren's breakaway win in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 pretty much confirmed what we already knew about the Dane. Valgren is an attacker, pure and simple, and his best results have come from doing just that. This year, he attacked again at LBL and dropped Nate Brown and Martijn Tusveld on the final climb to solo in for the win. He attacked at Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 with Lasse Norman, Werda and Silvio Herklotz but lost the sprint to his countryman. He attacked on the queen stage of the Flèche du Sud with two others and distanced them in the finale, which gave him an overall lead that he held to the end. Attacked stage 6 of the Thüringen Rundfahrt with national teammate Magnus Cort and went 1-2 with him. On the transitional stage before the mountains at Tour de l'Avenir, he attacked with Gavin Mannion and took the two up sprint with the peloton breathing down their neck. Attack, attack, attack is the plan that will surely continue at Tinkoff-Saxo. Casper von Folsach seems to be the new Rasmus Quaade, with the exception that he is a bit better in a pack. A strong time trialist and pursuiter as a junior, von Folsach won multiple national titles, was 6th in the junior worlds TT and was apart of the Danish team pursuit squad at just 18. As a first year u23 in 2012, he was 5th in the Post Danmark Rundt TT, just 28 seconds behind winner Lieuwe Westra. This year, his focus was mainly on the track with a bronze in the Worlds Team Pursuit, a silver in the European U23 omnium along with World Cup medals. On the road, he was 2nd in the Danish U23 TT and finished 3rd in the sprint for the Elite Men's RR. So he might be on the track now but he does have the power to make a name on the road, if he so chooses.

When Team Stölting picked up Yuriy Vasyliv, I'm sure some were scratching their heads. If you look at his 2013 results, they were complete shit. Vasyliv, who was born in Ukraine, was a very strong junior who placed 5th in the World Championship TT in Copenhagen as a junior. In 2012, he joined the track-road LKT Brandenburg and had some good results such as 2nd in the German Hill Climb Championship and 5th overall and the youth winner in the Tour of Szeklerland, where he beat riders like Riccardo Zoidl and Ioannis Tamouridis. In 2013, his season was a total write-off as he had a persistent knee injury that limited him to 13 racing days, six of which were DNFs. According to him and Stölting, he took time off and had a two month stretch of pain-free training so it looks all good for 2014, where he will be riding support for Silvio Herklotz and looking for a few chances of his own. Mario Vogt (RadNet-Rose) was a very strong junior who won the Rothaus Regio Tour and Tour du Valromey but has struggled translating that into success in the U23 ranks. He isn't terrible by any means but doesn't have a signature result as a U23, which is why I think 2014 will be a make-or-break year for him as it is his last as a U23 and if he still isn't getting the big results, university and a real job might look tempting.

The Low Countries are the land of V's. Belgium brings a metric ton of 'V' talent starting with Louis Vervaeke, one of those Belgians that seems to really enjoy mountains. Vervaeke really showed some talent in his first U23 season in 2012, where he placed 15th overall in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. A student in Sales Management, Vervaeke transferred to Lotto-Belisol U23 for 2013 and assaulted the big mountains. Just a 2nd year U23, he got some big results in a 4th place overall in the "holy shit, this is fucking hard" Tour du Pays de Savoie and a 4th overall in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he finished 2nd on the first stage and was able to ride with the best climbers for the most part. He came in flat at l'Avenir and it showed but he bounced back with a 4th overall at the Tour de Moselle. Vervaeke is splitting a house with Jasper Stuyven, Sean de Bie and Tim Wellens in Lucca, Italy currently and seems quite dedicated to the mountainous stage races as he has targeted Savoie, Valle d'Aosta, l'Isard, l'Avenir and perhaps U23 Worlds, since the course is as hard if not harder than Florence. While some are scratching their heads at Boris Vallée's signing with Lotto-Belisol, he definitely earned it after a successful year with Christophe Brandt's ColorCode-Biowanze. A strong sprinter, Vallee won six races in 2013 including the Top Competitie GP Criquielion and the prologue of the Carpathian Couriers Tour. He capped off his year with a 4th in the 1.1 sprintfest that is the Nationale Sluitingprijs. Thanks to his team leader Brandt, who previously rode for Lotto as a pro, he got in contact with them and it went from there. Also, it is good to note that Walloon Vallée trains in Wallonia, which is rare for a professional cyclist as it has historically been more underdeveloped in terms of cycling. Loïc Vliegen has a pretty good track record in one-day races. In 2012, he was 6th in the Giro del Belvedere and this year with BMC Development, he was 9th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23, 5th in the Flèche Ardennaise and 2nd in Romsée-Stavelot-Romsée, a pretty good Belgian race won by the likes of Phil Gilbert. Jef Van Meirhaeghe is a strong classics/rouleur man for Lotto-Belisol U23. He was a former Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors winner and was 5th in the Belgian U23 RR, winning the bunch sprint that was just behind the break of four. He also finished 4th overall in the Carpathian Couriers Tour, where he got into a winning break, and was 15th at Paris-Tours Espoirs. Jori Van Steenberghen put together a solid 2013 and finished in and around the top 20 in a handful of UCI races, which landed him 5th overall in the Belgian Top Competitie. Bert Van Lerberghe won three times this year for Ventilair-Steria but while he can sprint, he can also ride a TT pretty well. Van Lerberghe was 5th in the Monts et Chateaux TT and 2nd in the West Vlaanderen provincial test. He was sniffing around the top 20 at the end of the year and pulled off 12th at the Sluitingprijs. 2014 will see Van Lerberghe transfer to EFC-OPQS, where he could get a bit better schedule than what he had.

North of Belgium, the Dutch are another fan of the V. On the bike, Dylan van Baarle is equivalent to a Bat Out of Hell. And no, not in the Meatloaf sense. Van Baarle can put out 30 minutes of fury that not many can match and it has snagged him a lot of big wins. I've written about the lanky South Holland rider at length before so I'll go for a brief overview of his 2013. His season started out as well as anyone would want. After a bad accident to end his 2012 season, he rode to breakaway wins in the Ster van Zwolle and the Dorpenomloop Rucphen, where he attacked in the final 10km solo and comfortably won by 12 seconds over a charging pack. After a shitty prologue at the Tour of Normandie because of rain, van Baarle attacked on the wet, hilly stage 5 and nearly made it but was passed by Anthony Charteau just before the line. He finished Normandie in 3rd overall and headed to Monts et Chateaux, where he finished 2nd in the TT he won the year before and 8th overall. He won the TT stage in Tour de Bretagne and 4th on the final day to finish 4th overall and winner of the KOM classification. While his early season was good, his form peaked in May and June. At the Olympia's Tour, he won the rain-soaked queen stage in the hills of Limburg and the next day, finished 3rd in the TT to sew up the overall classification, his 2nd in as many years at the race. After winning the Dutch U23 TT, he used the TTs to his advantage and climbed just well enough to win the Thüringen Rundfahrt by a scant three seconds on Lasse Norman Hansen. He then went on to win the Dutch U23 TT in a long ass breakaway and was in another breakaway at the UCI I.W.T. Jong Maar Moedig, where he placed 3rd. His Tour de l'Avenir was good; nothing spectacular with a 15th overall but sort of confirmed he isn't cut out for the biggest mountains. He finished off his season strong with a 7th in the U23 Worlds RR, 5th in the UCI 1.1 Münsterland Giro and 10th at the Paris-Tours Espoirs. His move to Garmin is smart in that hopefully he can avoid the Rabobank/Belkin syndrome where super talented U23s never seem to pan out to their full potential. I think he is suited for mid-length stage race and can handle climbs reasonably well but at this point, isn't as good of a mountain racer as other recent Dutch talents like Kelderman and Slagter. He starts his 2014 season at the Dubai Tour.

Just behind van Baarle at RBD was Nick van der Lijke, whose 2013 was outstanding and got him a two year deal with Belkin for 2014/15. Hailing from Zeeland, the Mosselman from Middelburg won the first UCI race of the year, the frozen Beverbeek Classic, in a tight breakaway sprint. He went from there and supported van Baarle at Normandie and collected two top 5 sprint places and then got his back scratched and went for the overall at Monts et Chateaux, where he finished 6th overall. After a strong 6th at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, van der Lijke hung tough at the Tour de Bretagne and attacked with Riccardo Zoidl on stage two and the duo rode it to the line, where the Austrian distanced the young Dutchman at the finish. Van der Lijke, whose TT is satisfactory, held on to 2nd overall through the rest of the race and won the youth classification. After strong results over the early summer including 3rd in the Tour du Gironde in SW France, van der Lijke came 2nd in a breakaway sprint on the first stage of the Kreiz Breizh Elites and then rode out of his skin in the TT and won the test, which put essentially wrapped up the overall win, which he won the next day ahead of Vegard Stake Laengen and Top Competitie winner Nicolas Vereecken. While he started the Tour de l'Avenir with two top 5 stage placings, he dropped out after a bad crash but bounced back with a 3rd at the hard-ass 1.1 GP de la Somme. Van der Lijke could definitely carve out a career as a rouleur with an eye on some stage races, a bit like Lars Boom or Maarten Tjallingii.

Maarten van Trijp is coming along as a good sprinter for Rabobank Development. He had a stage win at the Tour de Gironde, had podium placings at the Ronde van Midden-Nederland and stages at the Ronde de l'Oise and Tour de Azerbaijan. He has some endurance issues to work out, especially on hilly terrain, but could be going places. Brian van Goethem really stepped it up in 2013 with Metec. Gotham City won the Zuid Oost Drenthe Classic II this year after getting in a break of four that went to the line. He won nine races this year in total and a theme through them all is that a) he loves to attack and b) he usually has a good kick on him at the line.

A small New Year's Resolution for this year is to check my expectations for riders that show talent early and than don't quite live up to the hype. Michael Vink won the New Zealand Elite RR at 20 years old and I thought his potential was fucking huge. He had also won the U23 TT and RR and then went to finish 5th in the New Zealand Cycle Classic. He was headed for Europe with VL Techniks and he that didn't go well as he didn't enjoy Europe and only had one good result in the Tour de Cote d'Or. He came back to NZ and hit the reset button after two years abroad with two different teams that didn't exactly work out. He started slow with a NZ U23 TT title and headed back to Europe with the NZ National Team. He made the front group at Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and top 5 at the Olympia's Tour TT. Vink beat Petr Vakoc in a two-up sprint to win the Memorial Philippe Van Coningsloo and then he shocked with a 5th overall at the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he rode the time trials very well and did enough on the queen stage to not cede time. Vink joins Australian Budget Forklifts for 2014, where he could get some more experience riding on the amateur level and on the Asian circuit along with a potential Commonwealth Games berth. Speaking of Petr Vakoc, he was one of the bigger surprises of 2013 and he got a World Tour neo-pro contract with OPQS for his troubles. Before this year, the Czech had shown some promise with 15th in the 2011 U23 Worlds in Copenhagen and 13th in the 2012 L-B-L U23 but after a good early season, he bursted out for a 2nd at the Memorial Coningsloo and then got into a long two-man breakaway with Slovene Tim Mikelj at the Tour of Slovakia, which gave him an unassailable lead in the GC and held onto it over the next three days to win. His next stretch of strong results came in July, where he notched three wins and more podiums. He kicked ass in the Vuelta a Madrid, where he won the first stage in another breakaway on a quite hilly stage and then got into the big breakaway on stage two, where he finished 2nd in a close sprint and wrapped up the overall title. He then went back home to the Czech Republic, where he won a stage and finished 4th in the Czech Cycling Tour and then finished 2nd on the brutal European Championships course in another close sprint, this time behind Sean De Bie. Vakoc, who has been studying economics in Prague, had an early end to his year at the Tour du Poitou Charentes but got good news that OPQS was picking him up for 2014/15. Vakoc will bring some good climbing skills along with aggression and a pretty good sprint, especially in a select group. At just 16, Alexey Vermeulen won the USA Junior RR when he beat out Colin Joyce in a two-man sprint, just 12 seconds ahead of a charging pack lead home by Greg Daniel. The next year, the Michigan product finished 4th in the Drei-Etappen Rundfahrt and 2nd in the Tour de l'Abitibi behind now teammate TJ Eisenhart. After a 5th place in the Rothaus Regio Tour, Vermeulen signed with the new BMC Development for his first U23 season in 2013. It was a tough year and Vermeulen didn't always get consistent racing but he did show off some climbing skills in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he finished 23rd overall and 11th on one of the last climbing stage.

Finishing this whole ABC thing off is one of the best U23s of the entire season, Davide Villella. Even though I personally think he is an asshole, as he is full of Italian pride and has punched multiple riders in races including Toms Skujins and Caleb Ewan, you cannot deny the talent he has on a bike. After coming off an 11 win season in 2012, the Colpack rider came back to finish his U23 career in 2013 but was very frustrated in the beginning. For the first few months of the season, he could not win as he was being beaten out in sprints by the likes of Andrea Zordan and Niccolo Bonifazio including a stretch of four streaight races where he finishes 2nd. His first win came in May but after coming 2nd at the Italian U23 RR this year to Zordan, he just lit it up. Villella won the two biggest mountain stages at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and with an impressive ride on the final mountain stage, he took the overall leader's jersey from Marc Garby and held onto it the next day to win the overall. After getting 2nd again to Zordan at the GP Poggiana, Villella went on a stagiaire assignment with Cannondale and rode the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Tour of Colorado), where he got into multiple breakaways and got a lot of good experience. After punching Toms Skujins off his bike at the Ruota d'Or, Villella fell short at his home Worlds in Florence, where he finished 6th (4th in the bunch sprint). He bounced back and won the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia by a hefty 30 seconds before finishing his season with a few pro races. At the Coppa Sabatini, he finished 3rd in a small bunch sprint and at the Giro dell'Emilia, he was able to follow Diego Ulissi and C.A. Sorensen but could do nothing more and finished 3rd in the very hilly 1.HC race. Villella definitely has a future in hilly one-day races and most likely in Grand Tours, where he will be a shoo-in for stages and perhaps a GC or two down the line.

I would like to thank all of my readers for following me on this little journey through the U23 peloton. I am hoping to provide more steady coverage in 2014 by updating a bit more frequently, trying to keep a Top 5 Rider list and perhaps get a few more interviews. I never thought this blog would get this much attention but I am really going to try to commit to getting you the best news about the U23 peloton and young pro/amateur riders trying to make a name for themselves. -Chris

Thursday, January 2, 2014

U23 ABCs: W-Z

You read that right, I skipped the letter V for now because I just need a little bit more time to get it done. Since I wasted a bunch of time looking for part-time jobs and worrying about money, I might need to extend this a bit into the new year. So on to W-Z...


While Phil Lavery and Sam Bennett might have been getting most of the attention as the next Irish big thing, Jack Wilson has been carving his own path with AnPost-Chain Reaction. Wilson was the junior national RR champion in 2010 and in 2012, finished 19th in the 1.2 Ronde van Limburg. This year with the boys in green and black, he won the Irish U23 Championship and was riding well in all of the Belgian 1.1 races that AnPost entered including a 14th in the Druivenkoers. Just to clarify, the Druivenkoers has 46 categorized hills and while the results might make it seem like your average Belgian race, it is so fucking hard. Not every rider is a Tour stage winner and some of them slug it out day after day on roads that reek of cow shit and factory pollution.

Deutschland haben drei Radfahrer in die "Y" Kategorie. Willi Willwohl might have "Marla" tattooed on his right forearm but there was nothing silly about his three straight wins at the Tour de Berlin this year. At just 19, he took another stage win at the Dookola Mazowsza Tour to notch his win total up to four for the year. He has the talent to be one of the best German bunch sprinters of his generation if he keeps it up. Max Werda of Stölting was 3rd in the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 and thanks to good climbing, he was 2nd in the German U23 RR and top 10 in the Thüringen Rundfahrt queen stage. Anyone able to get me a Heizomat jersey? Seriously those jerseys are pretty with some flames on them, can't beat that. Johannes Weber rides for said squad and in his first U23 season in 2013, he did well in selective races such as the German Elite RR Championship, where he made the front selection for 11th and had a top 10 on the first stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt.

Tyler Williams of BMC Development is gearing up for his 2nd season with BMC Devo. Williams got his first taste U23 racing this year where he rode a few stage races including the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he posted a few good sprints, along with a win in the California State Championships. He broke his collarbone in a crash at the Tour de l'Avenir but should be ready to bounce back for 2014. The boy from Bakersfield who grew up on a small farm is doing well for himself.

Some countries have a hard getting a steady development going and Poland is one of them. While you have Michal Kwiatkowski on the one hand, he didn't spend much U23 time in Poland as he chose to ride with foreign teams. Lukasz Wisniowski is one of the brighter spots for the Poles and while he won't be a U23 in 2014, he could have a bright future. Wisniowski won the Junior Peace Race in 2009 ahead of the likes of Kelderman, van der Lijke, Van Keirsbulck and others. He also placed 8th in the World TT Championship. His U23 career started out small but did a nice slow burn and by 2013, he was riding very well. This year, he was a double Polish U23 Champ, finished 4th overall in the Boucle de l'Artois and on the first stage of the Thüringen Rundfahrt, he broke away on the final lap with Silvio Herklotz and won the two-up sprint. He even got a top 20 overall at the Tour du Poitou Charentes. So while he isn't going pro for 2014, Etixx is a good team to eventually make the jump from, if that is what he is looking to do.

The Danes are one of the dominate nations in junior cycling but it doesn't exactly translate into the pro ranks. Mads Würtz Schmidt is hoping to buck the latter trend. In his first junior year in 2011, he shocked with a home win in the Copenhagen World Championships in the Junior Men's TT just seconds ahead of James Oram. Then as a 2nd year junior, he goes and wins the Paris-Roubaix, a stage in the Peace Race and the Driedaagse van Axel overall plus two stage wins. So you'd expect him to be crushing skulls in 2013, right? Not just yet. With CULT Energy, Würtz had an up and down season but had a few bright spots with a 7th in the Ster van Zwolle and best young rider at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. Look for some better results in 2014 from him.

So I still can't wrap myself around Trek's decision to sign Calvin Watson for 2014...does he know someone? Is he riding for free? He must have had some jaw dropping test results because while he might be a nice bloke and a pretty good racer, there are other guys that definitely got picked over. Watson was a good junior that had top 10 finishes at the World Championships RR, Ronde van Vlaanderen and won the Tour du Valromey. As a U23, he joined the AIS in 2012 and did well in Italy, where he was top 10 in multiple one days and 4th overall in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. He joined the Italian amateur Food Italia for 2013 but before he left for Europe, he won the Herald Sun Tour. He went over to Europe post the Tour Down Under and while he did well in the one-day races, he fell flat in the stage races and his Tour de l'Avenir was spent mainly in the grupetto. I could be wrong and he could be the next Australian star but I think Trek are taking a big punt on him.

Jens Wallays (EFC-OPQS) was one of the most successful U23s on the Belgian circuit in 2013 as he won 7 races including the Belgian U23 RR Championship. While you might assume he has to be a sprinter, you would be wrong. The majority of Wallays wins came in breakaways that went the distance, something that would make his older brother Jelle (Topsport Vlaanderen) pretty proud. Niels Wytinck finished 5th place in the ZLM Tour Nations Cup this year and seemed to finish the majority of big races but he will be moving from AnPost-Chain Reaction to the amateur Soenens team in Belgium.


Pretty much just chose Bulgarian Yovcho Yovchev for his name. Tested positive in 2011 for ephedrine and haven't seen him race since 2012 so no idea if he is still kicking around or not.

Genki Yamamoto won a stage of the Tour of Hokkaido in a solo breakaway. The Japanese rider has twice been the Japanese U23 RR Champ (2010-11) and the U23 TT Champ (2013) along with a 2nd and 4th the last two years, respectively, in the Asian U23 TT Championship. It was enough to get him on Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa for 2014.

Kirill Yatsevich has suffered from the Russian syndrome of being so good as a junior then never hitting those heights again. As a junior, Yatsevich was the European TT Champion, 4th in the Paris-Roubaix and 8th in the World TT Championship. In 2012, he finished 2nd in the Brutal Dictator (Heydar Aliyev) Tour and had some strong rides in Italy with the national team. This year, he joined the Helicopters team, where he was 3rd in the ZLM Tour and 2nd in a TT behind Marlen Zmorka. He has another U23 year but that Russian syndrome will probably be his bane. He can climb well and TT well on good days but he just needs to put it all together.

With the Y's, there is no doubts about the Yates twins. Hailing from the Manchester area, the duo of Simon and Adam electrified the scene in 2013 with some incredible rides that secured the professional contracts with Orica-GreenEdge for 2014 and beyond.

Simon Yates was by no means an unknown talent before this year. He started his career with big successes on the track, winning a world junior title in the madison with Dan McLay. In his first U23 season in 2011, he stormed to some big road results including 9th in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir, where he won a bunch sprint ahead of Filippo Fortin and Tom Palmer. While his 2012 was quieter, he still made a statement with an 8th place on the queen stage to Caerphilly in the Tour of Britain. This was only a prelude for what was to come in 2013. While Europe was bracing for a cold spring, Sim was heating it up on the Minsk velodrome, where he took out a World Title in the Points Race ahead of Eloy Teruel and Kiriil Sveshnikov. His road debut came at the spring Nations Cups, where he went 20th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, 3rd in the La Côte Picarde where he launched the attack that drew out the winning breakaway and 17th at the ZLM Tour. He then proceeded to hit the podium on all four stages of the Arden Challenge including one stage win and the overall title. He showed off his rouleur skills with aplomb through the rest of early summer with strong sprint finishes (a good portion of stage podiums) and good overall finishes including 10th at Fleche du Sud, 9th and best young rider at An Post Ras and 10th at both the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Czech Cycling Tour. His Tour de l'Avenir didn't start out amazing but boy did he end it well. After a good prologue, Yates was a bit behind on the summit finish on the Col de Madeleine but that disappointment was turned around quickly. On stage 5, he broke away with Adam and Alexis Gougeard with the twins taking the 1-2 on the line. Simon was in the breakaway again on stage 6 and this time on the uphill finish to Châtel, he distanced Matej Mohoric and Clement Chevrier for his 3rd career l'Avenir stage win. Even with the bad first mountain day, he clawed back to 10th overall in the standings. So with a season like that, you would expect a wind down by this point, yes? Nah. For those ignorant of the Tour de l'Avenir, the Tour of Britain was Simon's coming out party. On the 2nd stage to Kendal, Simon was able to follow a group off the front and finished 4th on the slightly uphill finish. After a good time trial, Simon just lit it up on the first summit finish in ToB history at Haytor where he distanced himself from an elite selection and was able to raise his arms for his first professional road win. That ride secured him a spot on the overall podium, 3rd, at the end of the race and the mandatory fawning treatment by the cycling press. This also included a few words from Bradley Wiggins, who said Yates could easily be the next great British cyclist.

Adam Yates, on the other hand, was not as heralded as his twin brother. While Simon was on the Olympic Development track, Adam chose to head to France as a U23 with UCVA Troyes and this year, CC Etupes, the feeder team for FDJ. His first two U23 years with UCVA Troyes were a bit anonymous to the greater public as he rode a bunch of French amateur races and had some successes. His move to CC Etupes provided a stronger schedule of opponents. Adam placed 12th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs and after a good Tour de Bretagne, he won a stage at the Tour de Franche-Comte and finished 3rd in the overall. In June, he underwent testing with FDJ for a potential neo-pro contract. After a 2nd place on the lumpy final stage of the Tour Alsace, it was all systems go for the Tour de l'Avenir, where he just tore down every expectation. In the haze of the confusion on the summit finish on the Col de Madeleine about who should be chasing down Ruben Fernandez, Yates pulled off a 3rd place finish, which set the tone for the rest of the race. The next day, he attacked with Simon on the finish to Morzine and gained valuable GC time. On the final stage to Plâteau des Glières, he attacked the chasing group that included all of the GC favorites and finished 3rd on the stage, sewed up 2nd overall and confirmed both his climbing ability and penchant for attacking.

While the speculation about who would sign for what team was brewing before, during and after the World U23 Championships, the twins had already made their decision. While SKY courted Simon and they had offers from Lampre, FDJ and others, Orica-GreenEdge had the golden ticket as they offered the best program and were willing to take both of them on as neo-pros. Adam even rode a Scott Foil during the World U23 RR, where the twins finished in the front group (Simon, 17th, and Adam, 19th). I had questioned the move myself because I had assumed Simon would be going for a place in the British Olympic track team for Rio but this moves signals a departure from the boards and a focus towards the road.


Rick learned from daddy's Milan-San Remo mistake
While it is the last letter in the alphabet, it is by no means the least talented. Since he was knee high, he was on Tour de France podiums, wearing a over-sized green jersey with a too big PMU hat. Erik Zabel has set a huge shadow in front of his son, Rick Zabel, in terms of being a successful professional cyclist; perhaps the biggest shadow since Eddy and Axel Merckx. Rick Zabel was originally racing on the track, netting multiple medals at the junior national championships, before really dedicating himself to the road. After a successful final junior season in 2011 that included a 4th in the Driedaagse van Axel and a 5th at the World Championships in Copenhagen, Zabel dropped out of high school to sign with Rabobank Development, a decision that Papa didn't like very much. While he didn't exactly show his sprinting talents right away, 2012 was a good 1st season for Ricky as he won the German U23 RR Championship after a long breakaway with a small group, 2nd in the Ronde van Limburg in a bunch sprint and top 20 finishes in the Paris-Tours Espoirs (12th) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (20th).

With a year under his belt, Zabel seemed to get a spark and his hard training, no doubt influenced by his father, who was one of the most dedicated trainers of his era, was to make dividends in 2013. With Rabobank Development this year, Zabel opened his account early in the Tour of Normandie, where he took the stage 5 bunch gallop into Bagnoles de l'Orne. In late March, he laid down a superb time trial at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux (6th) which netted him 12th overall heading into the spring Nations Cups. With the Belgians talking big game heading into the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, Zabel was able to come in under the radar. After Alexis Gougeard was brought back and the last ditch escape attempts were shut down heading back into Oudenaarde, Rick Zabel was able to hold off Dylan van Groenewegen and Magnus Cort to lift his hands in triumph. Just like Pop, Rick is not just a one-dimensional rider. He rode well on the queen stage of the Olympia's Tour, finishing in the 2nd chasing group, and finished off 8th overall while in the Tour de Gironde, he finished 4th overall due to some good breakaway riding. He showed off a good bunch kick in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Tour de l'Avenir but he was definitely a level away from purer sprinters like Caleb Ewan. To end his season, he finished 7th in the Münsterland Giro, where he won the bunch sprint behind a six man breakaway, and 6th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, where he came in with the remnants of the winning breakaway.

He is heading off quite early to the pro ranks at just 20 years old but he has shown that he can step up to a challenge. He has been on Mallorca for a couple months now training and in just three short weeks, he will be making his World Tour debut with BMC at the Tour Down Under. Just remember, he isn't his father.

The other German with Zabel at Rabobank Development this year was Ruben Zepuntke. With Rabobank Devo ending their support for riders outside of the Netherlands, it was a big year for Zepuntke to get some good results. Hailing for Nordrhein-Westfalen (Düsseldorf/Dortmund) like Zabel, Zepuntke rode the track as a junior and was a double team pursuit national champion but like many, the track took a backseat to the road and the results rolled in. Zepuntke was the German Junior TT Champion and was all over the results at German stage races like the Rothaus Regio Tour, Trofeo Karlsberg, 3-Etappen-Rundfahrt and the Niedersachsen Rundfahrt. In 2011, he was 5th in the Paris-Roubaix Juniors and won a stage of the Peace Race over Danny van Poppel and Olivier Le Gac. As a first yea U23 in 2012, he was 7th in the Paris-Roubaix U23 behind a Bob Jungels freight train and 4th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23. This year his standout result was a 9th place in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux thanks to a 3rd place in the time trial. While he didn't have any wins, he placed consistently well and rode a ton of support for Dylan van Baarle and others. Zepuntke got a lifeline from Bissell for 2014 and will be salivating the return of the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He has two more U23 seasons left and has plenty of time to capitalize on his junior successes.

After a rather frustrating defeat in a time trial this year where he had a minute taken out of him on a 40km course, Davide Martinelli referred to Ukranian Marlen Zmorka as an alien. While it wasn't exactly the best compliment to give a racing cyclist, Zmorka can put in some insanely quick rides. The TT is his speciality and he turned heads in 2012 in just his first U23 season with 5th in the U23 European Championships TT, 4th in the Memorial Davide Fardelli and 6th in the hilly U23 Worlds TT in Valkenburg. This year, he started off huge with a solo win in Vincenza-Bionde, where he stuck a solo move from about 40km out and still had 12 seconds to spare at the end. While I'm pretty sure he has next to no fast twitch muscle in his body, Zmorka did some good road races including 8th at the GP San Giuseppe, 7th at the ZLM Tour and 6th at GP Industria e Commercio. He had a good TT at the European Championships, where he was 4th on a difficult course but he fell quite flat at the U23 World TT, where he placed 15th on the pan flat course (needs some hills in hindsight). Interesting tidbit on his name...Marlen is a compound word between Marx and Lenin. The name was chosen by his father, so yeah.

Ending the Z's are a pair of Italians. Having written about Andrea Zordan previously, I will try to make this brief. Zordan was a strong junior who got some negative attention for having a hematocrit over 50%, which was then written off as natural. He is a rider that sprints very well but also has the climbing chops to survive a lot of the hills that would take other sprinters out. 2013 was definitely his biggest year to date as he won 10 races including the Italian U23 RR Championship, Trofeo Edil C and GP di Poggiana. Zordan will be riding with Androni for 2014 and while he had a bunch of sprint wins, they are mainly in amateur contests so it remains to be seen if he can step up. Federico Zurlo might be more known for his incident with Massimo Coledan this year than anything else he did on the bike. In the Memorial Carlo Valentini, Coledan was crashed out with 1500m to go and blamed Zurlo, who in the end won the sprint (but later DQed). Coledan decided to attack Zurlo with his bike after the finish line and sends Zurlo to the hospital, even though Zurlo might not have caused the crash. In just his first U23 season, Zurlo this year won three races, all in sprints including a stage of the Coupe des Nations Saguenay. Very strong sprinter who could be an asset for Zalf with Zordan leaving.