Friday, May 30, 2014

Paris-Roubaix Espoirs Preview

It's baaaaack. Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Thanks to mainly Belgians and American teams complaining, the U23 version of the Hell of the North has been revived for 2014. A bit of hyperbole but I'll get to that in a bit. The U23 version of Paris-Roubaix began in 1967 with the inagural event won by George Pintens, who went on to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de Suisse, Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold, among other races. The race produced some very impressive winners in the 70's and 80's including Pol Verschuere (3x TdF stage winner), Fons de Wolf (supernova as a U23 that became a black hole soon after), Marc Madiot (2x Paris-Roubaix winner) and Stephen Roche. The race went really French in the mid 80's through to the late 90's with almost exclusively French winners including Thierry Marie and Frederic Moncassin

With Thor Hushovd's win in 1998, the race began to broaden again as a more international event. Yaroslav Popovych won it in 2001 during his torrid stretch as a U23 on a huge solo breakaway ahead of his two teammates Volodymr Bileka and Lorenzo Bernucci and some two-bit Belgian Tom Boonen. Sergey Lagutin won the 2003 edition after the original winner Peter Schockaert, who beat Lagutin in a 4-up sprint, got popped for doping. Rabobank Continental went on a huge stretch of success by winning the 2004 (Koen de Kort), 2005 (Dmitry Kozontchuk), 2006 (Tom Veelers) and 2008 (Coen Vermeltfoort) editions, with their 5-peat only broken by Damien Gaudin aka Stomp in 2007.

Taylor Phinney took back to back victories in 2009 and 2010, both in small group sprint, but the race was on the brink for 2011. Rising police costs were going to blow the budget and the race was canned at first but brought back for another rousing edition, which saw Ramon Sinkledam (now Argos-Shimano) take the win ahead of Jasper Stuyven (now Trek). 2012 saw Bob Jungels go on a rampage and just napalm the field; 2nd place was Yves Lampaert at 2 minutes and 49 seconds. And that was it. The race struggled from scheduling conflicts with other DN1 races in France as well as a big Coupe de France race, which drew away the French teams from the Hell. The Americans and Belgians were furious but even French riders Felix Pouilly and Florian Senechal created a small campaign to try and save the race from extinction. Thanks to some good complaining, financial stimulus and a little bit of calendar adjustment, the race is now back for 2014 and will be as hard as ever. To the course we go...

The race kicks off from Peronne in the Somme region, quite close to where the great battle took place in World War 1, before taking off north towards Roubaix. The first sector of cobbles at Troisville doesn't come in until 48 kilometers but they are not an easy section by any means and riders will have to escape the nasty 2nd part, which usually includes some type of mud. The race continues to follow the traditional race route for the pros and takes in the sections at Viesly, Quievy and Saint-Python. The race has a bit of a lull before taking in a new section at Avesnes-Le-Sec. The pave at Avesnes-Le-Sec has undergone renovation by the Association Amis Paris-Roubaix and will be fresh when the U23s go over its 2600 meters of bouncy goodness.
The route once again joins the pro route to take in sections like Warlaing, Beuvry, Auchy-les-Orchies and Mons-en-Pevele, which has been in the pro race since 1978 and is rated a 5-star difficulty as it features multiple turns and up and down terrain. Mons-en-Pevele really signals the finale as the ending is with 50 kilometers to go and the remaining 8 sectors.

The next 25 kilometers will go by like that and before they know it, the racers will be on the Cysoing sector (also known as the Duclos-Lasalle sector), which will feature a few up and downs and a bad middle section that has deteriorated over time. Camphin-en-Pevele will serve as a warm-up for the vaunted Carrefour de l'Arbe sector, which comes just 17 kilometers from the line. 2000 meters of some of the worst pave northern France has to offer. The section just before the famed Cafe de l'Arbe is like the Germans just decided to drop cobbles all over Northern France in WWII because of how messy the pave is laid for that little bit.

Once through the Carrefour de l'Arbe sector, any remaining groups should be able to stay together for the final 15 kilometers, which include 3 sectors of fairly tame cobbles. The question really is how big any groups left will be and if any of them will have the numbers to pull off a move ala Terpstra this year or just sit and wait for a sprint.

Directvelo has a full startlist for Sunday's race and here is the link to the race website for further information. There is a lot left to be desired in their website...

Here are some names to watch for on Sunday...

Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development)
Xandro Meurisse and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23)
Dieter Bouvry and Daan Myngheer (EFC-OPQS)
Stefan Küng and Ignazio Moser (BMC Development)
Nathan Vanhooydonck, Tanner Putt and Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell)
Anthony Turgis (CC Nogent-sur-Oise)
Thomas Boudat and Lilian Calmejane (Vendée U)
Owain Doull and Ryan Mullen (AnPost-ChainReaction)
Jenthe Biermans and Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano)
Justin Oien and Eamon Lucas-Franck (USA National)

Until then, stayed tuned to here or @Vlaanderen90 on twitter for updates.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Course de la Paix U23 Preview

The Peace Race was once one of the hallmark races in the world of cycling and the World Championships for riders from the Eastern Bloc. The race was absolutely massive and since it was state sponsored, the routes were gigantic and the race was relatively well-funded, at least by Soviet standards. When I saw massive, the 1963 edition was over 2500 kilometers and twice the race was 16 stages long. With the fall of communism, the race puttered around for a decade or so before its last edition in 2006. The juniors edition has been continuous but it was not until last year that a U23 edition finally got off the ground. Toms Skujins (now Hincapie Development) was able to take the overall win thanks to getting in a breakaway on the final stage with Luka Pibernik, Jan Hirt and Daniel Paulus that outfoxed the favorites behind.

Course de la Paix/Zavod Miru/Peace Race

-Jesenik, Czech Republic and the surrounding area

-3 stages with 2 uphill finishes

-375 kilometers

-2013 winner: Toms Skujins

While there were plans this year for a revival of the professional Peace Race, which were ultimately scrapped, the U23 race is back for its 2nd year in a row and looks somewhat similar to last year's event. Gone is last year's opening prologue and replaced with a sojourn in Poland. With the absence of a prologue, the race will rely on two uphill finishes including a proper mountain finish.

The race will start and finish in the city of Jesenik, located in Easten Czech Republic located less than 20 kilometers from the Polish border. The race was centered all around the city last year but it has moved out of the Sudetenland. Interesting fact...the city was renamed after World War II from the original Fryvaldov (Freiwaldau in German) to Jesenik because of the anti-German sentiment after the war. Jesenik was chosen because of the surrounding Jeseniky Mountains.

The first stage will leave Jesenik on Friday May 30th and head due south to the town of Rymarov, which also had a German town name before WWII (Römerstadt) before nearly all of the German population (nearly 98% spoke German according to Wikipedia) was deported in 1947 and town was renamed Rymarov to sound more Czech. The route, which is short at just 122 kilometers, is has 3 KOM spots but they are in the first half of the race and with two local circuits around Rymalov, it looks like this one should come down to a sprint. The sprint itself is slightly downhill but with 400 meters to go there is a sharp left hand turn which will mean good positioning, like always but especially now, will be key.

The race will transfer north and begin in the Polish city of Glucholazy. Glucholazy was historically apart of the Upper Silesia region, which were historically under the Bohemian crown starting from 1327. The region was annexed by Prussia in 1742 and when Germany was configured in 1871, the region joined the Confederation. Glucholazy is another one of these name change towns and was originally known as Bad Ziegenhals (the Bad prefix was added on in the 19th century when the town became a spa destination because of its mineral springs). In 1945, any remaining Germans were expelled and the town was returned to Poland and was promptly renamed Glucholazy. Even though it lies in Polish territory, there is historic ties with the close lying Czech areas including Jesenik, which has a sister city status with the town.

The summit of the Praded climb overlooking the countryside
The 2nd stage will start from Glucholazy and journey southeast towards the Czech border city of Krnov before turning southwest and heading to Bruntal, which is where the race begins to head uphill towards the finish at Praded, which is the highest mountain in the Jeseniky Range. The stage is quite short at just 92.9 kilometers but the final climb will prove decisive but I don't know if the grade is steep enough to sort out everyone as the last 3km average just 5.5% or so.

The final stage returns to Jesenik for a long lap around the countryside before a pretty brutal finish. The race starts by heading north through the town of Zulova and onwards towards Javornik before doubling back and racing along the Polish border for a while. The race heads south again towards Bruntal and taking in a few KOM points on the way there. From Bruntal, it is back north to Jesenik. I'm glossing over the route not because it isn't difficult because the hills will definitely sort out the group because the biggest obstacle will be the final hill to the Hotel Priessnitz. Heading through Jesenik proper, the race goes through town and then takes a right hand turn at the bottom of the final 2 kilometer long hill. The first kilometer averaged a danty 7.3% grade and it is more or less a straight road so guys will be able to find a good rhythm. The final kilometer is where the teeth come out. It averages 9.2% and in the final 100 meters or so there are a few turns before the finish in the hotel parking lot. That kilometer will have some guys seeing blood. How I hope there will be some sort of highlights.

Here is the race website with the full course maps and directions. Updates will come when there is a full startlist.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Weekend Roundup: Peaches and Nectarines, Triptyque Ardennais and everything else plus more

So while the majority of my attention was on the Ronde de l'Isard this last week, there was definitely a lot of action happening else where that deserves attention.

Peaches and Nectarines

Technically it is the Giro Ciclistico Pesche Nettarine di Romagna but Peaches and Nectarines sounds much better to my non-Italian palate. With the downfall of the GiroBio, Peaches and Nectarines is one of the only proper stage races left for the Italian amateur teams to contest, especially with proper hills as well.

The 150.9 kilometer course started out from Lugo with 120 kilometers of more or less flat road followed by two circuits of the Tre Monti circuit around Imola (It was the same circuit used in the 1968 World Championship that saw Vittorio Adorni ride solo and win by over 10 minutes) before finishing on the Piazza Matteotti. A group of 5 including Luca Muffolini (Gavardo Tecmor), Juan Curuchet (Mg.KVIS-Trevigiani), Davide Belluschi and Matteo Pozzoli (Team Named) and Matteo Natali (Mastromarco) took off after 14 kilometers and were able to establish a nice lead on the flatter portion of the race. The quintet was able to get a maximum of 3'22" advantage but heading into the first Tre Monti circuit, all but Natali were brought back into the fold by the chasing group of roughly 30 riders. Natali crossed the first KOM point with 23.5km to go but was brought back into the fold shortly afterward. There was a general regrouping after the first circuit but another large group showed themselves on the hillier section with Marco Tizza (M.I. Impianti) leading over the last KOM with 11 km to go but it was all for naught.

On the lead into the Piazza Matteotti, it was Zalf-Euromobil on the front for Andrea Toniatti as sprinter Nicolas Marini was out the back after the grueling finishing circuits. While they put in the work, it was Colpack's Luca Pacioni who darted out and put in an impressive sprint to take his first major win ahead of Toniatti and Alberto Tocchella (Gavardo Tecmor).

Stage 2 saw the riders go through the heart of Emilia Romagna and take on some tough climbs that really sorted the wheat from the chaff. Simone Sterbini (Pala Fenice), who has already signed with Bardiani-CSF for 2015, went solo on the first, and largest, climb of the day, the Passo Sambuca, which was the highest point in the race at 1,061 meters. Sterbini went solo over the top with a small chasing pack behind him but on the 2nd climb of the day, the Prato all'Albero, Sterbini was joined by Iuri Filosi, who has been on outstanding form recently, and the duo extended their lead on the climb as well as the subsequent climb, the Passo Carnival. Sterbini has ceded nearly 2 minutes the day before and was looking for the stage win while Filosi was dead set on locking up the GC. Heading over the final summit, which was 5 km from the arrival, the duo pushed the advantage and Sterbini "won" the sprint ahead of Filosi, who didn't really care about the stage and didn't contest the sprint. 1'37" back, Gianni Moscon (Zalf-Euromobil) was the first to come over the line with a small pack of chasers incluing Filosi's teammate Manuel Senni and well as Moscon's teammates Toniatti and Alessandro Tonelli.

In the continuing Italian Sprint Drama, Jakub Mareczko seems to now have the upper hand on Nicolas Marini. The Viris Maserati rider beat out Zalf-Euromobil's Marini on the final stage of Peaches and Nectarines that finished in Faenza in Emilia-Romagna. Mareczko and Marini were in a class of their own and had a big gap on the trailing peloton but it was Mareczko who lead the sprint out and Marini didn't have the power to come around. It was impressive riding from the young Mareczko, who now equaled Marini on 7 wins for the season. Marini's dry spell continues as he has not won for a month now with his last win coming at the GP Memorial Carlo Valentini on April 26th.

Iuri Filosi wrapped up the GC win over Simone Sterbini after the duo did an impressive tandem on the 2nd stage over three big passes. Filosi has been on fire as of late with a 2nd overall in the Bidasoa Itzulia (along with 2 stage wins) and now the overall at the Peaches and Nectarines. Filosi is a star with Colpack and will be looking to keep the good mojo rolling this summer at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Filosi is one of the best climbing talents to come out of the Italian system since Fabio Aru. He was 4th in the Taiwan KOM Challenge in October, which is something like 3000+ meters of climbing in 105km, and that was against a few dodgy Iranians too. The kid is a talent, that much is for certain.

Triptyque Ardennais

So I know it seems like a lot of these races were "big" but bear with me please.Triptyque Ardennais is another amateur stage, this one being in the Ardennes region of Belgium, but a good amount of teams came out including many of the top Belgian teams like Verandas Willems, Lotto-Belisol U23 and EFC-OPQS along with BMC Development and Croford from the Netherlands.

Stage 1 saw a breakaway of 5 including Loïc Vliegen and Lukas Spengler (BMC Development), Gaeten Bille (Verandas Willems),  Jelmer Asjes (Croford) and Fabio Polazzi (ToWin-Josan) get away with 30 kilometers to go on the finishing circuits from a leading group of approximately 20 riders. The five worked well together and while the rest of the chasing group was absorbed but the peloton, the quintet was able to get a lead of over 1 minute. With 5 km to go, the group still had over 40 seconds on the peloton and seemed to be fighting it out for the win. Bille attacked with just over 1km to go but the solo move was hard work as the wind was kicking up. Spengler put himself on the front for Vliegen and slated himself and with 700 meters to go, Bille was brought back. Obviously gassed from his effort, the usually stronger Bille was not match for Vliegen on the slightly uphill finish as the Belgian sprinted to the win ahead of Asjes. Tom Bohli (BMC Devo) led in the peloton 49 seconds down.

Stage 2 featured 10 small climbs peppered along the course to keep things interesting. A group of 3 got away early to serve as the chase. The breakaway was able to get across 7 climbs together with Tim Vanspeybroeck (Team 3M) taking over the KOM classification. After the 8th KOM, the breakaway lost a lot of its impetus and was brought back. U23 Kiwi Champ Hayden McCormick (Lotto-Belisol U23) immediately launched a counter attack and a breakaway of 4 was established on the finishing circuits. BMC Development kept the gap under control and brought the escape back before the last KOM point. Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace), the U23 World Cyclocross Champ, attacked in the end as well but was brought back for a bunch sprint. BVC-Soenens sprinter Alexander Maes was able to take out the slightly downhill sprint ahead of Tom Bohli (BMC Devo) and Xandro Meurisse (Lotto-Belisol U23) while Vliegen safely finished in the bunch.

Stage 3 was a lot more action packed than I'm going to make it out to be so if you are interested, head over to directvelo and give the live ticker a read.  It was like a big ol' buzzsaw. Attacks went and were brought back and each surge shot more riders out of the back. Surges by Sander Cordeel, Jimmy Janssens and Ludovic Robeet cut down the main peloton to just 37 riders out of the 156 starters on the day. BMC kept everything together even with a late attack by Gaeten Bille, who was sitting 2nd on GC just 5 seconds back. With that, it was Xandro Meurisse who took out the final reduced sprint ahead of cxer Gianni Vermeersch (Sunweb) and Tom Bohli. Loïc Vliegen was able to take back the leader's jersey from Jesper Asjes (Croford), who lost nearly 4 minutes on the stage. Bohli wrapped up the points jersey and BMC finished 1-3-5 on GC with Vliegen, Lukas Spengler and Bohli.

Everything else plus more...

-Sven Erik Bystrom (Oster Hus) finished the Tour of Norway 10th overall, which was good for the best U23 in the race. Bystrom made the split on stage 2, finishing 7th in the bunch sprint behind breakaway winner Marc de Maar and Macej Paterski. He also made the split on the more decisive stage to Lillehammer, where he made the first chase group behind Bauke Mollema and got 6th on the stage. Fellow Norwegian U23 Odd Christian Eiking (Joker) finished 13th overall, 10 seconds behind Bystrom and 47 seconds off the overall winner Paterski, while teammate Kristoffer Skjerping and Sindre Lunke (Sparebanken) finished 14th and 15th overall. All in all, a good race for the U23s that saw Sondre Holst Enger (Sparebanken Sor) get a 2nd place on stage 1 and Amund Grondhalen Jansen (Sparbanken Sor) take the overall KOM jersey.

-Mathieu van der Poel got his U23 career off to a start at the Omloop der Kempen in a cracking way as he was able to make the major breakaway of 13 that decided the race. Luke Davison (Australia) won the race in a sprint ahead of Sjors Roosen (Jo Piels) and Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Devo) with van der Poel finishing in 7th place. Tour of Belgium better be ready for van der Poel because he won't be waiting around for anyone.

-Alex Peters (Madison-Gensis) was able to finish 2nd overall in the AnPost Ras thanks to making the race-defining breakaway on the stage to Clonakilty. Peters rode quite consistently through the week and on the 8-stage race, his lowest placing was 27th. For a rider that is just 20 years old, Peters rode exceptionally well and should be watched at the Tour des Fjords later this week. On a side note, I wish I could cover the Ras more in detail because it is truly an incredible race but unfortunately with the zero resources I have, that is next to impossible for now.

-With the amount of U23 racing happening during the week that was, Paris-Arras was missing a few pieces but teams definitely showed up to play. You can definitely tell that Lotto-Belisol U23 is a well funded outfit because they were at 3 races during the same time. The race's GC was largely determined by the opening 28.1 km TTT. Roubaix-Lille Metropole, including U23 Rudy Barbier, won the opening team test ahead of Vendée U (U23s inlcuding Thomas Boudat and Taruia Krainer) and Lotto-Belisol U23. The next stage to Beaurains was a sprint won by Vorarlberg's Fabian Schnaidt ahead of Maxim Vantomme (Roubaix-Lille Metropole) and U23 Daniel Hoelgaard (Etixx). The final stage was won by U23 Daniel McLay (Lotto-Belisol U23) ahead of Jasper Bovenhuis and Filippo Baggio. The TTT weighted the race too much, in my opinion, as Roubaix-Lille Metropole took the top 3 spots followed by stage winner McLay and Vendée U teammate Boudat and Krainer.

-Another British kid who has been riding out of his skin is Hugh Carthy of Rapha-Condor. The gangly kid from outside of Preston (just east of Blackpool...near the Irish Sea for those of you who have no idea where I'm talking about) just finished the Tour of Japan and was arguably one of the best climbers in the race at just the age of 19. On the hillclimb stage of Mount Fuji, Carthy finished 2nd to the Persian Pantani, Mirsamad Poorseyedigolakhour, on the 11.6 km mountain with 37 switchbacks that climbs to nearly 2000 meters in height and has a full kilometer in the middle that average 14.3%. He even beat Damien Monier, who let's not forget won a Giro stage in 2010. Then on the next stage, Carthy rode along with the Persian Pantani and his teammate Ghader Mizbani, who won the stage. If it wasn't for some problems on stage 3, where he lost 2 minutes to some big rivals, he would be close to sitting on the podium but 6th place GC is nothing to sneeze at especially with the past doings of some of his rivals. Carthy is all skin and bones at 1.89 meters and 63kg (roughly 6'2" and 138 pounds) and the kid can fly up mountains. If he can learn to deal with flatter stages and handle himself in the winds then he could have quite the successful career.

-Shoutout to Robin Carpenter and Tanner Putt as they were the only U23s to finish the ridiculous USA Nationals RR in Chattanooga. Putt finished in a chase group in 21st and Carpenter was 23rd in the last group on the road in a race that only saw 32 finishers. Props to those guys for sticking it out.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ronde de l'Isard Roundup

Going into the final stage of the Ronde de l'Isard, Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23) would have to have about 4 flat tires and bonk on the final climb twice to be in any danger to lose his lead over Maxime Le Lavandier (Chambery CF). The duo of Vervaeke and Tiesj Benoot, along with teammates like Brecht Ruyters, were cruising through the Pyrenean race and just needed to get through the final day that included 3 big climbs in the Col de Port, the Col d'Agnes and the Col de la Core before a descent into the finish. Piece of cake, right?

On the Col de Port, a group of 4 including probably one of the race's more aggressive riders Quentin Pacher, Romain Guyot (Vendee U), Romain Campistrous (Occitane CF) and stage 1 winner Alexander Foliforov (Itera-Katusha). The four were able to hit the summit of the Col de Port ahead of the peloton with Pacher leading them over the peloton. On the descent, they were joined by Jean-Albert Carnevali (Verandas Willems) and Florian Dumourier (CR4C Roanne) and the breakaway, which was down to a scant 20 seconds previously, got some fresh legs and the gap went out to over 1 minute. Juan Felipe Osorio (4-72 Colombia) attacked out of the peloton and 500 meters before the summit of the Col d'Agnes, he joined the breakaway. Foliforov led the break over the summit with Osorio 2nd and it was another long descent down into the valley. As soon as Osorio joined the break, he was gapped on the descent. You can take the Colombian out of Colombia but sometimes they leave their descending skills at home.

Foliforov attacked on the Col de la Core and struck out solo; trying to make amends for his implosion on stage 2 where he lost over 5 minutes and the yellow jersey. Foliforov was being pursued by Guyot and Campustrous for the majority of the climb until those two were re-absorbed by the peloton. The Russian was going along at a steady clip and was no danger to Louis Vervaeke's overall lead so the peloton was not in a rush to bring him back. Near the summit, Spaniard Jaime Roson (Team Ecuador) attacked the yellow jersey group and was pursuing the Russian solo and when Foliforov crossed the Col de la Core summit, Roson was just 50 seconds behind while the yellow jersey group was over 2 minutes behind. On the descent, Valentin Dufour (Vendee U) and Carnevali attacked to try and get some time on the yellow jersey group but the long descent didn't give them the chance to get any substantial time. With 4km to go, everyone sans Foliforov had been swept up with the Russian out front by nearly a minute in the final kilometers. Foliforov came into the final kilometer ecstatic, taking his 2nd stage win of the week and finding some solace after losing the GC lead. Pierre-Roger Latour (Chambery CF) lead the leading group to the line ahead of Tiesj Benoot and Carnevali 56 seconds in arrears. Vervaeke and nearly every rider high on the GC arrived without difficulty in the leading group and the Belgian was finally able to take his first major win as a U23 after knocking on the door for a few years.


This was a confirmation for Vervaeke as a climbing talent for the future and justifies his move to Italy to focus on his climbing. He and Tiesj Benoot were riding like freight-trains on the 2nd stage in the rain and snow on the Hospice du France climb with the duo nearly closing a 2 minute gap on the leader Lilian Calmejane in roughly 6 kilometers. Vervaeke will most likely try to target the Tour des Pays de Savoie, the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d'Aosta as well as the Tour de l'Avenir later this summer. I wouldn't be surprised if he podiumed all three races.

Maxime Le Lavandier put in his 2nd straight 2nd place overall at the Ronde de l'Isard for Chambery CF and while he struggled with injury last year, he should be on track to have a good year with Pays de Savoie coming up and perhaps Valle d'Aosta this summer.

Tiesj Benoot is an animal. He can seemingly ride on most terrain save the highest of mountains and he proved on the Hospice du France climb that he can hit a higher gear than most on steep climbs.

Team USA had a great with Jeff Perrin going 8th overall and Chris Putt, in his first European race, going 11th overall. The team was quite young but they are damn strong. Fine job by Mike Sayers and the whole USA National team.

So Alexander Foliforov isn't the best GC man. He made up for it with 2 stage wins and the points and mountains jerseys. I think Itera will be pleased with the final outcome but it would be better he if could have at least limited his losses on the final climb on stage 2 instead of just collapsing entirely. Something for the future

A couple of riders to really watch for include Bernado Suaza, Jaime Roson and Patrick Olesen. Suaza is new to the 4-72 Colombia team this year but really came out to play for l'Isard, finishing 5th on GC. Suaza just began riding UCI races this year and is an unknown quantity but can definitely ride the high mountains. Jaime Roson was present on nearly all of the big mountain stages and the Spaniard on Team Ecuador has been riding well this year. Patrick Olesen is a young Dane at just 19 years old currently and is made for the high mountains. He confirmed his 13th on Monte Matajur in last year's Giro del Friuli Venezia Giulia by going 7th overall here and 2nd in the young riders classification.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ronde de l'Isard: Stage 3a & 3b

So I believe I have been accepted to Hogwarts School of Bike Racing Witchcraft and Wizardry after successfully predicting Alexander Foliforov's collapse on stage 2 and then the result for the morning split stage at the Ronde de l'Isard.
 The morning stage...well I think it has Loic Chetout written all over it but you never know.

Since I saw the route for l'Isard and saw the rolling morning split stage,  I immediately thought Loic Chetout would win it. Not a shadow of doubt in my mind. After working until 11 pm last night, I got up later this morning and looked at the live ticker and saw Chetout's name in the breakaway. I didn't bother checking back until later because I knew he would win.

In any event, the stage was just a bit over 80 kilometers and within the first 10 kilometers the breakaway was established that would define the race. Loic Chetout (GSC Blagnac) got into the move with Emil Vinjebo (Denmark), yesterday's solo man Diego Ochoa (4-72 Colombia), Guillaume Thevenot (Vendee U), Florian Dumourier (CR4C Roanne) and Quentin Pacher, who was also in the early move yesterday. The group of 6 were able to get a gap of nearly 3 minutes while Thibault Nuns (Oceane U-Top 16) and Adrien Legros (Chambery CF) tried valiantly to get up to the breakaway. They got within 20 seconds before the duo blew up and slowly retreated back to the peloton.

No one was really pushing the pace too hard as the 6 up front were going to fight out the stage win while the peloton behind were conserving energy for the afternoon TTT. In the final 10 kilometers, the peloton woke up and the 3 minute gap was beginning to drop just so there were no GC surprises. Out front, Guillaume Thevenot attacked with Pacher with 5 km to go but was brought back fairly quickly. Thevenot was not done and attacked again and got a 5 second gap. Chetout was quick to bridge up to him and took Florian Dumourier with him. The trio worked well together and Dumourier led out the sprint with 200 meters to go but Chetout was too strong and came by with ease to take the win, his 6th of the year. 1 minute and 45 seconds back, Dane Frederik Plesner led the peloton over the line with Louis Vervaeke safely in to.

Lotto-Belisol definitely has the talent to consolidate the overall lead in the TTT while Vendee U and Itera could also do well.
 Seriously, I need to just start putting some money down on U23 racing. I pick Loic Chetout's win and then I pick the podium for the TTT? Come on. I could be making tens of dollars off of this. Anyways the TTT is always a fun discipline that makes most want to puke their guts from their eyeballs. Thanks to their explosion on stage 2, Itera got to start in the middle of the field and laid down a strong time of 23'20", which was just a touch over 45.5 km/h. While most teams did not crack 24 minutes, the USA National team rolled in with a strong time of 23'54", which is great for a team that is made up of very young riders. 4-72 Colombia ceded a bit of time with a ride of 24'14" while Chambery limited their loses for Maxime Le Lavandier with a ride of 24' even. Vendee U put in a storming ride and the Bretagne-based team took the lead with a ride of 23'14", which pushed Lilian Calmejane up the overall standings. Even though Lotto-Belisol U23 was missing some of their stronger TTers, they still put in a good ride to slot in 3rd overall behind Itera with a time of 23'43".
On the overall side of things, Louis Vervaeke extended his lead over Maxime Le Lavandier to 1'22" while Tiesj Benoot is now tied with Lilian Calmejane in 3rd at 1'53". Bernando Suaza sits in 5th at 3'05 followed by Patrick Olesen (Denmark), Alexander Foliforov (Itera-Katusha), Jeff Perrin (USA National), Valentin Dufour (Vendee U) and Chetout, who lost time due to his GSC Blagnac team only having 3 riders for the TTT.
The race ends tomorrow with a big day in the Pyrenees featuring the Col de Port, Col d'Agnes and Col de la Core. If you want a review of the course in more detail, look at my preview for the race.

Ronde de l'Isard Stage 2: Lotto drops bombs on Itera; takes overall lead for Vervaeke.

So remember when I said Alexander Foliforov was prone to being inconsistent and he was good for a one-off ride but when the pressure got turned up, say by a red/white Belgian team, he couldn't handle it? Yeah, it was pretty specific and I'm pretty sure I can read the future.

The stage win itself was dominated by the remnants of the late breakaway but the main GC fight was from behind as Lotto-Belisol was set on smashing Ivan Drago and giving everyone freedom and capitalism...okay, I might have gone slightly off track and into the plot of Rocky IV. Overnight leader Alexander Foliforov had his Itera-Katusha teammates but the Russian has been prone to big highs followed by dramatic drop offs that make him a slightly volatile talent. Foliforov and his young teammate Ildar Arslanov were headed towards a big meltdown on the slopes of the Hospice de France climb.

The stage started out with a few different attacks under stormy skies, which brought with it a slew of mechanicals that affected Tiesj Benoot and Hernan Aguirre. It took over an hour for the first attack to stick and it included a few hitters including Juan Felipe Osorio (4-72 Colombia), Pierre-Roger Latour (Chambery CF) and Justin Mauch & Logan Owen (USA National), among others. The Itera-Katusha led peloton was not letting them get much of a gap and the maxium the group of 9 got was only 2 minutes. 

The gap began to drop as they went up the Col de Mente with rain showers thundering over top of them. Osorio, Latour and Frederik Plesner (Denmark) emerged as the leaders while attacks were being launched from the peloton behind. Diego Ochoa jumped out of the peloton and essentially bridged solo up to his 4-72 Colombia teammate Osorio and company on the slopes of the Mente. With chasers behind including the yellow jersey, Louis Vervaeke and others, Ochoa attacked his new break mates and was able to go over the summit solo.
With Ochoa descending in front alone, riders started to make their way off the front. First it was Paul Sauvage (CR4C Roanne) followed shortly by Jeff Perrin (USA national) along with Latour, Quentin Pacher and Loic Bouchereau. Ochoa was going strong out front will the quintet worked well to distance themselves from the favorites group heading into Bagneres de Luchon. Lilian Calmejane (Vendee U) attacked with Romain Campistrous (Occitane CF) out of the yellow jersey group and bridged their way up to the chasing quintet. On the lower slopes of the Hospice de France climb, Calmejane, Campistrous and Bouchereau, who were all teammates last year, attacked together and made their way up to Ochoa. Once the climb began to steepen at the Pont de Joueu turn, Campistrous rode away from Campistrous and Bouchereau, who were joined by Perrin.
Behind, Brecht Ruyters was leading Louis Vervaeke to the steepest section of the climb and then it was Tiesj Benoot's time to shine. With 3km to go and the breakaway up front, Benoot just hit the overdrive button and he, Vervaeke and Maxime Le Lavandier just rode away from Foliforov like he was standing still. The Russian was on an off day as he was just left for dead by the rest of the yellow jersey group shortly after.
Ahead, it was Calmejane who rode up to Campistrous and proceeded to go right by him. The grades on the climb were sickening with 2km to go. 13% average in place and there was no respite. Downslope, Benoot and Vervaeke rode Le Lavandier off their wheel and were chugging along like a Belgian freighttrain into the heart of the Pyrenees. Perrin was still going along and was catching up to Campistrous, who was grimacing like a demon. Under the red kite, Benoot and Vervaeke were still 1'40" down on the front group. A light snow replaced rain and began to fall on the climb while the overheating riders struggled on.

Lilian Calmejane took an impressive victory solo while it was Vervaeke, who was going at an incredible rate, who came in 2nd just 24 second behind Calmejane. Perrin came in 3rd just behind Vervaeke while Benoot, the powerhouse that lead Vervaeke to the GC lead, came in 4th just a few seconds down. The next GC rider to come in was Le Lavandier in 6th, who was 49" seconds down on Vervaeke but was able to shoot up to 2nd on GC at 1'05". 
The big losers on the day were Team Ecuador's Jaime Roson, who finished 4'09" down on Calmejane, and obviously Foliforov, who rolled in 5'14" down and ended any overall GC ambitions he might have had as he now sits 4'36" down on Vervaeke. Others who had strong performances were Bernando Suaza, who shot up to 5th overall after a top 10 ride, and Patrick Olesen, who put in another strong performance with a 10th place that has him 7th on GC. Jeff Perrin rose to 10th overall after his awesome ride up the Hopsice du France climb while Chris Putt, in his first European foray, is now sitting 14th overall after 2 top-20 riders on uphill finishes.

Ronde de l'Isard 2014 - arrivée de l'étape 2 by radio-velo Saturday will feature a split stage with a flat to rolling morning stage of 82 kilometers followed by a 17.7 kilometer TTT in the afternoon. Lotto-Belisol definitely has the talent to consolidate the overall lead in the TTT while Vendee U and Itera could also do well. The morning stage...well I think it has Loic Chetout written all over it but you never know.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Jack Haig is primed for a European road near you

After a well deserved spring break, Jack Haig is back at it with Avanti Racing on the Australian NRS circuit and has returned to his winning ways already.

The overall winner of the NRS last year in his first full year dedicated to the road, Haig was playing a good teammate to Mark O'Brien and Joe Cooper in the Battle on the Border last week. O'Brien won the opening stage on Mount Warning in New South Wales with Haig in 2nd and teammate Cooper in 3rd. Cooper won the stage 3 TT which flipped the overall GC standings for Avanti with the New Zealander winning the overall, Haig in 2nd and O'Brien in 3rd.

Still just 20 years old, Haig is currently getting his back scratched for him at the Tour of Toowoomba. After teammate Neil van der Ploeg took out the first stage sprint, it was Haig's turn on the stage to the Bunya Mountains. Haig, O'Brien and Cooper got into the winning breakaway with search2retain's Brendan Canty and the quartet were off with 10 km to go.

Haig, at least according to multiple twitter reports, was doing the majority of the work on the front of the finishing climb while the others were just holding on at that point. Haig was able to distance his companions in the final stretch to take the queen stage win by 8 seconds over Canty and Cooper. Haig just has 3 more stages to go and the worst is now over with and I would be surprised to see a non-Avanti rider steal this race.

Haig will be coming over to Europe soon with the Australian National Team to get in some U23 racing and perhaps some MTB events at the Commonwealth Games, the latter of which is in doubt because of how well he is going on the road. With Rob Power and Haig for a potential duo in the Tour de l'Avenir...well I would be taking a big gulp and training double if I was going up against them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ronde de l'Isard: Foliforov wins on Goulier-Neige

In my preview for the Ronde de l'Goat Antelope (l'Isard), I said that Alexander Foliforov was a favorite for Itera-Katusha but he was prone to inconsistency, which saw him out of the hunt for the general classification in many races. Well the race just started but it might be looking like I need to insert my foot into my mouth. Foliforov got into the elite selection with Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23), Jaime Roson (Team Ecuador) & Maxime Le Lavandier (Chambery CF) and with only a few kilometers left, Foliforov attacked the others and was able to pull out a win. He has had brilliant flashes in the big mountains but now he has the uphill task of keeping the leader's jersey.

The stage started with a breakaway of 11 that would spend the majority of the day out front. Juan Osorio (4-72 Colombia), Justin Oien (USA National), Guillaume Thévenot (Vendée U) and Alexandre Delétang (Armée de Terre) were all apart of the breakaway that would eventually get a maximum lead of over 7 and a half minutes with 65 kilometers to go. Dorian Lebrat (Chambery CF) won the first KOM spot ahead of Osorio and Oien and the next 100 kilometers were more or less flat before the difficult summit finish at the Goulier-Neige ski station. The next little GPM bump was at 68km to go where Delétang took the points ahead of Lebrat and Joren Touquet (Verandas Willems). After the 2nd GPM point, the gap started to come down steadily to the breakaway.

A few riders began to drop off the breakaway with 20 kilometers to go, which made the front group just 7 riders as the road began to tilt upward. With 13 kilometers to go, the gap was just a minute for the group of 7 and the proper climb was still to come. The group got onto the climb to the ski station and it was only Osorio, Oien and Thévenot left.

After the breakaway was brought back shortly after the climb started, the lead group was more or less formed with 7km to go. Louis Vervaeke, Maxime Le Lavandier, Valentin Dufour (Vendée U), Alexander Foliforov and Jaime Roson were out front by themselves with Ildar Arslanov (Itera-Katusha) and Bernando Suaza (4-72 Colombia) right behind them. The whole group came together with 5km to go but soon enough, it was Vervaeke, Le Lavandier, Foliforov and Roson alone and pulling away.

The quartet got to the 3km to go sign together before Foliforov launched an attack. The Russian was in full diesel mode and was pulling out a second here and a second there. With 1.2 kilometers to go, he had 5 seconds on the trio. He pulled out even more time in the final kilometer and charged up to the line for the win. Roson and Vervaeke pulled in together down 14 seconds and Le Lavandier came in 20 seconds in arrears. Arslanov was the next to come in but he was over a minute down on his teammate Foliforov while Dufour, who was originally with the group, came in 1'09" down.

Foliforov has been on good form a few times this year and won the queen stage at the GP Adygeya and was on the podium at the Trofeo Piva Banca but like I said before, he sometimes is a bit inconsistent. Itera has a strong team here and will be very strong to defend and could pull time out in the TTT coming up on the 3rd day.

-Ever Rivera (4-72 Colombia) was a non-starter today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Preview: Ronde de l'Isard

There is no proper entrance into good weather like heading into some big mountains in the Pyrenees for some U23 racing. Okay no one thinks that but still, spring has really sprung when you can get up to 1500 meters and not need a coat. The Ronde de l'Isard is the U23 kickoff the the big mountain season and while it isn't as high as say the Giro Ciclisto della Valle d'Aosta, it will be stinging the legs. Just in case anyone was confused, we are deep in the south of France in the Midi-Pyrénées just a couple hours from Andorra. To be more specific, the race stays mainly around the Ariège department.

Hopefully some rider will dedicate his stage win to the Isard (aka a Pyrenean chamois), which gave their lives countless times to protect rider's precious undersides and keep cars looking impeccable. (Photo: Wiki)
And the race's name? Well I'm fairly certain it is named after the Pyrenees Chamois, a goat antelope that lives in the region and was nearly hunted to extinction in the 1940's for its chamois leather. You know, the same stuff that was used in cycling shorts until synthetics were developed later in the century and still used today for automobiles, art, etc. It seems proper to have a race in the honor of an animal, more specifically its hide, that coddled countless numbers of cyclist taints and cleaned countless number of cars.

Stage 1

The stage begins in Saint-Girons. Luis-Leon Sanchez beat Sandy Casar and Vlaf Efimkin into town here on the 8th stage of the 2009 Tour de France in a three-man breakaway. The stage starts out pretty tame with one small climb and is more or less flat until the final 25 kilometers. It begins to head uphill once the race hits the town of Tarascon-sur-Ariège but it doesn't properly begin the climb to the Goulier-Neige ski station until 9.6 kilometers to go. That 9.6 kilometers averages a lovely 8% but the worst part of the climb is in the middle where it hits a stretch of 12.5% and the last 3 kilometers are around 9%. Here is the profile from climbbybike.

Back in 2008, Blel Kadri won solo on the climb ahead of Elver Corredor and Simon Geschke with the likes of Romain Sicard, Jarlinson Pantano and Alexandre Geniez trailing in his wake. Last year, Heiner Parra and Juan Chamorro did the 1-2 on the climb while Maxime Le Lavandier was 23 seconds late to the party.

Stage 2

The 2nd stage starts off quite easy with the first half flat to rolling, which will be good for a early break to get away before the climbs. The race goes from easy to hard in about 5 kilometers when the route tips upward and the races starts going up the Col de Mente. The climb is famous for being the place where Luis Ocana crashed in the 1971 Tour de France chasing after Merckx and was airlifted off the mountain after being hit by a pursuing Joop Zoetemelk. They were descending the col in that case and the race route will be climbing that side and will go past the plaque commemorating that bit of Tour de France history. The climb itself is pretty hard with an average over 9% for a smidgen over 9 kilometers but it is a pretty consistent grade and if you can find a rhythm, you can survive it. The climb has a commemorative stone monument for Serge Lapebie, who is the deceased son of Tour de France stage winner Guy Lapebie and nephew of overall Tour de France winner Roger Lapebie. Following a technical descent, the race goes into Bagneres du Luchon and right out of town to go up the climb to Hospice de France.  The first half of the climb isn't too bad with only a few steep ramps but once they hit Pont de Joueu, which signals 5 km to go, the race is on. The next last three kilometers is where the climb really brings out the knives; the gradient rarely goes under 11% and goes over 13% for nearly a half of a kilometer. The winner will probably weigh under 60 kilograms and have the same amount of body hair as a prepubescent teenager but he will be well deserved.

Stages 3a and 3b

We head a little bit out of the heart of the Pyrenees and go to the town of Boulogne sur Gesse for a split stage. The morning stage is a flat to rolling 82 kilometers which shouldn't take any longer than two hours. Paging Loïc Chetout.

The afternoon stage is where the race could be won or lost if the race is not decided in the mountains. It is a 17 kilometer team time trial around Boulogne sur Gesse that features little in the way of technical difficulties but if your team has a few stronger rulers that have survived the early hills, a team could put some serious time into a team of toothpicks that are being blown around in the wind.

Stage 4

3 climbs of varying difficulty finish off the stage race but it could come down to descending skills if a small group hasn't blown the race open yet. The bunch have 15 kilometers before they begin ascending the Col de Port. The Col de Port was first climbed in the 1910 by Octave Lapize when slave driver Desgrange pushed the race into the Pyrenees. It is a long climb at nearly 17 kilometers but the average is just a dainty 4.5%. Following the descent, the route goes over the Col d'Agnes is another 15+ kilometer slog but nothing too bad in terms of gradient, just some patches of 8% gradient. Following another twisty descent, the race passes through Seix before going up the Col de la Core, which is a 14 kilometer climb that is similar the d'Agnes in that the gradients never get too steep with the maximum stretch coming in at 8%. These climbs might be longer but certainly not as tough as the ones earlier in the race.

The race finishes on a descent off of the Col de la Core and even when off the descent proper, the race continues to go downhill all the way into Saint-Girons. Someone who isn't afraid to lay it on the line downhill could certainly benefit.

The Contenders

There was a time that the USA would seemingly always have a contender for the Ronde de l'Isard. Mike Creed was 3rd place overall here in both 2001 and 2002, the former of which he won a mountain stage solo.  Pat McCarty won the 2003 edition while Saul Raisin was 3rd. Raisin was 2nd to Philip Deignan in 2004 and in 2007, John Devine took the overall after winning a huge solo stage to Guzet Neige. In more recent years, Andrew Talansky and Joe Dombrowski got 3rd place in the race overall. Last year, Nate Wilson put on an impressive ride to take 5th overall. They have a mixed team of up and coming youngsters like Geoffrey Curran and Logan Owen with some more experienced riders in Jeff Perrin, Torey Phillip and Chris Putt. Mike Sayers has the experience behind the wheel DSing so I'll be interested to see if they can put someone in the top 10 overall.

4-72 Colombia are the reigning champions but the two riders (Juan Chamorro and Heiner Parra) that dominated for them last year won't be here. Ever Rivera was a big bright spot for them last year but he has been invisible this year. Diego Ochoa will most likely be their best bet for a GC run after winning the Colombian U23 RR Championship and taking a stage win the Vuelta Mexico earlier this year. One to keep an eye on is Hernan Aguirre, who is a first year U23 that can climb at a very quick pace.

Chambery CF will be backing Pierre-Roger Latour and Maxime Le Lavandier. Latour hasn't raced a lot this year but he was 6th overall here last year. Le Lavandier seems to always do well here as the last two years he has been 2nd (2013) and 6th (2012) overall.

**Chambery will also have the young Colombian Eduardo Estrada with them. Estrada set the Pan-Am Junior 3km Pursuit record last year (3'14"407), which broke Taylor Phinney's previous record. Estrada's time was just 4 tenths of a second off the junior pursuit world record set by Dale Parker in 2010. Estrada won the Pan-Am junior RR championship last year as well. The only gold medal he didn't win at the Pan-Am Junior Championships was the TT, which he finished 2nd in just 10 seconds behind his countryman Daniel Martinez. Estrada's agent Alex Carera, who is also the agent for Vincenzo Nibali, secured him a deal with Chambery CF, who is the feeder team for Ag2r. The slender Colombian stands at 1.84 meters (a hair over 6 feet) and weighs in at a heavyweight 67 kilograms (147.5 lbs) and he has already taken a win this year in France at the GP de la Municipalite in Vienne out of a small 4-man breakaway. It was nothing earth shattering but the talent is definitely there. Thanks to Tom for the reminder about Estrada.

Romain Guyot was 9th last year with Vendée U and should have leadership for this year's race as well especially after his 7th overall in the Tour de Bretagne.

The Russians are back. Denis Menchov won here in 1998. Sergii Chernetskii was 2nd overall here in 2012 and arguably the best climber in the race. Itera-Katusha is bringing a strong squad that is also a threat for the TTT. Ildar Arslanov is just a 2nd year U23 but he has been doing well in pro races (Coppi e Bartali) and the mountains is where he has the potential to shine. Alexander Foliforov is by far the most experienced rider on the team and will be the logical GC favorite after his 5th place in Giro della Valle d'Aosta last year. His problem is just being consistent.

I'm interested to see Nick Schultz ride here for CR4C Roanne. The Australian has been cutting his teeth in France the last couple of years. Just trust me on this one, he could put in a good ride.

Tiesj Benoot and Louis Vervaeke are the headlining acts for Lotto-Belisol U23 here in l'Isard. Vervaeke even moved to Italy so he could focus on training in the mountains and seems to be in good shape after a 5th in the Circuit de Wallonie. Vervaeke was 4th in both the Tour de Pays de Savoie and the Giro della Valle d'Aosta last year and will be looking for a big GC result. Benoot is perhaps not as suited to the big climbs as Vervaeke is but he can handle his own on the rolling stages and perhaps on the stages where there is not a summit finish.

Also, Loïc Chetout is here and being so close to the French Basque region, he will want to try and grab a stage victory here after his strong GC win at the Bidasoa Itzulia. Perhaps on the morning split stage or the descent finish on the last stage.

New race website upgrade from their circa 1998 version.

Full startlist

Monday, May 19, 2014

The 2014 Royal Smilde Crash Fest Tour Review

Seriously, if you can come up with a race that goes through more wind, rain and road furniture for a week straight then please let me know because the Olympia's Tour ranks up there as one of the fastest, hardest and shittiest stage races out there. Crosswinds blowing at 30 mph, riders pegging it in the gutter at 45 kph and many crashes. So let's review the 2014 Royal Smilde Olympia's Tour while we scrub the asphalt out of some wounds...


The Australians, known for their track riders and time trialists, were expected to come up big and Campbell Flakemore, who was 4th last year in the U23 World TT Championships, was the early leader on the 3.4 kilometer course. His time lasted for a while before others dethroned him. Yoeri Havik took the lead. Australian Luke Davison went a little faster. Havik's De Rijke teammate Christoph Pfingsten then laid down the hammer with a 4'15, which was the fastest by a couple of seconds. Caleb Ewan didn't come close. Neither did Mike Teunissen. American Eamon Lucas, who was a top 10 favorite, has a disastrous prologue and ended up 30 seconds down when it was all said and done. The last man on course was last year's prologue winner Coen Vermeltfoort and he laid down the fastest time for the 2nd year in a row. The former Rabobank prodigy has become somewhat of a prologue specialist and averaged 48.22 kph over the course to take the win over his teammate Pfingsten and Australian U23 Miles Scotson, who was apart of the World Championship Team Pursuit earlier this year on the track.

Stage 1

This is where the race was put to bed. Yeah, there were still 5 more stages to go but when a major breakaway gets up the road and stays up the road in a race like this, it is hard to be able to turn those tables. In 2012, Berden de Vries was still a speed skater who was using cycling as fitness. After some strong rides in Tour de Loir-et-Cher, he decided to put more effort into cycling and signed with Jo Piels for 2013. In just his first year fully dedicated to cycling, De Vries put up some good results but what happened at the Olympia's Tour is still surprising nearly a week after it took place. De Vries, who rides for the Jo Piels squad which has been around for over a decade, got into a breakaway with with Christophe Sleurs (3M) and Jesper Asselman (Metec) in the beginning of stage 1 after a few early breakaway attempts didn't succeed and the trio were able to establish a nice gap ahead of their pursuers. The pace was pretty damn quick as well as the average for the stage was over 46 kph. De Vries and co. took it to the line with the Drenthe native De Vries out-kicking Asselman on the line. The peloton didn't come in until 33 seconds later. De Vries, according to an interview with cycling, was shocked with the win but he was even more so after the afternoon TTT...

Stage 2

The TTT. The team time trial is just about as Dutch as cycling gets. For decades, the Dutch were some of the best at the discipline and this Olympia's Tour just showed off their skill for riding in formation while wanting the bleed through your eyeballs. Going into this year's race, Jo Piels had never won the Olympia's Tour, which is one of, if not the, biggest stage race on the calendar for Dutch continental teams. With De Vries in the white leader's jersey heading into the afternoon TTT stage, the Dutch team was laser focused.  The Dutch teams took the top 6 placings while foreign teams such as the Australian and USA National teams, the latter of which had a very green team, took lower top 10 placings. Strong favorites Rabobank Development were looking good for the win but were clipped by Jo Piels, who was powered by De Vries along with Jasper Hamelink (former 5th place, U23 Worlds TT), Elmar Reinders, Geert van der Weijst and others. Following the 2nd day of racing, De Vries now has 21 seconds on Asselman and spirits were looking up for the scrappy continental squad.

Stage 3

Fucking flat Dutch roads. Seriously, does the speed never end? The stage averaged a healthy 44.5 kph (27.6 mph) and it didn't end up pretty for many. The stage was a big loop around the town of Hoorn, a town which I actually know from experience as I stayed in a farmhouse just outside of it for a few days when I was a teenager. Pretty area right on the coast of the Ijselmeer and I enjoyed riding the dyke road between Hoorn and Edam. Anyways, back on topic. From the beginning, the race was split by the wind and the race was in three groups early on. AnPost-Chain Reaction and the USA National team got the shitty end of the stick with over half of their teams getting caught up in incidents. The USA team pretty much had everyone hit the deck and Yannick Eckmann had to abandon while 5 out of their remaining 7 finished in the last group on the road. Chalk it up to experience?

The racing really hotted up in the last 10 kilometers when GC favorite Bert-Jan Lindeman (Rabobank Devo) attacked but was countered by race leader De Vries. When it was all brought back together, Ronan van Zandbeek (De Rijke) attacked and was able to hold out until the final kilometer when he was swept up by the peloton. Wim Stroetinga jumped off Koga teammate Jasper Bovenhuis' wheel with 150 meters out and the track man was able to hold off Johim Ariesen's (Metec) lung for the line to take his first win of the week. Caleb Ewan wasn't able to get the best position and had to settle for 5th in the chaotic sprint.

Stage 4

Probably the easiest stage of the race. When I say easy, I mean an average of 28 mph for nearly three and a half hours with wind and everything else through in for good measure. The USA National team was hurting as both Justin Oien and Logan Owen were non-starters and Alex Darville would soon join them on the scratched list. So half of their team was now out of one of the hardest stage races on their calendar...that happened.

The stage itself was a repeat of the day prior in most regards. A break got up the road. It was brought back. Another break went away and was brought back before the mass sprint. In the sprint, Stroetinga launched too early and was just inches from giving the win to Caleb Ewan but was able to hang on for his 2nd win in a row.

Stage 5

This was supposed to be one of the most decisive stages in the race, just like it was last year, but it didn't turn out as many had hoped. An early break of 13 including Coen Vermeltfoort and Mike Teunissen got away and with De Vries absent from the breakaway, Jo Piels set to the front to manage the gap. Getting some assistance from the Australian National Team, the breakaway was neutralized and a new group of 14 were able to get away. In the new group was De Vries and teammate Sjors Roosen along with Bert-Jan Lindeman, Ivar Slik (both Rabo Devo), Eamon Lucas (USA) and Ronan van Zandbeek (De Rijke). The group got 30 seconds heading into the hillier portion of the route but the Australians, who missed out on the break, were keen to get it together for Caleb Ewan and Scott Sunderland, the former World Champion track sprinter who is new to road cycling. With help from Belkin-De Jonge Renner, the break was once again neutralized. In the finale, Timo Roosen (Rabo Devo) attacked and had a gap coming into the final kilometer but was swallowed up by the swarm in the final straight. Coen Vermeltfoort led out the sprint and was looking good until Stroetinga yet again popped out, head bobbing like a mad-man, and took his 3rd win in a row.

Stage 6

The final day offered one last swift kick to the gut for the majority of the peloton as the race was ravaged with crosswinds and echelons. An early break including Bert-Jan Lindeman got away and got 3 and a half minutes but once the peloton decided to hit the gas, that gap was quickly brought down. The wind, which played a factor all week, decided to make itself known once again as a break of 5 including Ivar Slik (Rabo Devo) attacked. The breakaway got up to a minute gap but the wind just decimated the peloton. A group of 30, including Wim Stroetinga and leader De Vries, bridged to the breakaway. Like everytime this week, the Australians missed the move and were left chasing the large group but they were not bringing this back. GC favorite Mike Teunissen was left out of the 31-man strong group that would contest the finish together. Guess who won? Wim Stroetinga. this time ahead of Marco Zanotti, who has had a pretty good season so far for Parkhotel Valkenburg. Berden de Vries wrapped up his GC win ahead of Stroetinga, who got within 18 seconds on GC thanks to bonus seconds, and Jesper Asselman.

Eamon Lucas was the sole finisher for the USA National Team as 3 more riders dropped out on the last stage. It was a rough week for the team but they should bounce back stronger. Olympia's Tour can be so cruel sometimes.

Post-Race Thoughts

-Jo Piels captured their first overall win in the Olympia's Tour after years of Rabobank Continental/Development domination. Berden de Vries cemented his status as a man on the rise after capturing the Olympia's Tour overall in just his 2nd season fully dedicated to cycling. Jo Piels put 2 more in the top 10 with Elmar Reinders (5th) and Geert van der Weijst (7th).

-Wim Stroetinga could be a beast on the road if he just focused for 2 years and got more endurance under him so he could actually contest some hills.

-Rabobank Development dropped the ball this year. For the first time in over a decade, they missed the podium and Timo Roosen was their best finisher in 6th place. Arthur van Dongen will not be a happy man with that results, especially with Teunissen missing out on the final day.

-What's up Australia? Seriously, they had a talented roster but seemed to be a little flat. They missed every important split and while Caleb Ewan was close, he wasn't able to beat a man who spends most of his time dedicated to the track.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Greg Daniel agonizingly close to a huge win at Tour of California

The downside of working 10-hour shifts is that it interrupts my live bike racing schedule. Okay, so I make due with some different live updates and keeping my twitter stream up. After working 6 straight 10-hour days, my brain was a bit fried but I look up to see Greg Daniel in the breakaway in the Tour of California. Alright, I think, Daniel is a damn strong rider and I like seeing a young gun in the breakaway. Little did I know that he would be fighting it out for the win just a couple hours later.


I get busy with work and I don't think much about the time gap as I think the sprinters teams are just saving their wad for a little later. The next time I look back the race is down to just 10 kilometers left. Could this happen? The break is absolutely flying down the coast and the peloton isn't making a dent. Could Daniel pull it off? Looking at the break, there was some possibility. Matt Cooke is a stellar climber for Jamis but no sprinter. Jonny Clarke is a good road captain for UHC and Chris Jones has been top 5 in the Tour of Britain. Will Routley (Optum) was the dangerman; the Canadian nearly won Tro Bro Leon one year. So what would a 19 year old be able to do against these guys?

The video pretty much shows it all. Daniel is covering the moves he needs to and keeps it together for the sprint before Routley does his best John Degenkolb impression and leads it out from the front. Daniel didn't have the snap to follow him instantly but was able to pick up some speed near the end, pass Kevin De Mesmaeker (Novo Nordisk) before the line and end up just a couple bike lengths behind Routley for 2nd. It was a well deserved win by Routley, who has been ripping it up this week so far, but Daniel is knocking on the door big time.

This isn't the first time Daniel has been close to a big win this year. Earlier this year, Daniel attacked his breakaway mates late in the 2nd stage of the Volta ao Alentejo and was solo up until the final half kilometer, where the charging peloton finally got him back. But this ride? A sign of big things to come. I know it sounds like I'm just lauding him with praise but California is a 2.HC race. Just a small step under World Tour races and it is arguably one of the bigger 2.HC races on the UCI calendar due to the teams that attend the race. Daniel is just in his 2nd year removed from the junior ranks. For some comparison, the only other rider born in 1994 to hit the podium on a 2.HC stage this year is Merhawi Kudus. That isn't supposed to be a comparison of ability between the two but if you are are not keeping an eye on Greg Daniel, you must have went through with your scheduled lobotomy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Top U23s: Spring 2014

I suck at top 5 lists. I don't even know why I attempt to call it a top 5 list when I automatically list 7 riders and 4 others as honorable mentions. Wait make that 8...this is not going well. Alright, well I better get this started before it turns into some long-winded diatribe of some sort.

Keep on, Keeping on

Some riders hit a little sophomore slump after a breakout year and many will begin to question their talent and all that jazz. Silvio Herklotz might have had a rough start to the season that included a massive crash at rough 70 km/h into a car and some bronchitis but in the last month, the young German from outside Berlin has turned it around with a win in the Palio del Recioto and a slew of strong placings in races like the Giro del Belvedere (2nd) and the pro version of Eschborn-Frankfurt (13th after making late breakaway). Herklotz just finished the Grody Tour in Poland in 3rd overall after making the winning break on stage 1 and then riding a very good TT by his standards. Herklotz is down to ride the Bayern Rundfahrt again and should be able to make an impact on the hillier stages. What else can I say about Herklotz that I already haven't droned on about at length before?

While he courted multiple team's attention after last year's Tour of Denmark, Magnus Cort's decision to stay in the U23 ranks for another year was probably beneficial for him and his future employer, whoever that may be at this point. Cort spurned a contract offer from Garmin-Sharp to stay with his Danish CULT Energy squad for 2014 though he did go to training camp with Giant-Shimano. Cort fired a warning shot at the Istrian Spring Trophy when he won two consecutive uphill finishes on his way to the overall victory. After his 5th place at the Volta Limburg, Cort had a little lull through the U23 races in late April before attacking the first week of May like an under-fed neo-pro going after a buffet. He was 6th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 (his teammate Mads Pedersen won) before going back to back at the Himmerland Rundt and Destination Thy thanks to 2 attacks, one from 10 km out and the other from 500 meters out on a slight rise after catching teammate Martin Mortensen. As I write this, Cort just took out his 6th win of the season at the Ringerike GP in Norway from a small breakaway.

Is there anybody out there?

Seriously, Caleb Ewan has been pretty quiet so far this year. He was his usual self earlier this year in Australian summer at the Bay Crits and he got his head kicked in at Tour Down Under. Since then, Ewan has raced just a handful of times. He spent nearly a month training in Canberra with the Australian National Team, which included sleeping at a simulated altitude of 3,000 meters, and then promptly shipped off to Varese. (His blog on CyclingTips goes into further detail.) In his first European race of the season, the small Trofeo Antonietto Rancilio, Ewan got pipped on the line by Jakub Mareczko (more on him later). He won the group sprint for 6th at Trofeo Piva Banca but that was over a minute down on the winning group. Ewan then proceeded to get chopped in the finale of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and while he was in the winning group for the sprint, he had to take a nice fat DNF. Ewan has been out of action since then and just turned a pedal over in full anger for the first time in a month at the Olympia's Tour prologue, where he finished 15th. The devil from Down Under should be returning in a big way soon enough.

It's a Hard Knock Life...

For Sondre Holst Enger and Luka Pibernik. Enger and Pibernik were sensations last year and already have professional contracts lined up for 2015 but U23 life is not always as grand as some make it out to be. Maybe I am being a bit hard on Pibernik because he already has a pro contract lined up and isn't blowing these guys out of the water. But wins in the U23 ranks do not correspond with pro success so I'll dial it back a little bit. Pibernik has made top 10's this year but when he was making some key breakaways last year, he has been leading in chase groups. The Slovene is headed for Lampre in 2015 and has a while to breakout so I'm not too concerned at this point but he really needs to start impressing.

Enger is where there is a bit of a problem. While it was announced over the off-season that he would be joining IAM as a stagiaire and then on a full contract for 2015, the Norwegian was riding high. His season has not been much to write home about up to this point. Out of the14 race days he has had this year, he has had one good result in a 3rd place on the 1st stage of the Tour de Normandie, where he led the sprint for 2nd out from about 500 meters and was swamped on the line by Maarten van Trijp. The rest of his season has been quite mediocre to be honest with finishes in the 2nd half of the pack and DNFs in both the Tours de Normandie and Bretagne. Some crashes and bad luck but still, it isn't a good sign when the next big thing isn't riding up to his caliber.

They might be on to something with this riding around the wooden track thing...

Okay, it has been well recognized that many that ride the track have gone on to very successful careers on the road. It was nearly a requisite in previous generation that one had to ride the track to be able to get good leg speed and power. There are three current U23s that have been on the track for the majority of their junior and U23 careers (including a couple of Worlds medalists) that have had some great success on the road so far this year. Owain Doull has been apart of the British academy since he left the junior ranks until this year when he joined AnPost-Chain Reaction. It must have been joining the Belgian-Irish team because the Welshman has been lights out in Belgium so far this year. Doull was impressive in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux when he went 2nd in the time trial and then won the final stage to consolidate his overall victory. Doull, who rides the scratch as well as a few other events part-time for the British, then finished 4th in the crash-marred finale in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23. He could be a force at the upcoming AnPost Ras as well as the Tour of Britain later this year.

Thomas Boudat could be described as a not so mini-Bryan Coquard but he is even more versatile. The young Frenchman is a devil on the track and won the omnium World Championship in Cali, Colombia on March 1st to go along with his small mountain of European and French track titles. A month later, Boudat was on the road with his Vendee U squad and the French National team. In the span of 4 days, Boudat went 2nd in the La Cote Picarde Nations Cup and then won the ZLM Tour Nations Cup out of a breakaway of 10. Boudat has a nasty little sprint on him but he is capable is getting in breakaways on tough courses that go the distance (if you need evidence, look to the first stage of the Tour de Bretagne, where he was 4th in the break with some GC hitters.

Stefan Küng is a unit. He is big. He is fast. He makes people have transcendental crises. The Swiss rider is a powerhouse and he likes to apply that to the velodrome as well as the road. This winter, he hit the podium twice at the Track World Championships in Cali with a 2nd in the individual pursuit and 3rd in the Madison with Thery Schir. Kung isn't exactly new to the road as he won the Giro del Belvedere last year out of a 3-man break and won the Swiss U23 TT and finished 6th in the U23 Worlds TT in Firenze. After his track exploits this winter, Kung came to the Tour de Normandie with his BMC Development team and stormed the prologue and after losing his jersey, he joined a breakaway on the final stage of the race, which went along Omaha Beach, and thanks to some time bonuses, he won the overall. Kung is a time trial specialist and will be a favorite for the World U23 TT this year in Ponferrada but he isn't as one-dimensional as he comes off as he can still climb relatively well for such a big frame.

Hi-Diddly-Ho Neighbor-ooni, Welcome to Belgium

Thank you Ned Flanders. The perennial powers of Northern Europe are back again with a truckload of talent. Dylan Teuns is one of the new BCSes (Belgian Climbing Sensation) but he isn't as fragile as some other BCSes in recent memory like Kevin Seeldraeyers and Bart De Clercq. Teuns finished 2nd at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and won the queen stage at the Tour de Bretagne and finished 2nd overall, just 4 seconds behind Bert-Jan Lindeman, who is a World Tour talent slumming it on Rabobank Development to try and get a contract. Watch for Teuns at Ronde de l'Isard and other select hillier races through the year. Even though Tiesj Benoot has a really strange name, his talent is undeniable and he has been ripping it up again in his 2nd U23 season. The economics student at the University of Ghent just started racing in April at Triptyque Monts et Chateaux, where he was 2nd overall and was 2nd on 2 stages. He proved his multi-dimensional talent by 3rd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 sprint and 5th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, where he was a big favorite but missed the late move and was only to able to catch up at the finish line but just a little bit short. Benoot fell ill at the Tour de Bretagne but should look good for the summer season. Belgium has another classics stud in the making in Jens Wallays. The current Belgian U23 RR Champion was able to capitalize on his breakaway mates marking Thomas Boudat at La Cote Picarde and attacked in the finale kilometer to win the Nations Cup, just ahead of Boudat.

Ickle Firsties

The first years always trying to be show offs and be all "Look at me! See how fucking talented I am and how I'm going to get a World Tour contract and you are going to be stuck on continental teams for the rest of your days." Assholes. Okay, maybe not assholes but every year it seems like a handful of first years do not need any adjustment into the U23 ranks. Probably the most prolific so far has been Australian Robert Power. The Western Australian, who was a near miss at January's U23 Nationals RR behind Caleb Ewan, came to Italy without missing a beat and in his first U23 race in Europe, he went 3rd at the Trofeo Piva Banca after making the race-defining split. Power went up against Silvio Herklotz at GP Palio del Recioto in late April and put up a valiant fight while Herklotz went up the road in the finale. Power ended up 2nd in the race after winning the chasing sprint. Just 5 days later, he made the grade at the GP Marmo where he finished 10th after going up against ex-World Tour Matej Mugerli and a bunch of Russians. Power just finished the Tour of Azerbaijan in 7th overall, which was good for the best U23. Power is an animal and on a selective course, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Caleb Ewan described him as the biggest talent he has raced with. Just watch out.

Andre Looij stepped up in his 1st UCI race in March, Ster van Zwolle, and finished 7th. Weeks later, he won the first stage of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux after a brilliant lead-out by Mike Teunissen. You could say he is a sprinter but he doesn't need a huge train to be brilliant. Take the Tour de Bretagne for example when he got into a two-man move with Jonathan Dufrasne and took out the win. Looij is pretty good in longer one-day races with a 5th in the GP de la Somme and he even dragged his carcass over the line in Tro Bro Leon, the cult classic in Bretagne, before the time cut. Pretty beastly for an 18 year old.

Much has been written about Tao Geoghegan Hart and for good reason. The Hackney rider was a sensation as a junior last year and while he hasn't raced much so far this year, every race has been with purpose. Geoghegan Hart started his season off with the spring Nations Cups and proceeded to go top 20 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, where he was caught up in a late crash and went 15th, and La Cote Picarde (20th). In just his 3rd race of the year, Geoghegan Hart attacked late and going into a three-man move in Liege-Bastogne-Liege that going towards the line. Joined at the last minute by Loic Vliegen, Geoghegan lead the sprint out on the Liege velodrome from the front and managed to hang on for 3rd place behind winner Anthony Turgis and Dylan Teuns. Just this past Sunday, he was in the breakaway at Tour of California and thanks to time bonuses, he was able to get the best young rider's jersey.

 Some other firsties that have done well in their first year include American Justin Oien, Frenchman Franck Bonnamour and Dane Michael Carbel. Oien has been consistent for the Americans in the spring, which has been a bright spot on a squad that is very young in some places, and was able to make the breakaway at the ZLM Tour and take 8th in the race. Bonnamour, who was the European Junior RR Champion in 2013, is the son of Yves Bonnamour, who was a pro with Super U and Castrorama from 1989 to 1990. The younger Bonnamour rode a very consistent Tour de Bretagne and was able to make the final day breakaway to secure 8th overall for his BIC 2000 team. Carbel is a hell of a sprinter and in just his 2nd senior UCI race, the Dorpenomloop Rucphen, he managed to win the bunch gallop ahead of Brit Dan McLay.

Ciao Tutti! There are some fucking fast Italians

A lot of my attention has been on the ongoing sprint battle between Zalf-Euromobil's Nicolas Marini and Viris-Maserati's Jakub Mareczko. Similar to last year's battle between Andrea Zordan and Niccoló Bonifazio, who were on the same teams as Marini and Mareczko respectively, these two currently have the most wins on the Italian amateur circuit with Marini on 7 wins and Mareczko 5. Marini had the upper hand early, winning around 70% of the races he entered but Mareczko came back in recent weeks, even topping Marini at the UCI Circuito del Porto on May 4th. Marini got a bit of a shell shock when he went up north for the UCI Nations Cup races and he definitely has a lot of work to do all-around. Expect more battles between these two in the upcoming months.

Team Colpack has been depleted with the loss of Davide Villella to Cannondale but fear not, some replacements have been trying to fill the void. Iuri Filosi won the Piccola Sanremo earlier this year in solo style to net Colpack's first win and along with teammate Manuel Senni, the duo attacked some of the UCI races through Italy. Senni got into the breakaway at Piva Banca and finished 4th with Filosi in 11th. The duo got into the winning break at GP Palio del Recioto but Filosi got a mechanical on the final summit and Senni managed 4th. Filosi was 5th in the GP Liberazione behind a streaking Shalunov but a big win was on the horizon. Colpack took a Spanish sojourn to the Bidasoa Itzulia in the Basque Country and they reaped the rewards. While two flats took Senni out of contention on the first stage, Filosi joined an attack in the last few kilometers and attacked solo with a few kilometers to go. He was able to post up for the win with teammates Davide Martinelli and Oliverio Troia coming in for the 1-2-3 finish. Was Filosi done with the solo attacks? Nope. The Italian climber won solo again on the next day as well but he was not able to hang onto the general classification 2 days later after Loic Chetout (more on him later) worked him over pretty hard and the Italian settled for 2nd. The Italian with the Russian name that could fit well into a spy novel is an incredible climber and must be watched (and handled) carefully.

Everyone else that should deserve their own title but we are getting to the end so they are all being thrown together...

If we are going for a most improved or standout performed, I think that Gregor Mühlberger from Tirol deserves the nod. The Austrian is just a 2nd year U23 but he has gone to another level. Following his prologue win and 4th overall at the Istrian Spring Trophy, Mühlberger got into a powerhouse break at Piva Banca with the like of Power, Senni and Foliforov and outsprinted them all for the win. He goes to the Carpathian Couriers Tour and in a very efficient manner, he wins the TT and then defends yellow for the rest of the race for the win. Mühlberger seems like a lock for races like the Thüringen Rundfahrt and he will be in the hunt for a top 5 overall.

The dude can be inconsistent at times but when he shines, it is bright. Dylan Groenewegen took out a stage at the Tour de Normandie when he just obliterated the competition in the sprint but was more or less invisible the rest of the week. Just 10 days later, he was able to lead out the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 sprint, avoid the carnage and pretty much wipe the floor with everyone. So if he makes it to the line, Groenewegen is one of the fastest guys. The problem is the staying with the pack part at times. He is a bit hot and cold for the pros but that is why he is a U23 right now.

Sven Erik Bystrøm & Kristoffer Skjerping make a pretty good Norwegian tag team for the sprints and one-days. Well at least on the national team since they ride for different trade teams. Bystrøm (Oster Hus-Ridley) is a bit more consistent on harder courses and likes to ride in breakaways. He registered 4 top 10 finishes at the Volta ao Alentejo, featured in the top 10 in Flanders (crashed) and the ZLM Tour (breakaway) and within the last 2 weeks, he has 3 top 10 finishes in UCI races including a 2nd at the Ringerike GP behind wunderkind Cort. Skjerping (Joker) isn't as versatile but has a stronger sprint on him, which led him to a 2nd place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23.

A few more sprinters have been going quite well for themselves so far this year. Phil Bauhaus is one of the other faces of the Stolting squad. The Gelschinkirchen-based squad has been loving Bauhaus' production this year as the young German has ridden to 8 top 10's in UCI races this year including a win at the Skive Lobet over ex-World Tour Alex Rasmussen. Dan McLay started the season out strong with a 2nd in the Dorpenomloop Rucphen behind Looij and was one of the most consistent sprinters at the Tour de Normandie, where he nabbed a stage win and the points jersey for his Lotto-Belisol U23 team. He promptly decided to jump off his bike at Tryptique Monts et Chateaux and break his collarbone, which kept him out of action until the Carpathian Couriers Tour, where he mixed it up in a few kicks behind Eduard-Michael Grosu. The Romanian with Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa has been very good in the bunch kicks this year. His best moment so far has been the Carpathian Couriers Tour where he was in the top 6 on every stage and won the final two stages on his was to 2nd overall and the points jersey. Now on the flip side, the competition at these races isn't the deepest and the performance need to be gauged accordingly.

So most of you know at least a few on this list but it is time to get more exotic. Salah Mraouni is a Moroccan that most of you that just keep a casual eye on U23 talent have never heard of but he has had a very consistent spring racing across the Maghreb. He began the season down in Gabon at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo where he made some decisive splits and ended up 10th overall and 2nd in the youth classification behind Florian Senechal. Mraouni then took part in the majority of the Algerian Grand Tour, which saw him get 13 racing days in 17 days and 7 top 10 finishes. He proceeded to start his home tour, Tour du Maroc, and hit the top 10 5 times and was close to a stage win on stage 6 but settled for 2nd. He ended up finishing 7th overall and the best young rider. Mraouni has been doing the Challenge du Prince one-day race the last week and has registered a 5th, 4th and 2nd after making the winning breaks in each race. He is an exotic talent but his results should be taken with a big grain of salt. As strong as the Moroccans and other North Africans are (ignore Algeria right now), they do not have a strong track record of successful pro careers. Tarik Chaoufi got home sick just a half season into his Euskaltel contract and ended up leaving. Rafaa Chtioui had a lot of promise as a U23 but the Tunisian has been bumbling around on some different teams the past few years. Soufianne Haddi is on SkyDive-Dubai and while he was a strong U23, the mix of a so-so schedule and not having a deep roster. The jump from the Muslim Maghreb to a legitimate pro cycling career seems to be more immense than any of us think.

Seriously, I'm nearly done here...just a few more guys that need to be mention. I swear.

Loic Chetout has taken a big step towards securing a pro contract for 2015. The French Basque rider from Bayonne was in the Euskaltel-Euskadi pipe for many years with their Naturgas Energia squad and even had a stagiaire last year with Euskadi. Since Euskaltel took a shit and died, Chetout transferred the the GSC Blagnac team, which is based in the French Basque region and includes riders such as Pierre Cazaux, Julien Loubet and Loic Desriac. The team has had 15 victories and Chetout has been an integral part in their success. Chetout won the one-day L'Essor Basque and a stage in the Essor Basque (pretty confusing) as well as 2nd overall. He was called up to join Les Blues for the Nations Cups in the spring and Chetout won the group sprint at the La Cote Picarde for 10th (they caught the breakaway on the line so it shows the same time) and then 10th again at the ZLM Tour but was playing the devout teammate for winner Thomas Boudat. Chetout just finished up a successful weekend at the Bidasoa Itzulia where he broke away on the final stage from leader Iuri Filosi and a select group of others and stretched his advantage on the descent into Irun, where he won by 23 seconds to take the stage and the overall win. Just because Pro Cycling Stats or CQRanking don't have their results, you need to dig a little deeper to know where the gems are.

Frederik Ludvigsson is Frederik Ludvigsson. The Swede has a lot of talent and he has been slowly chipping away at a big GC result. He has been top 10 overall in the Tour de Normandie (10th), Triptyque Monts et Chateaux (5th) and Circuit des Ardennes (10th + best young rider). He shit the bed at Tour de Azerbaijan but he should be a force at Thüringen Rundfahrt in the near future. Tanner Putt was the best young rider at Volta ao Alentejo and had front group finishes at the 1.1 Volta Limburg (16th) and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 (9th). The American is on a USA Tour with his Bissell team but should return to Europe for some summer racing. Lukas Spengler has been solid for BMC Development in the one-day races. The Swiss rider was 5th in the ZLM Tour (breakaway), 7th in the Giro del Belvedere (chasing group) and 5th in the Palio del Recioto (solo behind the winning break).

That is it. I'm done...for now. I know that I left out a few so give me a shout via email or @Vlaanderen90 on twitter and I'll think about making an edit if there are some worthy considerations. -CK