Wednesday, December 30, 2015

And now, we lay thee to rest...

With another year coming to a close, let us take a look at the teams that will not be seeing the light of day in 2016. In the current state of the cycling economy, it is bound to happen. A team's sponsor goes through a rough patch and stops making payments to the team. Riders are riding on hopes and dreams while surviving on oatmeal, pasta and the remnants of the team's energy products. You will see rider's selling their equipment early to make rent while the team will be absent at some races. Granted these are the worst case scenarios as some teams are able to budget through a whole season without imploding.

Itera-Katusha (Russia)
Oh, it is a sad day for Russia. Seriously, this was a team that dates back to 2008 with the first iteration of Katyusha led by Alexei Sivakov. We are going to take a moment and see all of the talent that passed through this team and if you enjoy seeing riders popped for doping...well, you are in for a treat.

It goes something like this...

Denis Galimzyanov, Timofey Kritskiy, Alexei Markov, Nikita Novikov, Alexander Porsev, Andrey Solomennikov, Petr Ignatenko, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, Anton Vorobyev, Sergey Firsanov, Kovalev brothers, Alexei Tsatevich, Sergey Chernetskiy, Alexander Foliforov, Pavel Kochetkov, Ilnur Zakarin, Ildar Arslanov, Viktor Manakov and Matvey Mamykin.

And breath...

And this is without mentioning riders that even got a chance on the pro continental level. Talent factory but there are a number of names up there that got popped for doping. The team was shuttered on the back of news of two more doping positive from Ivan Lutsenko and Andrey Lukonin. In the announcement, a lack of budget (which is surprising seeing as the gas money had been pretty free flowing for a while) and a focus on Gazprom-RusVelo was mentioned.

Rest in peace, Itera-Katusha. You will be missed. Not necessarily by many but someone will miss you, I'm sure. Maybe. I mean, I liked some of your riders but you know, many Americans distrust Russians. Oh well, brush your shoulders off, kid.

Other Continental teams leaving us include:
African Wildlife Safaris (Australia)
CCT p/b Champion System (Belgium)
Champion System p/b Stan's No Tubes (USA)
MLP Team Bergstraße (Germany)
Frøy-Bianchi (Norway)
Team Idea 2010 (Italy)
Team Smartstop (USA)

Got any more that I missed? Let me know and they shall be added to the graveyard. I'm still waiting on some confirmation because some of those off the wall teams have made no announcements.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 Team Preview: Klein Constantia

It seems like it will be a yearly tradition for this team to switch headline names every year between all of the holdings of Czech oligarch Zdenek Bakala. In 2013, they were Etixx-iHNed. In 2014, the team was Etixx. This past year, the team switched to AWT-Greenway. For 2016, the Etixx-Quick Step feeder team is changing their name to Klein Constantia, which is a South African winery that is partially owned by Bakala. The company name is derived from the Constantia valley in South Africa, which is known as a wine-producing region.

Vino, Vintage Bakala
2015 was an up and down year for the team. They lost a lot of their core riders from 2014 and they struggled to produce at times. Erik Baska, the Slovakian bound for Tinkoff, was their saving grace with 5 wins but Jan Brokoff was the only other rider to snag a win in 2015. While they might have lacked in the win column, the team did show some stars of the future in Max Schachmann, who was the silver medalist in the World U23 TT Championship, and Michal Schlegel, the Czech all-arounder who was 6th in the World U23 RR and 10th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.

A core of only five riders is staying from the 2015 team while the other seven go to new pastures. Rayane Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Baska are the only two riders bound for pro teams while Jan Brockoff heads for Leopard Development, Alexis Guerin & Alvaro Cuadros head to strong amateur teams in France & Spain, and Jakub Novak & Matej Bechyne are off to who knows where. The team now has no riders from 2014 let alone their first year in 2013.

The 5 riders staying include:

Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain)
Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Poland)
Roman Lehky (Czech Republic)
Max Schachmann (Germany)
Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic)

Cortina showed some potential in the Tour de Bretagne, where he was in the top 6 three times on the way to a top 10 overall finish and 15th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia. Look for him in hillier races as well as difficult courses with sprint finishes. Kasperkiewicz was a strong classics rider with 9th in La Cote Picarde and 11th in Paris-Roubaix., well 2016 is a new year. Schachmann and Schlegel, as mentioned above, had some good results this past year and look to be the two cornerstones for the team in the coming year.

The 8 riders joining include:

Jonas Bokeloh (SEG Racing/Germany)
Remi Cavagna (Pro Immo Roux/France)
Enric Mas (Fundacion Contador/Spain)
Nuno Bico Matos (Radio Popular/Portugal)
Kenny Molly (Fundacio Contador/Belgium)
Jhonathan Narvaez (Ecuador/Junior)
Hamish Schreurs (Sojasun-ACNC/New Zealand)
Frantisek Sisr (Dukla Praha/Czech Republic)

There are some very interesting names on this list but let us start with the one that I am most excited to see. Jhonatan Narvaez hails from Ecuador and a tiny town called El Pláyon de San Francisco in the province of Sucumbios, which abuts Colombia and Peru. His town just sits a stones throw away from Colombia but is situated in the middle of nowhere. Why am I so excited so see how this first year U23 gets on? Well he does hold the World junior record for the 3km Individual Pursuit, which he broke earlier this year. While it was at altitude, it is a very impressive feat as it was nearly .5 of a second faster than previous record holder Dale Parker. In 2014, he was 2nd overall in the Vuelta de la Porvenir (Junior Tour of Colombia) and this year, he was 2nd in the Junior Pan Am Games road race. He proceeded to go to the Vuelta al Besaya in Spain and won the overall while racing with a team from Colombia. You can read a write-up on him here, which I highly recommend, but he should be on many people's watch list for 2016.

After a not terrific year with SEG Racing, Jonas Bokeloh is heading for new pastures. While a quiet year can make people forget about you fast, Bokeloh was the Junior World RR Champion in 2014. Only had two top 10 finishes in his first year with a handful of DNFs on his resume but with a year under his belt and a new team, his confidence could be through the roof.

I will say once again that it was a crying shame that Remi Cavagna wasn't chosen to represent France in the U23 ITT this past season. He won the French U23 TT but even after the French had an open spot for Worlds, Cavagna wasn't chosen and the French put forth only Marc Fournier. Cavagna can go pretty well on the road as well too with a 4th in the DN1 round at the GP Pays d'Aix.

While he is New Zealand by birth, Hamish Schreurs rode for Sojasun-ACNC this past year and saw some good success. He won early at the Route Bretonne and then put up some pretty good results all season with the team. He was 15th in the Kreiz Breizh Elites (UCI 2.2) and 4th on the final stage. Look for him on hilly to flat courses that look good for a breakaway.

The Spanish are good at keeping their talent quiet (also thanks to lack of funding) but Enric Mas is pretty legitimate. This year, he was 2nd in both the Vuelta a Bidasoa (where he also won a stage) and the Vuelta a Palencia, which aren't super mountainous but hilly. In 2014, he was 4th in the U23 Zavod Miru and this year, he did make it through Valle d'Aosta in fairly good position without having raced many big mountain races.

Also coming over from Iberia is Nuno Bico, who is the U23 RR Champion of Portugal. At only 21, he already has three Volta a Portugals under his belt. With each being about 10 stages each, it is a considerable feat. He seems to climb fairly well so hillier races could be his game.

A teammate of Mas from Fundacion Contador is coming to Klein Constantia as well but he isn't Spanish but Belgian. Kenny Molly is a one-day rider that has a pretty good turn of speed on him. Molly had stagiaires with AWT-Greenway last year and could be an option in a sprint finish for the team that lacks a big sprinter.

The final new addition is a Czech rider coming from Dukla Praha that could also help with the sprinting issue. Frantisek Sisr has been splitting time between the road and track but it doesn't seem like he will be getting the bid for Rio in the Track Omnium. Sisr is a fairly handy sprinter but he is much more than that as he can get over some hills and can win out of a breakaway.


The development team of the dominant Etixx-Quick Step had a down year last year but with a little bit of luck, they should be able to get back near the level they were at in 2013 and 2014. With Schachmann, Schlegel and some of the newbies, it could be a pretty happy year and there could definitely be a few pro signings out of this group.

Espoirs Central prediction: 8 UCI wins and 11 overall.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2016 Team Preview: BMC Development

Half of the riders here are now on World Tour teams, including two with BMC.
(WikiCommons - Tour de Bretagne 2014)
With Rik Verbrugghe leaving the team that he had forged for IAM  Cycling, BMC Development was left in the hands of Jens Blatter and Geert Van Bondt taking over the directing role. Would the team falter or stagnate after a wildly successful 2014? Well, they were not hurting for results. With the Loïc Vliegen with the team for the first half of the year along the Tom Bohli and Floris Gerts, the trio proceeded to take 10 wins before June. Lukas Spengler took the biggest win of the season by winning the wet and cold Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in solo fashion. Alexey Vermeulen and Kilian Frankiny were big players in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Nathan Van Hooydonck started to come into his own and won the Belgian U23 RR. On all accounts, it was a very successful season. Yet 2016 looks like it could be a different story as 5 riders are moving to the professional ranks (as well as others moving on) and the team is bringing on 6 junior riders to begin to next building phase. Did I mention there will be a new director for 2016?

BMC Development

IN: Keegan Swirbul (Axeon), Zeke Mostov (Cal Giant), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands), Sam Dobbs (New Zealand) (as of 7/1/16), Bram Welten (Netherlands), Pavel Sivakov (Russia/France), Leo Appelt (Germany), Fabien Leinhard (EKZ Racing), Martin Schäppi (Switzerland) and Mario Spengler (Switzerland)

Bold = coming from junior ranks

STAY: TJ Eisenhart, Kilian Frankiny, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Bas Tietema, Lukas Spengler and Patrick Müller

OUT: Alexey Vermeulen (Lotto-JumboNL),  Tyler Williams (Axeon), Floris Gerts & Tom Bohli (BMC) Loic Vliegen (BMC - mid-year), Johan Hemroulle (Color Code-Aquality Protect), Jesse Kerrison (Charter Mason), Valentin Baillifard (Roth Gruppe)

Spengler winning in the muck of Roubaix
Photo: Jean-Marc Hecquet
The most recent news from the team is the departure of Geert Van Bondt and recently retired Klaas Lodewyck replacing him as the team's director. Will this be a huge shake within the team? Only time will tell. What is probably the most pressing for next year is the huge departure of riders from the 2015 team. Remember the trio of Vliegen, Bohli and Gerts? All are gone to the big BMC team. Vermeulen is headed for Lotto-Jumbo NL while Baillifard heads to the embattled Roth Gruppe Pro Continental team. Hemroulle is out to a Belgian continental team. Kerrison got shafted with the Dynamo Cover Pro Team but found refuge with Charter Mason. Recently engaged Tyler Williams is moving to Axeon for his final U23 season.

That leaves less than half of the 2015 roster in tact for the new year. While there are just six riders, they are no slouches.

I'm still trying to figure out TJ Eisenhart. He was a prodigious junior talent but does he have what it takes to prove himself on another level? He is one of the most positive people out there and shows flashes of brilliance but the results did not come the past year.

Frankiny came alive in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta after going 2nd on the final stage to vault all the way up to 4th overall. Now he didn't do this in every stage race but he showed promise in Utah with the big boy team. Can he string together a couple good mountain races?

While he might have fallen on Libby Hill on the final lap of the U23 Men's RR, Nathan Van Hooydonck made 2015 a bit of a coming out party as he began to show the potential that saw many salivating over him as a junior. He found what is probably his perfect stage race in the Olympia's Tour, where he finished 3rd overall, and won the Belgium U23 RR out of a small group sprint. He was only in his 2nd year and he should have a lot more coming his way in terms of results.

Tietema is another of the strong powerhouses that was strong in both the Olympia's Tour and in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, where he was 10th. Perhaps a bit inconsistent with the results but he is one that shows that glimmer.

Not to say that Lukas Spengler's victory in P-R Espoirs was a fluke but...well, his results from this year don't necessarily rebuke that statement. It was a hell of a ride on a hellish day but more of a Jean-Marie Wampers than Tom Boonen, eh?

In just his first U23 season, Patrick Müller rode quite well and while he didn't win 10 races, he did ride quite consistently in hilly events including a 10th overall in the Rhône Alpes Isere Tour and leading group (and top 20) finishes in the Trofeo Piva, Giro del Belvedere and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. He did split time between the road and velodrome so with that still up in the air for 2016, he could be in for a similar year results wise unless he keeps his nose to the grind.

While that is a good collection of riders, that is less than half of the team for the new year. While these new juniors are strong, are they going to be able to compete right out of the gate?

First let's look at the riders that have some U23 experience under their belts...

For those that follow the U23 ranks, one of the bigger intra-U23 off-season moves was Keegan Swirbul leaving Axeon for BMC Development, citing a chance to get more exposure to European races. Swirbul, who was a cross-country skier in his younger years before moving to MTB and eventually the road side of cycling just a couple of years ago. He has had some problems with injuries through his two years but when he is on, he can go with the best of them. He really just needs to get some race miles underneath him and once he gets his feet set, he can go for results in the high mountains or harder one day races (remember, he is the the US U23 RR Champion).

The other American joining Swirbul is Middlebury College student Zeke Mostov, who is coming from Cal Giant. Mostov was 3rd place in the Junior World TT in Florence in 2013 as a first year junior and followed it up with a 5th in Ponferrada against the likes of Lennard Kämna, Adrien Costa and Filippo Ganna. Mostov didn't go into the deep end in his first year as a U23 but rode consistently in the top 20 overall of American events including the North Star GP, Cascade Classic and Green Mountain Stage Race. If he doesn't get thrown into the deep end too quickly, he could begin to show himself as a potential GC rider, especially in races with a decisive time trial.

The only rider that will not be in the U23 ranks for next year is a rider that has gone 12th and 6th in the past two U23 World RR Championships. Fabian Lienhard is a one-day racer. He can get through a stage race but his heart lies in the pursuit of emptying the tank on one course, on one day.

The last non-junior hasn't raced much outside of the junior ranks. So Martin Schäppi, you might have been a talented rider as a junior but you better bring your big boy muscles to the game.

It should be said that the team deserves a massive tip of the cap for getting this much junior talent together on the same team. Junior World TT Championship, check; 1-2 finishers from Paris-Roubaix Juniors, check; Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors winner, check; Junior World Pursuit Champion, check; A little brother, check.

The first time that I saw Leo Appelt, he looked like a junior version of Tony Martin. His cadance metronomic. He won the Junior World Time Trial Championship in a bit of an upset ahead of American favorites Adrien Costa and Brandon McNulty. In the road race, he was struck with mechanical difficulty and had to ride a Shimano spare bike up the cobbled 23rd Street that had clip pedals. While this took him out of contention, he had the look of a strong, powerful rider that could rip the cranks off a bike.

While his passport might read Russia, Pavel Sivakov has grown up outside of the motherland. Born in Italy, Pavel grew up in the foothills of the French Pyrenees with two ex-cyclists for parents though they were not pushy about getting him onto a bike. His father, Alexei, primarily rode with BigMat-Auber 93 during his career where he rode 6 Grand Tours. His mother, Alexandra Koliaseva, was 2nd in the Giro Donne in 1989, 4th in the Tour de France Feminin and was a double World Champion in the Team Time Trial with Russia. His father was the manager for the first iterations of the Itera-Katusha squads in the mid to late 00s. With Moscow Stars and Katyusha, the team was a scourge on the European peloton and riders like Timofey Kritskiy, Denis Galimzyanov and Alexander Porsev, to name but a few. Sivakov's talent has a wide range and this first U23 season will be used to flesh out where he should concentrate. He won the junior Ronde van Vlaanderen, can time trial very well and seems to do well on undulating courses that don't allow for much rest. Read about his upbringing and move to the team on Directvelo (in French).

If you saw the results here, you might suspect he won from a sprint but
Eenkhoorn stuck a late attack to win the Bernaudeau Junior
Another strong all-arounder that prefers a bit flatter terrain is Pascal Eenkhoorn. The picture above describes only one part of his style. Eenkhoorn was 2nd in Paris-Roubaix Juniors, can roll a decent time trial and isn't bad in a bunch sprint either. I think he will try to develop the art of the breakaway as a U23 to get more wins like his Bernadeau Junior victory.

Speaking of the Paris-Roubaix Juniors, Bram Welten won that race. Welten is a hardman that gets results by making breakaways or decisive splits. He won the P-R Juniors out of a two-man sprint; a solo win in the Guido Reybrouck Classic and a small group sprint in a stage of the Driedaagse van Axel.

After being announced with the Attaque Team Gusto, it seems that Sam Dobbs won't be joining BMC Development until about May. Dobbs was active in Belgium last year with the Isorex Team and he won a couple of races including one over U23 cyclocross star Eli Iserbyt. He has been riding on the Australian NRS circuit the past couple of seasons and is more or less looking for a smooth transition to Europe. Read more about the move here.

Last but no least is the little brother Mario Spengler. He is the Luigi to his brother if his parents were smart, they would have just named him Luigi. Unless Lukas is adopted and there is a 3rd brother named Luigi. But I digress. Luigi Spengler is a pretty good all-arounder that can do fairly well on all type of courses. He didn't have much of a specialty as a junior so I'll be curious to see what he develops into as a U23.


I think there will certainly be a bit of a transitionary period for this team as they lack a rider that gets results at will such as Loïc Vliegen, Dylan Teuns or Stefan Küng did in the past. That being said, the team should be able to mesh well and be fairly successful next year.

Espoirs Central 2016 Prediction: 25 wins (on the road) and 8 UCI wins.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2016 races: Kattekoers, Monts et Chateaux and l'Isard

Just a fortnight away from 2016 and riders are deep into training and preparing for the new year. Kits are being unveiled, plans are being set and soon, riders will be in their colors for next season and searching for sunny places to put in 25 hours a week on the bike. That being said, let's take a look at some of the races for 2016 that have been announced.


Belgium is a small country. Flanders is half of a small country. The area of Flanders is slightly smaller than the size of the state of Connecticut. The province of West Flanders is smaller than Rhode Island. So imagine having seven bike races take place on the same day at nearly the same time. Except this is a reality on March 27th in the heart of the classics season. The Kattekoers is moving up to the U23 Nations Cup from the Belgian Topcompetitie and moving from March 15th to March 27th. It is a showcase for the West Flanders region but a logistical nightmare.

The Kattekoers traditionally had 16 hills on the course but due to the course restrictions, there are only 6 hills this year with the trio of the Baneberg-Kemmelberg-Monteberg twice. The last hill is closed to the finish than in year's past being just 13 kilometers away from the Grand Palace from Ypres. The course length is increased to 185.7 kilometers so even though the hills have been cut in half, a sprint finish is by no means secured.

Triptyque Monts et Chateaux

Basically the Driedaagse de Panne for U23s (and other younger amateurs), Triptyque is always a fun race to see who is in shape for the upcoming Nations Cup races, which will be different this year with the addition of the Kattekoers for the Nations Cup. That is if many of the racers are invited.

The parcours haven't been announced yet but the main change is the race is going back to 3 days from 4 days and a time trial will be appearing once again. Espoirs Central is a big fan of time trials in the continental ranks because in many U23 races there is a dearth of time trials yet when these riders move up to the World Tour ranks, there are time trials in every stage race. How are you supposed to prepare for a certain discipline when you have no chances to practice it?

Ronde de l'Isard

While troubles with the race and rumblings of the race shuttering are an annual event, the Ronde de l'Isard is once again taking place and the 2016 race is set for a couple of big mountain top finishes.

For the 39th edition, the race will head up to Goulier-Neige for the 3rd consecutive year for the first stage. It is a climb that has an absolute brutal middle section that nears 12% while the finale is around 9%. It also sorts the wheat from the chaff and only a small handful are left to fight for the overall. Here is the profile of the climb.

The 2nd stage will feature a finish at the ski station of Ax 3 Domaines, which was previously used in 2010 when Yannick Eijssen won the stage solo. The side of the climb they are using is unknown but presumably the Ax Bonascre side, which averages nearly 9% with a peak of nearly 12%. You can see the profile here.

Stage 3 should be a usual chance for the rouleurs to get their shot at glory while the final stage into Saint-Girons should have a few hills involved but shouldn't be one that destroys the GC.

This is one of the premiere U23 stage races and should be treated as such. Amazing scenery, scenic and racing that rivals nearly any other U23 race. The Russians should be back again plus the British have applied for the first time. The French National Team is hoping to send a team, which is a boon for the struggling race, while many regional teams are looking for a bid, such as the Haute-Loire team that includes Max Moncassin.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Neo-Pros 2016: The Pro Continental Lowdown, Pt. 2

So I do not spend sleepless nights having convoluted dreams of being in a breakaway with a Moroccan, Estonian and a Taiwanese rider, I'm going to try something new and give a brief overview of these neo-pro riders instead of effusive paragraphs. By brief, I mean two sentences or less for each rider. Long winded-ness doesn't get you the attention of magazines. Or maybe EC will go Buzzfeed and do this in listical form. Or perhaps I'll ride my bike off a cliff. Onward.

Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM
-Asbjørn Kragh Andersen
-Mikel Aristi
-Romain Combaud
-Frederik Galta
-Martin Laas
-Quentin Pacher

The multi-cultural squad is losing a distinct amount of its French identity and be split 50% French/foreign for the upcoming season. If you connect with its VC La Pomme feeder team days, they have a strong connection bringing in foreign talents that thrive (think Ramunas Navardauskas) so this isn't necessarily stupid.

Asbjorn is the older of the Kragh Andersen brothers and is the better sprinter of the two, however he can survive splits in windy races with small hills. He has already been knipping at the heels of big sprinters so he could bring DMPKTM a much needed win early on.

Rising from the ashes of Euskadi, Aristi had a huge year domestically with 8 wins and another handful of podium places. Aristi can climb fairly well for a sprinter and growing pains aside, he should slot in well to the hardman, sprinty types at DMPKTM.

After a strong year with Armee de Terre where he had 8 top 20 places in French 1.1 races and 21st in Paris-Tours, Combaud is brimming for a win in a French one-day race this upcoming season. He gets into the deciding breakaways quite well, which DMPKTM will need with their step up.

A Norwegian on a French team isn't a new thing and Galta, being the rouleur he is that can thrive on flat to rolling terrain, should be at home in many of the French races. Galta was 4th overall in the Tour of Norway and won two consecutive split stages in the Kreiz Breizh Elites, one out of a breakaway and one in a sprint.

Coming from Pro Immo Roux, Laas is a bit of a sprinter but not pure by any means. He can get up in a bunch sprint but won't win by 5 bike lengths; he is one that needs to find a small group and then go from there.

Another Army recruit for DMPKTM is Pacher but he is a bit I'm struggling to find words to describe his riding because he is good at a lot but not great at anything. Chalk him up as a rouleur...job done.

Direct Energie
-Lilian Calmejane
-Romain Cardis
-Jeremy Cornu
-Fabien Grellier

This team is...a bit up in the air at this point. Money troubles are the norm with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, who seemingly has a yearly battle with the budget.

All four of these signings come from Direct Energie's feeder team, Vendee U. These guys aren't afraid to get into a crosswind and make people wish that they would crash into the ditch next to the road.

Calmejane won what was probably my favorite stage of a race ever in 2014 when he won the 2nd stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in the sleet and snow up to Bagneres du Luchon ahead of a motoring Louis Vervaeke. While he isn't at home in the high mountains, he loves a rolling to hilly course & he is never afraid to attack, which will be needed with his new team looking for attention.

Cardis was a machine this year in terms of getting on the podium (9 wins and 22 podiums overall) and was Vendee U's best sprinter. Cardis did well in amateur French races but on the UCI level, Cardis was a bit flaky so it will be interesting to see if he will be a bit more consistent.

Cornu is another rouleur but he seems a bit anonymous? Good rider that can do hard work but perhaps destined for the role of the yeoman in the pro ranks.

Grellier is a puncheur that does well in one-day events from cobbles (8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen) and hills (top 20 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege). He won 5 times in 2015 and will most likely be seeking breakaways this year and perhaps getting a top 10 or two in a French 1.1.

ONE Pro Cycling
-Tom Baylis
-George Harper
-Joshua Hunt
-Samuel Williams
-Hayden McCormick
-James Oram
-Dion Smith

New Zealand's golden trio join a British team that are moving up with some homegrown talent.

After an extended stay in America with Hincapie, Smith straddles the line between sprinter and overall GC talent by being able to survive some mountains, hit a time trial and play into the GC in races such as the Tour de Beauce (3rd), Joe Martin (4th) and Tour of Alberta (5th). He hasn't raced in Europe much over the past two years so there will be an adjustment period to get used to the significant change of racing style.

Oram is the same year as Smith (1993) but he will be facing a crossroads in the coming years in that is he a GC rider or just a time trial specialist? He shows glimpses of brilliance including an opening win on an uphill finish to Castelo de Vide in the Volta ao Alentejo and was 6th in the World U23 TT Championship but he isn't getting huge results every other week. He needs to find himself in his neo-pro days and build off of that.

The final of the trio of Kiwis is McCormick, who unlike the other two has been keeping himself in Europe with Lotto-Soudal U23. His racing days were a bit limited this past year but he was 10th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, so he isn't a hack.

And then we get to the British riders...

Sam Williams has only gotten results in criteriums and past that, there isn't much to go on. George Harper? No, I'm sorry, I don't think this level is going to suit you. Baylis seems to have some talent behind him as he was 4th in the British U23 TT but he was only a first year this year and one needs to have special talent to survive on the Pro Continental level at age 20. Josh Hunt is the half-brother of journeyman pro Jez Hunt and has showed glimpses of being a strongman but on the British schedule, it hasn't been that easy.

I hope that these riders are not ditched after one season but I think that ONE Pro Cycling is going to be in for a rude awakening in 2016. They are going to have to rely heavily on riders like Steele Von Hoff, Marcin Bialoblocki and Matt Goss to get through this year relatively intact.

-Lukas Jaun
-Dylan Page
-Colin Stüssi
-Roland Thalmann
-Giacomo Tomio
-Valentin Baillifard
-Dimitri Bussard
-Marco D'Urbano
-Lucas Gaday
-Frank Pasche
-Nicola Toffali I really have to do this? That is 11 riders out of 24 for the team that are neo-pros this year. This team is going to be a shit show unless a select few riders get the majority of results. I hope the team management weren't expecting 20 wins this year.

Jaun is a bit of a sprinter that got a handful of top 10s this season but will most likely be thrown into the sprint train.

I talked up Page earlier this year with his sprinter ability and he did...alright. The young Swiss rider probably saw his best result in the 1.1 ranked Tour de Vendee, where he sprinted to 8th.

Stüssi had a relatively quiet year besides the Giro della Regioni, where he finished 3rd overall thanks to some a breakaway in stage 1 and consistent climbing thereafter. Not much to go on after that so he is going to really have to step it up.

Thalmann...does he deserve to be at this level? That is questionable but he was 8th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia so he will needed to build off that. A lot. Same thing with Tomio.

Coming from BMC Development, Swiss Baillifard had a huge ride on the final stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie to take 3rd place on the summit finish at Valmeinier. Good climber but needs to work on his consistency.

Other than his 2nd place in the late season Tour of New Caledonia, Bussard hasn't done much of anything so yeah.

D'Urbano won the 2nd stage of the Rhône Alpes Isere after getting into a breakaway of 5 and outsprinting Jerome Mainard. He doesn't have a specialty and tries to get something wherever he can so he will be thrust into the breakaway as frequently as possible as this team will need it.

Probably their most talented signing, Gaday was somewhat inconsistent this year but has moments of sheer brilliance including his upset of Simone Consonni in the GP Liberazione and 8th in the tough Richmond U23 RR with a depleted Argentinian team. If properly nurtured and not pressured for results, Gaday could be a gold mine for Roth-Skoda.

While Pasche isn't a half bad sprinter on the road, his main focus has been on the track with the team pursuit squad, which has been turning in some wicked fast times including a 3:57 in the European Championships. Pasche will most likely be focused on a Rio qualification so his road time and endurance might be limited but he could surprise for a result in a continental race.

In his first season out of the U23s, Toffali didn't mess around and took 6 wins, mainly in breakaways, including a three-up Zalf-Euromobil win in the opening Coppa San Bernardino and a solo win in the Piccolo Giro dell'Emilia. Toffali has not raced much on the UCI level so I would be wary on backing him until he proves himself.

-Aleksey Rybalkin
-Evgeny Shalunov
-Kirill Sveshnikov

Russian climber...Russian puncheur...and a Russian doper. Sounds like a party.

After a podium finish in the Tour de l'Avenir, Rybalkin took a bit of a step back this year in a way by going 12th in the French race but he did finish 16th in the Volta a Portugal. A strong climber on his best day but like so many Russian riders, he is inconsistent.

At one point, Shalunov was a stagiaire with Radioshack but has stuck with Alexander Kuznetsov's Lokosphinx the last 4 years and have struck gold in the past couple of seasons in hillier racers including wins in the GP Liberazione and Trofeo Matteotti. When he in on form, Shalunov is a weapon in hillier races with sprints and even breakaways but he will be on another level this year and unable to take easy scalps.

Kirill Sveshnikov got off easy for doping and never served a proper suspension. He had shit for results this past year so perhaps karma does happen and doesn't even warrant a preview on here.

Southeast (or Tharcor or whatever)
-Julen Amezqueta
-Matteo Draperi
-Gilbert Ducournau
-Daniel Felipe Martinez
-Cristian Rodriguez
-Mirko Trosino

Oh Southeast, you somehow keep on surviving. You use a shell company in Britain to dodge Italian taxes. You have multiple riders go positive through your existence and yet, you still grace us with your oily presence.

The Colombian Martinez is the best pickup here as he is brimming with talent in the mountains but being just 20 in April of this coming year, he will still be coming into his own. What Martinez will need is race days to continue his development.

Spaniards Amezqueta and Rodriguez join the team after being stagiaires last year. Amezqueta won the Volta a Portugal do Futuro after a solo win on the queen stage. He is a rider for the hills and not the mountains where he prefers to use his strength to win out of breakaways. Rodriguez is a future GC talent in the rough as he did wonders with Caja Rural's amateur team with a win in the Vuelta a Leon thanks to a solo mountain stage win. He isn't half bad in a time trial but he seems to be on the wrong team if he wants future GC stardom.

Does Draperi know a sponsor? Because he is...alright. Pro Continental level? Hell no.

I ask the same question about Ducournau because in terms of results, I see next to nothing for him besides some results racing in America. Unfortunately, he does not deserve a place on a professional roster.

Trosino is a good one-day racer that has some nice results in Italy but on the amateur level. He will need to step up his level to compete on the professional level but could see himself make a few appearances.

Topsport Vlaanderen
-Aime De Gendt
-Maxime Farazijn
-Ruben Pols
-Dries Van Gestel
-Kenneth Van Rooy

Basically the best Belgian talent that didn't get picked up by a World Tour team. Every year, they are reloaded with new talent while those exiting (usually) go up to the World Tour or down to the continental level/retire.

De Gendt is a strong rouleur that won three overall classifications this year (Tour du Moselle, Triptyque Ardennais and Tour du Piemont Vosgien) thanks to some strong time trial work and getting into some decisive breakaways. 3rd in the national U23 TT, he should be a rider that focuses on short stage races and time trials.

Just like his daddy Peter, Maxime Farazijn has a penchant for the classics and will be looking to get into the Topsport classics squad this upcoming season for some reps. He was top 5 in both Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours, 6th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and won a sprint stage of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux just this year alone and seems to be an interesting prospect, as long as he doesn't do what some Topsport riders have done in the past and hit a lull in results.

The same ilk as former Topsport rider Victor Campenaerts, Ruben Pols is a time trial specialist that fell a bit flat at Worlds and is a bit spotty at times in the discipline but does have some talent against the watch. He isn't bad in road racing either if he builds well, he could be another that focuses on shorter stage races.

The last two riders, Van Gestel and Van Rooy, both were stagiaires with Lotto-Soudal this past year. Van Rooy had a great first half of the season with consistency all over including 20 top 10s mostly in sprints and classics with 4th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the European Championships being his top results. While he was sidelined with bacterial infection after dropping out of the Tour de l'Avenir, Van Rooy could had instant results in one-day races (he was 7th in the RideLondon Classic) and stages in races like 4 Jours de Dunkerque. On the other hand, Van Gestel has a penchant for getting into breakaways and came away with some strong results including a stage win in the Carpathian Couriers Tour and 3rd overall, 2nd place in stages of the Ronde de l'Isard & Tour de l'Avenir along with 4th in Paris-Tours Espoirs. He can do a bit of everything and could be Topsport's saving grace in some lumpy races in France and Italy.

That wraps up the Neo-Pro Lowdown for 2016 so I now have time to actually cover the news that is going on.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Neo-Pros Lookback

As many websites dedicated to cycling do, I made a list of neo-pros to watch this past year. Instead of going for obvious picks such as Caleb Ewan, Tiesj Benoot Mike Teunissen and the like, I tried to be a bit more unconventional in my picks. The original article can be found here. The season has been long over and riders are getting ready for 2016 but let's take a look back at how the 5 riders that were Espoirs Central picks did this season.

The winner for the Best Mustache in the Peloton 2015, Rasmus Quaade had a fairly good year albeit with a slow start on the road due to Quaade's commitments on the track. Once a rider that could barely ride in the peloton, Quaade has gotten a bit better. He finally finished a stage race in May at the Tour of Yorkshire and then went top 20 overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt, where his teammates Gustav Larsson (9th) and Linus Gerdemann (19th) did the same thing. A month later, he got a crack at his specialty and was 5th in the inagural European Games TT, which was 2'12" off of winner Vasili Kiryienka (which was very similar to the deficit at World Championships, where he finished 21st).
Quaade hit form in the latter part of the season by finishing 5th in the Tour du Poitou Charentes behind the likes of Tony Martin, Adriano Malori, Jonathan Castroviejo and Sep Vanmarcke. He then proceeded to be the right-hand man for Rasmus Guldhammer in the Tour of Britain where Guldhammer finished 4th overall while Quaade was 13th.

Quaade has been busy with the Danish team pursuit squad having gone 3rd in the European Championships in Grechen. Currently, he spent 3 weeks in Australia in the buildup for the Cambridge, NZ World Cup. While it was a huge year in terms of results, I would expect to see more from Quaade after the Rio Olympics are over.

Carlos Barbero was probably the most successful on this list this year. Yes, he is one of the older riders on this list but with a big year under his belt, people will not be surprised in 2016. Barbero was a huge talent coming from Euskadi. He isn't a full out sprinter but he isn't a climber by any means. He excels on uphill sprint finishes that weed out the fastest finishers.
The start of his season was rubbish after crashing in Etoile de Besseges and fractured the head of his radius bone. After finishing Catalunya in late March, Barbero really kicked off with podium finishes and high placings in Vuelta a la Rioja, Klasika Primavera, Castilla y Leon, the Tour of Turkey where he nearly scalped Sacha Modolo and then his maiden win of the year at the Vuelta Comunidad de Madrid. In what is probably the perfect parcours for his style of riding, Barbero lit it up in the Philly Classic and left future World Tour riders Michael Woods and Toms Skujins in the dust to take the win, which would be follow up with two more stage wins at the Tour de Beauce.

 The result that showed true class was his win on the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos where Barbero pulled away with Dani Moreno, Jesus Herrada and Luis Leon Sanchez and took the win on the uphill finish on Romana de Clunia. Barbero dragged himself through the Vuelta a Espana finishing way down on the table but it was an important step for him in his development. If the road tilts upwards in the final couple of kilometers, Barbero should be on your radar.

After taking out frustation in 2014 by not being offered a pro-contract, Patrick Konrad had a fairly successful year with Bora-Argon 18. I described him as a climber that wasn't total shit on the flats and he certainly lived up to that designation. Konrad rode a good schedule and only DNFed in three later season Italian races, which are known to have high attrition rates. Konrad's biggest strength was in stage races that featured one really hard hilly stage. That description is a bit vague but hear me out.

Tour of Oman was Konrad's first big stage race and he made the decisive split on stage 2 and then was top 15 on Jabal Al Akhdhar to finish 10th overall. Same story with Criterium International, where he finished 13th overall. He was 7th on the queen stage of the Tour of Denmark and after a strong TT, he finished 5th overall. He had a steady week filled with top 10s at Tour de l'Ain and finished in a clump of riders that were just a few seconds away from one another between 4th and 10th overall. He was the team's best finisher at the Abu Dhabi Tour, where he finished 10th overall after a strong ride on the queen stage.

Konrad should find himself on a similar schedule with a steady diet of small stage races intermixed with some bigger tours. He hasn't shown himself in the big mountains yet but on smaller mountains, he is already top 10 potential. He will continue to pair with Dominik Nerz (hopefully he has a better season than last), Emanuel Buchmann and new signing Gregor Muhlberger.
After spending the majority of his U23 time in Belgium, Brit Dan McLay jumped to Bretagne-Seche Environment for 2015 and meshed well with his other sprinters Yauheni Hutarovich and Romain Feillu and had some promising results. With sprinters, it seems like the young ones either tend to be able to go up against the big guns right away or they take some time to get positioning down and build endurance, nipping at their heels for a couple years. McLay is a bit of the latter and his results show it as a lot of his results were in that 5th-10th place range when involved in the big bunch kicks.

I think that McLay can improve on this and start contending for podiums and wins next year but it will be dependent know, improvement. If he comes in and get hold that wheel at 3 km to go and not get bumped out; find the right team to follow; not wait too long to jump. There is so much speculation that can happen but I would rather wait to have the road sort it out.

McLay is staying with Fortuneo-Vital Concept (the next sponsors for the team) for 2016. Romain Feillu leaves and is replaced with a younger and faster Boris Vallee. They are more of a team of opportunists but with McLay, Hutarovich and Vallee, they have options in a sprint.
As I said back in March this year, Floris De Tier was a cyclocross rider but on the advice of Sven Nys himself, he made the switch to the road full time in 2013 and hasn't looked back. This year with Topsport Vlaanderen, he had a good season in terms of getting a lot of racing under his belt and even had a few promising rides. The Vuelta a Murcia was his best ride in terms of results (9th) but he also took on some big races that many neo-pros would shit their bibs over.

De Tier was the top neo-pro in Amstel Gold (43rd) and 2nd best neo-pro in Fleche Wallone (43rd), both of which are World Tour events. He was top 15 in both the GP Wallonie and the Giro dell'Emelia, which both feature some tough finishes. So he was a bit lacking in terms of big results but it is about building a foundation.

How far will these guys go in 2016? Well...who knows. There will be a new crop announced in the coming months for you to keep your eyes on so keep your eyes peeled.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Neo-Pros 2016: Pro Continental Lowdown, Pt. 1

Perhaps it is just my hyper-focus on this issue but it seems like this year, compared with others in recent past, is seeing a larger number of young riders making the leap to the World Tour and Pro Continental level to try and hack it as professional cyclists. The top 13 overall riders from the Tour de l'Avenir have secured pro contracts for next season while 10 out of the top 15 from the U23 World RR have a contract for 2016 with a World Tour or Pro Conti team.

And remember, since we are going by the book, a neo-pro is a rider that is in his 25th year or younger and starting their first season as a professional. Technically, a rider in their 2nd year of a neo-pro deal can still be referred to under the term but now we are just splitting hairs.

Now it is time to go through, team by team, and examine the new signings with Pro Continental teams. Had enough yet? You might need to get a cuppa before sitting down for this. And this is only the first part...

-Stanislaw Aniolkowski
-Adrian Banaszek
-Norbert Banaszek
-Jonas Koch
-Daniel Staniszewski

4 Poles and a German walk into a bar...seriously, Jonas Koch is the only one that I have any inkling of. If you are ignorant of the U23s and this is your first time reading this blog then I'm shame on you but I'm glad you have seen the light. Also, you would need to be familiarized with Jonas Koch's epic breakaway at the Tour de l'Avenir. Epic is an overused term to some but Koch's solo breakaway on stage 1 certainly warrants its use. You can read about his exploits here.

Give Koch a hard course and you will most likely see him attack at some point. His new team will be begging for face time so his attacking disposition should be a net benefit.

-Egan Bernal
-Luca Pacioni

That sly dog Gianni Savio is trying to turn cheap talent into marketable results once again and is bringing in a junior and a sprinter to help his low budget team.

Egan Bernal is Colombian. Egan Bernal rides mountain bikes really fast. Egan Bernal hasn't been in a competitive road race, at least from scouring the internet for any results. Bernal is a sensation on dirt after hitting the podium of the Junior World MTB XC twice in two years (2nd and 3rd) among some other nice wins. Yet with all of this withstanding, Savio decides to take a chance on him and signs Bernal to a four-year contract. Yes, for the entirety of his U23, Bernal has a ride with Savio. I have a bad feeling about this...

EDIT: Bernal has ridden in one road race in Italy, which he won this past year. You can read more about it here. The race? Dreaming of The Tour of Flanders. Mainly some hills with dirt sections but it suited him well.

Pacioni is a sprinter that spent the majority of his U23 days with Colpack before moving the Viris Maserti for a bit more freedom. Probably not his wisest move since his wins dropped from five to just two however he is capable of taking some scalps if he is on form. I don't know if he will come in like a world beater but Savio will be hoping for some production from him in Italian races.

-Giulio Ciccone
-Mirco Maestri
-Lorenzo Rota
-Simone Velasco

I would love to be a fly on the wall at a meeting of the Reverberi brothers discussing the new season. "Roberto, we only had 4 wins last year. What do we a do ah?" "Bruno, we get younger!" Yes, the youngest professional team has decided to get younger for 2016 with their average dropping to an acne-filled, voice cracking 23.8 years.

Simone Velasco is going to be the youngest rider on the team as he has yet to turn 20 just yet. Velasco has been all over the Italian one day races with two wins (Coppa della Pace & Ruota d'Or) and was very consistent in the Giro della Regioni with top 10 finishes on all of the stages and 4th overall. He doesn't seem like a high mountains contender but look for him in hillier Italian one-day races and rolling stage races.

Maestri is one of the oldest on the team and is just making his pro debut. Honestly, he was a good amateur but as a pro? Not holding my breath.

Rota will be the 2nd youngest on the team and his best chance for development seems to lie in one-day races. 7 top ten finishes for a rider that isn't a sprinter is pretty good. The problem? He is too young. He isn't that type of rider that can just jump into the pro ranks and dominate. He will most likely struggle. He could have used with another year....

Ciccone is a pure climber that will find his best results in the bigger hills. He had a biblically slow first part of the season but came back for the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and won the KOM classification after multiple days out front gaining points. He proceeded to have a steady Tour de l'Avenir, where he mainly stayed with Simone Petilli, and he eventually finished 6th overall. The last call of his season came at the Piccolo Lombardia, where Ciccone was essentially the sacrificial lamb for his teammate Fausto Masnada. Ciccone could have dropped Masnada multiple times but thanks to a large gap, the lithe climber stayed with Masnada and in the final straight, he dipped behind and gifted the win.

I'm skeptical that a team fixes its problem of lack of wins by brining in less experienced riders. But what the fuck do I know.

Bora-Argon 18
-Silvio Herklotz
-Gregor Mühlberger
-Lukas Pöstlberger

Bora-Argon 18 is trying their best to recreate the Anschluss by beginning in Berlin by signing Herklotz and taking Austria with the signings of Mühlberger and Pöstlberger.

Herklotz has been one of the most exciting U23 riders to watch when he is healthy. Again, when he is healthy. Herklotz had a normal spring with 3rd in the Istrian Spring Trophy, 5th in the Giro del Belvedere, 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege in a tight sprint against solo rider Guillaume Martin and break partner Tao Geoghegan Hart followed by 5th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour overall. After a top 10 in the Grody Tour, Herklotz dropped out of the Bayern Rundfahrt. He came back for a couple races but then proceeded to drop out of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and did not reappear until the final German race of the year, the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro, where he was an anonymous 102nd. Herklotz has been prone to illness, especially in the spring where a bout of bronchitis seems to be seasonal with him. While not a threat in the high mountains, Herklotz has the potential to be an Ardennes favorite for the next decade.

Mühlberger is on the cusp of being a potential GC threat but still has some consistency issues to work on. He is certainly a power in hilly one day racing, where he likes to breakaway and go on some death defying mission. He won GP Izola that way as well as the GP Judendorf in this fashion. In terms of his GC threat, he showed this with great aplomb in the Zavod Miru U23, where he accelerated away from the favorites and held this off with style on the slopes of Praded before sealing the win the next day. Oberösterreichrundfahrt? Huge solo win on the final stage to take the overall. In the Tour de l'Avenir, he had two amazing mountains days and one horrible one. He took the leader's jersey on stage 5 after nearly hunting down stage winner Guillaume Martin (probably would have caught him if he wasn't diverted inside the final kilometer) but exploded in stage 6 to lose 10 minutes. He came back for 4th on the final stage to salvage an 11th overall which is under his liking but he got some takeaways from the race. He could go top 10 or 15 in pro stage races this year, if the wheels stay true, but he certainly has some panache.

Pöstlberger is another that lives and dies by the breakaway. He won a stage in the Osterreich Rundfahrt this year by holding off a split peloton to take his first pro win. He won the An Post Ras before that by breaking away on stage one and then taking more time away from those behind him. I don't think he is consistent enuogh to be a GC threat besides the occassion where he would take it out of a breakaway and hold it. He can climb when on form but can't hang with the best of them. He will most likely turn into a strong work horse that is a breakaway threat.

Caja Rural
-Alberto Gallego
-Jonathan Lastra
-Jaime Roson
-Diego Rubio

Aupa! Or whatever. The green-white and gold of Caja Rural are bringing in some more Spanish talent and things are looking...good. Let me explain...

Gallego has been on the Portuguese circuit the last couple of season but this year, he was a GC standout where he was in the top 10 overall five times. His breakout ride was in the Route du Sud, where he finished 7th overall behind Contador, Quintana and Pierre-Roger Latour. Not a pure climber but a strong all-around rider for those Spanish races Caja Rural will get plenty of.

Lastra is a former cyclocross rider that has transitioned to the road but that is still an ongoing project. He was 6th this year in the Volta a Portugal U23 and he is good on punchy courses. He is new to the road, especially in a long season with 50+ race days, so Lastra will be a bit of an unknown.

Something Caja Rural is good at is brining up homegrown talent. Along with Lastra, Roson has been in the development pipe the last couple of seasons. Roson won the Trofeo Lehendakari (think Basque Cup) and nearly took a stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in 2014. This year, he stepped up and won the Spanish U23 RR, won a round of the Copa de Espana, and then went to the USA Pro Challenge and finished 12th overall. Impressive climber that could show himself in some smaller Spanish races as well as the USA, if Caja Rural comes over again.

Thanks to a dearth of Spanish professional teams, Diego Rubio was forced to Portugal to ride with Efapel and do his best to seek his a way out. Rubio won the Portugal Cup this year after winning the first round and was 2nd overall in the Vuelta a Madrid. Bit of a rouleur but will be most likely breakaway fodder.

CCC Polsat
-Alan Banaszek
-Felix Großschartner

Banaszek is coming straight out of the junior ranks because a) he is Polish and b) he had a hell of a ride in the European Championships. He made the breakaway and proceeded to tear legs off. He more or less led the sprint out from a kilometer out and held off the only real challenger, Stan Dewulf. Will most likely need time to develop but perhaps he can replicate the performance down the road. Next year will just be about hanging on for dear life.

Grossschartner is the only pro cyclist with three consecutive s in his name. He also is a bit of an opportunist. He is a good climber but doesn't necessarily have the stuff to go for GC wins but rather sitting well in the top 10. He gets into good breakaways and comes out on top sometimes. Example being the Trofeo Piva this year, where he and Artem Nych got away and the Austrian proceeded to drop Nych and take the win just ahead of a hard charging sprint. He won the Osterreich Rundfahrt KOM thanks to a few breakaway opportunities and taking advantage of a field not filled with super climbers, he won the 2nd stage of the Giro della Regioni. He will be useful in difficult stages to set up a climber like Jan Hirt and if the team needs it, a presence in the breakaway.

-Rayanne Bouhanni
-Hugo Hofstetter
-Anthony Perez

The pair that are joining Cofidis were both stagiaire with the team last summer. One is a brother to a current team member and the other is a much-tattooed rider with a penchant for sprints.

Bouhanni is the brother of rough and tumble Nacer Bouhanni, who took 11 wins this year. One would be mistaken to think that Rayane is the same rider as Nacer. Okay, it isn't that drastic. Rayane does have a little sprint on him but he doesn't climb like a stone. As a junior, he won the French Junior RR Championship in a two-up sprint, the Tour de l'Abitibi in Canada and was 2nd overall in the Zavod Miru Junior to Magnus Bak Klaris. This year, he rode with AWT-Greenway and it was...a long year. A lot of DNFs but some good top 10s in regional French races including the Paris-Arras Tour and some time in breakaways.

Personally, it is too early for Bouhanni to go pro and he would benefit from another year developing but what do I know, I just write about these guys.

From the extreme east of France from the Sundgau territory in the Alsace region, Hugo Hofstetter could joined the sprint train for Cofidis straight away. Known as a joker that even live tweeted and took a selfie during the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia last year, Hofstetter didn't even have a coach until he was 18, when someone Cofidis took over the coaching duties at his club in Altkirch. He was slowly introduced to the Cofidis staff. In 2014, he took 14 top five places and had a nice 6th place in the Paris-Tours Espoirs. This year, his season got off to a slow start due to a professional internship but got heated up later in the spring and was capitalized by a 3rd place in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, where he was 2nd in the sprint behind a solo Lukas Spengler. The Alsatian was on super form for the European Championships in Tartu but coming into the finale, a touch of wheels saw Hofstetter break three spokes and knocked him out of contention. His frustrations were translated into the French U23 RR Championsips, where he attacked inside the final kilometer and won in solo fashion.

If he continues the upward trajectory, he could work into the rotation with Jonas Ahlstrand & Geoffrey Soupe for Bouhanni while getting a chance or two for himself in some smaller French races.

Perez (right) stealing a win from a celebrating Romain Campistrous
A late announcement was made with Anthony Perez joining the team. Perez, who comes from AVC Aix-en-Provence, had an emerging year after winning the Circuit de Sâone-et-Loire overall as well as the final stage, which was his major goal for the season. He was also on the podium of two Coupe de France one day races, 3rd on two stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie, and a handful of regional wins. Perez isn't a pure climber by any means but works best from small groups and from breakaways. He can climb pretty well and can also sprint a bit. He credits his surge in results to actually using a power meter (he was sans power before this past year) and honing his training so that he wasn't wasting time plodding about the countryside. I can see him being a large part of Cofidis' team that rides on the French continental circuit.

CULT Energy-Stölting
-Lennard Kämna
-Thomas Koep
-Sven Reutter
-Jonas Tenbrock
-Alexander Kamp

With the merger of the top Danish team CULT Energy and the development focused Stolting, the team it trying to set itself up with some riders that will be valuable in the long run.

Lennard Kämna is one of the brightest German talents to emerge since...dare I say, Ullrich? The young rider from Wedel, which is outside of Hamburg, grew up in the RSC Cottbus team, which is on the opposite end of the country. A side note on RSC Cottbus because they are one of the most storied clubs in Germany. Since 1990, they have seen Olaf Pollack, Danilo Hondo, Heinrich Haussler and Nikias Arndt among a slew of others track cyclists. Kämna's talent as a time trialist was evident by his torrid 2014 season where he blew out Adrien Costa in the Junior Men's TT. His maiden U23 year was slower but in May, he finished 13th overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt. This was followed up by a 6th in the Zavod Miru Nations Cup, which highlighted his climbing abilities against more experienced competition. He beat out Katusha-bound Nils Politt for the U23 TT title before winning a superb solo victory in Valle d'Aosta after attacking his breakaway mates. His shining moment was Richmond Worlds, where Kämna overcame bad conditions in the TT to manage a 3rd place and then went 10th in the road race. He will most likely ride a lot of U23 races mixed with pro events but it will be hard to miss his talent.

The other Germans joining him from Stölting are...okay. Koep is older and a good worker. Reutter showed some good climbing skills this year but is very young; he will need time to develop and see if he can work on his time trial skills that saw him breakout as a junior. Tenbrock is a developing classic rider that was 13th in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs and has had some other good one-day results.

The other "big" signing is Alexander Kamp, the Danish talent that was incredible as a junior but a bit mercurial at times in his U23 years. After some promising results but losing out on most of his 2014 due to the horrible management at Christina Watches, he got it mojo back after winning a couple of Danish one-days and showed his sprinting and classics chops in Danish and some other European races. He was 3rd on the queen stage of the Tour of Denmark and ended up 9th overall. Kamp then made his presence known again in Richmond, when he survived the carnage to place 5th in the U23 RR. Classics potential. Sprint potential. Keep him in check and CULT-Stölting could have a nice (and cheap) pick up here.

-Brendan Canty
-Jason Lowndes
-Gavin Mannion
-Tom Scully

They come from a land Down Under. Drapac is going through a bit of a transitional phase as they are cutting many of the riders that they brought up through the continental ranks and trying to compete for bigger races.

Canty was a stagiaire with the team in 2014 and with Budget Forklifts this year, he was 7th in the Herald Sun Tour and 11th overall in both the GP de Saguenay and Tour de Beauce, the latter of which where he won the TT. This isn't over the moon by any means but Canty has had a metoric rise with just two years of high level racing under his belt now. He capped off his season with 13th in the Abu Dhabi Tour while riding with Drapac, which was by far the team's best finish.

A former MTB rider, Lowndes rode in North America this year with the Garneau-Quebecor outfit. He showed some promise as a sprinter with wins in the Sea Otter Classic and a stage of the Tour of Delta. Probably going to need some work getting the endurance up to make an impact.

Tom "Scud Missle" Scully has been toiling around British continental teams the past few years and splitting time between the road and track. He is world class on the track with silver medal in the 2014 Worlds Points Race. While he has gone away from the track a bit, he has been riding a lot of criteriums in England and winning a few. He could be an asset in harder one-day races as Scully seems to enjoy races such as the Tour de Normandie, where he was 3rd overall this year.

After staying on the continental level for a couple seasons after finishing top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir, Mannion is finally getting his shot with a professional outfit. Mannion has continued to develop as a stage racing talent with 2nd in the Redlands Classic, 3rd in the Tour of the Gila & Cascase Classic and 4th in the USA Pro Challenge as evidence from just this year alone. For some unbeknownst reason, bigger teams haven't touched him until now but Drapac will be doing a happy dance if Mannion continues on this upward trajectory.

Fortuneo-Vital Concept
-Franck Bonnamour

The solo neo-pro joining the team formerly known as the Bretagne-Séché Environment has been courted by the team for years now. The European Junior Champion in 2013, Bonnamour has been sticking home in Bretagne and building slowly. This year, he took three wins including the Coupe de France Prix Gilbert Bousquet, which he won in a solo move. He was 5th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, where he was in the 1st chase group behind the winning group. As a stagiaire this year, his best result came at the GP Wallonie, where he survived the inevitable attrition up the Citadel  de Namur and ended up 8th. He is green but he has a huge upside.
Fun Fact: Bonnamour is joining World U23 TT Champion Kevin Ledanois on the team next year. Their fathers, Yves Bonnamour and Yvon Ledanois, were teammates for two years on Super U and Castorama in 1989 and 1990.

-Antwan Tolhoek

The rise for Antwan Tolhoek from amateur to pro was very rapid. Tolhoek spent less than a full year with a continental team, Rabobank Continental, before getting a stagiaire place on Tinkoff and then signing a deal with Roompot. Originally, Tolhoek was a marathon speed skater before switching over to cycling. His father, Patrick, also rode for Superconfex and Buckler and took part in two Tours de France.

He was with the Dutch De Jonge Renner team in 2014 but results were fairly slim. He got picked up by Rabobank Continental this year and was top 20 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and won the KOM in the Tour de Bretagne.

It was announced he would be joining Tinkoff-Saxo as a stagiaire after having a successful training camp with the team in Livigno in July. He hit it off very quickly at the Tour of Norway, where he finished 6th on the final stage and ended up 12th overall, which was the team's highest finisher. He got through the Tour of Britain and some other one day races pretty well but some other ones, not so much. So...fingers crossed? Obviously he impressed Tinkoff but it is translating it onto the road consistently that will be the issue.

-Dan Eaton
-Daniel Jaramillo
-Ty Magner

The American team that spans back over a decade now is downsizing from their 2015 roster with noticeably less Italians and less big names. While the team is losing the likes of Kiel Reijnen and Alessandro Bazzana, they are brining on some young talent that has already turned more than a few heads.

Eaton comes from Axeon Cycling, where he raced his first full season on the continental level. Splitting time with the national team, Eaton was top 20 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and finished solidly in California. Known as "Swole" to his teammates, Eaton won the U23 National TT this year by 42 seconds on LottoNL-Jumbo signing Alexey Vermeulen. Eaton then exceeded expectations at Worlds when he finished 10th in the TT, less than 10 seconds out of 4th place.  He has GC potential in flatter stage races so whenever UHC goes on a Belgian excursion or if Tour of Alberta is still around next year, Eaton could be an outside GC favorite.

Magner has been spent about the last decade with the Hincapie team...okay, it has only been 4 years. The Georgia native has been transitioning from a criterium sprinter to taking on harder one-day races like the Winston Salem Classic, where he was 5th this year. Magner will need to string together a full season as he has been up and down in his time with Hincapie.

Jaramillo is a previous winner of the Vuelta de la Juventud Colombia (2011) and also 2nd place in the race (2013) before hopping over to America with Jamis. In his first season in America, he won the two hardest stages of the Tour of the Gila and went to finish 5th overall. He was top 20 in the Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge of the American state of Colorado. He came into the season hot by finishing top 10 in the Tour de San Luis, finishing 2nd in the Colombian National RR and 2nd overall in the Tour of the Gila. Jaramillo has a quieter end to the season but did finish 5th in Philly Classic. He has a huge upside but seems to be a bit mercurial in terms of bringing in results. If UHC treats him right and adds him to the climbers in Busche and Brajkovic, he could blossom.

Wanty Groupe Gobert
-Antoine Demoitie
-Guillaume Martin
-Robin Stenuit

A good little group of riders here that are undervalued by some. Mark McNally will also be considered to be a neo-pro by some since he spent the last half decade with AnPost-Sean Kelly and most recently with Madison-Genesis, where he was 3rd in GP Jef Scherens, which is right in WGG's wheelhouse. While he is a bit too old for this post, he should have a few opportunities for next year.

Demoitie has been one of the best sprinters on the continental circuit the past two seasons that seems to gravitate towards places 3rd through 8th. He has had 23 top 8 finishes over the past two seasons with two wins. The question here is if he will progress past being bunch sprint filler and start fighting for wins. He is a tough sprinter and does well out of breakaways and more selective courses so there is some room to grow as WGG gets bigger invites.

Robin Stenuit was one of the only stagiaires, with Fernando Gaviria being the only other to my knowledge, to win with his team. Stenuit blossomed this year following a move to Veranclassics-Ekoi after an extended time with Wallonie-Bruxelles. The Walloon won six races through June, including UCI wins in the GP Nogent-sur-Oise & Memorial Van Coningsloo, both of which were in small bunch sprints. Stenuit got a ride with WGG and after a month of toiling through some bigger races, he got his chance at the revamped Schaal Sels, which featured sections through polders and corn fields. Stenuit got away with Topsport Vlaanderen's Oliver Naesen and out sprinted him for the win. He is a bit like Demoitie in that he can gravitate towards 4th-10th places but perhaps he has that kick for the win Demoitie lacks? Splitting hairs, I know.

The final neo-pro is Guillaume Martin, who erupted this year for a win in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, a huge breakaway win in the Tour de l'Avenir and high GC showings in races such as the Ronde de l'Isard and Tour de l'Ain. He just seems a bit...out of place. Martin has stagiaire roles with Sojasun and FDJ so getting stuck with a team such as WGG seems like Martin had to settle a bit. While he will get a lot of starts in the Ardennes and other hillier races, his heart lies in the mountains and with a team like this, he will most likely be found lacking. A one-year stay could be possible if he gets a few good results in bigger races and he finds a team with a schedule that is more suited to him.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Neo-Pro 2016: The World Tour Lowdown

Perhaps it is just my hyper-focus on this issue but it seems like this year, compared with others in recent past, is seeing a larger number of young riders making the leap to the World Tour and Pro Continental level to try and hack it as professional cyclists. The top 13 overall riders from the Tour de l'Avenir have secured pro contracts for next season while 10 out of the top 15 from the U23 World RR have a contract for 2016 with a World Tour or Pro Conti team.

And remember, since we are going by the book, a neo-pro is a rider that is in his 25th year or younger and starting their first season as a professional. Technically, a rider in their 2nd year of a neo-pro deal can still be referred to under the term but now we are just splitting hairs.

Now it is time to go through, team by team, and examine the new signings, beginning with the World Tour. This list could be updated but for the most part, these are signings set in stone.

Ag2r-La Mondiale
-Nico Denz
-Francois Bidard

The French squad is sticking with its roots by taking two riders from their Chambery CF development team to their 2016 roster.

German Nico Denz joined the team last year in August on a full contract so technically his pro career has already begun but I threw him in here anyways. The German is a bit of an all-around rider that has a knack for climbing and some solo breakaways. He will probably be thrown in to all sorts of races in 2016 to see what kind of rider he will turn out to be.

Francois Bidard is more of a climber but wasn't one of those riders that was beating all comers. If he is to be successful in the pro ranks, he will need a couple of seasons to find himself, most likely. Bidard was an outstanding 4th overall in the Rhone Alpes Isere Tour after getting into a stage 3 breakaway with Europcar pro Fabrice Jeandesboz and Felix Grossschartner. Along with some strong riders in the French domestic scene, Bidard should fit into the team well and support the likes of Romain Bardet and Pierre-Roger Latour.

-Floris Gerts

The solo neo-pro on BMC for 2016, Floris Gerts is just one of two new riders to the team along with Richie Porte. Gerts isn't moving far as he was with the BMC Development Team this past season and had some stellar results as a stagiaire with BMC in the latter part of the season.

Gerts was a bit of a late bloomer and only started to truly show himself in his final U23 season with Rabobank Development in 2014 and had consistent rides in the 1.1 races they rode towards the end of the season. Out of the U23 ranks, Gerts exploded at the beginning of 2015 by winning the 2nd race of the season, the Dorpenomloop Rucphen, in impressive solo style. He matched this later in the month with a similar solo win on the final stage around the hippodrome in Caen in the Tour de Normandie.

Gerts' spring is littered with top 10 finishes in a variety of races but he didn't grab his signature win of the season until early July, when he rode off the front of the pack in the amateur Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and took the win by a minute. He joined BMC in August and proceeded to slot right into the pro ranks in the Tour of Britain with four-top 15 stage finishes on the first four stages. His signature result from his stagiaire time was his 3rd place in the GP Impanis, which finished in a bunch sprint.

-Paddy Bevin
-Ryan Mullen
-Toms Skujins

Being the nerd that I am, I actually got into a heated debate over at r/peloton on reddit about Cannondale-Garmin's team for next year. While I am one of the last people to defend some of the decisions that Jonathan Vaughters makes, the team is more than him and while the team is very young, they have a shit ton of talent that can break out.

Kiwi Paddy Bevin hopped over to America right out of the junior ranks and always made heads turn with big results in criteriums against the likes of Jono Cantwell, Luke Keough and Alessandro Bazzana. He peaked in 2012 when he took 2 stages & overall of Merco Credit Union Classic, 3 stages of Redlands as well as the Tour of Bucks County in Pennsylvania. After a troubling 2013, he came back strong in 2014 and ended up 5th overall in the Australian NRS after taking 14 wins.

This season, he has just stepped it up to another level with a stage win and 2nd overall to Cam Meyer in the Herald Sun Tour, a stage win and 4th overall in the Tour of Taiwan and a duel with Caleb Ewan in the Tour of Korea, where he ended up 2nd overall by just 4 seconds. With his Avanti team, Bevin dominated the Australian NRS with 10 wins along with the overall title for the season. If Garmin can retain his sprint then they will be spoiled.

Ryan Mullen is still a diamond in the rough. The Irishman's engine is huge but he will be put into the fire with Garmin in tough races where he will need to show he belongs. No one cares that he was 2nd in the U23 World TT in 2014. When he is getting gapped off of Gatis Smukulis' wheel and he grits his teeth to hold onto it, that is where he will earn respect.

Toms Skujins has been making a following for himself in America after joining Hincapie in 2014. The Latvian rider that could have easily joined the pro ranks after his stellar 2013 season as a U23 where he won the U23 Peace Race, was top 10 in the Tour de l'Avenir and 5th in the U23 World RR. Instead, no big teams picked him up and he journeyed to America. He was an instant hit with Hincapie and after getting his feet under him, he was 6th in Philly and won the Tour de Beauce after an incredible solo ride on Mont Megantic.

This year, his season didn't kick off in earnest until mid-May but then it never really stopped. He won the stage 3 of the Tour of California into San Jose in impressive solo fashion. A couple weeks later, he won the Winston Salem Classic in more solo fashion. The next weekend, he was in the sprint for the win at Philly and managed 3rd place. He nearly went back to back in Beauce but finished up 2nd overall to Peio Bilbao. The consistency was remarkable because later in the season, Skujins was top 10 overall in both the USA Pro Challenge and the Tour of Alberta, two courses which aren't too similar, and then nearly won the Reading 120. Skujins consistency sealed the UCI Americas Tour win as well as the American NRC championship. If he isn't pressured into becoming a rider he isn't, Skujins could thrive next season as he is probably one of the most pro ready riders coming into the World Tour for 2016.

-Rodrigo Contreras
-Laurens De Plus
-Fernando Gaviria
-Davide Martinelli

Some of the most talked about names are headed the way of Etixx for 2016. Pat Lefevere used to be known for how badly he would fuck up young talent that wasn't a young Belgian focused on the classics. A GC talent? Don't make him spit up his Jupiler.

The two that have been known for about 8 months now are the signings of the pair of Colombian talents Gaviria and Contreras.

Fernando Gaviria's talent has been known since his junior days when he was a double World Champion on the track. Last year, Gaviria came onto the scene by winning the Pan-Am Championship U23 RR and a stage win in the Vuelta a Juventud Colombia before a trio of top 10 finishes in the Tour de l'Avenir. Gaviria exploded onto the scene this year by winning two stages of the Tour de San Luis and then winning the Omnium at the Track World Championships ahead of multiple Olympic hopefuls. In his stagiaire-ship with Etixx late in the year, he proceeded to win stages in the Czech Cycling Tour and the Tour of Britain. He talent is undeniable but his track ambitions might see his focus off the roads this upcoming year for a considerable period of time.

Contreras is a bit more mysterious of the two. He was 5th in the Tour de San Luis but proceeded to drop out of both the Czech Cycling Tour and Tour de l'Avenir. He can climb but I don't think he will be lasting in this type of environment.

Martinelli has been talked about on this site ad nauseum due to his talents for not only time trialing but also getting mixed up in the bunch sprints. Remember that Marcel Kittel was a TT specialist in the U23 ranks when he moved to Skil-Shimano. Martinelli is a legacy as his father, Giuseppe, is a current DS with Astana and a former pro himself and the younger Martinelli has taken a liking to one-day racing and the northern classics with 6th in this year's edition of Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. If he began making the transition to a sprinter, this is certainly a good team to hone those skills with especially with Kittel coming on board. If he doesn't go the way of a sprinter, Martinelli has a motor on him that will see him working for others in one-day races this spring.

In one of the more meteoric rises of the season, De Plus is heading to the pros after just one big season in the U23 ranks. He had a fairly anonymous 2014 season as a first year U23 but this year was incredible and perhaps the best all-around year. In the Ronde de l'Isard, De Plus was staying with the best on the climbs and was consistently pushing race leader Simone Petilli before settling for 2nd place. On the slopes of Praded in the Zavod Miru U23, he was a close 2nd to Gregor Mühlberger and ended up 4th overall. He took his only UCI win of the season in Valle d'Aosta by out-sprinting Rob Power on stage 1 of the race. Guess where he ended up on the overall? 2nd place to Power. If it wasn't for the spectacular collapse on the final stage of the Tour de l'Avenir after trying to counterattack race winner Marc Soler, De Plus most certainly would have bettered his 8th place overall and perhaps been on the podium. While he only has one big season behind him, De Plus does seem to have a good head on his shoulders and could continue to build from here. Perhaps throw him into a Grand Tour to see if he sinks or swims and get him time in the mountains to see what he can do.

-Odd Eiking
-Marc Fournier
-Daniel Hoelgaard
-Jeremy Maison

Two Norwegians and two Frenchman walk into a bar together...okay, no. But still, FDJ is bringing in a fine class of riders that can do just about everything. Don't fuck it up, Madiot.

Odd Eiking and Daniel Hoelgaard come from Joker, the Norwegian continental team that has been spitting riders out every year to the pro scene.

Eiking has been a bit hot and cold for my tastes. He had a spectacular result and then falls down the results sheet, which ruins any GC chances. He won a stage in Valle d'Aosta but not after shitting the bed on stage 1. I would not think of him as a future Tour de France winner. He seems to to best in hillier races but in the high mountains, there is inconsistency. Perhaps this can be ironed out by FDJ but only time will tell.

Hoelgaard is the sprinter that was all over the top 10 in 2015 and really has been consistent for the last few years. He has taken 6 UCI wins in the past two seasons and this season alone, Hoelgaard had 22 top 10 finishes. He isn't a sprinter that will gap his competitors by 3 bike lengths and doesn't have the out & out speed of the likes of Simone Consonni but it is very rare when Hoelgaard isn't present for some sort of a bunch kick.

On the French front, Fournier and Maison are more or less polar opposites. Rouleur vs. Climber. Burly, bearded Norman vs. the lithe Burgundian. Fournier won 5 races with CC Nogent-sur-Oise including a breakaway stage win in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. Maison has some prodigious climbing talent that will see him fit in with Thibaut Pinot, Alexander Geniez and Kenny Elissonde. On Plateau de Beille, Maison rode away from Simone Petilli and Laurens De Plus and won by an astounding minute to secure 3rd overall. He put together a consistent Pays de Savoie that saw him finish in 4th overall and he was well on his way to some stage glory in the Tour de l'Avenir on stage 5 of the race to La Rosiere but proceeded to crash out of the race. In any case, Maison could be showing himself, especially in some smaller French races that feature climbing.

-Simone Consonni (?)
-Simone Petilli
-Edward Ravasi

Lampre's manager Brent Copeland needs to learn not to string riders along. Edward Ravasi was announced much earlier in the summer as a Lampre signing when his stagiaire role was announced but just this past week, Copeland stated that both he and his Colpack teammate Simone Consonni were going to have to wait until 2017 to get a chance at the pro ranks. I would be a bit annoyed if I had to wait a whole year after being primed for a chance at the pro ranks.

So currently, the only neo-pro joining Lampre is Simone Petilli, who is coming from Unieuro-Wilier. Petilli was on a tear this year, especially in the stage races, by winning the Ronde de l'Isard by a slim 10 seconds, 3rd in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and 5th in the Tour de l'Avenir. That is perhaps a bit understated but he is up there against the best young climbers in cycling. Now he is a bit behind the likes of Rob Power because he had to resort to some shitty tactics to attack the Australian when he had a puncture to try and find an advantage in Valle d'Aosta.

-Jorge Arcas
-Antonio Pedrero

I talked about this Jorge Arcas cat before...

Movistar stuck with home talent by signing Arcas, a strong climber from the Lizarte amateur team, which is managed by ex-Euskaltel rider Juan Jose Oroz. He is a noted teammate, especially in the early part of his U23 career, but in the last couple seasons including this one, which is his first out of the U23 ranks, he has taken over a leadership role in some races and has accrued 9 wins including stages of the Vuelta a Palencia and the Vuelta a Navarra. Most recently, Arcas was battling it out in the Vuelta a Toledo but his Lizarte team was manhandled by the Fundacion Euskadi squad and big time climbing talent Mikel Iturria. Arcas held on for 10th overall while teammate Rafael Marquez finished in 6th, 3 seconds ahead.
Antonio Pedrero is a more recent announcement who also comes from the Lizarte team. Pedrero had a cracking 2013 campaign in his final U23 year where he was integral in Ruben Fernandez's Tour de l'Avenir win and won the Vuelta a Cantabria. He even finished 12th in the Copa de España even though he only scored points in 5 of the 8 races on offer. His 2014 was a little quieter however he did win the Vuelta a Navarra and 2nd in the Vuelta a Toledo. This year, he managed three wins and finished 3rd in the Copa de España. So he is a consistent rider and seems to have a knack for one day races and getting stage wins. Perhaps some stage racing a few years down the road.

-Alexander Edmondson
-Jack Haig
-Rob Power

This trio of talent have been signed by Orica for nearly a year now but with two of them coming off major knee injuries, there form could be up in the air. Obviously, Jack Haig and Rob Power are two fine stage racing talents. Power is the more explosive of the two and perhaps just a little step above Haig but after going 3rd overall in the Tour de l'Avenir, Haig is no slouch whatsoever. Power was sidelined nearly the whole 2nd half of the season with a knee injury that took him out of l'Avenir so how he will come into 2016 is a bit of a mystery.

Juxtaposing these two GC dreamers, Alexander Edmondson is a combination of classics man and track pursuit brute. While he is another that had a knee injury, he made his return at the classic 280km Melbourne-Warrnambool, where he placed 2nd to Scott Sunderland. His eyes will be on Rio for the team pursuit so I wouldn't get too excited to see him make a big impression on the road in 2016.

I will be curious to see how these Australians work out on their move to Europe. With the amount of Australians that move to Europe not working out nearing double digits with Campbell Flakemore being the latest victim, it seems that the AIS system is producing results in the U23 ranks but then leaving riders to flounder once they hit the pros.

Team Alpecin-Giant
-Soren Kragh Andersen
-Sindre Lunke
-Sam Oomen
-Max Walscheid

Alpecin-Giant is one of the teams in the World Tour that can transform so much young talent. This has its plusses and minuses. While they have Degenkolb and Dumoulin bringing them a truck load of results, they also have a lot of "projects" that are trying to steadily progress. Out of 5 new hires this year, they have 4 that are signing their first pro contracts but boy, they are some big signings.

Kragh Andersen had a coming out in 2014 with some strong results and podium finishes but he blew the doors off everyone's expectations this year. He led the Danish attack at the ZLM-Roompot Tour by getting in every major breakaway and topping the Danish filled podium. He then spent most of the spring in the top 10 including a breakaway win in the Hadeland GP and a stage win in the tour des Fjords and narrowly missing out on the GC win by 12 seconds. He then put the cherry on the cake by taking not only the Tour de l'Avenir prologue but also winning a four-up sprint on stage 3 of the race ahead of Mathieu van der Poel. He has a huge engine that if tuned properly, he could make an instant impact next year.

Oomen and Lunke are familiar with one another after being near the front on the climbing stages of the Tour de l'Avenir.

Dutchman Oomen comes from Rabobank Development where DS Grischa Niermann referred to him as a prodigious talent. As a first year U23 in 2014, he already showed signs of a top talent but more or less assaulted the mountains this year. After some good results in hillier races early in the year including Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 and Fleche Ardennaise, Oomen took a stage 1 win in the Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour and turned it into an overall win by beating Fabrice Jeandesboz (Europcar) by mere stage placings. In the Pays de Savoie, Oomen was the only rider somewhat near the "interesting" David Belda (Burgos-BH) after a fine solo win on stage 2 and winning the Orelle time trial to finish 2nd overall. His final three stage races of the year? He didn't finish outside of the top 8 overall. He got better with age in the Tour de l'Avenir as he vaulted up the GC ranks to finish 4th thanks to a 5th place on the final stage. Don't pigeonhole him as a sickly climber either. He and his Rabobank Devo teammates dismantled the Paris-Tours Espoirs race with Oomen and teammate Martijn Tusveld taking 1-2.

Lunke is the Norwegian that played in the shadow of Odd Eiking but is an even better climber than the future FDJ rider. Lunke made a name for himself in 2015 after coming 5th overall in Valle d'Aosta and 11th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir. This year, Lunke had some up and down days but still finished 8th overall in Valle d'Aosta and 7th in the Tour de l'Avenir. He is at his best in the mountains and after getting some races under his belt and adjusting to pro life, he could be a good asset for any team.

German Walscheid is a potential replacement for Marcel Kittel. Alright, that might be a best case scenario but he has won multiple stages of the Tour de Berlin and also won the Kernen Omloop in a sprint this year. If he gets the endurance in his legs for the pro ranks, he could mesh well with riders like Nikias Arndt and Ramon Sinkledam.

Team Katusha
-Matvey Mamykin
-Nils Politt
-Jhonathan Restrepo

Katusha will have a wonderfully weird split on their team with half of it Russian and the other half a mish-mash of riders from all over Europe and now, Colombia.

Matvey Mamykin showed hints of some talent in 2014 after a strong Giro della Valle d'Aosta and a steady Tour de l'Avenir. He started this year anonymous as best but then on the slopes to Praded in the Zavod Miru U23, he came to life and eventually finished the Nations Cup race in 9th overall.

His performances in the summer showed that Mamykin is suited mainly for the high mountains. On the brutal queen stage of Valle d'Aosta, Mamykin dropped Giulio Ciccone like a bag of rocks and in 10 kilometers, he proceeded to put in over 3 minutes on the Italian and took the leader's jersey from Robert Power on a stage that took nearly 5.5 hours to finish. He would cede the lead the next day but the seed was planted. In l'Avenir, he got better with age and on the final stage on the final climb to Les Bottieres, he proceeded to drop eventual race winner Marc Soler and had Jack Haig on the back foot as the Russian was setting an incredible tempo. He would win the stage and settle into 3rd overall. I forsee many low finishes for Mamykin in 2016 but when he gets some chances in the mountains, keep an eye out for him.

Politt and Restrepo were both stagiaires with Katusha in 2015 and signed neo-pro deals with the team. Politt is a strong rouleur that had an impressive Bayern Rundfahrt thanks to his TT that slotted him 6th overall. The German is a very strong time trial rider when on form and seems to do well in other non-climbing big mountains races.

Restrepo has been a known quantity on the Colombian circuit for a few years after winning two stages of the Vuelta a Colombia Juventud and placing 3rd in the individual pursuit in the Pan-Am Championships as a first year U23 in 2013. This year, he won a stage of the Vuelta a Colombia Juventud and ended up 3rd overall in the race. He went on a Pan-Am tear by winning the continental U23 RR, continental Individual Pursuit and continental team pursuit. He was eventual apart of the winning Colombian team pursuit team at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto. While he is untested in Europe besides getting drug through the Vuelta a Burgos, Restrepo is a diamond in the rough.

Team LottoNL-Jumbo
-Koen Bouwman
-Steven Lammertink
-Alexey Vermeulen

The Dutch team is getting more of a facelift for 2016 as they are adding three non-Dutch speaking riders to their roster and to try and kick start what was a sluggish season in the win column in terms of the win column.

Coming over from SEG Racing are Koen Bouwman and Steven Lammertink. Bouwman is an opportunist that was consistent through the season in difficult races. The Dutchman showed off his climbing skills on the final stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta when he made the breakaway on the way to the Colle del San Grand Bernardo and rode away from BMC Development rider Kilian Frankiny for the stage win. Besides Valle d'Aosta, Bouwman was a strong helper to Sam Oomen in the Tour de l'Avenir and got some time with Lotto-Jumbo in pro races in the fall including 30th overall in the Tour of Britain.

Lammertink is a time trial stud that had a bad end to his season after such an amazing start. A small group sprint stage win in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux was followed by a top 10 in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and time trial win in the Tour de Berlin, which set up an overall win. Following a win in the U23 TT at Nationals, his season took a nose dive with exception for his win at the European U23 TT in Tartu. He didn't finish the Tour Alsace or Tour du Poitou Charentes. He scrapped a 14th place at the Worlds TT after being dealt bad conditions but sickness took him out of the U23 RR. While his time trial talents are obvious, it seems that consistency could be an issue. This is an issue with big time U23 TT riders that dominate their fields but then struggle mightily in their first pro seasons; Campbell Flakemore and Damien Howson are two recent examples of this.

BMC Development's Alexey Vermeulen is taking the plunge in the pro ranks with LottoNL-Jumbo. Going a route such as Tejay van Garderen did with HTC-Columbia (only one of two Americans on the team in his rookie year), Vermeulen is going with a foreign team that might take the pressure off as opposed to moving up with BMC. I just wrote a recent profile on him so as not to sound like a broken record, go read up on him. Vermeulen will be looking to get his pedals wet in some stage racing as well as some harder one day races. Don't look for a Great American Hope but perhaps the no pressure route will work wonders here.

Team SKY
-Alex Peters
-Gianni Moscon

SKY brings on two high profiles signings with the Hackney Peters and Italian stud Moscon. Tao Geoghegan Hart seems to be in the pipeline but has defered a chance at the pro peloton for another year.

Alex Peters switched to SEG Racing this year and was one of the team's top riders. He started off the year with a bang after a pair of 2nd places and a 2nd overall in the Tour de Normandie and quickly followed it up with a stage win in the Tour de Bretagne. He had a light mid-year but then came back for the Tour of Britain with the British National Team and finished 12th in the Tour of Britain. Obviously he is a talented rouleur but I do hesitate with him a bit because he hasn't had a ton of racing days in a season and stepping up to a World Tour team, he could have some growing pains.

Gianni Moscon is one of the biggest talents on the U23 circuit and it was more of a question of where he was going to end up and not if he would get a contract. Moscon won 9 times this year including the Italian U23 RR, the GP Palio del Recioto, Citta di San Vendemiano and the Trofeo Almar Nations Cup. Even more important were some of the races he didn't win. Moscon was 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, 5th in the U23 Zavod Miru (Peace Race), was 5th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir before having to drop out on the penultimate stage and then finished 4th in the World U23 RR after leading out Simone Consonni in a desperate attempt to go for the win.

While I dislike making comparisons between riders but Moscon could be like Paolo Bettini-type except he seems to be a better climber in the high mountains. If SKY do not torpedo his potential like they have with other riders, they have hit a gold mine.

-Erik Baska
-Michael Gogl

Now I am not saying that Erik Baska is overrated but Baska is coming in with some expectations as this killer sprinter and I don't think that he will live up to that, especially right out of the gate. The winner of the European U23 RR that finished in a big bunch sprint in Tartu, Estonia, Baska has gained the majority of his results in Central and Eastern Europe against startlists that might not be up to snuff in other races. His most quality win outside of Europeans was his stage win in the Tour de Berlin. So while he might be quick, I wouldn't be surprised to see him struggle mightily this season.

Gogl, who rode on 3 teams last year including his Tinkoff stagiaire role, is a bit of an opportunist that does well in the breakaway and on selective courses. In 2014, he was 15th overall in the Tour de l'Avenir and was 4th on one stage behind Caleb Ewan. He started off the year with a bang by winning the GP Laguna in a breakaway over Seid Lizde and Simone Petilli. He got a large chunk of race days with Tinkoff (20 race days) and had a lot of top 30 placings. He seems to be a rider that is ready for a large chunk of days (70 or so) that can be a good teammate and maybe get a result or two.

Trek Factory
-Julien Bernard

You can read a more complete write-up of Bernard's signing with Trek on Cyclingtips. Coming from the small SCO Dijon team, Bernard is a very impressive climber that was all over the top 5 in the French mountains this season. Thanks to his dad Jean-François, Julien got a ride with Trek Factory as a stagiaire. After getting through the Tour of Utah, Bernard rode a consistent USA Pro Challenge and managed to finish 10th overall. More recently, he rode the Tour of Hainan and on the only hard stage of the race, Bernard finished 6th and ended up the same on the overall rankings.

Don't think he will be an instant producer but throw some riders behind him and he could grab some top 10s.

Teams with no neo-pro signings - Astana, IAM, Lotto, Dimension Data

Predictions for top neo-pros of 2016?

1. Rob Power
2. Gianni Moscon
3. Soren Kragh Andersen

Am I way off? Am I right on the money? Let me know!