Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Top 5 Firsties for 2015

With the new year upon us, a fresh crop of U23s has been harvested and taken to the pro ranks and beyond while another batch of youngsters comes in from the junior ranks. Every year, there are a few juniors that get their feet quickly in the U23 ranks and flourish. Matej Mohoric, Caleb Ewan, Robert Power, Merhawi Kudus and Danny van Poppel are just a few recently that have shown us that you don't need 4 years to be pro ready. Here are 5 riders that will be making their U23 debuts this year that you should keep an eye on (among many others).

Lennard Kämna (Germany - Stölting)
When Adrien Costa crossed the line in the Junior Worlds TT in Ponferrada, he seemed to have a very good feeling about his ride and was thinking he had a shot at gold. Within minutes, his dream was dashed by an aero-tucked German who beat Costa in 2nd place by 44 seconds. Lennard Kämna was the star time trial rider of 2014 in the junior ranks with wins in the German junior national TT, the European Junior TT & the Trofeo Karlsberg TT and the World title in the time trial. Hell, he even won the German junior hill climb championship.

With the World title, Kämna will have expectations laid on him like former Germans that won the junior Worlds TT such as Marcel Kittel and Patrick Gretsch. He comes from RSC Cottbus, which is a club that have produced many professionals including Heinrich Haussler, Danilo Hondo and Olaf Pollack. Kämna will be joining Team Stölting, the team who had to abort a move to the Pro Continental ranks because of lack of funds, and will be able to join Silvio Herklotz and director Jochen Hahn.

Some strong time trialists struggle initially with the distance of the u23 ranks and it could take a few months to see some results. Could he be the next Tony Martin? Doubtful but only the road can tell the truth. 

Edoardo Affini (Italy - Colpack)

I just talked about Affini in my preview of Colpack, which can be found here, for 2015 but I will touch on him again briefly. Affini has been a strong one day rider and was the most successful Italian junior in 2014 with 9 wins including the European junior RR, Trofeo Buffoni and Trofeo San Rocco. He seems to be a well balanced rider with wins in small sprints, breakaway and solo. He will be mainly on the Italian amateur scene for 2015 but might get a few UCI call ups as well as some national team rides in the Nations Cups.

Daniel Felipe Martinez (Colombia - Team Colombia)
This pick is my joker for 2015 but it is a long shot since it is incredibly hard to make the jump from the junior ranks straight to the Pro Continental.

Martinez started turning heads at just 17 when he won the Pan-Am Junior TT and spent all day in the breakaway in the World RR before hanging onto 15th place. He got the attention of the UCI World Cycling Centre and got an opportunity to train their this season. He won the Colombian Junior TT (he won the RR in 2013) before coming over and winning the Tour de Tarentaise, a French national race with some riders nearly twice his age.

His move to the pro ranks might seem premature but it isn't the first time that Claudio Corti has brought someone straight from the junior ranks. I'm sure he will get some racing time with the national team and in Colombia but will be limited with the Pro team. If Miguel Angel Lopez is anything to go by, Martinez could be another revelation in the U23 world.

Enzo Wouters (Belgium - Lotto-Belisol U23)
No matter if Belgian riders sweep the classics for the entire year, it is inevitable that old, fat men smoking in a cafe will be talking about the next generation. The Belgians are always spoiled with talent and seem to have a ton of it coming up through their ranks and actually producing.

Enzo Wouters is the newest rider to get the weight on his shoulders of being the next big thing after winning 15 races in his 2nd junior season with wins in the Belgian junior RR championship (small group sprint) and 5 UCI stage wins, the majority of which were in sprint finishes. I won't mince words...he can blow the fucking doors off people in a sprint. He got the blood up for Belgians watching the youth ranks after a 3rd place in Paris-Roubaix, which was basically 2nd in a bunch sprint that caught the breakaway Magnus Bak Klaris on the line.

While Wouters is proved his bunch sprinting skills in the junior ranks, the key will be to see if he develops into more of a classics rider that can sprint here and there or as a pure sprinter that can make it through a classic. Tom Van Asbroeck and Jens Debusschere are probably the closest Belgium have to pure sprinters at the moment but even then they can't beat the fastest sprinters. Wouters could fill a needed gap that hasn't been filled since..well really when Tom Boonen was a bit younger. Or you know, he could just follow the dreams of nearly every young Belgian cyclist and go for De Ronde and Roubaix.

He will be joining a stacked Lotto-Belisol U23 and while the crowd and media will have pressure on him, Kurt van de Wouwer and his ploeg will try to eliminate the stress as much as possible. 

Rayane Bouhanni (France - AWT-Greenway)

While Nacer Bouhanni's career has been flourishing, his younger brother Rayane has been making a name for himself and will be moving to a non-French team in Czech AWT-Greenway, which is the feeder for Etixx-OPQS.
As I have already discussed him before in my preview of AWT-Greenway, I will be briefer this time. Rayane is more versatile than his muscular brother; being able to climb hills and make breakaways. He won the French Junior RR in a two-up sprint and thanks to his time trailing skills, he was able to finish on the podium of three international stage races including his win in the Tour de l'Abitibi.

Instead of going the route of many French riders, Rayane will forgo a French amateur team to get into the development pipeline of Etixx. A smart move if he doesn't get too homesick and he could be joining his brother in the pro ranks soon. I just have this strange feeling many people will unknowingly be like "oh, Bouhanni's brother? He must be another sprinter!", which is well...false.


So I have a penchant for not sticking too rigidly to top 5 lists and this is happening yet again. There is an omission from this list that will be seeing some people scratch their heads seeing as he was one of the most successful juniors in 2014. I will add him to this list but he comes with an asterisk, which I will explain.

6. Magnus Bak Klaris (Denmark - SEG Racing)**

Klaris was a fine racer in the junior ranks with classics and all-around capabilities with some sprint savvy thrown in for good measure. Normally, this would mean a fast track to the pro ranks and a good shot at a nice career. My only hang up with Klaris is that he is Danish and in recent years, the Danes have been prolific in the junior ranks but once the transition to the U23 comes, many of them have a drop off. Be it injuries with riders like Niklas Eg or just not performing up to standard like in the case of Mads Wurtz Schmidt. Klaris might benefit as he will be with a Dutch-based team and it could be good to get him out of the insular Danish environment.

Like others on here, I wrote about him before in the SEG Racing team preview so you can always go there too.

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