Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ster van Zwolle Roundup

The wheels are humming a beautiful note across the world right now as cycling season for those in the Northern Hemisphere and some actual UCI racing took place.

Ster van Zwolle
Jesse Kerrison sums it up perfectly. Dutch racing is nuts. It is flat but throw in 200 riders, some road furniture and wind that could match a minor hurricane and you have a typical Dutch UCI race such as Ster van Zwolle. (Fun Fact: The citizens of Zwolle are colloquially known as Blauwvingers according to Wikipedia)

Ster van Zwolle, in the last few years, usually sees a late attack that goes up the road and sticks ahead of a large peloton that comes into sprint for the lower places. The wind took its toll early with a group of 20 mainly made up mainly of Rabobank Development, Metec and Jo Piels (10 out of 20) got a gap. Eventually, the 2nd group was able to come to terms but it was a continuing theme. A group would go up the road and get some time and then be brought back.

With 40 kilometers to go, a group of 6 including Remco Te Brake (Metec) , Steven Lammertink (SEG Racing), Stefan Poutsma (Jo Piels), Rene Hooghiemster (Baby Dump), Dimitri Claeys (Verandas Willems) and Twan Castelijns (Baby Dump) got 40 seconds but the group wasn't working well together and with 20 kilometers to go, it was done. Elmar Reinders tried right after but even going 55 kph, he wasn't able to get away from the peloton.

When it looked like it was coming back for a big sprint, a group of 10 got away with 10 kilometers to go and there was a pause from the peloton. Twan Brusselman, Reinders and Jeff Vermeulen (Jo Piels), Haavard Blikra (Coop-Oster Hus), Claeys and Daan Myngheer (Verandas Willems), Coen Vermeltfoort and Ronan Van Zandbeek (Join's-De Rijke), Castelijns and Te Brake. This group worked well together and there was no bringing them back.
Reinders, who was 3rd in the 2013 edition of this race, came around Claeys, who led the sprint out, to take his first win since last year's stage 1 of the Tour de Berlin. Reinders is out of the U23 ranks but he has tested with Lotto-Belisol in the past and is on the verge of getting a big contract. The best U23 rider of the day was Myngheer, who finished 9th.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Top 5 Neo-Pros of 2015

I've been pushing this post off to try and get some more data about who I think will be standout neo pro in 2015. That has pretty much been a fail but I don't want to keep pushing this off. So without further adieu, these are my top 5 neo-pros for 2015. Yes, some of these picks are driven by actual numbers while some of these picks are simply because I think these riders are badass.

Notice this says "My Top 5" in the title. Let us not kid ourselves with filling these lists with the likes of Louis Vervaeke, Caleb Ewan, Magnus Cort, Tiesj Benoot and Mike Teunissen. They are all going to be damn good pro riders and they could all easily go on this list so let us skip the formalities and try to go some more substance.

1. Rasmus Quaade (Denmark - CULT Energy)
One of the biggest enigmas on two wheels is turning pro and I am so fucking excited. And I shouldn't be the only one excited. No other rider has had ups and downs like Quaade. An absolute monster in a time trial with such singular focus that it might creep some people out. In 2011 at just age 21, he won the Danish Elite TT by one second over Jakob Fuglsang. That same year, he went 4th in the Tour of Denmark TT and then posted a 2nd place in the Copenhagen Worlds, the only non-junior Dane to get a medal in the home race.

For as amazing as he was in a time trial, he was petrified of a peloton. I'm not talking about a skinny climber that gets bounced around a bit. More like he could barely ride when having to deal with crosswinds and large groups. Just look at the 2012 Tour of Denmark where he was 6th in the TT but 4 out of the other 5 stages he was lower than 120th and finished 2nd to last overall.

In 2013, he pulled a huge coup by going 6th in the Elite Men's Time Trial in Florence. He is the same age as Taylor Phinney and riding on a continental team he was just 28 seconds slower than him. There were riders in his wake that are quality

He didn't exactly start last season off to a great start with a bunch of 100th places. He won his national TT but it was a weak field. Then he lost some weight. A lot of weight. 6 kilos to be exact. During this time, his power did not drop. An extra light Quaade came to the Tour of Denmark and he wasn't petrified. He wasn't scared to move about the peloton. He wasn't going off the front at will but he wasn't crawling in his skin. He was 2nd in the TT by just one second to Lutsenko and he made the final stage breakaway.

This new found confidence was brought to the Giro della Regione Friuli where in 5 stages his lowest stage placing was 13th. This wasn't a pan flat race. On the uphill finish to Castelmonte, Quaade finished 2nd to a streaking Simone Andreetta. If it wasn't for the peloton letting a long break go on stage one, he would have won a hilly stage race. He did finish the season with a disappointing ride at Worlds after crashing basically right after the start but even with that, he still managed a 13th, which was 8 places better than the next continental rider, Alex Pliuschin, who didn't crash.

Quaade is currently focusing on the track and will have his eyes set on Rio 2016 but with an actual professional team behind him in CULT Energy he could really turn some heads a little bit later in the season.

2. Carlos Barbero (Spain - Caja Rural)

The demise of Euksaltel-Euskadi and the majority of the Basque cycling development pipeline was hard to watch especially with the big talk of Miguel Madariaga. Many talented Basque riders are currently out of the sport or are still trying on the continental and amateur level but one rider that finally made it out of the muck was Carlos Barbero. Barbero, if you can tell by the name, wasn't born in the Basque Country (he comes from neighboring Burgos) but came up through the Basque development system and like Samuel Sanchez, he was able to squeak past the Basque nationality requirement.

Riding with Euskadi, Barbero blossomed in his final U23 season in 2013 with a stage win in the Ronde de l'Isard along with incredibly consistent riding that saw him in the top 10 more often than not. He was a shoo-in to join the Euskaltel-Euskadi team but after they went belly up, Barbero was even lucky to get a ride with Euskadi again for 2014. Hungry to get a chance at the pro ranks, Barbero came in with a head of steam for 2014 and thanks to consistent riding on punchy hills and in small bunch sprints, Barbero won the overall of the Volta ao Alentejo and quickly followed it up by a 3rd place in the Vuelta a La Rioja behind Michael Matthews and Fran Lasca.

Barbero finished the season with 22 top 10 finishes (including overalls and team time trials) and another win in the Circuito de Getxo on an uphill finish ahead of Luca Chirico and Peio Bilbao.

Barbero joins Caja Rural for this year and will be one of their protected riders in hilly one-day races and in small bunch sprints as they have Fran Lasca for bigger bunch sprints.

3. Patrick Konrad (Austria - Bora-Argon 18)

After being snubbed out of a contract after a very successful final U23 road season in 2013, Patrick Konrad did the best thing one could do and came out crushing skulls. After placing 3rd on a stage of the Istrian Spring Trophy behind Magnus Cort and Karel Hnik (now CULT Energy), Konrad came out and won the stage to Mont de l'Enclus in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux in a sprint ahead of Tiesj Benoot. Konrad got better with time and was 6th in the Rhone Alpes Isere Tour overall and won the Oberosterreichrundfahrt overall. His eye opening performance was in the Tour of Austria (Osterreich Rundfahrt) where he was top 6 on three big mountain stages and finished a handsome 4th overall.

Konrad excels on big mountain stages and in hard one-day events so he is a bit more than just a pure climber. For example, he made the important split on stage 2 of the Tour of Oman that saw many spit out into the sands of time. Konrad rode well on the summit finish at Jabal Al Akhdhar to secure a 10th place overall for his Bora-Argon 18 team and 2nd in the youth classification at less than 30 seconds to Louis Meintjes.

Konrad is down for Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Trentino, which are two races that could see him shine on the climbs and punch above his weight.

4. Dan McLay (Great Britain - Bretagne-Séché Environment)
It seems that if you don't like the track-heavy Olympic development route of British Cycling, British kids can just buck up a bit, find a team that will take them and just train like hell. Adam Yates did it with CC Etupes. Hugh Carthy did it with Rapha to get a spot on Caja Rural. And now with Dan McLay.

McLay, a Brit born in New Zealand, quit the Olympic track route after winning the British Junior RR and the World Madison Championship with Simon Yates in 2010. He got a stipend through the Dave Rayner Fund and joined OmegaPharma-Lotto U23 in 2011 and didn't look back.

McLay was winning a few races a year but he stepped out last year for some consistent performances that got him the contract on Bretagne. He won a stage in the Tour of Normandie (along with the points competition) before breaking his collarbone just kilometers into the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. He bounced back and just a month later, he won a stage in the Paris-Arras Tour. His signature result of the season would have been his stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir, where he jumped past both Fernando Gaviria and Magnus Cort in the last 250 meters to take a big win.

McLay didn't get many bites from big teams but Bretagne-Séché Environment, who were looking to bolster their sprint train for Yauheni Hutarovich, nabbed McLay and the arrangement hasn't been too bad so far. They got themselves acquainted in San Luis where McLay piloted the Belorussian to two top 5 finishes. Things got even better in Tropicale Amissa Bongo where McLay won a stage and was the leadout for Hutarovich, who won the final three road stages.

5. Floris De Tier (Belgium - Topsport Vlaanderen)
De Tier was originally a cyclocross rider but after getting some advice from Sven Nys, De Tier virtually hung up the knobby tires after mid-2013 for the skinny ones and it has been smooth sailing since then.

Once De Tier got onto the road with EFC-OPQS, the results started to flow including 5th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs (2013), top 10 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 along with a 3rd in the Circuit de Wallonie and 7th overall in the Kreiz Breizh Elites.

I'm sort of reaching with De Tier but he could definitely make a good showing with his Topsport Vlaanderen team if he plays his cards right. He was 9th in the Vuelta a Murcia and was the only first year pro in the front group behind winner Rein Taaramae. I don't think he will be out front of every race but a hilly 1.1 race could see him sneak into the top 5 every now and then this year.

Those are my 5 riders but I will be watching many more. Did I do badly and forget your favorite rider? Please inform me of my grievous error and I will get you in touch with my manager who will relay this to HR who will dock my pay accordingly.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup: Calmejane sweeps in France, Italy & Spain kick off plus everything and more

Freezing my ass off in a small apartment, the world of cycling moves on in places warmer than where I am. No time, we must get going.

Lilian Calmejane takes a double in France

After a cyclocross season that included 5 wins, Lilian Calmejane has had a successful return to the road in the past couple weeks. After a close two-up sprint loss to Oscar Landa on the opening stage of the Circuit des Plages Vendéennes, Calmejane came into the first race of the Coupe de France, the rainsoaked GP du Pays d'Aix down on the Cote d'Azur, with his Vendée U squad with some confidence.
With nearly 50 kilometers to go, Calmejane got into a move with Thomas Rostollan (AVC Aix), Remi Cavagna (Pro Immo Roux) and Benoit Cosnefroy to chase down Fabrice Seigneur (Sojasun Espoirs). More riders including Nans Peters, Nico Denz (both Chambery CF) and Jeremy Cornu (Vendée U) joined up and while it took a while, with 25 kilometers to go Seigneur was caught and it was a group of 9 up front. Coming into the final 10 kilometers, the breakaway had 2 minutes on the peloton and the attacks started to come thick and fast. Peters, who won 2 races last year, took off and teammate Denz, Cavagna and Calmejane went along with him with 6 kilometers to go and the quartet was off.

Denz attacked in the final kilometer but he was brought back for the final sprint. It was between Calmejane and Peters for the win with Calmejane taking the win. It wouldn't be his last of the weekend.

At Sunday's Souvenir Jean Masse, it was basically a carbon copy situation with Calmejane getting in to a breakaway with around 50 kilometers to go. The group, including riders like Alexis Dulin, Guillaume Martin and Jeremy Bescond, extended their lead over the peloton as the group was whittled down. While attacks went, it was a group of 5 heading into the finale with these four plus Geoffrey Bouchard (CR4C Roanne) but no one was going to deny Calmejane, who came around Bouchard to win the race.

Keep an eye on Calmejane, who won the queen stage in last year's Ronde de l'Isard, for this spring as he is not a U23 any more and will really need to ride out of his skin to impress someone enough for a pro ride.

In other French races...

The Norwegian National Team finished their demolition of the Circuit des Plages Vendéennes with 4 riders in the top 5 in August Jensen, Haavard Blikra, Tormod Jacobsen and Oscar Landa along with 3 stage wins and a rider on the podium of every stage. It is just a training race for them with some good but not amazing competition.

Down in the Basque County, the l'Essor Basque wrapped up with Armée de Terre taking a win in the Trophee de l'Essor but with GSC Blagnac's Romain Campistrous taking the overall from the 5-race series. Albeit the overall is just for riders that rode every race and don't include riders such as Yoan Verardo, who won two stages, so it is pretty much meaningless.

Opening Italian Weekend

It was a busy weekend for Italian teams as they got their seasons off to a start with some short but sweet racing.

Ballerini takes a big win in San Geo (via

The 91st Coppa San Geo was a wet and fairly cold affair but after a few breakaway attempts during the day, a smaller group came in for the bunch sprint. It was a UniEuro Wilier Trevigiani's Davide Ballerini who led the sprint from a long way out and rounding the final bend, he was able to hold off teammate Lorenzo Rota and Davide Martinelli (Colpack) in 3rd. Top 10 and small video here.

The 28th Firenze Empoli looked like it would be a slam dunk for the Zalf-Euromobil but last year's 3rd place Thomas Pinaglia threw a wrench into those plans with a big sprint win over Zalf's Andrea Toniatti (2nd) and Gianni Moscon (4th) with Simone Bernardini in 3rd.

This will not be the only time this happens this year (photo:ItaliaCiclismo)
Not to be disappointed about their opening day, Zalf-Euromobil bounced back with a podium sweep at the Coppa San Bernardino with Nicola Toffali taking the win in front of Simone Velasco and Filippo Rocchetti.

If it wasn't enough for the Venetian Zalf-Euromobil squad, they took the 1-2 in the GP De Nardi with Marco Gaggia and Gianluca Milani making it a banner day for the team.

After getting his nose in a sprint on Saturday, Davide Martinelli showed off his sprint promise (championed by yours truly) by taking the sprint at GP La (Joe) Torre. A breakaway of three were caught within sight of the line and Martinelli, the son of Astana DS Giuseppe, took the sprint by a good margin ahead of Marco Corra and Alex Turrin (both Mastromarco).

Copa de Espana opening

The Spanish Cup also opened up this weekend with the Circuito Guadiana, which ended up being a big sprint after multiple breakaway attempts ruled the day. Coming down to it, it was Antonio Angulo taking the big bunch sprint for the win. Cristian Torres (Fundacion Contador) was the best U23 in 4th place with James Newey (GB/Zappi's Pro Cycling) just behind him in 5th place.

To be continued next time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ciao a Tutti: Italian Amateur Opening Weekend

With French amateur racing already underway and confusing the hell out of everyone with the insane amount of meaningless races, it is time for the Italians to get into the act and kick off their 8 month season with a few races that all of the big teams will be attending.

On Saturday, the big races are the Coppa San Geo (Lombardia) and Firenze Empoli (Toscana).

San Geo has a huge start list this year with over 200 toeing the line for the 91st edition of the race. It isn't a race that provides a huge indicator for the future as there are not too many notable winners and frankly, its very early date gets many of the training camp champs showing up super fit while some of the bigger riders are easing into the season. 95% chance it will end in a sprint.

Here is the start list for San Geo. My favorites including Davide Martinelli and Damiano Cima (Colpack), Xhuliano Kamberaj (Cipollini Ale), Nicola Gaffurini (Mg.Kvis), Rino Gasparrini (UniEuro Wilier Trevigiani) and Andrei Voicu (Altopack).

Firenze-Empoli offers a bit more difficult course that draws out the climbers and all-arounders in the crowd. It isn't nearly as storied as San Geo as this is only in its 28th edition but with 6 climbs of the Monterappoli and a short 134 kilometer course, it is some nice early season racing.

Former winners of the race include Gabriele Balducci, Yaroslav Popovych, Aurelien Passeron, Davide Appollonio and Kristian Sbaragli, among others.

The favorites here include Zalf-Euromobil, Colpack, Mastromarco and Pala Fenice. I have to say that if Giulio Ciccone is on form then he is the favorite. Zalf has a strong contingent with Simone Velasco and Gianni Moscon but who knows with this early season stuff.

There are a few more races happening in Italy during the weekend with the only one of some importance being La Torre, which is a bit wide open since Zalf will not be in attendance. These are just the first in many, many weekends of lopsided racing punctuated by a few truly competitive events.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekend Roundup: Here at last!

While it is currently single digits in central Pennsylvania, the racing in continental Europe has finally started in earnest and the riders are coming out of hibernation after a long off-season of riding a lot and not eating much. Lots of French races plus a little bit more.

Gogl hangs on for GP Laguna win
With 40 kilometers to go, Michael Gogl was nearly 5 minutes up the road with breakaway companions Seid Lizde and Simone Petilli over a group of 23. While the gap might have appeared to seem dramatic, it was about to plummet and become a nail biter. The chasing group was stacked with 5 of Gogl's Felbermayr-Simplon Wels teammates, 3 from Petilli's Unieuro-Wilier Trevigiani and 2 from Lizde's Colpack team.

The details are scarce because Croatian races simply do not believe in live updates but the race got tight as Adria Mobil, who had 4 in the chasing group including ex-World Tour rider Marko Kump. A 5 minute gap was just mere seconds by the finish but Gogl, who was 4th in a stage of the Tour de l'Avenir last year on the way to 15th overall, was able to easily out-sprint Lizde and Petilli for the win. Just 10 seconds behind Gogl was a flying Marko Kump, who beat out Gogl's teammate Daniel Biedermann and Lizde's teammates Davide Martinelli and Damiano Cima. Martinelli is further proving my hypothesis that he will see more success as a sprinter than as a time trialist.

Tour de l'Ardeche Meridionale

Down in South Central France, Chambery CF got their season off to a splendid start in the two day Tour de l'Ardeche Meridionale, which took place along the scenic Ardeche river and river valley. When I mean splendid, I really mean that it was about as close to perfect as possible.
Day 1, aka the GP du Domaine Lou Capitelle, saw Chambery CF take 5 riders off the front of a 150 man peloton and go 1-2-3-4-5 with Nans Peters taking the solo win ahead of Nico Denz (Germany), Benoit Cosnefroy, Francois Bidard and Freddy Ovett (Australia). Now, this isn't the first time this has happened like Baden Cooke exclaimed as Armée de Terre did this multiple times over the last couple of seasons but it was an impressive display.
Day 2, aka the GP d'Aubenas, was a repeat for Peters, who once again took a rain-soaked solo win. Chambery didn't do the quintet but put 3 in the top 10. Peters, who was 3rd in the French U23 TT last year, beat out Bruno Chardon (ASPTT) and Simon Buttner.

Circuit des Plages Vendeennes

Coop-Osterhus, disguised as the the Norwegian National Team, went down to the Vendee region and so far, has gone 2 for 2 in the 6 stage Circuit des Plages Vendeenes (think Mallorca Challenge of Central France). On stage one, Oscar Landa and Lilian Calmejane (Vendee U) went off the front of a group of 10 late in the race. Calmejane didn't have much impetus to work with Landa as he had multiple teammates in the breakaway including sprinter Romain Cardis. The two-man move didn't come back and it was Landa, who rides for Coop-Osterhus, that outsprinted Calmejane for the win. 14 seconds back, it was Haavard Blikra (Norway taking the sprint for 3rd over Fabian Grellier (Vendee U) and Clement Mary (Sojasun Espoirs).
On stage 2, August Jensen, who won the KOM in the Arctic Tour of Norway, won after taking a solo flyer. Have a mentioned that results sheets for French amateur races suck because it shows that there was no time gap behind Jensen but obviously there was no one for a while since there is no one in the photo. Anyways, the action in the Vendee continues on Tuesday.

l'Essor Basque

Speaking of Mallorca Challenge look alikes, the l'Essor Basque takes place down in the French Basque country (and surrounding areas) with some short races to warm the legs up for a long year. While usually much better weather, the first stage, the Boucles de l'Essor, was a rain-soaked affair that was dominated by the home team, GSC Blagnac. Yoann Verardo lept away from 7 others to take a wet solo win while his Blagnac teammate Romain Campistrous took out the sprint for 2nd.

In the Circuit de l'Essor, former Ag2r pro Julien Loubet made the race defining breakaway and dropped everyone to take a solo win for his new team, Marseille 13 KTM (former La Pomme Marseille). Ex-pro Erwann Corbel won the sprint for 2nd with teammate Cyrille Patoux following in 3rd.

In other races...

-Remi Cavagna, a 2nd year U23 with Pro Immo Nicolas Roux, took a solo win in the Tour du Centre Var. Cavagna was 2nd in the French U23 TT last year and was a standout time trialist as a junior.

-Axeon Cycling's Dan Eaton won the Valley of the Sun time trial. Fabrizio Von Nacher, who hails from Southern California and rides for the KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo team, rode a fairly consistent race with 3rd in the TT and 2nd in the criterium to finish as best U23 and 4th overall in the race behind winner Heath Blackgrove.

-David Edwards, who had been riding for Chambery CF in France up until this year, won the U23 crown in the Oceania Continental RR after being apart of an early breakaway of 6 and being the U23 present in the group. Edwards has had a trying two years in France but looks to be on good form to bounce back with CharterMason.

Anything else present that you think is missing and deserves immediate attention? See me @Vlaanderen90 on twitter

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ronde de l'Isard stages announced

The Ronde de l'Isard, which is one of the classic stage races for U23 racers every year, has announced the stages for the 2015 edition and legs have already begun to ache at the impending climbing. For those new to this, let's review a little. The race takes place, for the most part in the Ariège, which is a department deep in Southwest France in the Pyrenees that remains to be one of the relatively untouched gems of France.

Cow at Soulcem
The first stage starts in Mirepoix, the namesake of the holy trinity of celery, onions and carrots, and goes up to the dam at Etang de Soulcem, which is just a stone's throw away from Andorra. There are not many details on the stage but looking at the area, it should be a fairly easy ride to the climb up to Soulcem but the climb itself is going to be quite painful. The climb up to the hydroelectric dam, which was built in the 1980s, hits touches of 14-15% gradient over the course of 12 kilometers with an average of nearly 7%.

Steep hairpin on Plateau de Beille (Photo: via @cyclingalps and his cycling-challenge website)

The next stage will be no easier as there will be a mythic finish on Plateau du Beille. Used 5 times in the Tour de France, the climb is coming back for the first time since 2009 where Romain Sicard outpaced Alexandre Geniez and Yoann Barbas. The climb goes on for nearly 16 kilometers for an average of 7.9% with a maximum of nearly 11%. It is going to be the premier stage and could be one of the best races of the year.

The final two stages are ones that I don't know too much about as of right now but with two heavy days in the mountains behind them, there will be some tired riders.

The 3rd stage is going to Boulogne-sur-Gesse, which should be a rolling stage that ends with a reduced bunch sprint or a breakaway. Stage 4 heads to Saint-Girons, which is the typical finish for the race, and should finish in some sort of solo breakaway with the winner gaining GC time back to possibly get onto the final podium.

Expect to see more in the coming months but you will be excited to see this race. Teams already announced include Chambery CF, Vendée U, La Pomme Marseille, Lotto-Soudal U23 and Unieuro-Wilier, among others.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

African Continental Championships: Julius wins U23 race

To finish up the Continental Champs down in Wartburg, South Africa, it was the home nation that dominated the race with 5 out of the top 7 being from the Rainbow Nation. The Elite and U23 races ran together and with both South Africa and MTN-Qhubeka having a juggernaut in the race, it turned out to be a fairly boring affair.
Louis Meintjes did his attacking thing and went off the front while there was no real impetus to chase from those behind him including Jay Robert Thompson, Jacques & Reinart Janse van Rensburg (no relations) and MTN-Qhubeka amateur riders Jayde Julius and Hendrik Kruger. The chasing group also included a trio of Eritreans riding for MTN-Qhubeka including Daniel Teklehaimanot, Natnael Berhane and Merhawi Kudus, Ethiopian Tsgabu Grmay and some riders from the Maghreb like Azzedine Lagab (Algeria), Rafaa Chtioui (Tunisia) and Adil Jelloul (Morocco).

Meintjes was plowing ahead up front on the tough course while the riders were falling off in droves. In terms of the U23 race, it was a two man race between Julius and Kudus once Valens Ndayisenga (Rwanda) and Temesgen Buru (Ethiopia) fell off the pace. Julius, who rode for a Belgian team as a junior, rode for Team Bonitas last year but got a ride in France last summer with Team Martigues SC and was 5th in the GP Nice.

Julius and Kudus were together for the final sprint with Julius taking it to win the U23 RR crown. Buru rode in around a minute later to take 3rd place while Mauro Silveira (Sao Tome and Principe) and Ndayisenga rolled in a couple minutes later.

Julius and Ndayisenga are heading up to the Tropicale Amissa Bongo with the South African and Rwandan National Teams respectively.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

African Continental Champs: Kudus wins U23 TT; Ndayisenga 2nd

The African Continental Championships are in full flight down in South Africa with the time trials currently happening in the wilds of Wartburg with the individual trials happening today. The continental championships are always a stark reminder of the haves and have-nots in African cycling with nations such as South Africa, Eritrea and Rwanda on really good equipment with riders in their cycling infancy such as Tanzania and Botswana riding stuff from the mid-00's.
In the U23 TT, it was no surprise to see Eritrean Merhawi Kudus take the title as a) he is super talented and b) he has a big support machine behind him in MTN-Qhubeka. Kudus finished the Vuelta last year and is a professional so it is kind of cheap to see him able to take a U23 crown. (Yes, I am aware pro continental riders can ride U23 races but it annoys the hell out of me.) Who I was excited about was Rwandan rider Valens Ndayisenga, who I think could be the next Rwandan rider to make a name for himself and the first to ride on a strong level in Europe. Adrien Niyonshuti paved the way for Rwandan riders and I think that Ndayisenga, who trained at the UCI World Cycling Center last summer, could bust through. Yeah, Kudus beat him by 2 minutes but this isn't even Ndayisenga's specialty.

Also, Ndayisenga doesn't ride for MTN. He is still riding the the Rwandan National Team with Jock Boyer and they aren't exactly swimming in the money. Call me sentimental but seeing a kid that was just a baby during the genocide rise up and get a silver medal in the African Continentals...that is inspiring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

FDJ's Not so Odd Watchlist

FDJ, one of the mainstays of professional French cycling, has announced a list of riders that they are currently developing and/or targeting for the future. Mainly they are French riders of varying levels of success but the one that was a bit interesting was Odd Christian Eiking. From the article on, FDJ has their eyes on the Norwegian talent after his great performance in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.

Eiking seems to be in the eyes of the Madiot brothers and FDJ trainer Fred Grappe, who has noted Eiking's high lactate threshold as a possible key to develop Eiking in a possible puncheur rider for the future and a rider that has a very balanced profile. Eiking, who CULT Energy tried unsuccessfully to sign this past off-season, is currently with Team Joker, who is turning out to be one of the best development teams in the world with alumni such as Edvald Boasson Hagen, Lars Petter Nordhaug, Alexander Kristoff, Vegard Stake Laengen and Kristoffer Skjerping.

Look for Eiking to sign a stagiaire ride with FDJ later this year. His numbers are going to be analyzed by FDJ trainers and they will probably be giving him training advice as well.

The Norwegian-French connection is fairly established with teams like Credit Agricole, Bretagne-Seche Environment and even FDJ when they signed Gabi Rasch.

The team is also looking at 8 other riders. 6 riders are in a program with the FDJ foundation including Elie Gesbert, Clément Barbeau, David Gaudu, Jules Roueil, Romain Seigle and Pierre Idjouadiene. Gesbert is a former French junior TT champ and Barbeau won the Bernaudeau Juniors in 2013. Seigle is a former MTB rider that was the European Junior champ in 2012 and has dabbled in cyclocross this past year.

The other two that are being watched by the team are Jeremy Maison and Damien Touze. Maison, who rides for CC Etupes, is a skinny climber type who was top 10 in l'Avenir that definitely could have a shot at top 5 this year. Touze is more of a classics type that is just coming into his first U23 year.

So transfer rumors already but always interesting to see what goes on in the transfer and development process. But if you believe Dom Rollin then FDJ is a team full of directors that are old racers just trying to stay in sport and are basically a shit show of a team.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Theuns going for it down in Besseges

If you haven't read this blog ever (which you would be insane not to) then let me remind you of Edward Theuns. Now I know that he isn't a U23 right now but this year, I've been venturing out side of the espoirs realm a bit. When I was coming into cycling, the U23 names at that time included Wilco Kelderman, Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb and many other now professionals.

Theuns over Bol, Phinney and Degenkolb
In 2010, these guys along with Jetse Bol were ripping it up in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux including on the final stage to Tournai. Coming into the sprint, Phinney, Bol and Degenkolb looked to be battling it out but from seemingly out of nowhere, Edward Theuns came up the inside and held on to take a spectacular win. At the time, he was a college kid riding for a Belgian amateur team and he upset three golden boys. How can you not like that? Theuns stuck with college while in the U23s but was rewarded with a contract with Topsport Vlaanderen.
As of stage 4 of Etoille de Besseges, Theuns has an average placing this year of 4.8. He has used bonus seconds to his advantage to take the lead from Kris Boeckmans on stage 3. He has a time trial in his legs but it will be a big ask against the likes of Bob Jungels, who sits just 30 seconds back.

You have at least one person from America cheering you on.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Unheralded U23 to Watch in 2015: Dylan Page

These early season shit races always provide a nice preview about who has been training hard over the winter and looking to get some early season scalps. There always are some U23s that show up at the Challenge Mallorca that want blood and this season, unheralded Dylan Page got his nose into some sprints, which is enough for me to recognize him.
Joining the newly professional Roth-Skoda, Page had a few sprints last year that showed some potential. He won a bunch sprint for lower places in the Giro della Regione Friuli; he was 13th in the Ruota d'Or, which won the bunch sprint and he was 8th in the Paris-Tours Espoirs, which was 2nd in the bunch sprint.

Page signaled his sprint intentions for the new year with a 12th and 9th place in the Trofeo Santanyi and Trofeo Playa de Palma, respectively. Roth-Skoda will be going all over Italy, Switzerland and France and Page should get many of chances to show off his sprint.

Page, who hails from Aigle, hasn't done much on the road especially internationally. He only had raced the Tour of Cameroon internationally before last year and he raced some cyclocross over the past few years. Page is a bit of an enigma but I am excited to see what he can do.