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.

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