Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trofeo Almar: Moscon's Dream Continues

In a finish that played out like many typical Italian amateur one-day races, Gianni Moscon continued what has been a dream season for the Zalf-Euromobil rider. After having a good but not fantastic year in 2014, Moscon has exploded this season with wins in such races as the GP San Giuseppe (one of my favorite courses of the season), GP Palio del Recioto, Trofeo Citta di San Vendemiano and, most recently, the Italian U23 RR Championship.
The Trofeo Almar was in its first edition in the U23 Nations Cup. Taking place on the scenic Lake Maggiore, the race went around a couple of the local towns as well as running up against two other lakes in the nearby area, Monate and Commabio. With the steep, partially cobbled Tainenberg climb punctuating the race and a flat finish, it provided the usual drama for a big Italian one-day.

Cutting to the chase, it was a breakaway of seven riders that had taken the race by the scruff of the neck going into the final couple of laps. Home rider Lorenzo Rota (Italy) was joined by Mikhel Raim (Estonia), Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands), Jonas Koch (Germany), Evgeny Zherkov (Russia), Jeremy Maison (France) and Galym Akhmetov (Kazakhstan).

Out of a chasing group on the final lap, Gianni Moscon (Italy) and Laurens De Plus (Belgium) launched on the final passage of the Tainenberg. The duo, include one of the brightest one-day talents and the stage racing sensation of the season, stormed up to the leading group and with 5 kilometers to go, they made the junction. Rota was in full teammate mode while Moscon was winding up for the inevitable sprint on the flat run in to the finishing town of Angera.

As he did in the Italian U23 RR and in San Vendemiano, Moscon was the strongest in the sprint and easily bettered Raim and Hofstede while De Plus took 4th. In the sprint behind, it was Raim's Estonian teammate Martin Laas who took the sprint for 9th to allow Estonia to grab more Nations Cup Points

Moscon is going on to Team SKY as a stagiaire later this season followed by a two-year neo-pro deal. While it could be a big setback as SKY isn't necessarily known for their bevy of one day racers, Moscon could buck the trend. Maybe. If pigs fly.

Italy takes the top spot in the Nations Cup rankings by 12 points over Norway and 13 over Denmark. The Netherlands vaulted from 17th to 11th with Hofstede's performance while Great Britain fell from 5th to 8th after not participating.

The next Nations Cup event will be in roughly two weeks on August 9th when the European U23 RR Championships descend onto Tartu, Estonia. The Estonians, currently in 9th place in the Nations Cup rankings, will be hungry for a good result.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Rule Change

I have ranted about this on Twitter already but in case you missed it, I would like to bring to you the lovely rule change that has happened with the Tour de l'Avenir. For this year (and I'm assuming going forward), World Tour riders that are under the age of 23 are able to ride in the Tour de l'Avenr with their national teams. This news came with the announcement of the Colombian team for l'Avenir which is featuring Sebastian Henao of Team SKY, who has ridden the past two Giri dl'Italia and finished 3rd in this year's Tour de Langkawi.

Espoirs Central's opinion on this matter are strong and blunt. This rule change is bullshit. I want names at the UCI of who was responsible for this because I will send them a letter to ask what the fuck they were thinking. If a rider is a U23 and goes to the World Tour, they sacrifice their spots for any U23 events. They are out of the development stage. If you think you can ride at the level, you should be riding at the level and not hawking spots from riders that would benefit from an opportunity such as the Tour de l'Avenir.

I had an issue with Pro Continental riders such as Louis Meintjes being able to ride in the U23 Worlds just because once you are on that level, you are a full blown professional. Should Australia bring Caleb Ewan back for a reunion tour? Or should Denmark bring back Magnus Cort to cherry pick a stage or two? No. Fuck no.

Here is the link to an article on the subject. There might be more found later on this subject.

The UCI rule that is in question is rule number 2.14.018, which states: "The road racing nations cup is reserved for men from 19 to 22 years, comprising the riders being part of a UCI WorldTeam."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Coppa del Laghi - Trofeo Almar: The Italian Virgin

This weekend will feature a new race on the U23 Nations Cup calendar, the Coppa dei Laghi - Trofeo Almar. The Cup of the Lakes takes place on the shores of the Lombard coast of Lake Maggiore and has multiple loops around the towns of Taino, where the race begins, and Angera, where the race ends. Produced by the same group that puts on the Trofeo Binda, which is a World Cup on the Women's side of the sport, the Coppa dei Laghi is a typical Italian one-day race that will offer a crapshoot of a finish that could play out 5 different ways.

Starting from Taino, a small commune of roughly 4,000 people, the race has a neutral roll out until they hit the southern shores of Lake Maggiore, where they begin the race in earnest with 4 large laps that go through the coast town of Angera, up through Ranco, back through Taino and then out to touch two other lakes, Monate and Comabbio. The two climbs on this large loop include a small climb in Ranco and the longer Tainenberg (not to be confused with the Taaienberg aka the Boonenberg in Flanders), which is 2 kilometers in length and averages a strong 10%. I say strong because if you take out the fairly flat first bit, you would probably be getting somewhere closer to 12 or 13% average. Also, it is cobbled.

Once the 4 big laps are done, the race is finished with a more abbreviated final lap of 24.4 kilometers. Once again, they race over the short Ranco climb before hitting the Tainenberg for one last time. The hill summits with a little over 12 kilometers left before a descent and flat finish back in Angera. The only technical bit about the finish is a couple of corners in the final kilometer but the final 250 meters are a straight shot.

This should play out like a few different Italian races including the Giro del Belvedere, which also has a large climb and then a descent to the finish. The last 4 editions of that race have been either won in a solo effort or a small group sprint so I'm anticipating something similar here but since this is a virgin course, I won't lay any money on it.

As this is a Nations Cup, it is National teams and the teams are as follows:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, USA and the UCI Mixed Team.

Of course, the start list is not finalized yet so no prediction is available as of right now but once it is, this post will be updated. Though if Robert Power and Laurens De Plus are here, there are two of your top 10.

For any questions, the organizers have a thorough website that includes all kind of useful information including Google Earth and Garmin maps of the circuits.

It should be a pretty race and it'll be interesting to see who shows up and who shits the bed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Everything but Valle d'Aosta

So while my brain was in the Alps of Northwestern Italy for the entirety of last week, the world kept on moving for some strange reason. While Robert Power was crushing souls, stagiaires were being signed and racing continued in many places. Let's see what happened outside of Aosta...

Stagiaires Galore

The stagiaire period is upon us in just 11 days and the announcements for who will be riding for who are flooding in. For those of you that are uninitiated, stagiaire is a french word for trainee and every year starting on August first, a team is able to sign up to 3 stagiaire riders to race with the team. Stagiaires are not allowed to ride World Tour events (you will see some riders sign a full pro contract around this time, which can lead to confusion) but some teams tend to utilize them more than others. Stagiaires do not always have standout performances such as Andrea Guardini in the 2010 Post Danmark Rundt (Tour of Denmark), where he barely cracked the top 100 after being the best Italian sprinter on their amateur circuit.

I have commented on some of the other stagiaire announcements so I'll list the ones that have happened since the week before Aosta.

Ag2r La Mondiale: Romain Campistrous (GSC Blagnac), Francois Bidard (Chambery CF) and Florent Pereira (Immo Pro Roux)

Lotto-Soudal: Dries Van Gestel, Kenneth Van Rooy and Frederik Frison (all Lotto-Soudal U23)

Cofidis: Huge Hofstetter (CC Etupes), Xabier San Sebastian (Fundacion Euskadi) and Rayane Bouhanni (AWT-Greenway)

Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Robin Stenuit (Veranclassics-Ekoi), Kevin Callebaut (Cibel) and Romain Barraso (Guidon Chalettois)

Bora-Argon 18: Lukas Postlberger (Tirol) and Gregor Mühlberger (Felbermayr-Simplon)

There are more but that is the big teams. More announcements will be made in the coming days.

Volta a Portugal do Futuro

Not the biggest talent factory on the planet especially with Valle d'Aosta in session. Riding for the Cafe Baque team, which is directed by the likes of Manolo Saiz, Marino Lejarreta and David Etxebarria, Julen Amezqueta won the overall of the Portuguese race ahead of Ukrainian Anatoliy Budyak and Alvaro Trueba.

Honestly I don't have much to say here seeing as the Iberian racing culture is so insular with the vast majority of riders being from Spanish or Portuguese teams with the odd Russian and Ukranian thrown in for good measure. Amezqueta is certainly a talent as he won a stage of the Copa de Espana earlier this year but past that, it seems like he is a good climber but who knows. I really should get someone on here that knows what they are talking about when it comes to Iberia.

Qinghai Lake

If you are looking for a place where the Wild West of cycling still exists, then one must go experience the Tour of Qinghai Lake, which is out on the Chinese high steppe near Tibet. Cities in the middle of nowhere with roads that go up the sides of remote mountains. Big elevation gain and quite a mix of riders from temporary Colombians signing with Chinese teams, Americans and a smattering of Ukrainians.

On the U23 side of things, it was a bit sparse. There were younger riders in the race but only a handful. The best U23 on the GC was Ben O'Connor from Navitas Satalyst, who was 16th on GC. The next one after him was Maral-erdene Batmunkh from Mongolia, which was 25th overall. The young Chechen Ivan Savitskiy (RusVelo) (who is 23 this year) had a strong race with 9 top 10 stage finishes including a stage win along with 20th overall.

You'll hear more from Qinghai Lake in an upcoming interview.


-Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Development) showed his good form with a national TT win in Beveren albeit Belgian U23 TT Champ Ruben Pols was absent. Van Hooydonck followed it up by a solo win in another regional race.

-Alexander Kuznetsov, the father of Soviet cycling, hit a high point with his Lokosphinx team when Evgeny Shalunov rode to a solo win at this weekend's Trofeo Matteoti. The team put 4 in the top 14 and Shalunov, who won the Vuelta Comunidad de Madrid in May, has been on the form of his life. U23 Oliveira Troia finished 6th in the race while with the Italian national team.

Did I miss something? Am I a hack without talent? Do you want to tell me anything? Please follow on twitter @Vlaanderen90 or drop me an email on the sidebar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Wrap-Up

 The Giro della Valle d'Aosta, one of the premier stage races in the U23 ranks, is done and dusted for another season. Espoirs Central, being the home of all things U23, continental and development cycling, would be amiss if we (meaning I) didn't run through some of the important motifs from the race.

A Race for Firsts...

Besides the prologue win by Robert Power, every stage winner in this year's edition of Valle d'Aosta was a first time UCI winner.

It was a bit surprising with a rider such as Odd Eiking but any wins that he has had have been on the national level or in national championships, such as this year's Norwegian U23 RR. Eiking has been all over the podium in the past couple of seasons but his stage 2 win that saw him pass Edward Ravasi in the final kilometer was his maiden trip to the top step in the UCI ranks.

Speaking of a riders that have been all over the podium this year, you can look to both Laurens De Plus and Lennard Kämna. The Belgian has proved himself to be an immense climbing talent that is a consistent finisher. He took advantage of Robert Power's mechanical mishap and had legs that were a little bit fresher to sprint to the win on stage 1. Kämna was impressive in the prologue but continued to get stronger as the race continued. After losing GC time on stage 1, the young German was able to get into the breakaway on stage 4 and timed his move well to solo away for the final 20 kilometers.

The breakaway bestowed glory onto Matvey Mamykin and Koen Bouwman. The Russian Mamykin had a weak team but on the queen stage of the race, he played his cards brilliantly and didn't use everything too early. He was able to pass Giulio Ciccone on the final climb and take a masterful win in Cervinia including a yellow jersey for the day. Bouwman did a similar tacit and let Nicola Bagioli wilt on the long climb up to the Colle del San Gran Bernardo and with Kilian Frankiny, the Dutchman passed Bagioli and then sprinted to a masterful win near the top of Western Europe.

While Rob Power has won before on the UCI level, he did take his first UCI stage race overall after taking a near 2nd in last year's Tour de l'Avenir. You can make a number of puns with his last name but Power is obviously destined for big things in the professional ranks.

Is Valle d'Aosta too hard?

I wrote an article about this yesterday about this topic but I feel like the thought is still developing in my head.

So a maximum elevation gain limit could be an interesting topic for the UCI to consider in the U23 ranks if they want to keep the U23 system as something that is meant for development. The queen stage had nearly 4200 meters (13750 feet) of climbing over only 162 kilometers. If the stage were to be straight uphill for the whole stage, it would be a average gradient of 2.59%. Now concentrate that on just a few climbs and you can see why the grupetto was a half hour down on. You can take it from one of the racers, Alexey Vermeulen, who said that a lot of people had their mind set on where they were pulling the pin.

Why does nearly every stage have to be an uphill finish? Why can't there be a sprint stage or two? Why are multiple climbs used 2 or 3 times in the race? There are a lot of questions I do not have answers two but would be good for the organizers to examine before next year. I know that sponsor dollars were a big reason why the first two stages were in France but that shouldn't have to make for lazy stage planning or a focus strictly on riders that can go uphill fastest.

This can be shelved for another time but if you have any more opinions, I would love to hear them.

Laurens De Plus

De Plus was disappointed with his 2nd place in the Ronde de l'Isard behind Petilli. He was still not satisfied with his 4th place in the Zavod Miru U23. What do you think his thoughts are on after finishing 2nd overall here? His riding on anything remotely hilly has been incredibly consistent this year and he still has eyes on the Tour de l'Avenir later this year. Perhaps he can crack the Power code and get his way to the top step of an overall.

The Italian Misfortune

For the first time since 2006, an Italian rider failed to win a stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. While 2006 was dry in terms of stage wins, Alessandro Bisolti won the overall. While Simone Petilli hit the overall podium with his 3rd this year, it was a historically off year for the Italians in their home stage race.

While it was an off year in terms of stage wins, there was an Italian on every single stage podium and there were two stages where an Italian rider (Enrico Salvador and Edward Ravasi, in particular) was caught in the final kilometers. Salvador was a hundred meters from the line while Ravasi was inside of 4 kilometers from the line. You can even throw in Nicola Bagioli on the final stage where he was solo on the Colle del San Gran Bernardo and was overhauled by Bouwman and Kilian Frankiny with 5 kilometers left.

While the stage wins were dry, Giulio Ciccone did capture the KOM jersey after a late stage assault by Nicola Bagioli. Petilli deserved credit too because he did has a nice week even if he and his team were like the shadows of the Australian team.

The Australians

Just a moment to recognize how organized and efficient this team was the entire week at defending Robert Power's lead. With only 5 riders, it is hard to control anything but the Australians spent countless kilometers on the front controlling everything and then Jack Haig rode out of his skin on the later climbs to bring Power to within a shouting distance of the win or to set him up to take time. This was also Haig's first race in roughly 2 months after dealing with multiple injuries so to do what he has done, it is impressive.


-Lennard Kämna was the best first year in the race by a country mile with the next first year being Steff Cras (Lotto-Soudal U23) in 25th, 32 minutes down on the German. Kämna was a known talent in the time trial but on the climbs, he seems that he could be a future GC talent with how he seemingly got better at the race progressed.

-Dan Pearson (Zalf-Euromobil) improved on his GC position from last year by moving up from 8th to 5th place. Pearson was consistent all week but his only slip up was the final stage, where he lost two minutes to the yellow jersey and lost his 4th place on GC to breakaway rider Kilian Frankiny. In any case, the Brit seems to be loving racing on Italian soil and should be a treat to watch in some of the late summer races.

-Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development) has continued to steadily improve on the GC side of things and could be a top 10 threat for the Tour de l'Avenir after his rides here, where was 12th overall, and the Ronde de l'Isard.

-They were silent in the way that they did it but Michal Schlegel (AWT-Greenway), Simone Ravanelli (Palazzago) and Stefano Nardelli (Unieuro Wilier) all finished in the top 10 overall. Kudos.

That is a wrap on the 2015 Giro della Valle d'Aosta. How was the coverage? Good? Poor? Because if you like it, then you will soon have an opportunity to support it directly. More on that later this week.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 5: Robert Power seals overall; Bouwman triumphs at Gran San Bernardo

The final stage of the 52nd Giro della Valle d'Aosta was quite short at just 86.6 kilometers but featured 50 kilometers of climbing and a summit finish on the Colle del Gran San Bernardo at nearly 2500 meter. What was supposed to be the launching pad for some beautiful attacks to try and take the GC lead from Robert Power never really happened. After a week of nothing but climbing, this stage was anti-climactic with the breakaway having another day out front while the GC battle was behind the race.

A breakaway got away early including Nicola Bagioli, Giacomo Zilio (Zalf-Euromobil), Davide Ballerini (Unieuro Wilier), Max Schachmann (AWT-Greenway), Koen Bouwman (SEG Racing), Davide Gabburo (General Store), Kilian Frankiny (BMC Development) and Giulio Ciccone (Colpack). Bagioli was going for the KOM points to try and pull a coup on Ciccone. Bagioli went solo over the first category 1 climb but his points haul was mitigated.

Up the Gran San Bernardo climb, Bagioli went solo and remained so until 5 kilometers to go, when he was joined by Frankiny and Bouwman. Bagioli was subsequently dropped and it came down to a two-man sprint for the line with Bouwman, the Dutchman who was the KOM winner from the Tour de Normandie earlier this year, taking his first ever UCI win. Frankiny, who wasn't too low on GC, came across 2nd and was able to gain a load of time that vaulted him up the classification.

Now Koen, were you not paying attention in your "What to do when I win" class?
Zip the jersey up!

Behind, there was a whole load of abandons from the stage including Silvio Herklotz, former leader Matvey Mamykin, Lorenzo Rota, TJ Eisenhart and Enrico Salvador. While the gap was huge to the breakaway at over 8 minutes at one point, Jack Haig accelerated on the Gran San Bernardo and the riders started to pop off. First it was riders like Alexey Vermeulen and Dan Pearson but then it was Sindre Lunke, Keegan Swirbul, Stefano Nardelli, Simone Ravanelli and Lennard Kämna. Eventually, Simone Petilli was popped and it was down to just Haig, Power and Laurens De Plus, the Belgian who has put a stamp as the breakout rider of the year.

Haig stopped the clock at 5'02" back on Bouwman with Power on the same time and De Plus just a couple of seconds back. Power sealed his overall win by 44 seconds on De Plus while Petilli finished in 3rd at 1'18" down. Frankiny benefitted from his breakaway ride by vaulting up to 4th overall thanks to an off day by Dan Pearson, who held for 5th on the day.

And the award for the most awkward podium picture goes to...
Giulio Ciccone survived the day with his green polka dot jersey for the KOM classification intact while Laurens De Plus took the points classification and Davide Ballerini (Unieuro Wilier) took the sprints jersey. Norway finished as the best team by a country mile while Lennard Kämna was the best 1st year rider.

Stay tuned for more analysis about the race as well as everything else plus more.

Is Valle d'Aosta too hard?

While talking with USA National Team DS Mike Sayers about how the race had been going for the team, he noted that, as a first time participant in the race,Valle d'Aosta seems to be a bit over the top for U23s. It wasn't in a boo-hoo sort of way because he acknowledged that his team hasn't been impressive but more along the lines of 5 and a half hour mountain stages being excessive for the U23 ranks, which if people forget is meant as a developmental step between the junior ranks and the pro ranks.

So this poses the question of is the Giro della Valle d'Aosta too hard for a U23 race?

This isn't to be a question of if the riders can do it or not because obviously many riders are able to ride over these mountains and some of them do very well at it. The question that should be answered is one of development. In its current format does this race provide a proper platform for riders to develop on? Or is Valle d'Aosta too excessive for riders that are trying to make the bridge to the pro ranks?

The Giro della Valle d'Aosta was not always a race that was strictly for mountain lovers only. Go back 10 years in 2005 and see that while mountain stages were in the middle of the race, there were bookend stages for sprinters including the final stage, which was won by Oscar Gatto. While the overall time gaps were still pretty big, the stages were shorter with the longest one at 134 kilometers.

The distance of stages isn't too much of an issue as there are rules for the maximum distances but there are no restrictions on what is inside of the stages. You could put 30,000 feet of climbing in there with 10 cobbled descents at a 45% gradient and it could be raced but obviously, that was a bit of hyperbole. The example of the ridiculousness is stage 3 of this year's race where the riders climbed 13,750 feet in just over 100 miles on a stage that took over 5 and a half hours to race. The time gaps probably would have been larger if the stage wasn't preceded by 2 mountain stages and that the excessively hard course saw a large group or nearly 15 riders until just a few kilometers left.

Any stage that is taking over 5 hours at this level, especially in a mountain stage race, is getting out of hand because at that point, you are touching pro level racing. While there are riders here that can handle it, when you only have 5 rider teams and have zero stages that are made for sprinters, it makes it incredibly hard to keep a race under control. Would perhaps allowing a 6th rider or taking away a day or two in the mountains make the race more balanced and offer a better development platform?

Do you think that these the Giro della Valle d'Aosta should make some changes or is status qup the way they should go? Fans, Riders, Directors, Brian Cookson...please let me know.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 4: Regaining Power

It would be a short tryst for Russian Matvey Mamykin and the yellow leader's jersey of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Stage 4 of the race wasn't the biggest mountains or the longest but what it did have was 8 categorized climbs and many more uncategorized that had riders begging for flat road.

Kämna taking his first of what should be many wins
Photo: Giro della Valle d'Aosta

Within a kilometer of the official start out of Pollein, an attack of three including Simone Velasco (Zalf-Euromobil), Geoffrey Curran (USA) and Oleg Zemlyakov (Kazakhstan) took off and got an instant gap of 20 seconds. They would be joined by a group of 5 others including Odd Eiking (Norway), Lennard Kämna (Stölting), Jeroen Pattyn (VL Techniks), Stefano Ippolito (Palazzago) and Cristofer Robin Jurado (World Cycling Centre), whose parents must have seen Winnie the Pooh.

After 20 kilometers, the breakaway got away and began taking a couple of minutes as the climbs began to start. The climbs began and a chasing group formed behind the breakaway including Kämna's teammate Silvio Herklotz, Fausto Masnada & Edward Ravasi (Colpack), stage 1 hero Enrico Salvador (Zalf) and Enrico Logica (General Store). While the peloton was content with rolling along as there were no GC threats, the quintet was gaining ground on the leading octet.

With 88 kilometers to go, the junction was made near the summit of the Grand Brissogne climb. The new group of 13 wouldn't remain as such for long as Kazakh Oleg Zemlyakov, who was active in the stage 2 breakaway, launched an attack. As the peloton was letting the gap grow to the breakaway, the breakaway seemingly stopped riding after Zemlyakov. His gap went from 30 seconds to 3 minutes in just 14 kilometers. The urgency in the breakaway grew as riders started to put in probing attacks.

It was Kämna and Ravasi that were able to make inroads into the Kazakh's lead and soon they were joined by Curran & Velasco with a quintet forming with 32 kilometers to go. This group became a septet as Jurado and Ippolito joined. In the pack, Rob Power hit the deck for his 3rd mishap in 4 road stages but got up and was back into the leading group without much difficulty. With the yellow jersey group not interested in bringing the breakaway back as the time gap was insignificant, Lennard Kämna made his move.

Seemingly as if the prior 130 kilometers was a warm-up, the time trial specialist blasted off right around the Paye KOM climb and wasn't to be seen again until the finish. Ippolito was the first to pop followed by Curran and Zemylakov. Ravasi launched an attack to try and chase but wasn't making inroads and was more or less protecting his 2nd place on the stage while Velasco was in the no-man's land in between.

The chasing group was splintering even further in the final kilometers and was down to just 8 riders coming into the final kilometers. Mamykin, who had given the jersey justice, was cooked and popped and ended up losing a couple of minutes.

Lennard Kämna came across the line for a beautiful solo win and his first international victory as a U23, which has been one of the motifs of this race. Ravasi came across 2nd place, his 2nd of the race, while Velasco came across in 3rd. While the results sheet might show that Odd Eiking won the sprint of the chasing group, he was just a breakaway rider that was dropped and managed to hang on with the GC contenders. Power and De Plus finished together and asserted, again, they are probably the two strongest in the race while Simone Petilli ceded a few seconds.

Robert Power retook the yellow jersey with a 42 second gap back to Laurens De Plus and 47 seconds back to Simone Petilli while Zalf-Euromobil's Brit Dan Pearson continued his steady race by moving up to 4th overall. Mamykin slipped down to 5th overall and will look to not lose any more placings.

Giulio Ciccone stays in the KOM jersey while De Plus keeps the points jersey.

Full Results for the stage here and the overall here.

The final stage tomorrow is short and sweet. Just 86 kilometers but two big climbs including the gargantuan Colle del Gran San Bernardo, which finishes at 2,469 meters (8,100 feet) in elevation. Will Power hold on? Will De Plus or Petilli challenge? Will Steff Hermans make a huge comeback and make up 90 minutes on GC? Stay tuned.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 3: Mamykin pulls coup

My prediction for this stage was quite wrong. While I'm no psychic, I didn't foresee a Russian with a whopping total of one other teammate in the race flying away on the brtual Brieul Cervinia climb and taking a huge solo win that is the signature win for him to date. Also, I didn't foresee Robert Power, the young Australian who has seemed to be easily the most fit rider here, stumble on the final climb due to mechanical and then lose his yellow jersey by a handful of seconds.

The stage rolled out from Gressan with a breakaway including Davide Gabburo (General Store) and Lorenzo Rota (Unieuro-Wilier) taking up the impetus out front.

Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development) on the beginning of the stage:

"Australia asked around to get some help from some other teams, but nobody was willing to ride...It was a really really hard day, and everybody knew that going in I think, mentally, a lot of riders were already cracked. A lot of people had their mind set on where they would pull the pin. The pace was relatively mellow as we pulled out of the start; nearly everybody wore a face of exhaustion. During the neutral, the car was going faster than we wanted to go so the peloton actually rode a slower pace than the car! After the race began there was a rush to go in the break and then Australia tried to settle things down over the top of the Cat. 3"

On the Les Fleurs climb, which was the first big one of the day, they were joined by Mamykin, Giulio Ciccone (Colpack) and Macedonian Andrej Petrovski. In the valley, Mamykin and Petrovski were tailed off but continued to chase behind the leading trio. The valley they were in between the Les Fleurs climb and the Col Tzecore was 50 kilometers in length and had 2 or 3 uncategorized climbs that possibly could have been categorized.

Once on the Col Tzecore, Gabburo, who was suffering from a crash yesterday, was dropped like a stone and it was then just Ciccone and Rota up front with Mamykin & Petrovski, who passed Gabburo, about 2 minutes behind while the peloton was leisurely riding at 9 minutes back. Ciccone attacked Rota on the Tzecore while Mamykin distanced Petrovski to try and get up to the leaders. Ciccone was over the summit but was closely followed by Rota and Mamykin, who joined up with them on the descent. The yelllow jersey group, which was down to 25 riders due to Australia picking up the pace to try and reduce the gap time, went gingerly over the top as riders were taking food and sprinkles were coming down.

The gap by the time the leaders got to St. Vincent was 7 minutes. Once on the climb, Ciccone and Mamykin distanced Rota and were plowing on. Lennard Kamna (Stolting) attacked out of the bunch and got up to the Macedonian Petrovski fairly quickly but wasn't able to get passed him. The bunch, which was sitting on Jack Haig's wheel, was losing even more time to the duo up front and were 9 minutes down at one point as the rain started to fall.

About 1/3 of the way on the climb, Robert Power had a mechanical, apparently with his chain getting caught. As soon as he pulled off, Simone Petilli and his Unieuro-Wilier teammates jumped and attacked the yellow jersey. A classless move by the team after they sat on Australia's wheel all day and didn't do any work to try and bring back the breakaway riders. According to Vermeulen, what was left of the leader's group yelled at the Italians and Jack Haig was able to tow Power back up. Haig motored along until roughly 5 kilometers to go and Power hit the gas and whittled the group down further.

With 15 or so kilometers to go, Ciccone accelerated and left Mamykin behind. The Russian used the slow & steady technique and with 10 kilometers to go, he was able to work his was back up to Ciccone and went past him. Ciccone blew up spectacularly and ceded time all the way to the finish. Mamykin began the stage in 14th overall at just 3'21" behind Power. The gap behind was still big with 5 kilometers to go with around 6 minutes between Mamykin and the yellow jersey group.

Power was hammering on the front to try and bring the gap back but was having a hell of a time of it. A saving grace was a mechanical that Mamykin had with 2 kilometers to go when he was forced to switch bikes and probably gave the chasers a good 30 seconds. The yellow jersey group saw attacks going all over the place and the group whittled down to 6 riders including Power, Laurens De Plus, Simone Petilli, Alexey Vermeulen, Sindre Lunke and Kilian Frankiny.

Mamykin, who was dropped earlier in the stage from the breakaway, held on for the spectacular win and once cross the line, he was counting. Ciccone would somehow survive for 2nd place but just seconds after him, the sprint from the yellow jersey group was on. However the rain made the sprint sketchy and a commissaire car stopped on the finish elevated it even more. Sindre Lunke was in 3rd place but more importantly, he stopped the watch at 3'32" behind Mamykin.

The Russian gained the leader's jersey by 11 seconds but with 1 teammate in the race, it will be next to impossible to defend. While Power lost the jersey, he might find it a blessing in disguise as Australia won't be as obliged to ride on the front during the rolling stage tomorrow and they can rest up as much as possible for the final stage.

For his effort, Giulio Ciccone got the green polka dot KOM jersey and now enjoys a 23 point lead on Nicola Bagioli. Laurens De Plus is now up 10 points on Simone Petilli in the points classification. In the team's competition, Norway has nearly 8 minutes back to Colpack in the team's classification while 3rd place Unieuro-Wilier is 20 minutes back.

Other notes:

Team Ecuador is out of the race after their final two riders abandoned on stage 3.

Alexey Vermeulen's stats from the stage: 102 miles in 5.5 hours, 13,750 ft of climbing and 4700 kilojoules.

Valle d'Aosta Stage 3 Prediction

We reach the halfway point of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and while the final stage is short and sweet, stage 3 is probably the longest and hardest of the race. After how brutal the first two days were, I expect to see a large number of riders either DNF or be 30 minutes back on the leaders.

Here is my preview of stage 3 from my larger post

Stage 3  Gressan to Valtournenche (Breuil Cervinia)
Starting from Gressan, the race includes 4 climbs and summits at 2004 meters after climbing for 25 kilometers on Breuil Cervinia.
It is weird to say that the Les Fleurs climb, which is 11.5 kilometers and averages 7% gradient, is probably the easiest climb on tap for the riders because it is still early and most will be saving their powder for the next climb. The Col Tze Core is quite the rural and brutal climb that was last used in this race in 2013 but was used as an early climb. At a distance of 16 kilometers, the Tze Core averages 7.6% and hits a gradient of over 15% at one point. Head to Cycling Challenge for Will's take on the climb.
After the descent back down to the valley into Chatillon, the race finishes with 25 kilometers of uphill to the summit. This finish was used last year on stage 1 where Manuele Senni took the win but it didn't include the entire climb and didn't have as brutal of run-up as this stage.
After over 4000 meters of climbing on the stage, the GC winner will most likely be decided on this stage or at the very least, put enough time in to make themselves the favorite.
There is a certain subset of riders, about 25 to 30, that have shown themselves as worthy climbers and they will be the ones animating stage 3. This doesn't look like a stage for any breakaways in the finish as this will be the stage that Rob Power will look to stamp his authority.

To me, it feels like a breakaway will either get away on the Col d'Introd (2nd time climbing it in as many days) or right after it and establish their lead on the Les Fleurs climb. Australia will keep it close enough but once on the descent, the lead will balloon to around 8 to 10 minutes as there are 50 kilometers of flat valley roads until the beginning of the Col Tzecore. On that climb, a selection from the breakaway will be drawn out while the yellow jersey group forms and begins their hunt. The gap will be significantly reduced but the catch won't be made until after the descent of the Col Tzecore. Probably early on the climb to Valtournenche will see a gruppo compatto before all hell breaks loose.


1. Rob Power
2. Laurens De Plus
3.  Andrea Garosio

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 2: Breakaway Oddity

 The 2nd stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta began in what is apparently the 8th Wonder of the World, Mont Blanc. Well not on Mont Blanc but in the hamlet of Courmayeur, which sits in the shadow of Western Europe's highest peak.
Robert Power and his Australia team were not interested in keeping the race together for the entire stage so within kilometers of the start, Davide Ballerini (Unieuro-Wilier) and TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development) set out together. The duo had some freedom before the Col d'Introd but once nearing the top of the climb, they were joined by Giulio Ciccone and a group of others. Ciccone took the maximum points but was closely followed by KOM leader Nicola Bagioli. Eisenhart, unfortunately, crashed on the descent and out of the breakaway.

Following this climb, it was a group of 20 riders that were formed with some pretty big riders including Edward Ravasi, Giulio Ciccone (both Colpack) Alexey Vermeulen (BMC), Keegan Swirbul (USA), Max Schachmann (AWT-Greenway), Oleg Zemlyakov (Kazakhstan) and Lorenzo Rota (Unieuro-Wilier), among others. This breakaway lost riders as the race went on over the guargantuan Clemensod climb and the Verrayes. Ciccone took full points on both climbs while Bagioli was 2nd on both, preserving his KOM jersey lead.

Australia tapping tempo behind the breakaway
Photo: Riccardo Scanferia/
It was on the Col d'Arlaz where Ravasi made his cunning move and the breakaway was in tatters. Ravasi was riding ahead of teammates Ciccone & Filippo Zaccanti who were joined with Zemlyakov. The yellow jersey group was well-paced and didn't go for the jugular early. Entering into Pont Saint Martin, Ravasi was solo going into the final loop that would go over the Perloz climb with a gap of roughly 2'30".

Ravasi was able to make it over the Perloz climb solo but with under 5 kilometers to go, it was Odd Eiking (Norway) who jumped out of the leading pack to join Ravasi. The Norwegian, who was looking to avenge his bad day on Wednesday, took to the front as they entered the final roads into Pont Saint Martin. With Jack Haig (Australia) launching out of the chase group in a bid for glory, Eiking set out in the final kilometer and took the redemptive victory. Just like Laurens De Plus yesterday, this was Eiking's first international victory even after finishing in the top 5 of races over a dozen times.

Ravasi, who was in the breakaway for the vast majority of the day, hung on for 2nd with Haig in 3rd. Laurens De Plus took the sprint for 4th place to pad his lead in the points competition while Robert Power was in the leading bunch to hold onto yellow.

Other notes:

-While Oleg Zemlyakov rode well in the breakaway today, three Kazakh riders did not finish today while the team's final rider, Sergey Luchshenko, finished in 87th nearly 18 minutes down. Now they have to race three more mountain stages with two riders which will certainly be an enjoyable task.
Fun fact with Zemlyakov is that his Kazakh National Champion jersey has Vino4Ever in bold lettering. Kazakh men have as much stylistic taste as the finest Italian stylists.

-Speaking of teams with just 2 riders left, Kazakhstan is joined by Slovenia, Team Ecuador, Team 74/Rhône Alpes and Russia. I don't think the DSes are very happy right now.

-And the award for best Team Sky impersonation goes to...The Australians! They rode an efficient race and even in the face of a dangerous breakaway, they took small chunks and then accelerated towards the end to eliminate large time gaps.

-While Odd Eiking had a bounce back stage, Lennard Kämna finish 11th on the stage at only 1'07" back on Eiking. The German had a tough stage 1 with the heat but looks like he could perhaps have a chance at a stage as the week goes on.

-While he is one of the older riders in the race, Anass Ait El Abdia of Morocco is getting some of his first international racing experience and is doing fairly well. Riding with the UCI World Cycling Centre, Ait El Abdia is currently in 16th overall and if this go well, he could move up a few places on GC.

-You can tell that this race has a fair bit of mountains because the average speed for the race is currently at 33.4 km/h through a prologue and two stages.

Here are full results for the stage and the overall.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Valle d'Aosta Stage 1: De Plus adds a win

It seems like every season there is another Belgian that is showing himself as a potential World Tour climbing extraordinaire. The last couple of years have seen Louis Vervaeke and Dylan Teuns take that mantle and this year, it has passed on to Laurens De Plus. The Belgian has been a consistent presence on climbing stages this year be it on the slopes of Plateau de Beille or on the way up to Praded in the Czech Republic. The one thing that the Belgian was missing from his resume was a UCI win.

De Plus gets sweet gratification
Photo: Riccardo Scanferla/Giro della Valle d'Aosta

The stage set out from Morillon and a group of 4 including TJ Eisenhart (BMC Development), Justin Oien (USA), Davide Ballerini (Unieuro-Wilier) and Nicola Bagioli (Zalf-Euromobil). A chasing group of 11 got away in pursuit of the quartet while the Maglia Gialla Robert Power (Australia) let the escapees get a significant gap that got up to over 11 minutes at one point.

Justin Oien on being in the breakaway today:

"Got in the break with T.J. (Eisenhart), Bagli or whatever that Zalf guy's name is and this other guy (Ballerini). We worked super well all day; steady hard on the climbs, ripped the descents and steady hard in the valleys. Not exactly sure where we got our big gap (8 minutes at one point) but I just remember Sayers (USA DS) saying "you guys (are) good, keep it steady."

Diego Sevilla (Fundacion Contador) got away from the chase group and bridge up to the breakaway. As Oien puts it, "We made it to the climb before the 10k one and a Contador guy comes up from the breakaway that was about 2 minutes behind us the whole time. He rests for a second and then takes Bagioli (who would grab the KOM points every climb) with him. At the top of that climb, the other group makes contact and then they just start dropping, with the other Zalf guy (Enrico Salvador) through in accelerations in every so often."

Diego Sevilla was solo after the Col de Plaine Joux and continued to plow on by himself to the foot of the Col de la Ramaz. Enrico Salvador (Zalf-Euromobil) launched out of the chasing group and slowly chomped away the gap. The remnants of the breakaway including Will Barta (USA), Bagioli and Enrico Logica (General Store) that were hanging in no man's land between the leaders and the yellow jersey group of Rob Power.

Sevilla went over the Col de la Ramaz solo but was quickly joined by a solo Salvador. The yellow jersey group made the junction with the chasing group just a couple kilometers into the descent.
Salvador went solo towards the bottom of the descent and got back into Morillon but with a gap that was shrinking fast.

With 10 kilometers to go and the chase at full bore in the valley, Power was struck with a mechanical and was forced to change bikes. No one was waiting for him and yet Power, who was down 30 seconds by the time he got back up to speed, got up and bridge the gap within 5 kilometers. A turbo V8 against a bunch of V6s.

According to Oien, "We rip the descent, make it into the valley and they start attacking and I'm just holding on at this point; very happy with how I've done having never climbed that well before. My last two weeks have just been so I can survive this race. (We) make it to the bottom of the finish climb and they go and do their flying up hill stuff and I come in 6 or so minutes behind."

While Norway had every one together coming into the final climb, Power lit it up and drew out a group including De Plus, Simone Petilli & Stefano Nardelli (Unieuro Wilier), Edward Ravasi & Andrea Garosio (Colpack), Oleg Zemlyakov (Kazakhstan), Michel Schelgel (AWT-Greenway) and Dan Pearson (Zalf-Euromobil), among others.

Salvador was so close to making it a fantastic solo win but alas, this wasn't a fairy tale ending. With roughly 100 meters to go, Salvador was passed by Robert Power and De Plus, who was the only one able to hang with Power in the sprint for the line. De Plus came around the Australian to take his first ever UCI win while Power consolidated his overall lead.

The full stage results can be found here while the overall results are here.

Other notes...

This is Laurens De Plus' 3rd mountainous stage race of the season and he is on track to go for another podium place on the overall standings. While he was disappointed somewhat in his l'Isard and Zavod Miru 2nd places, you have to sit back and admire a rider that can do this in his first season as a leader.

One rider that was clearly off was Odd Eiking from Norway, who finished over 6 minutes down. Obviously the talent is there but obviously, he isn't going for overall goals. One possibility is the heat that is going through Aosta right now, which is seeing highs around 90F/32C.

Another Norwegian rider, Kristian Aasvold, had to pull out of the race due to some intestinal issues. Or as put it, "He was taken out of the race after taking a walk in the woods to in an attempt to remedy these problems." Feel better, Kristian.

Two of Slovenia's riders bailed during the day's stage. Not posing well for a race that only has five-man teams.

Lennard Kämna's (Stölting) big day out yesterday was short lived as he finished over 8 minutes back in 41st place. The heat could play a factor but obviously yesterday was a short effort that required a high, steady power output, which perfectly suited him. Today had a lot of ups and downs so perhaps another day this week will have Kämna or his teammate Silvio Herklotz out front.

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Stage 1: Give me a break

After the short but sweet prologue, it is time for the first road stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. While the race is still not in the Aosta Valley, it does give the racers a good taste of what is to come for the rest of the week. The race once again starts in Morillon, Haute-Savoie before looping around the department to take in such bustling metros as Cluses, Taninges and Onnion.

The town of Cluses, formerly known for their watch making and fishing reels.
Photo: WikiCommons
The stage takes in 4 categorized climbs as well as the unclassified finish at Les Esserts. Yes, the same climb that was used in the prologue will be used as the finishing climb. And it isn't the only time they will be going by Les Esserts. The race starts with a small loop that goes through Cluses and hits the Category 2 La Frasse before coming back into Morillon and heading up the same Les Esserts climb. It goes 40 meters higher and goes over the Pont De Nant Taffon (The Bridge of Nant Taffon) before descending back into Morillon and heading for the other big loop of the day.

A sweet view of Onnion
Photo: WikiCommons
The next bit of the stage is flat until the sprint at Vuiz en Sallaz. Once there, it is uphill for the next 11 kilometers out of the Vallée Verte to the summit of the Col de Plaine Joux. A small descent into Onnion is a small respite before 12 kilometers of roughly 6.5% average but it kicks up near the end, where there is a stretch of 3 kilometers that averages around 9.6%. It is a category 1 climb for a reason and it isn't the last climb of the day.

Up the Col de la Ramaz from Mieussy
Once off the Col de la Ramaz, the race has a descent and a small flat section through Taninges to Morillon, where for the 3rd time in two days the riders would be climbing the 5.4 kilometer up to the mountain ski area. Must be a getting a bit boring, no?


It isn't the hardest day but the finale is going to be a cracker. The bigger question is if a breakaway will get leeway or will the powers that be take the reigns? I'm going with a solo breakaway taking the win.

1. Davide Gabburo (General Store)
2. Odd Eiking (Norway)
3. Robert Power (Australia)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Giro della Valle d'Aosta: Power Pulverizes Prologue

The opening prologue of the 52nd Giro della Valle d'Aosta wasn't probably going to be decided by fractions of a second but Robert Power (Australia) made damn sure that everyone knew who the favorite was heading into the rest of the race. The Western Australian, who had never ridden the climb before, put in an incredible effort on the 5.4 kilometer climb from Morillon to the ski lifts at Les Esserts.

Rob Power during the prologue
Photo: Giro della Valle d'Aosta
The climb itself averaged roughly 6.8% and the riders felt every bit of it. Isaac Carbonell, the coach's son from Team Ecuador, started the proceedings at 18.00 local time. While Carbonell would go on to finish 111th on the stage, it was another early starter that put up a big time. Last year's Junior World TT Champion Lennard Kämna (Stölting) who laid down the benchmark time of 13'44". That was 36 seconds faster than 2nd place at that point, Matvey Mamykin (Russia), and it was 13 seconds faster than last year's winning time by Ildar Arslanov, albeit that was in the rain.

Rider after rider came and went but Kämna's time wasn't in too much jeopardy. Kilian Frankiny (BMC Development) was the first rider after Kämna to hit the 14 minute mark but it was Edward Ravasi (Colpack) who came in with 13'57" that showed how well Kämna's time was holding up. Jack Haig came in under 14 minutes but with 18 riders left to go, Robert Power lit the climb on fire.

Photo: Giro della Valle d'Aosta

Power, who is coming off of a altitude camp with Team Australia, put in a time of 13'26", which was 18 seconds faster than Kämna. The gap from Power to Kämna was bigger than the gap from Kämna to 3rd place Simone Petilli, who finished just fractions faster than Ravasi.

Alexey Vermeulen (BMC Development) finished 11th and had this to say about the opening prologue: "Happy with my start...The climb was unrelenting after you made the left hand turn and saw the 5km to go to the finish. After racing this course as the TT last year, I knew that it was important to put your power in the right places. If you just try to hit one number for the entire effort, it's easy to blow early, which I imagined happened to a lot of strong riders. I talked to my coach (Lucas Wall) and we created a plan to maximize my numbers for the best possible time. It was a hard effort that surely shows people's form to an extent but in the end, we are 5.4 kilometers into a 700+ kilometer stage race. Seconds will become minutes very soon!"

The vast majority of favorites finished between 31 and 42 seconds in arrears to Power. This group included Simone Petilli (Unieuro Wilier), Ravasi, Haig, Giulio Ciccone (Colpack), Vermeulen, Simone Ravanelli (Pala Fenice), Laurens De Plus (Lotto-Soudal U23), Dan Pearson (Zalf-Euromobil) and Odd Eiking (Norway). Most GC riders did well enough but there were some like Ildar Arslanov (1'59" down) that tanked. My pick for the win, Keegan Swirbul, was a bit off the pace but perhaps that was too much expectation for a rider in his first European event. I was right with Kämna in 2nd though.

For full results, you can visit here from the race website.

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Prologue: It will not be won but could be lost

The day is here. Well not here yet because it is still 11:17 p.m. in Central Pennsylvania but it is currently the wee hours in the morning in the Aosta Valley. In a little bit over 12 hours, the first rider will be rolling down the start ramp at 18.00 local time and kicking off the 52nd edition of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Like any prologue, the race is usually not won here but it certainly doesn't help your GC hopes if you lose 30 seconds to a rival.

What makes this prologue a bit special is that is goes straight uphill for 5.4 kilometers.

This same exact climb was used as the final stage in last year's Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where Ildar Arslanov won the stage in convincing style in pouring down rain and Bernardo Suaza sealed the overall win. The climb itself starts in the French village of Morillon, which acts as a base to an extensive amount of ski runs in the area. The climb starts out slowly but quickly turns steeper as it winds up 10 switchbacks to the Les Esserts area, where there is a large bank of apartments and the majority of ski lifts run out of.

This picture offers a different view. The race takes the road up the right hand side to Les Esserts

The climb itself averages around 6.8% for the course and should bring out the GC riders as well as some opportunistic time trial riders that can handle the length of the climb.


There are climbers galore here so it will need to be someone that can lay down a pretty good time trial too. There are a few riders from '96 that could put in a strong time, most notably of which is German Lennard Kämna, who is the reigning World Junior TT Champion and is a good climber. The other first year to watch could be American Will Barta, who was a talented TT rider as a junior.

The are obvious favorites such as the American who excels in uphill time trials, Keegan Swirbul; 5th place on this climb last year Giulio Ciccone; 3rd place on this climb last year, Odd Eiking; last year's winner Ildar Arslanov. Some others include Laurens De Plus, Simone Petilli, Silvio Herklotz, Rob Power, Alexey Vermeulen, TJ Eisenhart and Max Schachmann. Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list but you get my point.

Espoirs Central's picks for the prologue podium:

1. Keegan Swirbul (USA)
2. Lennard Kämna (Stölting)
3. Rob Power (Australia)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Giro della Valle d'Aosta Preview

We are less than two days from the start of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, perhaps the hardest U23 stage race on the calendar, and now that a start list has become accessible, we can finally do a preview! Yes, the high Alpine race is back for its 52nd edition and Espoirs Central will be covering every stage and (hopefully) getting some comments from the riders. If you missed it from before, I previewed the course earlier in June so you can read that here. Now that you know the course, we should go on to the riders.

You can find the full start list here. It looks like there are some mistakes on this start list so this could be updated. 

With Colombia not bringing a National Team this year, it is last year's 2nd place that is wearing the number 1 bib and that is where we will begin.

Norway (DS: Stig Kristiansen)

*Insert pun about Odd Eiking* Yes, FDJ signing Odd Eiking is back once again to go for the Valle d'Aosta title and he is one of the top favorites. Eiking has been on a roll the past couple of months after going 12th in the Tour of Norway, 3rd overall in the Zavod Miru (Peace Race) U23 and winning the Norwegian U23 RR and finishing 2nd in the Elite race behind Boasson Hagen. With the pressure of a contract now off his shoulders, Eiking should be quite relaxed coming here.

Now Eiking's 2nd place was certainly strong last year but this year's race has perhaps the strongest start list that is has ever had. His support team is deep including last year's 5th place Sindre Lunke, Øivind Lukkedal, Njal Kleiven & Kristian Aasvold. Lukkedal & Kleiven showed signs of life at the Sibiu Tour in Romania where he went up against of Pro Continentals and journeymen continental riders. And Aasvold...well he is good filler.

Team Colpack (DS: Gianluca Valoti)

Last year's sensation team that won 2 stages, the KOM classification and had three riders in the top 7 overall is back again but without the biggest part of that group in Manuel Senni, who graduated to BMC. The other two parts of that group, Edward Ravasi and Giulio Ciccone, will need to pick up the slack along with teammates Andrea Garosio, Fausto Masnada and Filippo Zaccanti.

Ciccone has had a quiet year up until now with only a recent mountain time trial in Lombardia where he placed 2nd as his only indicator of form. On the other hand, Ravasi has had a strong year with 4th place overall in the Tour of Croatia as well as 3rd in the Italian U23 RR. The others are capable in the mountains with Garosio probably being the strongest. I would imagine that if they get a stage win or get Ravasi into the top 5, they would be hapy.

Delio Gallina (DS: Mariocesare Turchetti) Have a good race guys. 

Zappi's Racing (DS: Flavio Zappi)

Zappi's had a good race last year with Dan Pearson going top 10 overall but with Pearson now on Zalf-Euromobil, Zappi's is coming with a very young team with three riders from '95 and two from '96. Probably the strongest on the team is James Knox, who was 9th last year Piccolo Giro d'Emilia and had some strong races in Portugal and Italy early this year. Just getting these guys experience is enough.

VL Techniks (DS: Rudy Vandenheede)

Well...they have some guys that were good juniors last year in Jeroen Pattyn and Thomas Demolder. Outside that, the breakaway is going to be their best shot at glory.

Pala Fenice (DS: Oliviano Locatelli)

Everyone's favorite "I'm totally repentent!" DS is back with another team for what is probably around his 35th Valle d'Aosta. Yes, Oliviano Locatelli has another team under his tutelage. The big draw is Simone Ravanelli, who was 13th overall last year, and is the best shot for a result for the team. Ravanelli was just 4th in the Italian U23 RR so his form seems to be somewhat present.

Stölting (DS: Gregor Willwohl)

The German team is coming with a two headed attack of Silvio Herklotz and Lennard Kämna. The last couple of years have seen Herklotz have great streaks where he would be all over the top 5 followed by down periods. The high mountains are perhaps not his forte as last year he was good but not great in both Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir. At least his bane seems to be consecutive days of high mountains but we will see if he has worked on that. On the other hand, Kämna has had a fantastic first year and this will be an interesting test of form to see if he can cope over the mountains.

BMC Development (DS: Geert Van Bondt)

The two USA riders, Alexey Vermeulen and TJ Eisenhart, will be looking to make an impact on GC. Vermeulen rode very well at the Ronde de l'Isard with a 7th place overall. He came back at USA Nationals after an altitude camp in Lake Tahoe and showed his strength with late attacks in the U23 RR and 2nd in the U23 TT. Vermeulen seems to keep getting stronger with age and a top 10 overall here could be attainable. Eisenhart, on the other hand, has had an up and down year. He hasn't had a big result to hang his hat on but he has gotten through all of the races bar one. Really, since the Thuringen Rundfahrt in 2013 where he finished 6th, he hasn't had a top 10 GC performance. He could be a shot for the opening prologue but for the GC? That remains to be seen.

Now, Tyler Williams isn't on the start list but he will be attending the race.
The last two spots are between Lukas Spengler, Killian Frankiny and Valentin Baillifard.

Unieuro Wilier (DS: Marco Milesi)

If Simone Petilli is riding at the same form level as he was at the Ronde de l'Isard, he will hit the podium of this race and could possibly win. Petilli has shown himself as a future GC star and what better place to come out to a bigger audience? He seems to be in good form with his 3rd place at the Giro della Medio Brenta.

Behind Petilli is a good team including Lorenzo Rota, who was 7th in the Tour of Slovakia and 18th here last year, and Stefano Nardelli, who is more of a one-day racer but should still be able to offer support.

Lotto-Soudal U23 (DS: Kurt Van De Wouwer)

After a learning year last year, Laurens De Plus has shown himself to be the next Belgian Climbing Sensation after impressive rides in both the Ronde de l'Isard, where he was 2nd by just 10 seconds, and the Zavod Miru (Peace Race) U23, where he was 4th overall. De Plus was a GC talent as a junior but never was a winner. This year he has shown aggression and grit and even ticked off one for the win column with a solo ride in Gent Staden. The uphill prologue plus the several mountain top finishes will see him in the top tier of riders if he is up to the challenge.

Joining De Plus are three riders from his Ronde de l'Isard campaign in Steff Cras, Steff Hermans and Brecht Ruyters. Ruyters is a good climber in his own right but seems to work best as a leadout rider for GC men such as he did with Louis Vervaeke last year. Cras and Hermans are only first year but show potential; Cras particularly with back to back strong rides in l'Isard, where he was 11th, and Pays de Savoie, where he was 10th.

Zalf-Euromobil (DS: Luciano Rui)

The Treviso-based team is coming in with one of their big signings from this past off-season, Brit Dan Pearson. Pearson was 8th overall last year riding for Zappi's and while it will be stiffer competition this year, he could be in the top 10-15 overall range. Zalf also brings Simone Velasco, who is more of a one-day rider but is handy in the mountains and there is no time like the U23 ranks to get experience in the high mountains. A stage win or perhaps the KOM jersey seems like a good goal.

World Cycling Center (DS: Jean Jacques Henry)

The UCI's World Cycling Center is fielding a team and I'm savoring over this team. I'm always curious how the Mixed Team can compete in races such as this because there might not be too much of a common language but they will go all out for one another.

There are three riders here that have some strong potential for good rides. Anass Ait El Abdia from Morocco was very good in his home tour for 3rd overall behind two former World Tour riders but also finished 3rd in the Tour du Jura and has won one race on the French regional calendar. Caio Godoy from Brazil was here last year and put in a 25th place overall but this year, he has spent all of it in France and has clocked up a win and a number of top 10 finishes. Valens Ndayisenga of Rwanda could be a good top 10 bet for the opening uphill prologue and is using this for more European experience but he won the Tour of Rwanda last year and is no slouch in high mountains.

GFDD Altopack Titano (DS: Elso Frediani)

Not much here except for Alexandr Riabushenko, a Belorussian climber that is finding his legs in the U23 ranks after an outstanding junior career.

AWT Greenway (DS: Pavel Padronos)

Ivan Garcia is probably the best shot at any GC hopes here as he was 18th in the Oberösterreichrundfahrt and 10th in the Tour de Bretagne. While those aren't necessarily mountainous, he can climb. Behind him, Alvaro Cuadros can certainly climb but consistency is the issue with him. Perhaps Max Schachmann can ride consistenly and get the team a top 20? They will be hoping for a breakaway stage win or maybe Schachmann in the prologue. 

Russia (DS: Nikolay Morozov)

If he can string together a complete race, Ildar Arslanov could win a stage and take a top 10 overall placing. If he has a bad day, the have Matvey Mamykin, who can do the same thing. If both of them have a bad day, then they can go with Artem Nych to perhaps steal a stage. The main problem with the Russians is that they don't have a rider that is always consistent AND can go for GC. Nych is perhaps the most consistent rider they have but isn't the best bet for GC in a high mountains race.

So if Arslanov and Mamykin can both go top 15 and they get a stage win, it will be a successful race.

Haute-Savoie Rhône Alpes (DS: Jean-Yves Voisin)

A composite team with riders from the region in France as the race starts in Haute-Savoie before working its way into Italy. Lucas Papillon will be going for a top 10 overall after finishing 5th in the Ronde de l'Isard and 12th in the Tour des Pays de Savoie. Not much in terms of team support but we shall see.

General Store (DS: Simone Bertoletti)

General Store is coming as a one-trick pony behind Davide Gabburo. Gabburo isn't necessarily a GC type but after his 2nd place in the Italian U23 RR, he looks like he could win a stage here if the chips fall correctly. It is a light team but if they win a stage, they will be vindicated.

Australia (DS: James Victor)

Without Caleb Ewan, the Australian National Team has been a bit quieter this year but starting in Valle d'Aosta, they should be getting quite raucous. The Australians come with the duo of Rob Power and Jack Haig but neither are coming in as hot as they were in previous years. Power had a couple of top 5 performances in Italian one days but he hasn't raced since his 6th place in the Rhône Alpes Isere Tour. Haig on the other hand has been struggling with injury since crashing out of the Tour de Bretagne in April and other than 500 meters in the Rhône Alpes Isere & the opening TTT stage of the Paris-Arras Tour, he hasn't raced. Haig seems to be back on the mend and should be on good form but without having any racing to gauge it, it'll be a bit of a mystery.

The Australians have been at a altitude camp in Livigno, which is deep in Lombardy by the Swiss border. Joining Power and Haig has been Alex Clements, Harry Carpenter and from what it seems like, Freddy Ovett of Chambery CF. Oscar Stevenson is on the start list but he just started back to training in early June and seems unlikely to start. Clements will be a good teammate for the mountains along with Ovett, who is the ex-runner that has burst onto the scene as a strong climber.

Australia hasn't been to Valle d'Aosta in 4 years and if the team is on point, they could come back as winners.

USA (DS: Mike Sayers)

The USA U23 team is looking for a big results and they are brining in a team that could provide one. Keegan Swirbul will be in his first European race but if he continues to show the form that he had at Tour de Beauce and the USA U23 Nationals, he could certainly be a contender for a high overall placing. The opening uphill time trial will definitely benefit him and with the very point profile, he should feel at home. If he can handle the changes and the different racing style, it will be interesting to see what he can do. Will Barta and Geoffrey Curran can ride tempo with their time trial backgrounds as well as provide support in the mountains. Throw in Chris Putt and Justin Oien and that isn't a half bad team for a run at a high overall GC place.

Fundacion Alberto Contador (DS: Rafael Diaz Justo)

El Pistolero has a U23 team and they will be taking to their first major competition outside of Iberia. They have a very young team with two from '95 and three from '96. Their leader is former Spanish Junior TT Champ Enric Mas, who was 4th overall last year in the Zavod Miru (Peace Race) U23 and won a stage at this year's Vuelta a Bidasoa and finished 2nd overall. Perhaps still too young to contend for the overall but top 20 is a possibility. The other riders don't have much results to go on so this is going to be a learning experience for them.

SEG Racing (DS: Michael Elijzen)

This team has had a successful rookie year with 5 UCI wins to date but none of them by the riders they are bringing to Valle d'Aosta. Koen Bouwman is the oldest and looks like the leader as he was 7th overall in the Oberösterreichrundfahrt as well as 4th in the Dutch U23 TT Championship. Past Bouwman, they have the first Chinese rider to race in Valle d'Aosta in Zhi Hui Jiang, Davy Gunst who survived here last year and is a good all-arounder as well as Magnus Bak Klaris and Julius van den Berg, who seem to be here for experience more than anything. 

Switzerland (DS: Danilo Hondo)

Someone at the Swiss Fed must have been like, "You know who we should give this open DS job to? Right, a convicted doper with a history on dirty team." Danilo Hondo might be quite knowledgable after different aspects of racing but you couldn't find a better choice?  In any case, the Swiss team lacks depth with only Niels Knipp being any sort of contender after finishing 15th in the Zavod Miru (Peace Race) U23.

Slovenia (DS: Marko Polanc)

There was a time when Slovenia was stacked with Luka Pibernik, Marko Kump, Jan Tratnik and Matej Mohoric but they are in a rebuilding phase. Marco Pavlic is certainly the lynch pin and will be the best shot at a high overall finish after his 7th in the Zavod Miru (Peace Race) U23. Rok Korosec was good in the early classics this year but is a bit out of his element. Gasper Katrasnik should be a good addition to Pavlic.

Kazakhstan (DS: Andrey Teteryuk)

Following the implosion at Astana Continental with three positive tests last year, the young Kazakhs have been quiet going into Valle d'Aosta with only Oleg Zemlyakov showing good form through the season with multiple top 10 overalls and winning the Kazakh Elite RR Championship. He was 16th in l'Avenir last year so perhaps a top 10 is the goal? The other climbers here are Tilegen Maidos, who was 11th here last year, and Galem Akhmetov. 

UC Monaco (DS: Guido Poseto)

A nice international mix of riders that I have never heard of. Seriously, why does this team get a birth to this race? Why? Does not compute.

Team Ecuador (DS: Domenec Carbonell)

Daddy always brings his son to the races. Except instead of spectating, his son is actually in the race. Isaac Carbonell always gets into the best races for Team Ecuador because of his father, Domenec, being the DS. A waste of a roster spot. Jefferson Cepeda seems like the best talent but will probably be breakaway fodder.


Now that that is done, let's do some predictions, shall we?

My podium for the Giro della Valle d'Aosta is...

1. Laurens De Plus (Lotto-Soudal U23)
2. Rob Power (Australia)
3. Odd Eiking (Norway)

KOM: Simone Petilli (Unieuro Wilier)

Points: Eiking

Youth: Will Barta (USA)

What do you think? Am I crazy? Am I right and you want to praise me? Let me know!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Giro della Valle d'Aosta: Young USA team looking to shine in Italy

USA National Team director Mike Sayers was optimistic when discussing the team's chances in the overall classification in the upcoming Giro della Valle d'Aosta. "I think it is not out of the picture that we have a rider in the top 5 GC. I will be disappointed with no one in the top 10."

It was strong words from a director that focuses mainly on getting U23 riders experience in bigger races but the American team has the potential. Sayers has mainly run with a young crew this year with only a couple of 4th year U23s and, admittedly, the team has been a bit inconsistent at times. If the National Team goes to a race that also invites Axeon or BMC Development, that means the team could potentially be lining up with a roster full of riders from '95 or '96. Constantly relying on young riders isn't always going to lead to sunshine and roses. As any good director knows, putting too much pressure on developing riders will lead to burnout. So while inconsistency might be an issue, the young Americans have certainly had their bright moments with Colin Joyce finishing 3rd overall in Costa Vicentina and 7th in La Cote Picarde while 1st year Will Barta finished 8th overall in the Tour de Bretagne.

Another issue that Sayers brings up is that the riders are far away from home. "I think we, exactly like the Aussies, fight a huge uphill battle being away from our homes for weeks and months at a time," says Sayers. "Instead, I focus on teaching guys how to become as comfortable as possible in Europe, a place that is not their home, where I hope that one day they can be full-time pros. These kids fight and I will fight for them."

Starting in Aosta for the USA will be Keegan Swirbul, Chris Putt, Justin Oien, Geoffrey Curran and Will Barta. Swirbul, if he has good legs and is healthy, will be a strong GC contender in this type of terrain. Curran and Barta are good climbers that are strong time trialists so they should be able to get a rhythm on these big climbs and pound away. Putt finished well in last year's Ronde de l'Isard and seemed to be on form in the U23 National RR when he put in some late attacks. Oien can ride on a lot of different terrain and should be a consummate teammate.

"We are going there to learn, so being aggressive will be a requirement and taking some risks is fine for me.  Any result an American can get there, including the BMC guys (TJ Eisenhart and Alexey Vermeulen -ed), is a victory for me and my program." Sayers said. "It is going to be a tough week, but a beautiful week."

Dima: A rider without a state

I tweeted about Dymtro 'Dima' Grabovskyy last month. The guy fascinates me. A Ukranian whose parents have lived in Israel for nearly 2 decades. Grabovskyy stayed in Ukraine so that he could finish his studies and have a strong cycling network as he was one of the strongest juniors in Europe. He graduated to the U23 ranks and balanced the road and track.

Dima in his adopted Israel home

In 2005 at just 19, he finished 2nd in the World U23 TT and soloed away for the World U23 RR win. In 2006, he moved to Italy and was on a rampage. He won the Giro della Regioni and was 5 seconds away from winning the GiroBio. After winning the U23 TT at the European Championships, he got a trainee spot with Quick Step and joined the team for two years.

It was around this time that Grabovskyy developed a drinking problem. His results were not coming as easy as they had in the U23 ranks. He was coming home from training and getting plastered with vodka down on the seaside. He survived two incidents of alcohol poisoning but Quick Step cut ties with him after 2008. Grabovskyy returned to his U23 DS Luca Scinto at ISD-Neri but his 2009 season was erratic.

The team wasn't going to renew him until February 2010 after he seemingly made an about face. He was flying in Langkawi where he was 3rd on one stage and his leader Jose Rujano won the race. Grabovskyy was on the attack constantly in Tirreno-Adriatico and won the KOM jersey when it was all said and done. He managed 11th overall in the Tour of Turkey but missed out on selection for the Giro d'Italia. He only finished one race the rest of the season, which was the Volta a Portugal. He was on ISD-Lampre's roster for 2011 but he never started a race. He didn't race another UCI race for another five years until this year's GP of Minsk.

At a 2011 training camp for the Ukrainian National Team for the London 2012 Olympics, it is rumored that Grabovskyy and other teammates tested positive for unspecified banned substances. This has been contested by some Israeli officials but it was shown that there was a letter from the Ukrainian Federation that there was a suspension from March 11th of 2011 to March 11 of 2013 but no reason was specifically listed.

Grabovskyy didn't surface until 2013 when he showed up in Israel. His parents have been living there for a long time and with his life in limbo, Dima made the move to the country, specifically the city of Arad, and made it clear he was going to pursue Israeli citizenship. One issue here is that Grabovskyy isn't Jewish. While Jews get automatic citizenship to Israel, it is a bit more complicated for others. Grabovskyy wasn't able to work since he wasn't a citizen but he began to race once again. Instantly, he was head and shoulders ahead of the rest. He won the Apple Race and finished 1st in the Israel National RR and TT but didn't win the championship as he was a non-citizen.

In 2014, he switched to doing triathlon and in January of this year, Grabovskyy finished 3rd overall in the Israman Half Ironman after a very strong bike leg and just 7 minutes off the winner. Grabovskyy hasn't given up on the road as he was best in the Israel TT (again not the champion since he isn't a citizen still) and was 5th in the RR. For the first time in a UCI race in 5 years, Grabovskyy raced last weekend in Belarus with his Dynamo Racing team under an Israeli Federation license and finished 33rd and 11th in two one day events.

Dima Grabovskyy is still not an Israeli citizen. He could fall under the naturalization law this year but that decision is still left up to the Minister of the Interior. He is still pursuing Israel's first Olympic birth in cycling for the upcoming Rio 2016 Games.

It seems trivial to care so much about a rider whose best professional results was the mountains classification of the 2010 Tirreno-Adriatico but this is a case of what could have been. Grabovskyy was just so strong in the U23 ranks that he could have been a rider to reckon with for the next decade to come. Yet, he was another case of a developing rider not being handled properly and the situation blew up. He has had problems and has been away. Yet if his name come across a result sheet, I still wonder about him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Espoirs Central Roundup: Everything BUT the Tour de France

So the Tour de France is happening but if you are reading this, I'm sure you are looking at the start list for the Tour de Liege and waiting up until the wee hours of the morning for results from the Tour of Qinghai Lake. Because you are a true cycling fan and not just some fair-weather cycling fan that comes around every summer at the sight of sunflowers and plush podium lions.

Let's take a look at the week that was...

GP Minsk and Minsk Cup

Ahhh, Belarus. The Eastern European worker's paradise ruled by Alexander Lukashenko hosted two races over the weekend. The GP Minsk was more like an overblown criterium on a pan-flat course. A group of three including Russian Nikolay Cherkasov (U23) , Kazakh Nurbolat Kulimbetov and Belorussian Aleh Ahiyevich (U23) were away until three kilometers when the bunch came together for the gallop.

It was Siarhei Papok (Minsk Cycling) that won the bunch sprint for his 3rd win of the year while Sergiy Kozachenko (Kyiv Capital) and Uladzimir Harakhavik (Minsk Cycling) finished 4th and 5th.

In the Minsk Cup, it was a bit different story. A group of 6 got off the front and with most teams represented, the gap pushed out. While a chase group got away, it was 5 riders that stayed away in the finale including Ukranian Oleksandr Golovash (Kolss), Kazakhs Matvey Nikitin & Nurbolat Kulimbetov (both Seven Rivers), Zydrunas Savickas (Lithuania) and Andris Vosekalns (Rietumu). It was Golovash, who is a former European U23 TT podium finisher, who got away at the end and outsprinted Nikitin for the win. W

hile the chasers came in a few minutes led in by U23 Ahiyevich in 6th, it was mystery man Dmytro Grabovskyy who pulled away from the peloton and came in alone in 11th. It was Grabovskyy's first race in Europe in 5 years. Papok took the sprint for 11th.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad U23

In the final kilometers of the the U23/Amateur version of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Zottegem, Floris Gerts attacked his breakaway mates that included two cylcocross riders in U23 Wout Van Aert & Gianni Vermeersch along with journeyman Dimitri Claeys and danced away for his 4th win of the season. Gerts, who was apart of the day long breakaway, it certainly justifying his stagiaire spot on BMC this year. Three more U23s finished in the top 10 including Maxime Farazijn, Daan Myngheer and Kenneth Van Rooy.

Course de Solidarnosc et des Champions Olympiques

This race is a bigger spring fest than the Tour of Qatar. Johim Ariesen was easily the best sprinter and took 4 out of the 5 bunch sprints with his lone "off" stage saw him finish 8th as the finish was a little uphill. Pawel Franczak and Vitaly Buts were the closest to Ariesen on a consistent basis but even then, Ariesen had a lock on the overall. Ariesen is up to 9 wins now, which puts him tied for 6th in the UCI rankings with Richie Porte.

In terms of the U23s, there were a few that got onto the podiums inlcuding Kacper Gronkiewicz, Jakub Kaczmarek (CCC Sprandi) and Eryk Laton (CCC Sprandi). While the sprints decided some of the GC spots, many of the breakaway riders took advantage of breakaways and bonus second sprints. Toms Skujins (Hincapie) and U23 Emiel Planckaert (Lotto-Soudal U23) both got some bonuses to get 4th and 5th overall on the GC.


Maxime Vantomme played the World Tour fish in the Continental pond after sneaking away in the finale to take a super tight finish at Paris-Chauny. Vantomme was in the breakaway with his teammate and designated sprinter Rudy Barbier. With riders not working well together, Vantomme went out with 15 kilometers to go and the former Katusha and Crelan rider held off a late charge by Ronan Racault to take the win. Alberto Cecchin (Roth-Skoda) won the sprint for 3rd ahead of U23s Michael Goolaerts (Lotto-Soudal U23) and Michael Bresciani (Roth-Skoda).

A move that was originally a good tactic to protect his sprinter turned out to be a fine solo win. Kudos.

Sibiu Tour

The Romanian race that heads up the Transfagarasan highway on the queen stage to Balea Lac was filled with riders that have either over stayed their welcome (Rebellin) or are cherry pickers from Continental teams. In terms of U23s, it was Giovanni Carboni (Unieuro-Wilier) who was the most consistent in 12th overall while Øiving Lukkedahl, Njal Kleiven (both Ringeriks-Kraft) and Julian Schulze (Stuttgart) finished in the top 20.

Tour of Qinghai Lake

The is a crazy race. Cash money for those that win prizes. Dodgy riders getting contracts with Iranian and Chinese teams. Example being the Beijing Yanqing team which is fielding a team full of of Uzbeks.

Marko Kump took the first two sprint stages to add to his wins total that is now at 13 for the season while Oleksandr Polivoda, who was 4th overall last year, made it three years in a row with a stage win after winning the stage today that started out with 1200 meters of climbing over the first 85 kilometers before a flat last half of the race.

I'm sure there will be at least one positive in this race announced at some point.

Swiss Nationals

1st year U23 Patrick Muller won the U23 RR. Bold and underline his name for your notes as he will be popping up more frequently as the years go on.

That is all.