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!

1 comment:

  1. As norwegian I am really looking forward to this race. A big, big race for Norway. Not only because we like to brag about the level of our U23-riders, but also because this is a vital race for the points in Europe Tour. Norway is currently battling for a high enough ranking to get 6 spaces for the mens RR in the World Championships. In order to make it we need Eiking to bank some extra points.

    The team is lacking both Anders Skaarseth and Truls Engen Korsæth, both have been amazing this year. The reason they are not in Aosta is because they have had a hard race program and need some rest before the fall.

    I think Kristian Aasvold is an underestimated rider in the team. He is stronger than the results shows, the question is how he can handle the long climbs. Perhaps he is stronger in the shorter ones.

    I guess the course is hard enough to secure that the stronges battle for the win, but with five men teams the tactical aspect sure will have a major impact.