Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Upcoming Races - African Championships, Italy, France & more

Now that the opening weekend of European racing is out of the way, races will be flying out of nowhere and it might seems like a bit of a blur. Just so you have an actual primer on what you should be looking at in terms of results, I have combined a list of races that will be taking places (or starting) this week.

African Championships - now through 2/26

These are already in progress as we speak with the TTT and the Time Trial being contested while the Road Race will be taking place on Friday.

Vuelta al Valle del Cauca - Colombia - 2/24-2/28

Clasica de Combita - Colombia - 2/26-2/27

Coppa San Geo - Italy - 2/27

Firenze-Empoli - Italy - 2/27

GP Izola - Slovenia - UCI 1.2 - 2/28

La Torre - Italy - 2/28

Gent-Staden - Belgium - 2/28

Trofeo Guerrita - Spain - 2/28 (Round 2 of Copa España)

That is it more or less but Espoirs Central will keep an eye open for more races.

Monday, February 22, 2016

And now for the rest of the World...

After covering the French weekend, time to go a little Spanish.

Circuito Guadiana: Eu-Eu-Euskadi

The Copa de Espana kicked off down in Extremadura in the village of Don Benito, which lies on the banks of the Guadiana river (hence the race name). Spanish amateur cycling is still continuing on pretty well even with the lack of Spanish professional teams with Fundacion Euskadi, Lizarte, Caja Rural, Seguros Bilbao and RH+ - Polartec - Fundacion Contador, among others, keeping it interesting.

This race is more or less destined to come down to a sprint every year though it does have a few interesting climbs including four trips up the very steep Magacela climb, which is 1200 meters at an average of 9% and a maximum grade that hits a quad-aching 20%.

The race itself was more or less controlled through the early part of the race and it was only towards the very tail end that the nerves were being frazzled. On the final trip up the Magacela climb, an escape of six riders that got a maximum of 15 seconds but thanks to some cooperated efforts by Fundacion Euskadi and others, who were able to bring them back with just over a kilometer to go.
A crash in the final kilometer brought down a few but Fundacion Euskadi's Egoitz Fernandez improved on his 2nd place from last year to take out the Copa de España opener ahead of U23 riders Jon Irisarri (Caja Rural) and Miguel Ballesteros (Fundacion Contador). Fernandez is out of the U23 ranks but has been rising up on the Spanish amateur scene after finishing 2nd overall in the Copa de España.

The climbers were tucked safely away in the bunch but they will soon have their chance.

Argentina: Juan Pablo Dotti continues on

My favorite Argentinian doper, Juan Pablo Dotti, took two stages of the Vuelta a Mendoza on way to the overall by nearly 4 minutes. Mauricio Graziani was top U23 overall in 5th place.

French Weekend Update

It is here, it is here. The season, at least for many, is finally upon us. Both the Copa España and the Division 1 Coupe de France got kicked off and some U23s got shots across Europe, Asia and elsewhere. For now, we will start with France and go from there. Let's get to it, shall we?

Coupe de France: Corbel takes opening round

What happens when you lose your professional contract and you are French? Well, you get a ride on a top flight amateur team and plunder the Coupe de France calendar. Example being Erwann Corbel of VC Pays de Loudéac. Corbel had a neo-pro contract with Bretagne - Séché Environment and actually wasn't too bad by most standards by getting a few small wins and some results like a 4th at Le Samyn, 10th at Tro Bro Leon as well as a lot of other finishes in races. He wasn't renewed and thus pushed back into the overcrowded kiddie pool of the French amateur scene, where there is a new revelation every other week. Corbel actually fell further than some back to the Division 2 level with his Pays de Loudéac team, which is located in the heart of Bretagne. His 2015 season was a good rebound with 5 wins including the Championship of Bretagne, which helped propel Loudéac up to the DN1 circuit for this season. More specifically, they were the last team promoted to the top flight.

A day before the GP Pays d'Aix, Pays de Loudéac boss Yves Bonnamour (father of Fortuneo-Vital Concept rider Franck Bonnamour) seemed hopeful after a couple of early season wins with old hand Cyrille Patoux and Fortuneo-Vital Concept bound Elie Gesbert. An early season results grab would be vital to getting invites to UCI races down the road but I doubt Bonnamour would expect what happened down on the coast outside of Marseille.

The race, only 138 kilometers, was marked by a breakaway that got nearly 4 minutes. The breakaway included both Mathieu and Maxime Le Lavandier, Benoit Cosnefroy, Gaillard from Vendée U and Le Court De Billot (GSC Blagnac). The gap came down but it wasn't until 25 kilometers to go that everything came back together. A split happened in the late stages of the race due to multiple attacks with the final one being brought back with 500 meters to go and a group of 23 came to the line together. Loudéac came in with 4 riders and Patoux was the protected rider for the sprint but found himself in bad position coming into the finale. After relative non-sprinter Leo Vincent launched the sprint, it was Corbel that found a seam and stormed past the climber to take the win while Patoux hung on for 3rd.

VC Pays de Loudéac enjoying the spoils (via DirectVelo)
With the top 30 scoring points for the team classification and a team getting a maximum of three scoring riders, Pays de Loudéac came up with a massive 175 points with 1st, 3rd and 14th ahead of CC Etupes with 100 points and VC Rouen with 95 points. Vendée U, who came into the race as one of the hottest in France after their demolition on the Vendée beaches, had an alright race with U23 Simon Sellier finishing 6th. Some U23s that finishes well were Corentin Ermenault (5th), Valentin Madouas (7th) and Aurelien Paret-Peintre (11th).

Elsewhere in France...

-At the Circuit des Plages Vendéennes, Kevin Le Cunff (CM Aubervillers 93) took two out of the last three races in the series to finish 2nd overall for the 5 race series. It was Vendée U's young 19 year old Charles Herbert that won the race series overall after finishing in the top 10 4 times and 15th on the final day.

-At the GP Souvenir Jean-Masse, former U23 World TT medalist Yoann Paillot was well on his way to a fine solo victory for his Océane Top 16 team. Except for the part where a course official sent him the wrong way, making him cut the course and seeing Paillot ejected from the race due to no fault of his own. It was the much less known Bastien Duculty taking the win once the judges had their say.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Weekend Update: Ganna goes off; Vendée U dominates

The season is here for U23s and amateurs in the Northern Hemisphere. It went off this weekend and let's have a spot of tea and recap.

Ganna fools Adria Mobil; wins GP Laguna

In these early season races, the attention level can vary a bit. Some are very keen to show their form and perhaps snag a result while others are just getting some kilometers in the legs at some race pace. If the breakaway has the correct makeup, then you can say goodbye to the peloton. This was the case at the GP Laguna in Porec, Croatia.

A group of 14 snuck off the front after 30 kilometers of the 163 on offer under rainy and overall gloomy weather. Early on, it was 4 riders including last year's 2nd place Seid Lizde (Colpack) leading with fellow U23 Markus Kopfauf (WSA) along with Andi Bajc (Amplatz-BMC) and Josef Benetseder (Hrinkow Advarics). After getting an advantage of 4 minutes, they were brought back about halfway through the race into the breakaway group.

With 40 kilometers to go, Filippo Ganna (Colpack) attached on the climb on the course and dragged away the Adria Mobil duo of David Per and Domen Novak. The trio of U23s made their way along on the course with Per and Novak trading attacks but Ganna, who is a budding TT star, was able to weather the storm and hold the group together. In the finale, Ganna was able to out-sprint the duo to take Colpack's opening win of the season. Behind, Daniel Auer came in 4th for a 1st-4th for the U23s. Nearly 10 minutes behind, Simone Consonni won the bunch sprint for 11th ahead of Jan Tratnik and Siarhei Papok.

Let the record show that Colpack has more wins that Zalf-Euromobil so far this year.

Circuit des Plages Vendéennes - Notre Dame De Monts

Plages Vendéennes, or Vendée beaches, is a bit like the Mallorca Challenge with 6 stages that are single races but they do have an overall classification too. The first stage was cancelled due to high winds so the first stage took off from Notre Dame De Monts. I think a simple picture can describe the outcome.
First year Thomas Denis, just 18 years right now, was gifted the win though it was certainly a team effort.

South African Nationals

This is about the breakout ride by Stefan De Bod. While Keagan Girdlestone is a prime talent, De Bod rode out of his skin over the past few days that he was contending for the Elite Men's title. De Bod, who was a junior champion a couple of years ago, finished just 12 seconds behind Daryl Impey in the 48 kilometer TT. De Bod finished a minute over Ryan Gibbons and 2 minutes on Girdlestone.
In the RR, De Bod beat out Reinardt Janse van Rensburg for 2nd place behind Jaco Venter to take the U23 title with Gibbons again in 2nd and Morne Van Niekirk in 3rd.

De Bod seems to have a truckload of horsepower that could power a small jeep so it will be interesting to see how he pans out with the Dimension Data development team.


-Egan Bernal, the Colombian for Androni who just turned 19 in January, finished 10th on the queen stage of the La Mediteranéenee. Bernal has ridden only a handful of road races before signing with Androni and in his first pro race, he did damn well to hang with seasoned professionals. He lost chunks of time earlier in the week on flatter stages so that will most likely be an issue this season but he is certainly a talent for the climbs.

-Davide Ballerini (Hoopla-Petroli Firenze) launched the first attack in Trofeo Laigueglia but was later a DNF. Oliveira Troia finished but was back in 54th. Giulio Ciccone continued his strong early season with a strong 12th just ahead of the peloton.

-Brandon McNulty (LUX/Stradling) finished 2nd overall in the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in the Pro/1 Category. He would have trounced all comers in the junior ranks so he decided to take on some competition. On junior gears (max of a 52x14), McNulty only finished 20 seconds down on Silber's Ryan Roth.

-On the Biscay coast down past Bayonne, the l'Essor Basque kicked off with two one day events out of the five that make up the event. On Saturday, Cyrille Patoux took the Boucle de l'Essor in a small group sprint ahead of U23 Thibault Ferasse (Armée de Terre) while on Sunday, Yoann Paillot (Oceane Top 16) took the win int he Circuit de l'Essor in a fine solo move. Elsewhere in France, Martin Otonicar won the bunch sprint at the Tour du Centre Var, Chambery CF took two stages in a row at Tour de l'Ardeche Meridional with Nans Peters and Aurelien Paret-Peintre while Odrian Champossin (AVC Aix-en-Provence) blasted the sprint by 3 bike lengths at the GP Carces ahead of Corentin Ermanault.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Where Are They Now?

There are always those riders that catch your eye and stay on your radar for years. They could have a hot streak and be the flavor of the month but even after a cold streak, you still wonder what happened to them. Inevitably in the bike shop, someone will pip in with "Hey, you know whatever happened to Tom Steels?" I mean, it doesn't have to be Tom Steels. It could be Djamouladine Abdoujaparov. Or Ludovic Turpin. Anyways, let's take a look at a few of these cases from some U23 and continental riders that have taken on the role of High Plains Drifter.

Yuri Metlushenko

It was only a couple of years ago when Metlushenko was torching all comers in the Tour of Taihu Lake in a late career renaissance. When I was starting to get deep in cycling, Metlushenko transferred to Amore & Vita and in 2008, he proceeded to win the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Classic in a sprint ahead of Karl "He has the strength of ten" Menzies and Brad Huff. For the next two seasons, Metlushenko struck success mainly in Asia but was able to take more races in America and in a handful in Europe. It isn't surprising as Metlushenko was a prime talent back with Landbouwkrediet when they brought on the Ukranians with Popovych and Bileka. Metlushenko didn't have luck with securing big contracts (he looked certain for Lampre-ISD) but they fell through at the last minute.

Now Metlushenko, who has had success in China throughout his career, is riding on the Jilun-Shakeland Cycling, which he signed with halfway through last year. The team was notable for signing Mustafa Sayar and Dmytro Grabovskyy last year. Sayar was notorious for winning the Tour of Turkey but then testing positive for EPO while Grabovskyy is a Ukranian-Israeli that has been bouncing around the world in cycling as well as dabbling in Ironman racing. Metlushenko will most likely be at the Tour of Qinghai Lake as well as some of the later season Chinese races.

Some interesting facts about Metlushenko are that he reads the entire Bible from cover to cover every year and that the large scar you see on his face is from a crash in the days right after his first pro win in at the GP Costa degli Etruschi in 2002.

Here is a interview with him over at VeloVeritas that has a few nuggets.

Sergej Fuchs

There are riders that leave cycling and completely disappear off the map. American John Devine is a good example. Sergej Fuchs has an interesting story but he disappeared as fast as he came.

Fuchs was born in Kazakhstan, which at that time was a Soviet Republic. The city he was born in is Karaganda, which at its high consisted of 70% ethnic Germans who were exiled to Siberia and Kazakhstan by Stalin. Karaganda is in the middle of fucking nowhere, or was until Astana was built. Built near coal mines that was notorious for using slave labor, Karaganda lost a dramatic portion in the decade after the disillusionment of the Soviet Union with roughly 100 thousand people emigrating to Germany, with Fuchs and his family being one of them.

Fuchs rode as a junior and then eventually joined Team 3C-Gruppe, which featured some other talent such as Dominic Klemme, Paul Voß and Sebastian Forke. He rode to the top 10 in Olympia's Tour and the Rothaus Regio Tour as well as riding in his first Tour de l'Avenir, which saw him finish 13th against the like of Jan Bakelants, Rui Costa, Jerome Coppel, Andrey Amador and Tejay van Garderen. The following year, his last in the U23 ranks, he joined Rabobank Development along with van Garderen, Theo Bos, Steven Kruijswijk and Michel Kreder. Fuchs, the lone German on the team, has some good results like 6th in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, 5th in the Tour de l'Ain TT, 10th in the Tour du Poitou Charentes and culminated in a 3rd overall in the Tour de l'Avenir thanks to some good mountains riding and a strong time trial.

Results like that would usually culminate in a pro contract for most riders but Fuchs came up empty handed and was left with a ride for Nutrixxion-Sparkasse. His first season out of the U23 ranks wasn't bad with a 4th overall in Fleche du Sud but after three more seasons with Nutrixxion and NSP-Ghost, Fuchs retired and is seemingly untraceable on the internet. No Facebook. No Linkedin. No Twitter. So if you have any idea on the whereabouts of Sergej, please give an update because I'm curious to see what he is up to.

David Boily

Canada hasn't had a huge history with big time Grand Tour contenders up until Ryder Hesjedal began his run with Garmin that included his Giro d'Italia victory. Steve Bauer is the only other Canadian to win a Grand Tour stage and even sprinter Gord Fraser didn't get a big chance in Europe after he left due to disenchantment with the Festina era.

Born just ten days after your author in 1990, David Boily looked like he could be the chosen one. Beginning his athletic career as an figure skater, the Quebecois rider transitioned to cycling in his teens and finished 3rd in the Tour de l'Abitibi in 2008. As a first year U23, he turned some heads in America with a 3rd place on Wachusett Mountain in the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, which was right behind Rory Sutherland, who was in the middle of his reign as king of American stage races, as well as a 6th overall in the Univest GP. Boily split time with the road and track, the latter of which he rode some a World Cup in Manchester.

2010 was an emerging year for Boily as he racked up a lot of quality race days including multiple week long stage races and grabbed some nice results. He was 9th overall in the Tour de Beauce, 9th in the UCI 1.1 Sparkassen Giro Bochum and finished 16th in the U23 World RR in Geelong.

He stepped up with Spidertech to the Pro Continental level in 2011 and by all accounts, he wasn't having his best year year with spotty results before the Tour de l'Avenir. He started well in the prologue and made multiple early breakaways to vault himself up the leaderboard and into the yellow jersey. He was able to hang on for dear life on the later stages to hang onto 2nd overall behind Colombian Johan Esteban Chaves and ahead of the likes of Mattia Cattaneo, Vegard Stake Laengen and Warren Barguil.

2012 was again an up and down year as he rode well in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (13th), 2nd in the Tour of California KOM classification and 4th overall in the Coupe des Nations Saguenay (beaten by the likes of Kamyshev, Alaphilippe and Lutsenko). While his season didn't end well racing wise and Spidertech folded in October, he seemed certain for a contract with the Cannondale team, which was then the new iteration of Liquigas, along with fellow Canadian Guillaume Boivin. That was until the team over-promised and Boily was searching for a contract in December of that year.

Boily was saved by Cristian Fanini's Amore e Vita team for 2013, which was "Ukranian" that year but featured 11 different nationalities. Boily only finished a handful of races, including the Tour of Iran, but had stopped racing by June. The cause? Respiratory issues that saw his lung function decreased to 60 to 70% capacity of a normal person, which was caused by multiple falls as a skater and cyclist without proper recovery. Boily was unable to function properly as a rider and was forced to step off the bike for nearly a year. While in rehabilitation, Boily took up a job in catering to have some income coming in. He came back as an independent rider in 2014, where he focused on some regional races in Canada.

Boily was able to ride with the Stringray-Ultime Vélo-Trek team in 2015 to rehabilitate further and secure a contract with the Garneau-Québecor after a two year absence from UCI racing. If recovered fully from the cramping and breathing issues that plagued him for years, Boily could make a resurgence and perhaps we will be able to see the talent that saw him get into the leader's jersey in the Tour de l'Avenir.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Algerian Grand Tour

For the last couple of seasons, there has been a new sensation taking over the spring cycling season from a country that was one of the traditional powers in Africa that had been dormant for many years. Algeria, when it was an a region of France, was able to produce a few talents that got into the Tour de France back in the 1950s but after the breakdown of Algerian/French relations, the country lost much of its cycling tradition. The Tour d'Algeria went on as an amateur event in the late 60s and 70s and was popular with the Eastern Bloc riders but after a failed attempt in the 80s, the race didn't come back for good until 2011.

Algerian cycling has featured a comeback of sorts since the mid-2000s with Youcef Reguigui (Dimension Data) being the headline rider for the nation. The number of races in the country have been growing and reached a peak last year with the birth of Le Tour d'Algérie Cycliste, the Grand Tour of Algeria.

While there is no overall general classification as the tour is made up of 10 separate races of varying length, last year's event didn't see one rider make it through the whole affair but Dimension Data's Mekseb Debesay managed to get in the first 17 racing days before DNFing the 2nd stage of the Tour International de Constantine. Hichem Chaabane won 8 of the events but ended up testing positive for EPO and earned himself an 18-month suspension.

This year's schedule is similar to last year's with 10 races over the month of March totaling 22 race days in all.

March 4th - Circuit International d'Alger
March 5th-7th - Tour Internationale d'Oranie
March 8th - Grand Prix de la Ville d'Oran
March 10th-12th - Tour International de Blida
March 13th-16th - Tour International de Setif
March 17th - Criterium International de Setif
March 19th-22nd - Tour Internationale d'Annaba
March 23rd-25th - Tour International de Constantine
March 26th - Circuit International de Constantine
March 28th - Criterium International de Blida

The racing itself can be anywhere from big bunch sprints to serious gutter racing with crosswinds mangling the peloton and spitting riders out left, right and center. 

The only confirmed team at this point is the Rwandan National Team but the race should be attended by multiple national teams in Africa plus with a smattering of continental and amateur teams. The race is bookended by events in Morocco with the Continental Championships taking place before the race on February 22nd and 26th (for the elites) and the Tour of Morocco takes place from April 1st to 10th. In total, that is 34 racing days in just over a month's time. That is in the Maghreb alone and just a week after Morocco ends, there are 8 more days of racing in Eritrea. 42 racing days in just about two months would knacker any rider, continental or World Tour level alike.

Espoirs Central will follow up with more once the racing gets underway next month.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mid-Week Update

It is literally days away from the season kicking off in Spain and France for the amateurs. Espoirs Central is brimming with...something.

BMC Development Team Camp
Down in Calpe, BMC Development is getting ready for another season that will probably start up in the Netherlands and then make their way down to Italy for some early season races.

Klein Constantia Team Camp
Guess who is also in Calpe? The Etixx and BMC teams can't seem to get enough enough of one another so they have their team camps scheduled for the same time on the Spanish coast.

Dobla Bragado

I am pretty positive that 99.9% of the people reading this have no idea about the Dobla Bragado. That is a very small number seeing how many people don't read this website. I was one of these numbers until the past week when I noticed some familiar names on the result sheets that some Americans might recognize. Namely Alejandro Borrajo, who rode for Rite Aid and Jamis for half a decade, and Juan Pablo Dotti, who tested positive in 2011 and then violated the terms of his suspension, which saw him "benched" until 2015. When I say benched, I mean that he was freely racing in Argentina. I remember Dotti distinctively because when he was in the US with Team Aerocat, he won some of my hometown races in Cincinnati (looking at you, Hyde Park Blast).

Anyways, this is a race that has been going on without much pause since 1922 as this year is the 81st edition, which is pretty astounding for the Western Hemisphere. In any case, it is one of the most important races on the Argentinian domestic scene and many of the big names turn out. Over 11 stages, it was Laureano Rosas that won the race in impressive fashion by winning 6 stages to take his 3rd overall win in the race. It wasn't Rosas most impressive haul in this race as he won 8 stages in 2014. Borrajo and Dotti both won stages in the race.

Namibian Nationals

Deep in the heart of...southwestern Africa. While Namibia is really in its infancy in terms of cycling, they have taken advantage of the UCI Africa Tour and have gotten enough points to qualify for London 2012 and now, Rio 2016.

In the time trial, Christina Jewelry rider Till Drobisch walloped the time trial by 44 seconds on Dan Craven. Drobisch is the next big Namibian rider and he should get plenty of opportunities on the Christina Jewelry team this year.

In the road race, it was Drobisch, Craven and Raul Costa Seibeb that were going after the title. The trio stayed together over the 126 kilometer course and destroyed the rest of the field, who would finish over 10 minutes down. In the end, it was Craven that won a very tight sprint ahead of Drobisch with Seibeb close behind in 3rd. Craven sealed the Olympic spot while the reserve spot should go to Drobisch though Seibeb is still in the running for that.

On the big island of Illes Balears, the Trofeo Manacor took place over the past weekend and an invading Brit, George Pym, attacked solo ahead of a small group of 5 Mallorcan riders to win by 7 seconds. This was the first of three races that make up the Un Invierno en Mallorca, a Winter in Mallorca.

Costa degli Etruschi

It would be stupid to overlook the opening Italian race as there were a couple good performances. Giulio Ciccone was in his debut race with Bardiani-CSF and like he was a seasoned pro, he made the lead group and ended up 5th in the sprint, which was won by Grega Bole. Not far behind, 2nd place in the U23 Worlds RR Simone Consonni won the bunch sprint for 13th, which was the best U23 on the day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Espoirs Central Update

Let's find out what has been happening in the world, Johnny...

Twin brothers Rui and Ivo Oliveira dominated Portuguese Track Nationals in Sangalhos by winning the Keirin, Kilometer and Pursuit titles. It isn't really any surprise that these two won as they have been scourges of the board in Portugal and have competed well at the European and International level. Unless you know the junior ranks or follow Iberia closely, the Oliveira twins are a bit unknown but they have big engines that could see them join the thin ranks of Portuguese riders on the World Tour level at some point. It is hard to break out of the insular ranks of Portuguese cycling but perhaps they could take the route of Ruben Guerreiro (Axeon Hagens Berman) so that they do not get caught in the faceless ocean of riders on the Iberian coast.
Till Drobisch isn't a U23 anymore but the Namibian, who signed with Team Stuttgart for this season, crushed the Westlane Loops Road Race in Windhoek by winning solo by nearly 2.5 minutes. The most comical part about this win was that his chief competition, Raul Costa Seibeb, overslept and missed the race. Living close to the course, Seibeb just walked outside and watched everyone go by. It was the last race before the National RR, which should be a duel between the two and could prove pivotal in the Olympic selection however Dan Craven is the front runner the the southwestern African nation.
Who was the sole U23 rider to make the front group at that former MTB racer turned Tour de France winner's Great Ocean RR? Michael Storer. He is something special and making the front group in your first pro race before turning 19 years old just underlines that fact. He is joining VL Technics in Belgium, where he has had success in the junior ranks, but he will inevitably get some reps with the Australian National Team. The move to be outside of the Australian National Team bubble is risky but it could pay off down the road as many that go through the program tend to be a bit coddled in the team house in Varese and have a rough adjustment once they are all alone in the pro ranks.

Other things have happened but those are a couple of the blow by blow takes. Today marks the beginning of a big block of racing including Etoille des Besseges, Comunitat Valencia, Dubai Tour and Herald Sun Tour. European racing on the amateur level doesn't take off for a week or two yet so that is on the precipice while Colombian Nationals take place later this week and South African Nationals next week.

To be continued...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Keegan Swirbul: In Transition

As is know throughout sport and life, many young sensations have a propensity of burning out. Promise turns to what if. People wax about that moment when "they" saw the potential and wonder aloud about how great they could have been. Cycling sees this on a fortnightly basis, it seems like, as young riders turn one big ride into a contract and then try to keep the contracts coming in even if it means transitioning from a young gun to a yeoman.

It isn't often in cycling that a rider is put up on a pedestal at the tender age of 16. Most times, a rider must go through their last two junior years of cycling to be able to get that up-and-comer recognition. Keegan Swirbul certainly got caught up in this. Just a month shy of his 17th birthday in 2012, he beat Lance Armstrong in the Power of Four mountain bike race in Aspen, Colorado. It wasn't a simple sprint win either. Swirbul launched an attack on the final climb and put an aging Armstrong in his place by winning by over 5 minutes. The proclamations began to roll in. Outside ran a headline with "Is Keegan Swirbul the next Lance Armstrong?" and the New York Times even ran a small story on the race. There were quotes about dreaming to race the Tour de France even though he hadn't raced a road bike seriously up to that point.

Before riding up mountain passes and trying to reach pro cycling, the main outlet for the El Jebel, Colorado native was parkour. "I used to do some pretty wild stuff before cycling. I was heavily into parkour and I used to do insane flips off building into concrete and all sorts of wild stunts and somehow, I never got injured." I know there are probably some that will roll their eyes and laugh but see the video below or the countless ones from his old Youtube channel.

While he pedaled the mountain bike and raced to a 2nd place in the 15-16 year old National XC MTB Championship, he was focused on cross-country skiing in the latter portion of high school and won at the National Championships in Alaska. Even with success on the mountain bike and in skiiing, Swirbul was still dedicated to the notion of switching over to road cycling and after Lance Armstrong passed his information to Axel Merckx, Swirbul was all set to join Bissell for the 2014 season. This is what Espoirs Central said upon the signing annoucement.

I'm still scratching my head at Swirbul because I don't know if he has raced more than a handful of road races but I don't his signing was on just a hunch.

What do you do with a rider that has an incredible engine who could probably crack nearly every rider in the peloton if it were on a mountain pass in Colorado? Enter him into Redlands Classic. On the first stage, he finished 199th out of 201 starters. Since then, Swirbul has had up and down results that have had some people scratching their heads. In his rookie season, he was riding well after taking 2nd place in the National U23 RR to teammate Tanner Putt and in the Tour of Utah and finished 21st on the stage to Snowbird, right with now-BMC pro Dylan Teuns. The next day he was out of the race after he had a flair up with tendonitis and was able to just sit in the pack at the USA Pro Challenge.
2015 didn't start off well either. After looking good in pre-season, Swirbul was hampered with overtraining and a knee injury and was on mandatory rest until finally racing at the end of late May, when we won the Iron Horse Classic, the famous point-to-point race from Durango to Silverton, CO. Soon he was back at the Tour de Beauce and going pretty well with an 6th place on Mont Megantic and ending 14th overall. 10 days later, he weathered attacks from BMC Development and Cal Giant and countered on the uphill finish to win the U23 National RR title.

After the national title, his season hit a wall. He was selected for the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and USA U23 director Mike Sayers had high hopes for Swirbul for an overall result. Swirbul wasn't on great form and in his first trip to Europe, he wasn't on his A game. Then at the Trofeo Almar, Swirbul was caught up in the same crash that Alexey Vermeulen broke his scaphoid in and ended up with a concussion. Said concussion took him out of the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge thus ending his season.

The potential that many were salivating over in 2012 is still a bit of a mystery. Sayers still isn't sure what will come of Swirbul. "He is for sure a work in progress. I am not totally sure what we have in him. Clearly, he is an excellent climber. His descending skills are way above average also so those could lead to some excellent results. He is still extremely "green" but his dedication to training and working, on that side of it, is incredible." Swirbul decided to take a plunge and move over the the more European-focused BMC Development, which he sees as a route that suits him better than staying exclusively in America and fighting on the wide highways in Colorado and Utah.

That dedication to training has been present since his teenage days. Be it parkour, skiing or cycling, Swirbul's focus on training was on a high level. His training for the new season was in full flight but yet another injury caused him a set back. While in Tucson, Arizona, Swirbul had another bout of tendonitis, which he thinks came from a new shoe cleat setup combined with too much low cadence work. Never having any issues in other sports, Swirbul said, "I think that I am just going through a streak of bad luck with these issues as I don't believe I am overly susceptible as many people now believe me to be. The injury this off-season was really frustrating as I came in with incredibly high motivation this year to not make the same mistakes with overtraining and other issues that I made the last winter so it was really hard for me to be off the bike when I desperately wanted to make some progress this winter."

Another step Swirbul is looking to make is to not just be a training champion. "I just have to learn how to arrive at races with my top level versus wasting that shape in training or showing up way tired or whatever and I am hopeful that this year I will be able to put it all together when it actually matters in the races rather than score big time on some local Strava KOMs."

One thing that could certainly help with this is that Swirbul is working with a new coach, which is something that Sayers certainly agreed with. "I think a lot of the negative things he was going through were due to a highly incompetent, borderline masochistic coach that had no idea what he was doing to this kid." Sayers seems hopeful that with Swirbul on a good track, everyone will finally be able to see what Swirbul is capable of.

When asked what he would do if cycling didn't work out, Swirbul was honest saying, "If I went (away from) cycling, honestly I'd give everything I had in another sport. I know it sounds trashy, but my whole life I've dreamed of being a professional athlete at something."

This year isn't make or break for Swirbul but it is certainly important for his development. He doesn't want to be a national level cyclist and plod along on the continental circuit for the better part of a decade before hanging up the wheels to work as a cycling coach. It is World Tour or bust for Swirbul. If he is able to put the training to the road, he could be one of the top U23 climbers on the circuit but alas, the twisting mountain roads of Europe will decide his fate.

Swirbul starts his year in Portugal with the National team before going to Italy for some of the early one day races. His first target race is unsurprisingly the grueling Tour des Pays de Savoie and he will most likely target mountain stage races along with the Tour de l'Avenir later in the season.