Wednesday, October 1, 2014

U23 World Road Race Roundup

So I had a bit of a holiday during the end of Worlds week so frankly, this roundup is really late and unneeded for many.

The race went off at 1 p.m. local to the not-so-dulcet tones of Phil Liggett.

The first breakaway got off within the first few hundred meters with Rasim Reis (Turkey), Eduard Grosu (Romania) and Sebastian Schönberger (Austria) getting a gap. After the first climb, Reis dropped away and Tural Isgandarov (Azerbaijan) joined the break. Isgandarov had trouble holding on during the descent but they had a lead of 24 seconds after the first lap over a chase group that broke away during the 2nd climb on the course. Before the 1st climb on the 2nd lap, the race was back together after a fairly quick start.

As everything came together again, Schönberger rolled off the front again and brought with him Adil Barbari (Algeria) and Roman Kustadinchev (Russia). The peloton seemed to be okay with this group and they let them get a 1'08" gap. The peloton was waiting for a couple more hours before the race would heat up.

On lap 3, the peloton took a little tumble on a very strange part of the road, which seemingly had 2 levels. Those involved included Abdenour Yahmi (Algeria) and Gerardo Medina (Mexico), who both unclipped but neither fell. The gap went over 2 minutes to the breakaway while many teams including Australia, Poland, Colombia and others hitting the front at different points.

At the 1 hour and 59 minute mark, the camera guys tried to do the "Catlike helmet view". Never do this again.

Once the gap hit nearly 4 minutes, a restless peloton saw another launch attack including Owisan (Poland), Lennard Hofstede (Netherlands), Sindre Lunke (Norway) and Pierre-Roger Latour (France). Meanwhile, Barbari was dropped from the breakaway after struggling one to many times on the climbs. Floris De Tier (Belgium) bridged to the chase but the Germans, who didn't like the reactionary  move, drilled it and brought everything back, which deleted 1 minute from the breaks lead, which was just 2'15".

I heard Phil call Adil Barbari as "Andrew Barbari". Never do this again.

Moves kept happening off the front of the peloton but nothing was sticking for the time being. Eritrea and Azerbaijan were tail-gunning the peloton while Schönberger and Kustadinchev went to finish the 5th out of 10 laps.. The biggest news at this point though was Caleb Ewan being temporarily dropped by the bunch on the 2nd climb of the course. Along with teammate Jack Haig, he was able to join up again.

Mike Teunissen jumped away on the 1st climb on the 6th lap and for a while, he motored on solo ahead of the peloton. After about a half lap, the Dutchman was brought back into the fold. A weird move for someone who was looking to win the race.

While the two upfront kept plugging away, Ruben Zepuntke (Germany) led a small group over the top of the 2nd climb to try and bridge inlcuding Tilegen Maidos (Kazakhstan), Willie Smit (South Africa), Amanuel Gebrezgabihier (Eritrea), Hofstede, Van Rooy and Jose Luis Rodriguez, the Chilean who was solo who they picked up. P.S. Smit has some wide, powerful looking shoulders on him. Anyways, this group was able to pull back some time to the breakaway while the peloton waited.

On lap 7, Merhawi Kudus got a flat and had a dreadfully slow change but was able to rejoin. Schönberger and Kustadinchev led out front but Zepuntke exploded the chasing group and only Hofstede was only able to join him. Zepuntke was another I was surprised with going so early when he showed form in the Tour of Alberta that he could potential go for a win. After the 1st downhill, the main group consisted of Zepuntke, Hofstede, Kustadinchev, Schönberger and Maidos with Latour chasing shortly behind. Australia, looking to keep things relatively together, was all over the front the breakaway up front kept going strong with a 1'09" back to the peloton. That gap wouldn't last.

After over 130 kilometers, Schönberger finally called it quits while Louis Meintjes hit off the front of the peloton. It was an interesting move seeing as he got his 2nd place in Florence doing the same thing and as he is no sprinter, he was going to have to attack at some point. Meintjes was off the front solo while others that attacked just behind him included Stefan Küng and Piotr Brozyna (Poland), who joined the chasing group. Then it was Ignacio Prado (Mexico) and Hernando Bohorquez (Colombia) who bridged up to that group.

Meintjes continued to power off the front alone following the 8th lap with a chasing group at 16 seconds but the peloton was bearing down. Up the first climb on the 9th lap, Meintjes was caught by a group of 16 riders. I guess even riding the Vuelta doesn't give you the power to breakaway with three laps to go and try and solo to victory. As this breakaway was getting shutdown on the 2nd climb on the penultimate lap by Australia, Kevin Ledanois (France) attempted to go for glory. He was able to go through the start/finish by himself but only by 10 seconds. Australia was still on the front.

Ledanois was dogged in his effort to stay on the front while Australia was whipping the pace up in the peloton before the first climb. As the race hit the first climb, Ledanois was kaput and just after, Joaquim Silva, the Portuguese U23 RR Champ, and Mikel Iturria (Spain) hit off the front. Silva accelerated and he stayed out for a while before being passed by Brayan Ramirez (Colombia). Behind Ramirez, Tanner Putt and Gianni Moscon joined Silva. After a brief regrouping of the chasers, Moscon went solo behind Ramirez on the descent from the first climb but slide out on a corner and crashed pretty hard.

Once the race hit the 2nd climb on the circuit, the last climb of the race, the race-defining move came. Sven Erik Bystrøm hit the front and just powered his way past Ramirez and not even the most deft climbers could bridge up to him. It was a brilliant move as Bystrøm had not shown himself at all up until that moment. When I mention deft climbers chasing him, it was the likes of Robert Power, Fernando Gaviria, Mathieu van der Poel, Tiesj Benoot and others. Bystrøm was on a flier and if he wasn't in the tuck position, he was just as frequently in the drops and powering his way to the finish. Fernando Gaviria had attacked and had a gap up on the chasing peloton but within sight of the finishing banner, Gaviria was slowed up by the peloton.

Bystrøm had time to sit up in the finishing straight and he was able to celebrate his beautiful, well-timed win. While Thor Hushovd was retiring, Norway is having a fantastic bunch coming up from the U23s with Bystrøm, Sondre Enger, Odd Eiking and more. Just behind Bystrøm, Caleb Ewan led the bunch home 7 seconds later ahead of Norway's Kristoffer Skjerping, Tiesj Benoot and Norway's Enger. 3 out of the top 5 is pretty damn good.

Australia? I think their mistake was controlling it for so long. They were on the front for over half of the race, which seems excessive. You can still be active in a race without riding on the front for nearly 100 kilometers. Still good to get a medal with Ewan in any case.








Thursday, September 25, 2014

U23 World Road Race Preview

Back in 2012, I predicted that Alexey Lutsenko would sprint to the win in Valkenburg. Last year...well I had no idea Mohoric would do what he did. I'm hoping to reach my inner swami and predict the future once more. I was a little rusty in the TT by getting the podium correct but out of order so I'm going to have my shit down by come Thursday.

History

The World U23 RR only dates back to 1996, when Giuliano Figueras led a 3-up Italian EPO-fueled beat down of the race. The first 3 winners (Figueras, Kurt-Asle Arvesen and Ivan Basso) rode for Zalf-Euromobil, led by Luciano Rui, during those years while 1999 winner Leonardo Giordani rode for dope-rich DS Olivano Locatelli. The racing stayed dirty through wins by Evgeny Petrov and Yaroslav Popovych, podium places by Thomas Dekker and podium rides by anonymous Russians that disappeared into the background.

In more recent years, the results have been all over the place. Some races have been crapshoots. I'm thinking 2007 Stuttgart where a small bunch sprint came to the line and making it through multiple crashes for the win was...Peter Velits, then by no means unheard of as he had won the GP Fourmies 2 weeks prior. Finishing 11th that day? Juraj Sagan. 108th? Alexander Kristoff.

Others featured a shooting star that flashed incredibly bright before going dormant. I'm looking at you Romain Sicard. The now Europcar rider won the Tour de l'Avenir thanks to some French scheming and then in Mendrisio, he attacked and blew by Egor Silin to take an amazing solo win. I might have to stop poking fun at him because he did just get 13th in the Vuelta but I mean, you have to admit his first 4 years as a pro were anonymous.

Then sometimes the stars aligned. 2010's Worlds in Melbourne saw the big 3 finish on the podium as Michael Matthews took the home win ahead of John Degenkolb and Taylor Phinney. Not to forget Arnaud Demare was 5th and Sonny Colbrelli 6th. (Sorry Guillaume Boivin for excluding your half-podium with Phinney.) Also, 2006 in Salzburg; wunderkind Gerald Ciolek formed a breakaway with Robert Gesink, Francesco Gavazzi, Jelle Vanendert, Romain Feillu and the outlier dopebag Alexander Khatuntsev (So good for one year, got a big contract and bombed). They ended up holding off the bunch including Edvald Boassen Hagen and Mark Cavendish and Ciolek took the sprint. 8 professionals in the top 10 in that race.

This race can be a crapshoot or a seeing glass into the future. So let us take a look at the course then to see if it will be leaning towards a crapshoot or a future Elite Worlds podium.

The Course

I've lost some sleep trying to think about who this course is suited for. Okay, not really but this is a challenging course to try and figure out. This is a medium-difficulty course that could suit a few different types of riders. The riders will tackle a 18.2 kilometer circuit 10 times that will feature 2 climbs on each circuit as well as a downhill final 3 kilometers, which is the same finish the TT had.

These two climbs include the Confederacion climb and the Mirador climb. The Confederacion climb is 5 kilometers in length but only half of that is much of a gradient and the whole climb itself is an average of 3.3%. The max gradient is a mere 8.7%, which isn't something to scoff at but it is nothing sustained. The Mirador has some stronger gradients with a maximum of 10.7% and average of 5.5%. While the gradients are a bit stronger, the length is just 1.1 kilometers. The course isn't a sprinters paradise but it isn't quite as hard as last year's course. Hmmm...

My two cents...I'm thinking a group of 6 to 8 gets away in the finale including a couple of fasts guys and they stay away until the end.

The Who's Who

That means every last country god damn it because what if you have questions about Algeria? or Rwanda? Who will be there for you? Not CyclingNews, that is for damn sure. We shall start from the top of the start list, which was made official today.


  • Slovenia might be the defending champs because of Matej Mohoric but they will have a tough time repeating. Luka Pibernik could get into the top 10 but I don't think the future Lampre rider will be contending for the win.
  • Belgium is coming in as one of the contenders for the win as they seem to have a weapon for every situation. Tiesj Benoot is their most versatile weapon as he is brilliant on the attack, can climb with nearly anyone on these type of climbs and shows himself off in any sprint. If the race turns out to be more of a straight-up sprint, they have Jasper De Buyst. Need some attacking climbers? Loic Vliegen and Dylan Teuns. Throw in classics rider Kenneth Van Rooy and Floris De Tier, and you have a damn strong team.
  • As of right now, Thomas Boudat is my favorite to take the rainbow stripes. The compact sprinter who switches between the road & track and reminds many of Bryan Coquard seems to be the perfect fit for this course that sits between difficult and easy. He is backed up by a strong team in Loic Chetout, Quentin Jauregui, Pierre-Roger Latour and Kevin Ledanois, who won the Tour du Jura 2 weeks ago.
  • Russia had a good l'Avenir with Foliforov and Rybalkin going top 5 overall and if the course becomes more selective then they are the two best bets for a high finish. If it sticks together, it will be Evgeny Shalunov who can mix it up in the sprint for the Russians.
  • Colombia comes in with one of the strongest teams. Tour de l'Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez crashed in the TT but should be ready to attack on the hills here. If there is any sprint, Pan-Am Champ Fernando Gaviria is their best bet for a the win. 
  • Is Sondre Holst Enger going to show up for Norway here or is he going to just ride an anonymous race? Because he has some amazing talent but this year, besides some Norwegian races, he hasn't been his 2013-self. If Enger can't get his shit together, Katusha recruit Sven Erik Bystrøm and Kristoffer Skjerping will be there for a sprint-type finish. For the hills, they have Odd Eiking and Sindre Lunke. My problem with this team? Not always consistent. They could have the best team on paper but then they finish just so-so.
  • While Stefan Küng might be a little disappointed from his bronze in the time trial, he still will have his eyes on the road race. Just like he did in the European U23 RR, he could try and attack near the end to steal a huge win here. Lukas Spengler was in great for earlier this year in some hilly Italian races so maybe he can bring some of that to Ponferrada?
  • Will Mathieu van der Poel be able to pull off a shock result at the Worlds with a vicious attack on the final lap? Maybe. Or you know...maybe not. Mike Teunissen is the most seasoned rider on the team but after some injuries this year, his form is just coming back but he did win the Rabo Baronie Breda Classic last week in a mass sprint.
  • I love Magnus Cort's attitude. He was quoted as saying this weekend that he was racing for the win and that he would rather attack, go out front and be brought back than ride in and be content with a top 10 finish. Hell yeah. Because 5 years from now, who is going to remember that you got 7th place in the U23 Worlds RR? No. Not even me. You know who was 7th in the 2009 race in Mendrisio? I hear crickets. It was Yevgeni Nepomnyachshiy. I know everyone talks about his ride from that race. If Cort fails, there are the Kragh brother, Asbjørn and Søren, who are good for attacks and Asbjørn has a good sprint on his as well.
  • Australia comes in as the hot favorite with wunderkinds Caleb Ewan and Robert Power. Ewan will be hard to overcome as he is a sprinter that can climb well and get over climbs most sprinters can't. Power will get bored, flick it into the big ring and make everyone bleed out their eyes. Put in TT Champ Campbell Flakemore, climber Jack Haig and workmen Sam Spokes & Alex Clements and then you have a damn strong team. I think they will be disappointed if they don't come out with at least a medal.
  • For Great Britain, it will depend on who is in form. I think Tao Geoghegan Hart can make the front group but I doubt go for the win. If Owain Doull is in good form then he could go for the podium; if not, then it could be a bit disappointing. I think this course is a bit too much for Dan McLay and his sprint.
  • After an anonymous l'Avenir, Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev has a lot to prove. Is he legit or was he a one-hit wonder? He finished 2nd in the Tour Bohemia to Lukas Pöstlberger and seems to be riding well. Maxat Ayazbayev is riding along on a quiet year and it just seems like Kazakhstan will be a team that will be riding there with the front group but not really showing themselves.
  • Austria is one of my dark horse teams. They have both Lukas Pöstlberger and Gregor Mühlberger. Pöstlberger had a 60 kilometer solo breakaway at the Tour Bohemia to win while Mühlberger was 11th in the 1.HC Tre Valli Varesine and won the Trofeo Piva Banca earlier this year, which had a hilly course that suits a breakaway, a similar situation to this course. The dark horse of the dark horse team is Michael Gogl, who was 15th in l'Avenir and was 4th on a stage there that had a hard finale with a climb in the final couple kilometers. 
  • Is this going to be Silvio Herklotz's year to win U23 Worlds. The uber-talented German has had a quiet summer but this is a course that seems to suit him to a T. It has climbs but they are not super hard and even if it comes down to a select sprint, he has a great turn of speed. If the race sticks together and more sprinters hang on, Jan Dieteren can offer a bigger turn of speed that Herklotz. And let's not forget Ruben Zepuntke, who seemed to turn a corner at Tour of Alberta. He packs a sprint at the end of a classics-style course that could be good use.
  • If Tanner Putt got a top 10 here for the USA, I would be sooooooo happy.
  • *Cue my talk about Davide Martinelli needing to focus on sprinting.* Seriously though, if Martinelli can hang over the climbs then he could stick it to many in the sprint. I'm not talking out of my ass. A top 10 is possibly. Luca Chirico is known to hang on during hilly races and then be around for the sprint at the end and climbs better than Martinelli. Mass sprint? Federico Zurlo. Climbs weed some people out? Iuri Filosi and Gianni Moscon are there but they lack a bit finishing kick; they rely on solo breakaways moves from 20-30km out.
  • Hmmmm Portugal has some good riders. Rafael Reis is obviously a strong TT rider after his 4th place on Monday. Ruben Guerreiro is probably their best bet for a strong result but maybe top 20?
  • Well I hope Spain has a respectable showing at home. I'm rooting for Mikel Iturria (my Basque love showing) but not expecting too much from the homeboys.
  • I doubt Ryan Mullen can come anywhere near his U23 TT result from Monday but Jack Wilson is probably the best bet for a strong ride.
  • Alex Kirsch will be hoping the race can stay relatively together for a sprint because he would be an outsider for a medal if everything went right.  He definitely doesn't have much help from a weak Luxembourg team.
  • Poland is a land I struggle with but I think that their best shot for a good result comes from Pryzemyslaw Kasperkiewicz. PK won a stage in the U23 Peace Race, finished 3rd in the Carpathian Couriers Tour and was 5th in the recent Tour Bohemia. Piotr Brozyna is just a first year U23 but has had a good year as he was the Polish U23 RR Champ and finishing the Tour de l'Avenir.
  • Matti Manninen? Well carry Finland as far as you can. He did finish 5th in the European U23 RR after all, which was the sole reason they qualified, so miracles can happen.
  • Eritrea had stressful lead up to the race with Metkel Eyob and Meron Teshome being stranded in Sudan with visa issues. Their best rider is obviously Merhawi Kudus and he could possibly get a top 10 for the team if the race breaks up.
  • Romania's golden hope is Eduard Grosu, who has had a very strong season with Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa. He has a good sprint on him but with these hills, I don't think he will be able to handle the climbs.
  • Louis Meintjes is basically the team here. He will need to do something similar to last year where he attacked near the end and stuck the move, only being dropped by Matej Mohoric. I mean after riding the damn Vuelta, he should be kicking ass but then that goes into that old argument from me about why Pro Continental riders shouldn't be allowed in these races.
  • I get so hopeful for Moroccan riders because they tend to be amazing in African racing but once they leave the continent, they never quite live up the those standards they have set. Salah Mraouni comes to mind as he has about 20 top 10's this year but I doubt he will factor at all into the race.
  • Ahmet Örken will be carrying Turkey on his back. He is a strong sprinter with a win in the Tour of Qinghai Lake and top 10 finishes in the Tour of Turkey. Question is if he can make it up 20 climbs with the lead group to make a factor.
  • Algeria has well...not much. Adil Barbari should be their best finisher. They race a lot in Northern Africa but unless you know your competition and race at their level, then it is going to be a tough time to compete
  • Rwanda deserves to celebrate even making the championships and I find the stories of Jean Bosco Nsengimana, Valens Ndayisenga and Vendee U's Bonaventure Uwizeyimana incredibly inspiring. They might not even finish the race but I will be unabashedly cheering for them.
  • Slovakia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Latvia and Serbia...crickets. Seriously, nothing substantial to say.
  • So this is Albania's first trip to Worlds in quite a long time. I'm fairly certain that even Eugert Zhupa didn't even line up for the country that is known for their indecipherable language and being one of the most isolated states on earth until 1992. While Albania as a whole is on the rebound, their cycling roots are just taking shape now. The tiny Balkan nation have two gems in Xhuliano Kamberaj and Iltjan Nika. They both race in Italy since Albania has no racing infrastructure but they have been producing good results. Kamberaj has been all over the top 10 as a sprinter for Cipollini Ale Rime including 7th in the UCI Circuito del Porto while Nika was 3rd in the Junior Worlds RR last year. Both are young (Kamberaj a '94 while Nika is a '95) so they have some time to develop further.
  • James Oram and Dion Smith have had successful seasons racing a mostly USA domestic circuit. Oram has been developing as a stage racer and Smith is more of an all-around sprinter type. They are the only two Kiwis here but they both have the tools to put in good rides. You can sense my unenthusiastic answer, huh?
  • There is this Costa Rican, Jeison Vega, that will be interesting to see. Hasn't raced much but seems to be a strong rider. I'm waiting for the next Andrey Amador to come out of there.
  • Belarus brings to strong riders in Nikolai Shumov and Aliaksandr Riabushenko. Both were top 25 in the European U23 RR. These riders from Belarus can come out from nowhere so perhaps another top 25?
  • From South America and Mexico, there are a few riders that could ride well here. Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile) rode well in the time trial and seems to climb well for the road race. Ciao Godoy (Brazil) might be nicknamed as the Cannibal but he hasn't been riding up to that name...yet. He can climb well though. Yonder Godoy (Venezuela) rides with Androni Venezuela during the year and while he hasn't made much of an impact with them, he is stepping down a level and could get a results here. Mexico brings Luis Lemus Davila and Ignacio Prado and well...maybe a top 40?
My podium? 1. Thomas Boudat 2. Caleb Ewan 3. Fernando Gaviria. Watch for a twitter preview soon if you make it this far!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Campbell Flakemore wins U23 Worlds TT in a nail-biter

In what is the closest U23 Worlds TT finish in history, Campbell Flakemore was able to cap his U23 career with a rainbow jersey after making up a nearly 20 second deficit between the final checkpoint and the finish line to push Ryan Mullen (Ireland) out of the hot seat and into the silver medal position.
Ahmet Orken (Turkey) was the first rider to roll off the start ramp at 2 p.m. local time under threatening skies. The first few riders got a little advantage of being able to ride without any rain and that included Louis Meintjes (South Africa). While I object to Meintjes being to participate after riding a full pro season and the damn Vuelta, he was the 6th starter and took advantage of the dry course to put in a 44'38", which was an average speed of nearly 48.6 km/h. While the rain had begun to fall on the course, James Oram put in a good ride that saw him start really quick and then do a slow burn to the finish that would see him come in 21 seconds down on Meintjes to take the provisional 2nd place.

The biggest surprise of the day was Portugal's Rafael Reis. Reis was wearing the 41st bib and was far away from the favorite starters. To be honest, I didn't think Reis would do much. Reis was 6th in the Junior Worlds TT in 2010 in Copenhagen but since then, he hasn't done much except win some Portuguese U23 TT Championships. A 15th place in the Volta a Portugal TT was no predictor for what he did in Ponferrada Monday. Reis went out hard in the off and on rain, sprinting out of corners and set the fastest time checks before coming in 29 seconds faster than Meintjes. It was some great pacing by Reis because some riders like Andreas Vangstad (Norway) went faster than him but then faded later on. Reis set the bar high for the favorites that would come later.

Obviously Meintjes and Oram got a little advantage with the rain while other riders like Jon Dibben, Vangstad and others rode through a torrential downpour. Dibben rode out of his skin and if he had dry roads, it might have been an absolute ripper. He finished 19 seconds down on Reis to sit himself in 2nd with Vangstad just 6 seconds behind him in 3rd. The rain took Tour de l'Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez as a tariff; the Colombian tore his skinsuit but was still able to finish in the mid-table.

Riders were coming and going but no one was coming close to Reis. Frederik Frison was only 4 seconds down to Reis at check 1 but Reis rode an incredibly quick 2nd check that distanced the Belgian, who would eventually finish in 9th. It was a similar story for Søren Kragh, who started just 6 seconds back of Reis, but was distanced on the back half of the course to finish 16th.

Once Ryan Mullen hit the first check point, then the true race was on. Mullen just demolished Vangstad's best time by 21 seconds and looked incredibly smooth on his Vitus. And actually, no one was anywhere near his time. Mullen started so fast that he had a 20 second lead back to 2nd place Campbell Flakemore at check 1. Perhaps going out a little slower would have been a little better strategy for Mullen...

One of the biggest "what-ifs" had to go to Maximillian Schachmann. The German was on an absolute ripper of a ride and eventually ended up 5th on the day. Most everyone would be ecstatic with that ride but Schachmann was very sad. But why? Well the young German finished 37 seconds back but that included a crash...that is right, Schachmann crashed on course and rode the last half of the course in pain but he kept getting faster as the course went on. Could he have challenged for the medals? Maybe. Just keep an eye on him next year in Richmond.

While Mullen went out like a bat out of hell, Küng and Flakemore kept conserving as they still knew they had the final climb at the end of the course. While Mullen went flat out on the dead flat first half, he was suffering a little on the back half including on the climb. Mullen came in with 8 riders still out on course; his mount agape trying to hoover as much air as possible into his lungs. He was swerving down the finishing straight and came across in the lead, nearly 19 seconds up on Rafi Reis.

Mullen had even extended his lead to both Küng and Flakemore, whom he lead by 23 and 21 seconds at the 2nd check. Party time has going to be happening soon for thousands of his supporters but I do hear that the race isn't over until Phil Liggett sings. In the final check, Flakemore was able to bring back over 21 seconds and with a stunned Mullen watching on from the hot seat, Flakemore stood up and sprinted for the line. Flakemore beat the Irishman by .48 seconds. At nearly 50 kilometers per hour, that amounts to just 6 bike lengths. Over 36 kilometers and you tell me it comes down to 6 bike lengths? Damn. Being gutted is an understatement but Mullen will be back; this is not his only shot.

Stefan Küng brought back some time but the Swiss Mister was only able to finish 9 seconds down on Flakemore. Küng brings in a bronze medal in an amazing season with the RR still to come. Küng might be an after thought after Flakemore's incredible dramatics but his ride is nothing to scoff at. The big 3 came to play today and play they did.

 The Tasman Flakemore couldn't be a more deserving winner. Ask any of his teammates about how selfless he is as a rider and how willing he is to work for any one. Time trials are his times to shine and he does that with great aplomb. He isn't an incredible rider because he endurance is lacking for a future professional rider and he is a TT specialist so he has a bit to go before knocking on the World Tour door but cheers to Campbell Flakemore for the great win.

Ryan Mullen might have gotten his big win stolen from him but he is young. He will be in Richmond next year to get his rainbow bands. Perhaps Max Schachmann can keep it upright and those two can have a nice duel along with Jon Dibben? Can I call the podium a year in advance?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

U23 World Time Trial Championship Preview

Contre la montre. The race of truth. One man against the road. Does anyone want to here any more overused Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin quotes to describe a time trial? Didn't think so.

The U23 World Time Trial Championship is going on its 19th year (before it was just professionals and amateurs) and for the most part, the winners have gone on to some level of success as a pro. Success can be used in its loosest sense with guys like Markus Fothen but still, if you get a good result at Worlds then you should at least get a chance in the pro ranks.

For an example, there have been 24 riders on the podium of the U23 World TT in a ten year span from 2004-2013. 19 of them are currently professionals in either the World Tour or Professional Continental. Three others are still riding on the continental level in Dominique Cornu, Rasmus Quaade and Yoann Paillot. The former is well...doing not much while the latter two are still riding well. The only one not riding anymore is Kiwi Peter Latham, who was a significant part of the New Zealand Team Pursuit squad in 3 Olympics. The enigma of the bunch is Dmytro Grabovskyy, who was the absolute darling child as a U23, signed with Quick Step, proceeded to get a vicious drinking problem that nearly killed him, made a comeback, went off the wagon and now lives in Israel with his family and has ridden national events there.

Those 19 riders that are still kicking are: Janez Brajkovic, Thomas Dekker, Vicenzo Nibali, Mikhail Ignatiev, Jerome Coppel, Lars Boom, Adriano Malori, Patrick Gretsch, Cameron Meyer, Jack Bobridge, Nelson Oliviera, Taylor Phinney, Luke Durbridge, Marcel Kittel, Michael Hepburn, Damien Howson, Anton Vorobyev and Lasse Hansen. A pretty good list there.

The Course




There are a few noticeable differences about this year's course compared to last year's course in Florence. First, the course is 7 kilometers shorter than last year and more technical than last year's nearly dead straight affair. Second, this course will have a climb right near the finish that might prove a little tricky for some. It hits a maximum of 7% but the climb only lasts for maybe 1 kilometer before a sharp downhill into the final three kilometers, which only features one turn about 800 meters from the line.

The contenders are going to have to be riders that put out boatloads of power in a straight line but can handle a bike reasonably well. There are definitely a few that fit the bill.

The Contenders

I have three main contenders for the U23 World TT Championship that I think will separate themselves from the pack fairly well. Campbell Flakemore, Stefan Küng and Ryan Mullen are my three riders that I think will set themselves apart and fight it out of the medals. The start lists are still not finalized but these three seem to be a cut above the rest. I know that is excluding riders such as Davide Martinelli, Marlen Zmorka, Frederik Frison, TJ Eisenhart, etc. but these three are my choices.


Flakemore won the rain-soaked Tour de l'Avenir prologue and finished 3rd at last weekend's Chrono Champenois, a scant three seconds ahead of Stefan Küng. Flakemore had a poor early season but has come around and is continually lauded by his teammates for his selfless attitude. Flakmore won the Chrono Champenois last year and finished 4th at Worlds in Florence, just 12 seconds off the podium.  He also won time trials in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Olympia's Tour last year so while things have quieted down a bit this year for him, I expect him to come in with some scary good form.

Küng will be seen as the new Cancellara by some. He is the current European U23 pursuit champion, 2nd in the World Elite Pursuit Championship in Cali, the current European U23 TT and RR champion and did I mention he won a week long stage race in the Tour de Normandie? Scary fucking talented. It also might help that he is built like a truck (6'3" (1.93) and 185 pounds (84 kg)) but Küng should be taken lightly by no one in any race. He was just 3 seconds off Flakemore at Champenois and he will be hungry to stand on the podium.

Mullen will be the British Isles favorite. Yeah I'm aware he is declared for Ireland but he was born and raised in GB like many of Ireland's talents that ride under the flag. Mullen is the current Irish Elite TT and RR Champion and has been riding a lot of time trials on the British circuit including 2nd in the British 10-mile championships and clocking the 3rd fastest 10-mile in British history. Mullen missed the Chrono Champenois but for good reason as he was racing the Tour of Britain, where he finished 7th in the final TT just 20 seconds behind winner Sir Dame Sherlock Holmes Knight Brad Wiggins.

My prediction? 1. Küng 2. Flakemore 3. Mullen

Now I'm also not a very smart man so let us look at the rest of the field then so I can cover my tracks and tell you all that I didn't forget about <insert rider's name here>.

-Davide Martinelli is the current Italian U23 TT Champion and finished 2nd to Stefan Kung at the European U23 TT Championship. He also finished 2nd in the Tour de l'Avenir prologue but he had much better conditions than winner Campbell Flakemore and others that went late including Kung. Last year, he fell quite flat at Worlds after a promising year. This year will be a test because he has had his most successful year to date but will he be able to perform on the big show?

-Frederik Frison was just out of the top 10 last year with an 11th place in Florence and had a strong Chrono Champenois this year, finishing 8th place, which was in a group within 2 second of one another including Martinelli, Eisenhart, Manakov, etc. He won the big Angreau TT this year in Belgium but he has been light on results.

-TJ Eisenhart had a great Chrono Champenois after a small training camp with Stefan Küng and BMC Devo director Rik Verbrugghe, who wasn't a bad time trialist in his day. Eisenhart was the best of the rest in Champenois with a strong 5th place but he was a good ways off Flakemore and Küng. He is just at Worlds for the TT and he will be wanting to get a top 5, if the podium is a bit out of reach.

-Max Schachmann will be looking to break into the top 10 this year as a 2nd year U23 after his 12th place last year in Florence. The German was 5th in the European Championships and will like the course.

-Steven Lammertink is the sole Dutch entry into the race but he was 4th in the European Championships (and even signed a contract with SEG Racing for 2015).

-I don't know who the Russians will be but they will be looking for a top 10 if their rider is either Viktor Manakov or Alexander Evtushenko. Manakov was 6th in the Chrono Champenois while Evtushenko is the Russian U23 TT Champ and was 3rd in the European Championships.

-Jon Dibben is coming back from a broken elbow in the British U23 TT that halted his season. He isn't always on his TT game but when he is, he is damn good. He did win the Triptyque TT earlier this year

-Gregor Muhlberger has the ability to go top 10 in the time trial and the road race after the electric season he has had. He won time trials in the Istrian Spring Trophy and the Carpathian Couriers Tour along with the Austrian U23 TT, which was combined with the Elite Men so Muhlberger also got 2nd in the Elites. He took a little summer break but seems to be in form with 11th in the 1.HC Tre Valli Varesine as a stagiaire with NetApp-Endura.

-Ukranian Marlen Zmorka has had a troubled year with the violence back home and I can understand if his head isn't in it. He was 6th in the European Championships and won a couple TTs in Italy but will he be able to rally for Worlds?

This article might be updated when I can get a fucking start list from the organizers. We are 2 days out and still nothing is official. The best I have is cyclingfever's list so thank you to them.

*EDIT: Entry list available on the UCI website

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Transfer Update: BMC Development, Moser & Svendsen done, Topsport and more

Quick transfer update before diving deep into World Championship stuff...

BMC Development

While Rik Verbrugghe's ploeg is losing some good guys for 2015 in Dylan Teuns, Loic Vliegen and Stefan Küng, who are all going professional with BMC, but he has reloaded well for next year.

Joining the team for 2015 are three new signings (as of right now) including Swiss Thery Schir, Belgian Nathan Van Hooydonck and Australian Jesse Kerrison.

-Schir is built like brick house and kicks faces in.  He is mainly known from his track exploits as he is the current Swiss Omnium Champion, current U23 European Team Pursuit Champ and was bronze medalist in the Madison World Championship. While he is mainly on the track, Schir is the current Swiss U23 TT Champion...well just because Stefan Küng rode the Elite TT, where he was 2nd behind Cancellara.

-Van Hooydonck is transferring from Bissell Development to ride a more European-based schedule. He was quite the strong junior but this year he spent a lot of time in Belgium finishing up school and riding kermesses until later in summer, when he came over to join his Bissell teammates. He will fit in with the classics squad.

-Kerrison is finally getting some god damn recognition. Verbrugghe must have been reading my twitter because I just mentioned a couple week ago that Kerrison needs more respect as a sprinter (he does have 9 wins this year) and it seems like he will be getting a chance in Europe now. He might have a longer transition because the racing style and whatnot but he could be dangerous pretty soon into his career.

Ignazio Moser and Oskar Svendsen move on from cycling

In other news, there were a couple of riders that have announced plans to move on from cycling, at least temporarily in one case.

 Perennial under-performer Ignazio Moser announced his "retirement" from the sport. Moser cited a lack of motivation and drive for his decision to stop racing as well. He had already stopped once as a junior but picked it up again in the U23s and had some decent success but without the drive to get through the rough times, he stagnated and never really hit his peak. He did win a stage in the Tour de Guadeloupe in the beginning of August but he hasn't touched the bike since then. He will be going into the real world but seems to be destined to work with the family's vineyard.

Also announced was Oskar Svendsen's decision to step away from Team Joker and cycling to focus on a degree in psychology at the University of Trondheim. Svendsen was plunged head first into stardom after his win in the junior World TT Championship in 2012 in Valkenburg and a record Vo2max score. His transition to the pros was rough with weak pack skills and motivation that could flucuate at times. He got through the Tour de Bretagne this year rather well but was slammed with a virus that set him back again. He had another high in Valle d'Aosta with a near stage win but then following multiple crashes in l'Avenir, he was out of contention early. He was selected for Worlds but chose to forgo the event and step away from the sport. There is a good probability that he will return to cycling sometime in the near future but he will remain one of the biggest enigmas in cycling's recent memory.

You can go to this article on procycling.no for a deeper look

Elsewhere

-Former Belgian U23 RR Champion Jens Wallays signed with Topsport Vlaanderen for 2 years. This is the team's 5th signing for 2015 including Jef Van Meirhaeghe, Bert Van Lerberghe, Floris De Tier and Oliver Naesen.

-Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 winner Dylan Groenewegen has signed with Roompot-Orange Cycling for 2015. He is always a top 10 contender and should be able to grow with the team in races that he prefers even if I think that team is an just another example of how cycling cannot move on from the past and will still be stuck in old way. Not that I have a strong opinion or anything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Long Weekend Roundup

Quaade wins Chrono Champenois

In some of the most unsurprising news of the week, Rasmus Quaade won a time trial. Not just any time trial but a very important time trial in front of the World Championships, the Chrono Champenois. Situated in Betheny, which is just north of Reims in the Marne department in the north of France, the Chrono Champenois usually shows who is ready for the U23 World TT Championship. While this is a good U23 predictor, this race isn't strictly U23 thus why Rasmus Quaade was there to show everyone a tutorial on suffering.

For those not familiar with the race, the last three winners have been Campbell Flakemore, Rohan Dennis and Luke Durbridge. Other previous winners include Quaade in 2010 (before he crashed out of Worlds on a medal winning run), Vuelta TT winner Adriano Malori won it twice, Lazlo Bodrogi and Tomas Vaitkus. Lots of U23 World TT winners have ridden here as well as some of the best continental TT riders including the like of Quaade right now.

While Quaade beat everyone by a healthy measure on Sunday, this race proved that the U23 World TT is probably going to be a two horse race between Stefan Küng and Campbell Flakemore. The two stellar time trialists were the last two men to set off in the event and by the end of the 33.4 kilometer course, the two finished just 4 seconds off one another with Flakemore taking the "win" over Küng. They were over a minute faster than the next fastest U23 in TJ Eisenhart, who put in a great ride for 5th overall. While gold and silver might be looking to have two front runners in Ponferrada, Eisenhart is leading a troupe of others just behind these two including Viktor Manakov, Davide Martinelli and Frederik Frison. Another major contender is Irishman Ryan Mullen, who wasn't present but finished 7th in the Tour of Britain TT. We will get to that TT soon enough though...

Bouvry wins stage in Tour de Moselle; misses WC selection

After riding through multiple injuries this year, Dieter Bouvry pulled out a win in the 3rd stage of the Tour de Moselle after attacking his breakaway mates in the final kilometer. While Bouvry was able to take the win in Moselle, he wasn't able to get a selection for the U23 World Championships in Ponferrada. While the first 5 riders were announced, the 6th rider was a mystery until Monday. The selection was given to Kenneth Van Rooy, the Lotto-Belisol U23 rider that won the Top Competitie this year.  Bouvry, who is in his final year as a U23, is suited for the Ponferrada course but will have to be content with first alternate. He dropped out of the final stage of the Tour de Moselle.

U23 Nico Denz (Chambery CF) finished 2nd overall in the Tour de Moselle after a strong breakaway ride and a TT.

Teuns finishes 10th overall in Tour of Britain

Dylan Teuns (BMC) continues to impress as a stagiaire with BMC after finishing 10th overall in the Tour of Britain after taking three top 10 stage finishes on some of the hardest terrain the race had to offer. If it wasn't for a so-so time trial, Teuns would have finished higher up the GC but make no mistake, this kid is for real.

Tao Geoghegan Hart finished the race in 15th overall even after flipping over the bars on the 7th stage in the final corner into Brighton.

Pöstlberger wins Tour Bohemia; Kozhatayev 2nd

In the lead-up to the World Championships, Lukas Pöstlberger took a flyer from 60 kilometers and spent the rest of the race out front to take an impressive win. Coming home nearly 53 seconds later was Kazakh Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Astana CT), who rode much better than his Tour de l'Avenir results.

Ledanois wins Tour du Jura

One of the other best stagiaires of the season has been Kevin Ledanois of Bretagne Seche Environment. After a great Arctic Tour and a selection for the French National U23 team, Ledanois made the break in the Tour du Jura and in the hilly finale, he won the sprint ahead of David Belda, fellow U23 Pierre-Roger Latour and Nicolas Baldo. A good dark horse for Ponferrada.

Everything else...

-Jef Van Meirhaeghe and Bert Van Lerberghe signs with Topsport Vlaanderen

Topsport Vlaanderen continues their yearly signing of the best Belgian talent by signing Van Meirhaeghe (Lotto-Belisol U23) and Van Lerberghe (EFC-OPQS). Van Meirhaeghe is the current Belgian U23 RR Champion and is strong on classics style courses and shorter stage races. Van Lerberghe is a a similar style (finished 2nd in the U23 RR behind JVM) but is a bit stronger in the TT and is seemingly able to always be there in the finale; a good trait to have.

-Alex Kirsch signs with CULT Energy

A good move by the Luxembourg rider, I think. Kirsch has been riding with the Leopard-Trek Development for the last three years and even got a stagiaire role with Trek Factory Racing this year, where he rode the Tour of Utah. Kirsch originally started as a stage race rider but he has molded himself into a strong classics style rider that has a kick at the end to mix it up in the sprints.

-Gebrüder Weiss is ge-stopped.

Austria team is setting to stop after Gebrüder Weiss is pulling out and so-so results. Currently, the team has U23s in Michael Gogl and Maximillian Kuen.

-Stölting take final Bundesliga round; Buchmann wins overall

In the final round of the German Bundesliga (think USA NRC or Australian NRS), team Stölting ran amuck. On a doubleheader weekend, the Gelschenkirchen-based squad won the first race in an impressive 1-2-3 display with Phil Bauhaus, Jan Dieteren and Max Werda. Not to be outdone, Nils Politt (also Stölting) won the next day time trial.

Emanuel Buchmann (Rad-Net Rose) won the final overall standings ahead of Christopher Hatz (MLP Bergstraße). Buchmann deserves a hats off after the strong season he has had and he should keep it going in Ponferrada with Politt, Dieteren and their friends Silvio Herklotz and Ruben Zepuntke.

-Iliac artery surgery in the news again

It was announced the other day that SKY's Joe Dombrowski would be transferring to the "new" Cannnodale team run by Jonathan Vaughters after a rough 2 years with the British team. In an article with Cyclingnews, it was announced that Dombrowski had iliac artery surgery after suffering from numbness in his left leg for over a year before finally being diagnosed after the Tour de Suisse.

While my thoughts are anecdotal, it seems that iliac artery injuries are becoming more common. Just for example, Frederik Ludvigsson is facing an off-season surgery for his iliac artery after experience numbness and reduced power output, both of which are common signs of the injury. Any time I see someone tweet about numbness in their leg or reduced power, the iliac artery is my first thought. It is a scary thing because the surgery itself isn't a harmless procedure (South African Ryan Cox died from complications of the surgery). I'd love to due some more research on this because it seems to be a growing problem with rider's development.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Miguel Angel Lopez signs with Astana

So many of you have probably seen by now that Tour de l'Avenir winner Miguel Angel Lopez has agreed to a deal with Astana. The Colombian, who in his first European race, lit everyone up in the mountains to claim the overall crown and many teams were after him at that point.

Lopez (right) getting ready to fuck up Brayan Ramirez (photo: El Colombiano)
Claudio Corti and Team Colombia were trying to get him using the home team pull and what I'm sure would be a huge contract of maybe 20,000 bucks. Team SKY was thrown into the mix there but that would be just...no. With that, Astana came calling and through his agent Rafael Acevedo, a deal was done quickly to bring Lopez in for 2015 and 2016 to, and I quote a certain Mr. Alexander Vinokourov, "grow with (Astana)...and be an effective rider in the mountains and at first help Fabio Aru."

I have a bad feeling about this. My feelings are 100% right about 20% of the time but with this one...this one seems bad. Just a few things to note about this transfer...

-The whole transfer went through Lopez' agent Acevedo so the star of the future had no contact with the team during and since the contract. I'm sure Astana hierarchy might call him to the team's lair in Astana but never meeting a team that has a grand total of 1 Spanish-speaking rider in Mikel Landa and no Spanish-speaking staff, that I'm aware of. He will basically be flying solo into his neo-pro season without much of a support system around him so it is going to be a sink or swim scenario. I know Astana and Vino said he can grow with them but you know...they are a bit authoritarian.

-Lopez has had a history with crashes and injuries. He is nicknamed "El Superman" after he was knocked off his bike by robbers but even after being stabbed by them, he fought them off. While that was a bit out of left field, he also had a few more crashes and injuries that has limited his racing in the last few years.

-Lopez hasn't had a lot of racing time the last few years. Just this year, he had less than 30 racing days including the Tour de l'Avenir. The lack of racing might be okay at the U23 level but unless you are training at a ridiculously high level, he will have to have an adjustment period to World Tour level racing and the length of the season.

Speaking of which, Lopez rode his first race since l'Avenir in his home state of Boyaca in Colombia this past week, the Vuelta a Boyaca. He didn't miss a beat by finishing 3rd overall (best U23 by nearly 4 minutes) and in the top 10 on every stage (3rd, 2nd, 4th, 7th and 5th places).

I am just going to be very curious how this plays out with the larger training load, longer races, a more nervous peloton with double the amount of riders he is used to. All of these concerns might just be blips in the rearview mirror if he adjusts well but people need to be realistic before shoveling expectations onto him before he even takes his first pedal stroke in the Kazakh sky blue.