Friday, November 21, 2014

2015 Team Preview: SEG Racing

The logo for SEG Racing in 2015 (via SEG Racing)
New for 2015 comes yet another development team but the first sponsored by a sports agency. The cycling arm of the Sports Entertainment Group (SEG) was created in 2007 and is currently headed by Eelco and Martin Berkhout. SEG Cycling currently represents some very big names such as Dan Martin, Bauke Mollema, Sep Vanmarcke, Niki Terpstra, Wout Poels, Rory Sutherland and others. What would go better with represent your riders than hiring your own performance team to coach your up and coming stars on your own UCI team?

Being based in the Netherlands, the majority of the team is Dutch. The team is also not strictly a U23 team with a few riders outside of that parameter.

The two "elder statesmen" of the team are Yoeri Havik and Jasper Bovenhuis. Havik is a strong sprinter and classics rider that also has a penchant for the velodrome. Havik won the Antwerpse Havenpijl in a difficult sprint ahead of Ivar Slik (Rabobank Development). He also had ten top 10 finishes this year and won the Amsterdam Six Day with Niki Terpstra a few weeks ago. If he really puts his nose to the grind, he could break through for a few more wins in 2015. Bovenhuis rode for Rabobank Development for his entire U23 career and then with Koga this year. He had some of his better years in 2011 and 2012 but he is a pretty good sprinter that can survive a longer day and rides a good prologue. In any case, both riders are going to need to be strong examples for the crop of younger riders coming in that includes 4 juniors.

6 more Dutchman are joining SEG for the 2015 season. They include:

-Koen Bouwman comes over from Jo Piels. He is a developing all-arounder entering his last U23 season. He finished 4th in the Carpathian Couriers Tour after a very strong time trial and was 3rd in the KOM classification. Speaking of KOMs, he was also 2nd in the classification in the Oberösterreichrundfahrt. In one-day racing, he was 10th in the 1.1 Volta Limburg Classic. Look for him in some potential GC races and harder one-days.

-Davy Gunst comes over from EFC-OPQS after a good first year as a U23 but still has lots of room to improve. Gunst was a very strong junior rider in 2013 with a UCI win in the Ronde des Vallees stage 1 and multiple top 10 finishes in UCI races. In 2014, Gunst put in some good rides like a 20th overall in the Kreiz Breizh Elites, winning a few Belgian kermesses and finishing the Giro della Valle d'Aosta in a decent 46th. Gunst will be looking to gun for some hillier races and see if he can make an impact in some UCI races.

-Fabio Jakobsen is one of the juniors joining the squad. He was a tremendous sprinter with 10 wins by my count (11 by SEG's count) this year. Now all of these wins came in the Netherlands against mainly Dutch competition. Any time he faced international competition, he was either pushed down the podium or didn't make the bunch sprint. It'll be a big step up to elite competition

-The best junior Dutch talent SEG will have for 2015 will be Julius van den Berg. Van den Berg had 4 UCI wins in 2014 including a stage win and the overall in the La Coupe du President Grudziadz stage race along with a stage in the International Neidersachsen-Rundfahrt. He was 2nd in the Dutch Junior TT as well as 2nd in the Sint-Martinusprijs Kontich. He likes a breakaway and should be a good one to watch in 2015 to see if he can pull a UCI win.

-Ricardo van Dongen has shown his penchant for the classics but now he has to think about the rest of the calendar. He won the Junior Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2012. This year, he was 4th in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, which won the bunch sprint just behind breakaway rider Bas Tietema. Van Dongen seems to like these races but past them, he seems to make the major race splits but doesn't factor in the sprint. Example being he made the cut int he Sparkassen Münsterland Giro but finished 12th. This is an important year for him to step and see if he can turn these top 15s into top 5s and more importantly, some wins.

-The final Dutch rider was actually their first signing for 2015 and might be their biggest result getter for next year. Steven Lammertink won the Dutch U23 TT this year and finished 4th in the European U23 TT. I thought he would be set for a potential top five ride at Worlds but it was not to be and he settled for 14th place instead. Lammertink has the tendency to DNF a fair amount of races but when he is on then he can certainly produce. For example, he nearly stole a stage win in the Vuelta a Burgos this year after a botched lead-out saw Lammertink go for it on his own (instead of leading out Thomas Damuseau) and he was just passed by Matteo Pelucchi. Huge potential in Lammertink and could be a threat for ITT Worlds next year but he needs to become more consistent. I feel like I say that like it is so easy but it is so important for a rider to become consistent if they have any shot at becoming a professional.

The foreign signings for SEG Racing include:

-Jenthe Biermans and Rob Leemans are the two Belgians joining up with the team. Biermans come from Giant-Shimano Development and won the Belgian Junior RR and the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors in 2013. Biermans had an alright season but should be getting a better calendar and more chances to shine in 2015. Leemans is coming from Lotto-Belisol U23 after having his best season as a U23. He won 3 regional races in Belgium against some pretty good competition. He had some top 10 finishes in UCI races and also, he is built like fucking Popeye.

-Following a powerful sprint win in the World Junior RR Championship, SEG locked down German Jonas Bokeloh. Now I don't want to say that his Worlds win was a fluke but..yeah. Bokeloh did with the German Junior RR but that was his only other major win on the season. He did tally 6 other wins but they were minor wins in Germany. Bokeloh did ride a good amount of UCI races but for the most part, he was beat by riders such as Enzo Wouters, Izidor Penko and Gianmarco Begnoni. Bokeloh, to me, isn't going to be a bunch sprinter.

He is going to need more selective courses to thin out the guys with the biggest kick and then he will be able to pounce. Even with that in mind, his Worlds sprint was surprising. He attacked late in the race with just over 6 kilometers left, joined the breakaway and he was brought back by the peloton. He was doing work inside the last 2 kilometers but thanks to riders getting mixed up, he was able to get a little rest in the last 600 meters before leading out from the front and holding everyone off. He seemed to be the beneficiary of circumstances. I just hope people are not expecting big bunch sprint results out of him right out of the gate.
-Speaking of super talented juniors, Magnus Bak Klaris is yet another super-talented young Dane to come through the system. The question is, along with many young Danes that have been coming through, if he will actually show his true potential or if he will never reach the heights of his early career and hit a massive wall. I could list a whole bunch of names like Thomas Vedel Kvist, Rasmus Guldhammer, Andre Steensen, Jonas Aaen, Rasmus Sterobo and so on but it has certainly been a theme in Danish cycling. Bak Klaris took out the Paris-Roubaix Juniors this year after launching a late attack and held off a reduced bunch sprint of 14 riders. He won the Junior Peace Race after making the breakaway on the final two stages, got two 2nd places and stole the GC on the final stage from Rayane Bouhanni. He took two more breakaway wins in Gent-Menen and the 4th stage of the GP Rüebliland. He even got into the mix in the World Junior RR sprint with 5th place to cap off his season. The young kid from Copenhagen obviously has the talent but it will be interesting to see if he is another statistic in the problematic development of Danish cyclists or he continues to excel to a pro career.

-The Irish-Australian Robert-Jon McCarthy had a really good first half of the season with AnPost-Chain Reaction but the 2nd half of the season was a disaster. McCarthy finished 2 races, both in the 100s, out of 9 races. McCarthy has some strong sprinting talents judging by his wins in the final stage of the Herald Sun Tour and the opening stage of the An Post Ras. If he could duplicate the opening of 2014 over the whole season in 2015, then McCarthy will have no problems.

-The final rider for 2015 with SEG is Alex Peters, one of the sensations of the 2014 season with the Madison-Genesis team. The Brit Peters, who is one of the only Hackney riders on the circuit, won the Tour of Reservoir this year on the British Premier calendar before breaking out for some big UCI rides. He was 2nd overall in the An Post Ras by just 25 seconds and won the youth classification. He had just turned 20 and on his steel bike, he was turning heads. He was 2nd in the KOM classification in the Kreiz Breizh Elites and while he finished 36th in the Tour of Britain, he would have finished so much better if it wasn't for a disastrous TT where he finished in dead last (105th at +7'33") after crashing in the final bend and having to walk his bike across the line. If it wasn't for that, he probably would have finished somewhere inside the top 30.

The roster looks fairly good for 2015. They are lacking a big name rider with a track record of success but this is a development team so the goal will be getting one or two of their riders to really make the next step to winning races.

The team is bringing on a pretty good director staff with some ex-pros to lead the team and a coach from outside the usual loop.

-Ton Welling will be joining as the team manager for 2015, coming over from the Koga team that will be defunct as of January 1.
-Michiel Elizjen rode for 5 years professionally and then hung up the wheels at just 28 years old and became a director in 2011. He will join as the performance director for the team after 2 years of directing at Belkin.
-Peter Schep was a World Champion in the points race in 2006 and was a force on the track for the first decade of the 2000s. Schep will be one of the performance coaches on the team and he has been working with some of the riders already.
-Some of you might recognize the name Vasilis Anastopoulos from when Thomas Dekker made his comeback with Garmin. Anastopoulos was a professional with Volksbank for 5 years and has been managing and coaching SP Tableware for the last few years. He will be responsible for the testing and data analysis for the entire team.
-Joining Elizjen in the team car will be Brit Neil Martin, the father of Garmin pro Dan Martin, who is also a SEG client. Martin is a former British National RR Champion and has been the Irish National team coach for the past several seasons.

Also, the team will be riding Koga bikes (Ton Welling connection) on Shimano components.

Verdict: 5 UCI wins (maybe 10 if they ride amateur races)

I find it a bit confusing when teams count very small amateur races towards their win total but I feel like SEG will have a pretty good year. They have a very young team so they will be relying on their elder statesman for support but their young guys could produce a few wins. I'll be looking forward to see how the rider agency backing a team works out because it could be something that happens more in the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2015 Teams Preview: AWT-Greenway

What the fuck is this? AWT-Greenway? What the hell 2nd-rate team from Eastern Slovakia is this? Well for those that have been a little late following the news, the former Etixx development team got a new name. With Etixx taking over the title sponsorship of OPQS for 2015, the development team found new title sponsors so as not to create more confusion than they did before.
Let us begin with the new sponsors. AWT is a logistics firm in the Czech Republic that specializes in intermodal transportation and dealing a lot with rail lines. AWT is also owned by Zdenek Bakala, who is the head honcho of Etixx-OPQS. GreenWay is a Slovak company that specializes in electric vehicles. Go here to view their website.

Enough with the sponsors, the actual riders a most important. This biggest news here is that there are only two holdovers from 2014. Two. That is basically a whole new team. The two that they are keeping are Frenchman Alexis Guerin and Spaniard Alvaro Cuadros. Guerin had a career year with multiple top 15 in big one days like the Rund um Köln and the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. He was 4th overall in the Tour de Bretagne and 5th in the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia). He won't be a U23 in 2015 but that might be fine. Cuadros is meh to me. He had one good ride this year in the U23 Peace Race but that was it. He is very young so I cannot judge too much but a lot remains to be seen.

It should be mentioned that as a development team they did accomplish their most important goal, which is the actual development of the riders. They sent five riders to World Tour or Pro Continental teams including Karel Hnik (CULT Energy), Jan Hirt (CCC Sprandi), Sam Spokes (Drapac), Tim Kerkhof (Roompot) and probably most importantly, Lukasz Wisniowski, who went to the mother team Etixx-OPQS.

The other riders going away include Czech Radovan Dolezel, Belgian Paco Ghistelinck (retiring at the tender age of 21), Croat Josip Rumac (Adria Mobil) and the Hoelgaard brothers Markus and Daniel, who are heading to Øster Hus and Team Joker, respectively.

While they lost a lot, they might be gaining a lot more. Many times last year I was certainly left wondering where the hell Etixx was. Next year might be a bit better in that regards. Let us start with their foreign talents.

-The German duo of Jan Brockhoff and Max Schachmann are coming over from the now defunct Giant-Shimano Development team. Schachmann is certainly a force in the time trial at just 20 years old. He was 5th in the World Championships, just 37 seconds down on winner Campbell Flakemore, and he even crashed. Without that, he would have been close to a podium performance. He is still developing in other areas and it remains to be seen where he can go but his engine is powerful. Brockhoff adds depth in a jack-of-all-trades way. He can make it through a tough course and can sprint a bit, TT pretty well and climb when asked. Still finding himself as a rider but as his Tour Alsace stage win shows, the talent is there.

-Spaniard Ivan Garcia Cortina is just 19 and doesn't have a big palmares to his name but comes off the recommendation of old dope bags Carlos Barredo and Chechu Rubiera. He won the Spanish junior RR championship in 2012 and put in a few nice rides this year but nothing huge.

-Probably one of the best signings was Pole Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz from Bauknecht-Author. The 20-year old showed some strength this year with a breakaway stage win in the U23 Peace Race and a 3rd overall in the Carpathian Couriers Tour. He showed some toughness by only having one DNF on the year and even finished the Tour of Poland, albeit in 125th position. Expect some nice rides by Kasperkiewicz this coming year in the breakaway.

-The rider that could bring the most immediate affect on AWT-Greenway for 2015 is Slovak Erik Baska. The sprinter clocked up 3 UCI wins in 2014. Granted they were all in Central Europe but he certainly has a strong kick and could fill the hole left by the Hoelgaard brothers. The only concern with Baska is if his endurance is high enough to be able to contend sprints in harder and longer races, which is something he didn't have this year.

-Probably the most surprising signing by the team was Rayane Bouhanni, the younger brother of soon-to-be Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni. Bouhanni is not as one-dimensional as his brother and put up a staggering amount of results in 2014. He nearly won the Junior Peace Race but was unseated from the lead on the final day to Magnus Bak Klaris. Following double 10th place performances in the European RR and TT, Bouhanni jumped over the pond to the Tour de l'Abitibi. He got into the breakaway on the first stage with guess who...Magnus Klaris Bak...and won the stage. He gained some bonus seconds here and there and after Bak Klaris faltered, he took the overall for good, which made him the first Frenchman to win Abitibi since Arnaud Jouffroy in 2008. He then proceeded to win the French Junior RR and took 2nd in the TT.

That might have sounded like a big jerk-off paragraph but Rayane is just so different than his brother. Now his results could be a product that he was just on another level from other riders but I think he will be more of a rider that will be focused on breakaways, small sprints and trying to go for overall GC in races that require a good TT and a little attacking panache.

-Being a Czech team, the management had to bring in a bunch of Czech riders to get past the UCI rule mandating that the team have a majority of riders from the country where the team is licensed. The most experienced rider on the team will now be Jakub Novak, who comes over after two seasons with BMC Development. Novak had a very strong 2013 that included 4th in the Cascade Classic, 11th in the Tour of Alberta and 6th in the Chrono Champenois. He had a good early season as a domestique that saw teammates win the Tour de Normandie (Stefan Küng) and 2nd in the Tour de Bretagne (Dylan Teuns) but Novak didn't see many results himself. Novak needs to have a big season in 2015 if he is looking to continue his professional career.

Michal Schlegel was 2nd in the Czech U23 TT this year by just 1 seconds in just his first U23 season after winning the Czech Junior TT in both 2012 & 2013. He was 4th in the stupid hard (and longest fucking named race) GP Kralovehradeckeho kraje, which was on the same time as Etixx-OPQS signing Lukasz Wisniowski.

The other two Czechs, Roman Lehky and Matej Bechyne, are both coming out of the junior ranks. Lehky was 2nd in the Czech Junior TT this year while Bechyne rode for the Belgian Tietsle Renners in 2014, the same club that former World Junior TT Igor DeCraene rode for before his passing. While they seem to be good riders, it does speak some volumes that the team wasn't able to sign the best Czech junior from their class, Adam Toupalik, who was the main UCI point scorer for the country.

Let us not forget who are in charge of these young riders. Pavel Padrnos is one of the sports directors. This is a rider who was caught with banned products in the San Remo raids and was home boys with Lance. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him. Martin Riska is the new director joining for 2015. He was 5-times the champion of Slovakia in the RR and retired back in 2011. This is probably a big boost for the team because they lacked a director that had more recent racing experience.

In any case, the team looks like it could do well for 2015. It certainly isn't the most talented team and will not get the biggest results but there are some gems here.

My prediction: 8 wins. They lost so much of their core that this year is about rebuild and try to see where they can shine when they can.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Espoirs of 2014

It is finally the post that you all have been waiting for. No more looking at 1st years and riders who bombed. No, no. It is finally time to unveil Espoirs Central's Top 5 Espoirs of 2014 list. If you have read any of my other previous lists, you know that I have a tendency to be effusive and I'm not very good at sticking to just 5. As with every article, if you disagree or just want to congratulate me on my brilliance, then please leave a comment, tweet me @Vlaanderen90 or send me an email (look to your right for that).

1. Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development - Netherlands - 1992)

This could very well be the Dutch's next classics star. Mike Teunissen won the U23 World Cyclocross Championship in Louisville in 2013 ahead of emerging stars Wietse Bosmans and Wout van Aert. This capped off a year that saw his win the European U23 Championship and win the Tabor World Cup. Following his successful 2013 campaign, Teunissen virtually gave up the dirt for a chance as a career on the road and he hasn't looked back since.

2014 saw Teunissen be a classics juggernaut. Anything from flat pavé to steep climbs saw the Limburger do well this year. Teunissen got started a little later with Triptyque Monts et Chateux in April but after keeping within striking distance, he went on a balls out attack on the final stage to try and take back the overall. Teunissen and his breakaway mates were gobbled up in the final lap but he was able to hang on for 2nd on the stage and 6th overall. The next weekend, he finished 5th in the crash-ridden finale of the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 where his Dutch National teammate Dylan Groenewegen won. The young guy even finished Tro-Bro Léon, probably my favorite French one day race that is the Bretagne cousin to Paris-Roubaix filled with farm tracks and shit conditions.

In any race the he runs, Teunissen seems to try and go for the win. He doesn't have the sprint to stay with any pure sprinters but he can out sprint many. He can't out climb every rider but he can hang on when many can't. He is also a damn good teammate. He finished 13th in the Tour de Bretagne overall when his teammate Bert-Jan Lindeman won the race overall.

The obvious gem of his season was his U23 Paris-Roubaix win in June when he just rode Tyler Williams and Bas Tietema off his wheel and soloed to a huge win in the Roubaix velodrome. It was a display of raw power that most will never be able to produce themselves and is a key sign that Teunissen is ready for the big leagues. Many could just rest on their laurels and ride out the rest of the season but he wasn't about to do that. He grabbed 3rd overall in the 2.1 Boucles de la Mayenne (best U23) and was 20th overall in the 2.1 Ster ZLM Tour. Then at the Dutch Nationals, his season hit the emergency brake. After 2nd place in the U23 TT to Steven Lammertink, Teunissen broke his collarbone on the final lap of the road race. Back to the drawing board...

His season was nearly derailed on his comeback. Teunissen came back in August with a good showing at the Kreiz Breizh Elites in 15th overall but following a DNF in the Tour de l'Ain, it was announced Teunissen would not be apart of the Tour de l'Avenir selection for the Netherlands. Ruh roh.

While it was a temporary disappointment, Teunissen built up for a strong cap to the end of his season. After a top 10 at the GP Jef Scherens, he repeated at the Rabo Baronie Breda Classic. He went on to finish in the front group at the World Championships on a course that wasn't quite hard enough.

To end his U23 career, Teunissen did what he does best. He broke away. With Sam Oomen and Martijn Tusveld, Teunissen did a 3-man TTT through the finale of the Paris-Tours Espoirs. In the finale kilometer, Teunissen broke away to take the solo win to cap off what was a great season and a preview of what is to come.

2. Robert Power (Australia - 1995)

I have written effusively about the 1st year U23 from Western Australia to the point that if I'm sure some of you could write an article about himself yourself. Robert Power made a name for himself as a junior but this year, he took himself to another level as a prodigious climber and as someone who isn't afraid to stick it into the big ring and ride people off his wheel.

While he had strong performances through the spring, the highlight of his season was a stretch through August when barely anyone could hold his wheel. He beat the Zalf-Euromobil juggernaut in Briga Novarese, he won solo in the GP Poggiana and then bridged up and dropped the breakaway at GP Capodarco to win solo. He even went up against Miguel Angel Lopez in the high mountains of the Alps and while he finished 2nd overall, he did prove his versatility in terns of different climbs.

You better savor him in 2015 because I'm guessing it'll be his last as a U23.

3. Magnus Cort (CULT Energy - Denmark - 1993)

I always seem to talk about Robert Power's trifecta or Louis Vervaeke's big stage race wins in l'Isard and Pays de Savoie but it is hard to get past how prolific Magnus Cort was in 2014. The Danish rider from the island of Bornholm had 11 UCI wins in just 47 race starts (including 1 TTT), which is a winning percentage of 23.4%. That is astronomical for a rider who isn't a bunch sprinter and in the his first 24 racing days of the year, he clocked up 5 stage wins, 3 one-day race wins and 2 overall victories at the Ronde de l'Oise and Istrian Spring Trophy. He had a 33% winning percentage through early June if you don't count his overall wins. Fucking insane. Yeah, it might just be the continental level but that level of success boggles the mind.

He scored 2 professional wins on the year with stage wins in the Tour des Fjords and Post Danmark Rundt, the former being a small select sprint ahead of Michael Valgren and Jerome Baugnies while the later was a bigger bunch sprint.

The one mark against Cort was that he didn't really produce in any U23 races where he was denied a stage win in the Tour de l'Avenir, having to settle for two 2nd places in a row, while his best U23 one-day race was 6th in the U23 Eschborn-Frankfurt, where teammate Mads Pedersen won. That is a fairly small mark considering his wins are arguably more important than U23 competition but he also did seem to peter out a little bit at the end of his season with a much more quiet finish than his beginning.

4. Miguel Angel Lopez (Colombia - 1994)

Heading into 2014, I don't know many people that had Miguel Angel Lopez on their mind. Having had multiple injuries and being racked with a stabbing attack while on the bike in 2010 that garnered him the monicker "El Superman", Lopez hadn't had much racing time and was a bit of an enigma.

I first became aware of Miguel Angel Lopez after his performance at the Vuelta de la Juventud, the U23 version of the Vuelta a Colombia. Lopez, riding for the Boyaca Lottery, took down overall leader Brayan Ramirez on the queen stage to take the overall lead and eventually the win. Lopez was dominant in Colombia this year with 12 wins in his home country including an uphill time trial win over dipshit Oscar Sevilla.

Lopez, in an interview with El Pais, came across as a very serious rider who seems annoyed with a lot of questioning and doesn't understand the need for lengthy interviews. His coach, Rafael Acevedo, spotted him as a junior and got a house for Lopez on his farm so he could keep a closer eye on his development. A little strange by some standards but Lopez, who comes from a farming family, showed tenacity and his engine when climbing was incomprehensible.

Lopez's first trip outside of Colombia was to Europe this year with the Colombian national team. While he DNFed the GP Capodarco, he put in a strong prologue at l'Avenir with 13th and was able to get through the sprint stages unscathed. Lopez's climbing was unmatched in l'Avenir. On the first climbing stage to Plateau de Solaison, Lopez dropped Robert Power and Pierre-Roger Latour to take 3rd on the stage and slip into the overall lead, which he would not relinquish. Lopez got his stage win on stage 6 when he broke away with Rob Power and out sprinted him for the win. With the overall win in hand, Lopez followed wheels on the final day and was the 3rd Colombian in 5 years to win the race.

Lopez is joining Astana for next season, which is going to be a sink or swim for the Colombian. He is young and not very tested over a long season. His climbing is great but how will be do on small roads for the majority of the year? I didn't think it was a good idea when it was announced but Lopez is tough mentally and if he can handle the isolation or being on a foreign team, then he should be able to improve off his l'Avenir ride.

5. Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23 - Belgium - 1994)

If we were looking at the most consistent rider of the season, Tiesj Benoot might be at the top of that list. The only thing missing from his season was a win, which ranks him lower on this list.

His season started off electric with two stage podiums and a 2nd place overall in the Triptyque Monts et Chateaux followed by two top 5 one day performances with 3rd place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and 5th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, where he won the group sprint that caught the breakaway on the line. So he was close but no worries, a win should be just around the corner.

Well Benoot came with his Lotto-Belisol U23 team to the Ronde de l'Isard and was the right hand man for teammate Louis Vervaeke, who was gunning for the overall win. Benoot rode one of the best performances on stage 2 when on Bagneres de Luchon, he rode Vervaeke across a nearly 2 minute gap to get Vervaeke into the overall lead, which he would keep to the end. Benoot held on for 3rd overall and his took his only "win" of the season, the youth classification. Benoot showed more versatility with a 15th place overall in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, 5th in the Fleche Ardennaise (won the group sprint) and 6th in the European U23 Championships (3rd in the bunch sprint).

Benoot got a stagiaire ride with Lotto-Belisol and rode the Tour of Denmark in August. Benoot made a huge impression on the 3rd stage when he got 3rd place, which was just behind Matti Breschel, and moved up to 2nd overall. He held that spot until the time trial where he put in a good ride in 17th but he slid down to 10th overall. Benoot kept up the good impression with the pro team by going 4th in the GP Stad Zottegem.

He dropped out of l'Avenir after becoming ill. He again showed himself in the sprint in the World U23 RR Championship with 4th place, which was 3rd in the bunch sprint behind a solo Sven Erik Bystrøm. He put an exclamation point on his season by getting 8th place in Binche-Tournai-Binche, a 1.1 race, and 16th in Paris-Tours, which is a 1.HC.

I've been throwing out all of these results and many of you will begin to skim and get a glazed over look in your eyes. The point being about Benoot is that he isn't the first rider to be this consistent. There have been many riders get a string of steady results but don't breakthrough for wins. What do pro teams want? A rider that gets 5 top-5 finishes or a rider that gets 1 win? Benoot goes on to Lotto-Soudal for 2015 & 2016 and I think he is going to be a good pro but a winner? That remains to be seen.

5b. Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Belisol U23 - Belgium - 1993)

Louis Vervaeke turned pro halfway through this season but the first half of his season was done as a U23. The way that he dominated in the mountains of France in the late spring and then later in the summer certainly warrant him to be on this list.

Vervaeke, who was 4th in both Tour des Pays de Savoie and Giro della Valle d'Aosta in 2013, started the season a bit slow but after a 5th in the Circuit de Wallonie, he showed he was ready to take on the Ronde de l'Isard. After showing himself with 3rd on stage 1, Vervaeke took advantage with a dominant ride on stage 2 with Benoot to move into the overall lead. Vervaeke  played defense the rest of the race and secured the overall by 1'22" on Maxime Le Lavandier.

He came back the next month in the Alps in the Tour des Pays de Savoie but had a little bit harder go of it. In the finale of stage 1, Dmitriy Ignatiev took off and took a minute out of the rest of the front group. Vervaeke blew up from chasing but came around and finished in 4th place, 1'19" down. With a sufficient hole dug, it was time to claw that time back. Stage 2 saw Vervaeke and 2nd place overall Jesus Del Pino crack Ignatiev on the climb to Plateau d'Assy, with the duo taking 53 seconds out of the Russian, who had a mysterious two-year break from cycling that I don't think was due to injury.

After trading some seconds in the split stage day, it came down to the final day where Vervaeke needed to take 28 seconds back from Ignatiev. The final day included two summits of the Col des Glieres with the final climb coming on the side of the Plateau des Glieres, which is famous for a brave stand by the Maquis (French Resistance fighters) against the Nazis. Vervaeke launched an attack an attack on the slopes of the Plateau and put Ignatiev on the back foot. Ignatiev wasn't catching him. Vervaeke had pulled off the coup. With his arms spread wide, he took the stage and by the time Ignatiev crossed the line, Vervaeke had 29 seconds. He cut it pretty fine but a win is a win.

Vervaeke had a rough transition to the pros due to some illness but came back for the Tour de l'Avenir. Vervaeke had up front in the mountains but he wasn't as dominant as he was earlier in the year. While his GC hopes were shot by the final doozy of a stage up to La Toussuire, Vervaeke through caution to the wind and bridged up to the breakaway on the first climb, the Col du Molard. He joined up with teammate Loïc Vliegen, who piloted him through the rest of the climb and at the foot of the Croix de Fer with 50 kilometers to go, Vervaeke went for it. Riding with the recent news of the tragic passing of Igor Decraene, Vervaeke went solo and didn't look back. GC hopes were out the window but he didn't care. He wanted something. Even as the gap plummeted, Vervaeke salvaged his race with a pretty damn awesome stage win ride and a great tribute to his fallen friends.

So Vervaeke was a U23 for half the year and he could have been higher up on this list but since he did turn pro, he is just being added because I like him.

Do you disagree? I know there are some that are very close on this list. Some of those include: Stefan Küng, Phil Bauhaus, Bernardo Suaza, Asbjørn Kragh, Simone Andreetta, Thomas Boudat, Dylan Teuns and others. I think I'm done talking about 2014. I want to look forward now. Look for stuff from the present and 2015. See you next time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Rider Breakthroughs

As I plow through top 5 lists for the 2014 season, the next one will focus on riders that busted out of their cocoons and into bad ass bike racers. While I did a post about 5 riders that dropped off their 2013 performances, these are 5 riders that got an "Exceeds Expectations" on their 2014 report cards. Like the majority of these lists, they are not 100% foolproof and the top 5 is in no particular order.

1. Eduard-Michael Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo - Romania)

Heading into 2014, the Romanian Eduard-Michael Grosu was stepping up a level in competition after riding with the Romanian National Team for a couple years as well as Overall Cycling on the Italian amateur circuit in 2013. He had racked up some results in the Tour of Romania, including a stage win in 2013, and won a small Italian race in a sprint over Paolo Simion, who is joining Bardiani-CSF for 2015. Grosu had a handful of top 10 finishes in Italian races but he was seemingly always a step behind the pure sprinters in Niccolo Bonifazio, Nicola Ruffoni and Nicolas Marini. (Apparently if you are named Nico-something in Italy, you are looking good for the sprints.)

In 2014, Grosu joined Vini Fantini-Nippo, the new Italian-Japanese fusion team, and made his mark early. While he didn't win the Carpathian Couriers Tour, he was easily the strongest rider there. In 6 stages, his lowest placing was 6th place in the ITT and he won the final two stages to finish 2nd overall to Gregor Mühlberger. Bunch sprints, breakaways and solo...he did it all. In the Tour of Estonia, an amalgam of former one-day races, the Tallinn-Tartu GP and the Tartu GP, Grosu won the first stage and was 2nd on the second stage to win the overall by 6 seconds.

One of his more impressive performances was a 2nd place in a stage of the Tour of Slovenia, where he was only behind Elia Viviani and beat riders like Michael Matthews, Borut Bozic and European Tour winner Tom Van Asbroeck.

Grosu went to the Tour of Qinghai Lake, one of the longest and hardest races no one gives a shit about, with a very strong Vini Fantini squad that included Grega Bole, Takashi Miyazawa and others. Grosu had 5 top 10s including 1 stage win into Zhongwei while Bole also had a stage win.

Now Grosu had some issues in longer Italian one-day races, where he DNFed pretty much everyone in the late season, and while he attempted to escape in the World U23 RR, he DNFed the race fairly early. So his season was a huge improvement from 2013 but there is definitely room to grow. Grosu is staying with Vini Fantini as they move to the Pro Continental ranks but he will need to keep the improvement going if he plans on getting onto the A-squad.

2. Phil Bauhaus (Stölting - Germany)

Okay, maybe this isn't a "breakthrough" more as logical improvement. Bauhaus was a good first-year U23 and won a stage in the Tour of Bulgaria but his improvement in 2014 was pretty stark. Bauhaus didn't start really going until late April where he was 2nd in Zuid Oost Drenthe, 7th in the Eschborn-Frankfurt (4th in the bunch sprint), winning Skive-Løbet and had 2 more top 10s in the Himmerland Rundt and Destination Thy.

Bauhaus was a presence in pro bunch sprints only as a 19-year old by going 7th in the Velothon Berlin, 4th and 5th in two stages of the Bayern Rundfahrt and 6th in a Tour of Luxembourg stage. He was 3rd in the German Elite RR, where he was only behind Andre Greipel and John Degenkolb.

Bauhaus really heated up towards the end of summer when he won 5 races including 2 stages of the Volta a Portugal, 1 stage of the Baltic Chain Tour and winning the Kernen Omloop.

While he was a good junior but Bauhaus made a huge jump this year in his sprint. He was being courted by Caja Rural but decided to sign with Team BORA for 2015, the new sponsor for NetApp-Endura, after Stölting announced they weren't moving to the Pro Continental level.

3. Emanuel Buchmann (Rad-Net Rose - Germany)

Speaking of Germans, Emanuel Buchmann showed everyone why he is one of the best kept secrets in the U23 ranks with his climbing skills. Buchmann had been a solid climber through his U23 years including top 20 finishes in the Tour de l'Avenir, Tour of Azerbaijan, Tour Alsace and the Mzansi Tour. His year in 2014 was a vast improvement upon anything he has done before.

Buchmann started off strong at the Mzansi Tour, where he went up against the MTN-Qhubeka juggernaut and came away with 8th overall. He continued the trend by going 8th overall in the Tour de Azerbaijan, which was just 3 seconds off Robert Power.

It was his late summer that really saw him shine. A 14th overall in the Tour Alsace got the ball rolling and it was continued with 14th in the GP Poggiani, which was in the 1st chase group behind Power, and 7th in the GP Capodarco. This form continued into the Tour de l'Avenir where Bachmann survived the opening few stages and then got better as the race went on with 11th, 10th, 9th and 7th on the final 4 mountain stages to finish l'Avenir 7th overall, a vast improvement from his 17th a year prior. Buchmann capped his season off with a win in the queen stage of the Okolo Jiznich Cech (Tour of South Bohemia) and 3rd overall.

It was a big jump for Buchmann from being top 20 pack fill to being at the front of the races and fighting for wins. He is another rider joining Team BORA for 2015 and he I'm sure he is gunning for races with steep mountains.

4. Kevin Ledanois (CC Nogent sur Oise - France)

At the Arctic Tour of Norway, the breakaway on the first stage was expected with all of the big hitters but what wasn't expected was young Kevin Ledanois riding just on their coattails with fellow stagiaire Loic Vliegen (BMC). Ledanois finished 8th on the stage to North Cape and following his 6th place on the final stage to Tromso, he locked up 6th overall in his pro debut. What does one do after this? Why of course win the 1.2 Tour du Jura out of a 5-man group. Duh.

Ledanois really pushed himself to a new level this year by going 6th in the Tour de Normandie, after he made the breakaway on the final stage. He followed this up by 11th in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, which was good for 7th in the group sprint which caught the breakaway on the line.

Ledanois was a bit inconsistent over the year as a whole but he showed some big promise in his races with Bretagne-Seche Environment and on hilly/selective courses as a whole. He will be joining Bretagne for 2015 and could make an immediate impact in some smaller races.

5. Kristofer Skjerping (Joker - Norway)

In both 2012 and 2013, Kristoffer Skjerping showed some potential as a cyclist by getting some top 15 results in races such as La Côte Picarde, Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen and Kernen Omloop as well as top stage results in races like Rhône-Alpes Isere and Tour du Loir-et-Cher. While he had gathered some good results, it was just good results at that point. Yeah, he was a young rider that looked promising but he still hadn't made "the big step". 2014 would change that for Skjerping.

In March, he made the breakaway at Paris-Troyes and was only beaten by spring chicken Steve Tronet, who has made a career out of winning spring races and costing off his results the rest of the year. He then had a very strong Tour de Normandie that included a 2nd place on stage 5 in a mass bunch sprint behind Marco Benfatto. He would have been much higher on GC but he missed the important split on the final stage and settled for 21st.

After a strong March, Skjerping was flying two weeks later at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 where he survived the late race carnage and what was becoming a motif for the season, settled for 2nd behind winner Dylan Groenewegen. Skjerping continued this trend of finishing off hard races strong by going 3rd in the Ringerike GP, 5th in the queen stage of the Tour of Norway and 3rd in a stage of the Tour Alsace. Enough of the fucking minor placings.

On the opening stage of the Tour de l'Avenir, Skjerping tagged the opening breakaway with Asbjørn Kragh and Sjoerd Van Ginneken. Skjerping was the best sprinter in the breakaway and only had to not get dropped. Skjerping succeeded in this and with Kragh having the yellow jersey, Skjerping outsprinted Van Ginneken for the win. Pretty awesome for his first UCI win.

His season was capped off by a stellar result at the U23 Worlds RR. Coming in with a stacked Norwegian team. Skjerping, who had showed his mettle in longer, harder races, stayed with the peloton throughout the race and when his teammate Sven Erik Bystrøm attacked in the final kilometers, Skjerping was the joker that was marking Caleb Ewan in case everything that came back together. Short story short, the race didn't come back together and Bystrøm stayed away in the end to take the big win while Caleb Ewan was scrapping up the silver medal and Skjerping right behind in 3rd place. In just his first selection for Worlds, Skjerping goes away with medal and then he signed a World Tour contract with Cannondale-Garmin. That is a pretty big step in just one year.


Why do I feel like that list is just...too mainstream? I will add a few more...exotic...picks for you.

6. Robin Carpenter (Hincapie Development - USA)

Mr. Carpenter was a really good rider but in his final year as a U23, Carpenter seemed to step it up a level. He had top 30 finishes at Volta ao Alentejo, Tour de Beauce and Tour of Utah. The highlight of his season was obviously his solo win at the Tour of the USA Pro Colorado Challenge Cyclisme, where he survived idiotic judgement calls by the officials and held off the stream train of Tejay van Garderen and Alex Howes to take the win.

Carpenter is a boss. Not to mention that before this year he was a full-time college student and graduated on the same day as Philly this year. He won't be a U23 next year but I have a feeling it is going to be a huge year for him.

7. Joaquim Silva (Portugal)

Silva was the best Portuguese U23 rider this year after having some promising albeit not amazing results in years prior. He was 15th in the Volta ao Alentejo (3rd in youth by just 10 seconds) and then 8th overall in the Taça de Portugal, a series of 5 one-day events in Portugal with all of the big Portuguese teams. He then won the National U23 RR by a huge margin after going solo and winning by over 2.5 minutes.

The rest of summer saw what a stage racing talent that Silva is. He was 2nd in the Volta a Portugal do Futuro by a couple of seconds to younger stud Ruben Guerreiro. He finished the Volta a Portugal very well for a U23 with a 25th overall in the 10-stage affair and was the best U23 by 14 minutes. Silva climbed very well at the Tour de l'Avenir and in his first (and last) attempt at the race, he was 8th overall. He capped the whole season off with a 16th place front group finish at U23 Worlds.

Silva isn't linked to anyone right now for 2015 but after what he showed in l'Avenir, he could be one of the brightest Portuguese talents that you might never hear of again thanks to the insular worlds of Portuguese cycling.

8. Salah Eddine Mraouni (Morocco)

From January to May, Salah Eddine Mraouni was riding all over the Africa, mainly in the Maghreb in Northern Africa. (The Maghreb is the northern part of Africa including Muslim countries Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morrocco and Mauritania, which translates to the Berber World.) He started in Gabon by riding 10th overall in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo Bongo Bongo. He followed this up by strong riding in the Algerian Grand Tour, with placings all over the top 10, and culminating in strong rides in his home Morocco.

Mraouni rode to 7th overall in the Tour de Maroc, which was good enough for the best rider, and was top 5 in all 3 Challenge du Prince races. He capped off his long early season by going 2nd place in the Moroccan Elite RR, losing in a two-up sprint to Adil Jelloul. He promptly dropped off the face off the planet only to resurface at U23 Worlds, where he put in underwhelming rides in the RR and TT.

Moroccan riders, or pretty much everyone in the Maghreb outside of Algeria, have found it a tough transition to the ranks of the pro cycling elite. It is literally being shot to the moon for many North Africans if they get the chance to race in Europe and it is hard for many to show that promise that they show in Africa. Keep an eye on Mraouni in the early season in 2015 to see if he can once again go up against the European professionals.

9. Joey van Rhee (Jo Piels - Netherlands)

There are so many talented Dutch riders in the junior and U23 ranks that it is hard to get lost in the sea of them. Joey van Rhee has been racing through the junior and U23 ranks pretty anonymously up until his 3rd place last year in the National U23 RR. While he didn't make a dramatic step up this year, he certainly progressed with a top 10 finish in the 1.1 Dwars door Drenthe, 3rd in the Tour de Berlin TT and 7th overall as well as a top 15 in the Paris-Tours Espoirs.

10. Michael Gogl (Gebrüder Weiß - Austria)

The last two seasons with Arbo Gebruder Weiss have been trying for Michael Gogl. He was getting some rides in UCI races but had no standout rides to judge his progression on. This year was different though. In April, he won a stage of the GP Sochi and after multiple top 10 stage finishes, he came out with 11th overall, which was the first non-Russian/Ukrainian by two minutes. He followed this up by a first-chase group finish at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and then a 4th place stage finish in the Carpathian Couriers Tour.

Gogl got through the Tour of Austria but during the whole year, he wasn't able to string together a strong GC performance. He checked that box at the Tour de l'Avenir. On stage 2, he came out of nowhere in the difficult bunch sprint to place 4th. While I thought at the time, "Oh well that is awesome...I'm sure he will be at the back." Gogl proved me wrong by riding fairly consistently in the mountains and ending up as Austria's best finisher with 15th overall, which is awesome for his first participation in the race.

Gogl is transferring to another Austrian team for 2015, Felbermayr-Simplon, which is the same team that Riccardo Zoidl and Patrick Konrad have ridden for in recent years. He should be targeting the Tour de l'Avenir as well as other hard-one day races and stages. Look for him...seriously, you better.

I have another that I'm keeping an eye on as well...

11. Valens Ndayisenga (Rwanda)

Born under the auspices of genocide, Valens Ndayisenga has been the phenom of the Rwandan cycling boom and if he continues to develop, he could be following in the footsteps of Adrian Niyonshuti. Ndayisenga was the youngest Rwandan winner of a stage in the Tour of Rwanda, when he won stage 2 of the race last year with teammate Abraham Ruhumuriza. He rode well in the Algerian Grand Tour this year with 7 top 10s. He followed this up by doing the double in the Rwandan Nationals, winning both the RR, in solo fashion, and the TT. He even got the nod to start the Commonwealth Games TT, where he finished 23rd. He rode both the TT and RR at the U23 World Championships. His results might be not very impressive to some but when he is riding a bike that isn't exactly state of the art and trains primarily in a country who has a large amount of dirt roads, any results he puts up are exemplary, in my opinion.

Keep an eye on Mr. Ndayisenga in 2015. He trained at the UCI World Cycling Centre this summer and is targeting the GC overall in Tour of Rwanda, which begins on the 16th of this month.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 Lookback: Top 5 Race Days

I don't have quite enough time to pour over the whole of the 2014 U23 season but even without a lot of TV coverage, there were some races that had my hair standing on end just from the words. This article will present you with, in my opinion, the top 5 racing days of the 2014 season. If you have any objections, please feel free to let me know. Or even better yet, if there is a U23 reading this that has a vote on their favorite racing day from 2014, please feel free to let me know and I'll add it on here.

These are in no particular order but without further adieu...

1. Ronde de l'Isard stage 2: Muret to Bagneres de Luchon (May 23rd)

After Alexander Foliforov took the yellow jersey into stage 2 after a dominant performance on the opening stage of the Ronde de l'Isard, Lotto-Belisol U23 was pretty determined to take back the yellow jersey. A sunny day was short-lived as attacks flew off the front while Itera-Katusha controlled the pace from behind. An attack, spearheaded by 4-72 Colombia's Diego Ochoa, led out front with chasers including Pierre-Roger Latour, Lilian Calmejane (Vendée U) and Jeff Perrin (USA).

Riding into the Hospice de France climb at Bagneres de Luchon, Calmejane had attacked and brought with him Romain Campistrous, Loïc Bouchereau and Perrin. Campistrous had attacked on the climb but in the final kilometers, he was brought back and passed by Calmejane, the cylocross rider who was beginning his best season on the road ever.
Behind it was chaos. Foliforov was on a horrible day and Louis Vervaeke and co. had succeeded in dropping the Russian on the early stages of the final climb. Vervaeke was piloted by Brecht Ruyters through the shallow lower sections before Tiesj Benoot took over on the final half of the climb. I have yet to mention that the climb was under a sleeting wintry mix that made conditions down right miserable.

While Calmejane was being chased by Perrin nearly 2 minutes ahead with 3 kilometers to go, Benoot hit the gas and dropped everyone besides Vervaeke and Maxime Le Lavandier. When the slopes hit 13%, Le Lavandier was dropped and the Belgian duo were scorching the remote climb. In the final two kilometers, the duo made up 1'20" on the front riders and while Calmejane was able to take the win solo, Vervaeke came storming across the line in 2nd just ahead of an exhausted Jeff Perrin.

Foliforov lost nearly 5 minutes to Vervaeke, who took the overall win a few days later. Vervaeke would then go on to win the Tour des Pays de Savoie and begin his pro career with Lotto-Belisol.

2. Trofeo Sportivi di Briga - Briga Novarese (August 7th)

This was the race that should have showed every keen observer how badass Robert Power is and is going to be. Power, the New-Zealand born Western Australian with an American grandfather, had a strong season going but he had not been able to get a win yet. His biggest opponents were the riders of Zalf-Euromobil. For those unaware, Zalf is the top dog team on the Italian amateur circuit that finished with 56 wins this year, which is just 3 wins off their best ever that was set last year. Zalf doesn't like to lose home races. Zalf had controlled the race to perfection and into the final kilometers, they had a train at the front of the race that was whipping the pace up to an insane rate for the final uphill finish.

What happens in the final kilometer is a thing of beauty. It was Power's first win as a U23.

3. Tour de Normandie stage 6: Torigni-sur-Vire to Caen (March 30th)

Coming into the final stage of the Tour of Normandie, Lukasz Wisniowski riding high on some of the best form of his career and was looking to secure the overall. Wisniowski had a slight lead on Bert-Jan Lindeman but lurking 18 seconds back was Stefan Küng, the Swiss prodigy from BMC Development. On the stage commemorating the invasion of Normandie on Omaha Beach, Küng and BMC launched an assault on the race that flipped it on its head.

On the rolling, windy terrain of northern France, Küng and teammate Tom Bohli hit out early with a group of nearly 20 including Alex Kirsch (Leopard-Trek), Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano), Kevin Ledanois and many others. No Wisniowski. No Etixx. Uh oh.

The breakaway held a good 2 minute gap all of the way down Omaha Beach and even as the peloton tried to chase through the big right hander towards Caen, the gap was not falling. They had a gap of over 1'30" by the first of the local laps in Caen around the hippodrome. Wisniowski was taking turns on the front but the gap was still hovering around 1 minute with one lap to go. Benoit Jarrier took the stage while Küng rolled in with the breakaway, quite content with his accomplishments on the day.
It was one of Küng's 5 wins on the road and it went a long way of showing his future capabilities as a pro.

4. Trofeo Antonietto Rancillo - Villastanza, Italy - (March 30th)

On the same day as Stefan Küng pulled a coup in Northern France, there was a major upset in the suburbs of Milan. Caleb Ewan came into the season as the next sprinting god who was going to vanquish anything that came his way. The Australian National Team, lead by their faithful leader James Victor, came strolling in declaring that this was a training race in preparation for the upcoming Nation Cups. They proceeded to sit on the front and control the race in preparation for Ewan to unleash his big sprint, which everyone expected.

It was a little bit too textbook though. While Ewan has an incredible turn of speed, it seems like they hadn't done their homework in terms of possible riders that could upset everything. In the final 10 kilometers, the Australians hit the front and got everything back together. They were feeling quite confident in themselves. In the final 250 meters, Caleb Ewan came off his final lead out and launched his sprint on the inside barriers, quickly getting an advantage. With 100 meters, there was a green/black bullet that had drawn himself equal to the powerful Australian. The challenger had his chest on his stem; churning the bars and trying to snap them off in his hands. With 50 meters to go, he drew clear of Ewan and in the end, he had enough time to post up and salute with Ewan nearly a bike length back in 2nd.

Jakub Mareczko, up until that point at least, had only won a single race in 2014 but this was the turning point that saw the Polish-Italian rider go for 13 wins and 19 total podiums. Mareczko, who is done to ride with Neri Sottoli for 2015, has a style that reminds me of an early Mark Cavendish. He gets his chest down to the handlebars and the bike is the one holding on for dear life while his legs churn away. While he struggles with some longer races, he could be a force to be reckoned with a in a couple of years time.

Australia tried to write off the defeat by saying that they were just focusing on everyone getting through (instead of winning the thing) but they were upset, hands down. Mareczko handed Ewan a beat down and it was pretty fun to watch.

5. Vuelta de la Juventud stage 4: Villa Leyva to Alto del Crucero (June 6th)

While I know that there are some other major races I'm going over, I feel like the queen stage of the Vuelta de la Juventud deserves its place because it was the race that one of the revelations of the season, Miguel Angel Lopez, busted out. "El Superman", riding for the Boyacan Lottery, was sitting high on the GC but about a 10 seconds behind leader Brayan Ramirez. Lopez, who had gained the Superman monicker after being stabbed by would-be robbers yet still being able to fight them off. He would use that on the 24 kilometer climb of El Crucero.

Heading into the finale, a breakaway including Daniel Rozo had been brought back and while there was a temporary lull, Lopez attacked with 8 kilometers to go and the only one able to respond was Brayan Ramirez. Ramirez's latch onto the GC lead was short-lived as Lopez accelerated with 4 km to go and went streaking through the mist. It was a precursor to the season that would come and Lopez gave everyone a taste of his explosive power, which was relatively unknown up to that point because of his lack of racing.

Lopez would go on to take the GC lead by 42 seconds on Ramirez by the end of the day and would end up winning the race overall. It was the 1st of 5 GC wins that Lopez had on the season including his incredible Tour de l'Avenir win. While I think Lopez is moving too fast to the pro ranks with Astana, this was the victory that sparked it all.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Lookback: What the Fuck Happened? Top 5

Now it is time for a top 5 list of the riders that went from having big years in 2013 or at least some very promising results to disappointment in 2014. It might be a bit depressing but hey, life isn't fair. Shit happens. This list is in no particular order.

1. Fredrik Ludvigsson (Sweden - Giant-Shimano Development)

There were not many freshman who were better than Fredrik Ludvigsson in 2013. The Swede was tearing up time trials and turning heads after winning the Boucle de l'Artois and having a slew of top 20 placings throughout the season. He transferred to the Giant-Shimano Development team for 2014 and looked to be set onto a huge season.

His early season was in fact leading to big things to come. He was top 10 overall in Tour de Normandie and 5th overall in Triptyque Monts et Chateaux. His one-day racing took a big leap with a 7th place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. That would be the high for Ludvigsson and after a few more good races, his results stagnated and then went downhill fast.

What the fuck happened? Ludvigsson has been experiencing numbness in one of his legs while training and was never able to get proper form to focus on his racing. Really, he was never the same rider after April. When one hears of numbness in one leg, especially with a cyclist, then I at least automatically think of the iliac artery. The pesky vessel has been the bane of many riders, including most recently Joe Dombrowski, and in mid-August, it was announced that Ludvigsson would be undergoing the vein patch surgery to correct the issue. Speaking of which, Ludvigsson just underwent the surgery yesterday (as I type this) and is on the mend for a return of sometime next year.
Not exactly a fair reason to list him on this list but to the casual viewer such a big drop in performance will cause a rousing chorus of "What the fuck happened to him?" I look forward to seeing a healthy mini-Ludvigsson in 2015, at least at some point.

2. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan - Astana Continental)

2013 was the year that yet another Kazakh came out of the woodwork and put in a crazy amount of stunning rides. Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev was a name that probably 1 out of 100,000 cycling fans; even I was flummoxed when I saw him go top 15 in two Nations Cups and then get 3rd place in the Tour de Azerbaijan.

From the end of July on, Kozhatayev was one of the most consistent riders on the U23 circuit. Top 10 placings in Tour Alsace, GP di Poggiana, GP Capodarco followed up by a 4th place overall in the Tour de l'Avenir, just 5 seconds out of 3rd.

This year, Kozhatayev was still around but perhaps the inflated expectations deflated his results. He was 6th in La Côte Picarde, which is pretty damn good but it was 6th out of a breakaway of 10 where he should have been one of the favorites. He didn't show anything again until the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he was top 6 on two mountain stages but after missing out on the front group of the major mountain stages, he finished over 4'30" down in 9th place. Disappointing figuring that, after last year, he should have been contending the podium.

3. Oskar Svendsen (Norway - Joker)

After exploding at the Tour de l'Avenir last year for 5th place overall and one of the most consistent climbers in the race, I figured that Oskar Svendsen was improving himself in terms of his pack skills and would come out ready to play in 2014.

Well...ummm...urgh. Not exactly the case. The Junior World TT Champion from 2012 had a rough go of it in the first half of the season by finishing just a handful of races before slogging through the Tour des Fjords. Okay, a rough start but perhaps he could turn it around. He was 4th in the Norwegian Elite TT (2nd U23 behind Andreas Vangstad) and 13th in the European U23 TT (on the same time as Vangstad). Not outstanding for someone of his Vo2Max but not too shabby either.

Svendsen's highlight of the season was at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. He was 4th in the prologue and 2nd in the time trial, both of which were uphill. His climbing on the road stages didn't match l'Avenir 2013 but it wasn't half bad in support of teammate Odd Eiking, who ended up 2nd overall.

The rest of the season was nothing of note. He DNFed the Arctic Tour and then at the Tour de l'Avenir, he came in with high expectations but after multiple crashes and mechanicals, he got through with 71st overall. And like that, Svendsen was gone as fast as he came. He announced that he was leaving cycling, at least temporarily, and focusing on a psychology degree instead. The choice of study makes sense seeing as he had many woes in the peloton but I think he will be back. He had a lot of expectations on his back coming in from the junior ranks and some time away might do him good.

4. Ever Rivera (Colombia - 4-72-Colombia)

Following two strong seasons, Ever Rivera was primed for a big season with 4-72 Colombia. In 2013, he was 8th in the Vuelta Asturias, 10th in the Coupe des Nations Saguenay (along with the KOM prize) and a strong 3rd in the Vuelta a Leon behind Jordi Simon and Merhawi Kudus. Even with the infighting between 4-72 Colombia and the Colombian federation, Rivera was primed to be a leader for many races.

Well that didn't exactly pan out. Rivera got through the early season Vuelta a Mexico but dropped out of the Castilla y Leon. The next race he went to start was the Ronde de l'Isard, a big target for the season. But Rivera never started the race or any race after that.

What the fuck happened? According to 4-72 and the Colombian Federation, Rivera was fired (and not allowed to race again) because the birthday that he provided was fake. That is right, Ever Rivera falsified his birth records so chances are he is not an under 23. That blows my mind a bit that you can do that in this day and age but I have heard or seen nothing from Rivera that disputes the accusations.

5. Sondre Holst Enger (Norway - Øster Hus)

This is the most controversial pick on here but I feel like he does belong on here to a degree. Sonde Holst Enger was one of the revelations of 2013 after being a top 10 machine; hitting the top 10 about 25 times last year. He was 3rd overall in the Tour of Norway, he won the Coupe des Nations Saguenay on bonus seconds after consistent riding, won the Norway Cup overall and finished 3rd in the World Championships. That is really clipping down his results because it was a fantastic season.

2014 started do I put this lightly...slow. He was nowhere in the Istrian Spring Trophy. He had one good result at the Tour of Normandie, where he was 3rd on the 1st stage and 2nd in the bunch sprint behind Maarten van Trijp. The rest of the race saw him finishing in between 107th and 121st before DNFing on stage 6.

Really, it wasn't until late May and the Norwegian UCI races where he was acting his normal self. He was top 10 on 3 stages of the Uno-X Tour of Norway and at the slightly less important Tour des Fjords, he was top 10 on 4 stages and finished 5th overall. He won the Norwegian U23 RR and was 8th in the European Championship.

Again, Enger went through a stretch where he DNFed multiple races including the Arctic Tour, Tour du Jura and GP Isbergues, the latter two as a stagiaire with IAM. His 5 days after DNFing Isbergues, he went to finish 5th overall in the World U23 RR, where his Norwegian teammate Bystrøm escaped for the win and his sprinter teammate Skjerping finished 3rd.

He finished his season with IAM by getting 10th and 8th on two stages of the Eurometropole Tour and actually finishing Paris-Tours, albeit over 10 minutes down.

So why am I including him on this list? While he had some good times this year, he also had a lot of bad times. He DNFed a ton of races and yeah, he was 5th at Worlds, but what is going to happen when he is racing 70 times a year and he is not finishing half of his races? Management might be okay with it for a while but it is a habit he will need to get out of quickly. Also, the majority of his results were on home roads in Norway. Yeah, he might be good for a result in the Tour of Norway but what about when he is racing in pissing down rain in France on a road that is wide enough for a couple of Fiat Puntos?

Give me shit but I was dissapointed with Enger as a whole in 2014. I will happily eat my words if he can produce in 2015 or just smile inwardly if these trends continue.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cutting It Short: When young riders take an early bow from cycling

Yesterday, it became official that former Belgian U23 RR Champion Jorne Carolus was ending his cycling career at the ripe age of 22. After suffering with muscle problems that hampered his training throughout the season, Carolus decided it was time to hang up the wheels and focus on his studies in Industrial Engineering at the University of Hasselt. His decision is quite understandable. It would be hard to continue training when you see your good friends and peers keep getting better, signing pro contracts all while you are stuck in a loop. Not everyone wants to be that 28 year old journeyman that is still looking to catch his big break. Carolus tried to his best and his body didn't cooperate. No need wracking yourself trying to find a cure when you have accepted that there is a life after cycling and you can move on. Who knows, maybe in a couple years you will see Carolus pop up again. You never know.

It was pretty sweet to see him take a win in early September after such a challenging year.
His teammates have sent out some messages about his move.

Carolus isn't the only young rider moving on from two wheels. Dane Rasmus Sterobo, just one year removed from his last U23 year, decided to hang it up in favor getting his Masters Degree in Physics and Technology to become a civil engineer. Sterobo was a big talent that put up big results in 2013 including a prologue win in the U23 Peace Race, 7th in the Thüringen Rundfahrt and 16th in the Tour de l'Avenir. He came out flat this year and seemed to be lacking the motivation for a full-time pro career. In his words, he called the lifestyle " too monotonous". He hasn't ruled out a comeback in the future.

Other young riders hanging up the bike include:

-Piero Baffi (Leopard-Trek)

-Ignazio Moser (BMC Development)

-Florent Mottet (Wallonie-Bruxelles)

-Alexander Mork (Designa Køkken)

-Jan-Niklas Droste (Heizomat)

-Mathias Rask (Giant-Shimano Development)

-Giorgio Brambilla (Veranclassics) got close to the top a couple of years ago with Leopard-Trek but never got the big contract he needed/deserved.

I always find it interesting seeing young riders walk away from the sport when they still have so much ahead of them. It makes me think, "Oh yeah, there actually is more than just cycling." Here I was thinking that the pinnacle of my life would be a cycling writer, just narrowly ahead of doctor in impoverished country and working with the poor.