Because of a bit of a time crunch, I decided to get W-Z out of the way before doing V simply because of the great amount of riders in the V category. So let's finish this off before I can finally get you back to some regularly scheduled programming.
Let's start off with some 'crossers who have good results on the road. Lars van der Haar made the big decision to leave Rabobank Development for Argos-Shimano Development. While he will not be abandoning 'cross by any means, he will be riding a beefier road schedule with a bit of a leadership role in mind. It also helps that his girlfriend Lucy Garner is on the women's Argos-Shimano squad. In just a three month span in 2013, van der Haar put in 33 UCI racing days, which included a 5th overall in the Tour of Azerbaijan thanks to some good climbing. So while 'cross will be the man focus for van der Haar going forward, look for him in continental Europe mixing it up on some climbs as well as select sprints. David van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) is the brother of wunderkind Mathieu van der Poel, son of former World Champ Adri van der Poel and grandson of Raymond Poulidor. While not as heralded as his younger brother, he is a consistent top 10 finisher in the U23 World Cup 'cross races and is the current Netherlands U23 champion. On the road, he is a rouleur that can mix it up in the sprints but can hang on over some punchy climbs. He showed this in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he was 4th in a sprint and 4th on the queen stage, which netted him a solid 15th overall at the end. He has one more U23 year on the road and BKCP, who locked him down through 2017, usually lets him go do his thing in late spring-midsummer. Gianni Vermeersch burst through the U23 'cross scene rather late but the young West Flanders product has been getting a lot of podiums for Sunweb-Napoleon Games this year, including at World Cups. This year alone he has 10 podium finishes including a 3rd place at the European Championships in Czechland. On the road with Sunweb, he has a strong sprint (multiple top 10 finishes) and is a pretty good rouleur with results that include a 15th at the Kreiz Breizh Elites and 11th at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad U23. Clément Venturini is France's strongest U23 'crosser as he is a former junior world champion and has placed consistently in the top 10 in World Cups this year. He has won seven 'cross races this year including the Rhône-Alpes Championship. On the road, he placed 2nd on the final stage of the Rhône-Alpes Isère Tour and won multiple amateur races with Team Vulco. He is graduating to Team Cofidis next year as a neo-pro and has expressed a desire to be like Francis Mourey, where he can have the freedom to race 'cross at a high level but also get some good races on the road. Pretty bold for such a young rider but he might have the talent to back it up.
Michael Valgren's breakaway win in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23 pretty much confirmed what we already knew about the Dane. Valgren is an attacker, pure and simple, and his best results have come from doing just that. This year, he attacked again at LBL and dropped Nate Brown and Martijn Tusveld on the final climb to solo in for the win. He attacked at Eschborn-Frankfurt U23 with Lasse Norman, Werda and Silvio Herklotz but lost the sprint to his countryman. He attacked on the queen stage of the Flèche du Sud with two others and distanced them in the finale, which gave him an overall lead that he held to the end. Attacked stage 6 of the Thüringen Rundfahrt with national teammate Magnus Cort and went 1-2 with him. On the transitional stage before the mountains at Tour de l'Avenir, he attacked with Gavin Mannion and took the two up sprint with the peloton breathing down their neck. Attack, attack, attack is the plan that will surely continue at Tinkoff-Saxo. Casper von Folsach seems to be the new Rasmus Quaade, with the exception that he is a bit better in a pack. A strong time trialist and pursuiter as a junior, von Folsach won multiple national titles, was 6th in the junior worlds TT and was apart of the Danish team pursuit squad at just 18. As a first year u23 in 2012, he was 5th in the Post Danmark Rundt TT, just 28 seconds behind winner Lieuwe Westra. This year, his focus was mainly on the track with a bronze in the Worlds Team Pursuit, a silver in the European U23 omnium along with World Cup medals. On the road, he was 2nd in the Danish U23 TT and finished 3rd in the sprint for the Elite Men's RR. So he might be on the track now but he does have the power to make a name on the road, if he so chooses.
When Team Stölting picked up Yuriy Vasyliv, I'm sure some were scratching their heads. If you look at his 2013 results, they were complete shit. Vasyliv, who was born in Ukraine, was a very strong junior who placed 5th in the World Championship TT in Copenhagen as a junior. In 2012, he joined the track-road LKT Brandenburg and had some good results such as 2nd in the German Hill Climb Championship and 5th overall and the youth winner in the Tour of Szeklerland, where he beat riders like Riccardo Zoidl and Ioannis Tamouridis. In 2013, his season was a total write-off as he had a persistent knee injury that limited him to 13 racing days, six of which were DNFs. According to him and Stölting, he took time off and had a two month stretch of pain-free training so it looks all good for 2014, where he will be riding support for Silvio Herklotz and looking for a few chances of his own. Mario Vogt (RadNet-Rose) was a very strong junior who won the Rothaus Regio Tour and Tour du Valromey but has struggled translating that into success in the U23 ranks. He isn't terrible by any means but doesn't have a signature result as a U23, which is why I think 2014 will be a make-or-break year for him as it is his last as a U23 and if he still isn't getting the big results, university and a real job might look tempting.
The Low Countries are the land of V's. Belgium brings a metric ton of 'V' talent starting with Louis Vervaeke, one of those Belgians that seems to really enjoy mountains. Vervaeke really showed some talent in his first U23 season in 2012, where he placed 15th overall in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. A student in Sales Management, Vervaeke transferred to Lotto-Belisol U23 for 2013 and assaulted the big mountains. Just a 2nd year U23, he got some big results in a 4th place overall in the "holy shit, this is fucking hard" Tour du Pays de Savoie and a 4th overall in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he finished 2nd on the first stage and was able to ride with the best climbers for the most part. He came in flat at l'Avenir and it showed but he bounced back with a 4th overall at the Tour de Moselle. Vervaeke is splitting a house with Jasper Stuyven, Sean de Bie and Tim Wellens in Lucca, Italy currently and seems quite dedicated to the mountainous stage races as he has targeted Savoie, Valle d'Aosta, l'Isard, l'Avenir and perhaps U23 Worlds, since the course is as hard if not harder than Florence. While some are scratching their heads at Boris Vallée's signing with Lotto-Belisol, he definitely earned it after a successful year with Christophe Brandt's ColorCode-Biowanze. A strong sprinter, Vallee won six races in 2013 including the Top Competitie GP Criquielion and the prologue of the Carpathian Couriers Tour. He capped off his year with a 4th in the 1.1 sprintfest that is the Nationale Sluitingprijs. Thanks to his team leader Brandt, who previously rode for Lotto as a pro, he got in contact with them and it went from there. Also, it is good to note that Walloon Vallée trains in Wallonia, which is rare for a professional cyclist as it has historically been more underdeveloped in terms of cycling. Loïc Vliegen has a pretty good track record in one-day races. In 2012, he was 6th in the Giro del Belvedere and this year with BMC Development, he was 9th in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23, 5th in the Flèche Ardennaise and 2nd in Romsée-Stavelot-Romsée, a pretty good Belgian race won by the likes of Phil Gilbert. Jef Van Meirhaeghe is a strong classics/rouleur man for Lotto-Belisol U23. He was a former Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors winner and was 5th in the Belgian U23 RR, winning the bunch sprint that was just behind the break of four. He also finished 4th overall in the Carpathian Couriers Tour, where he got into a winning break, and was 15th at Paris-Tours Espoirs. Jori Van Steenberghen put together a solid 2013 and finished in and around the top 20 in a handful of UCI races, which landed him 5th overall in the Belgian Top Competitie. Bert Van Lerberghe won three times this year for Ventilair-Steria but while he can sprint, he can also ride a TT pretty well. Van Lerberghe was 5th in the Monts et Chateaux TT and 2nd in the West Vlaanderen provincial test. He was sniffing around the top 20 at the end of the year and pulled off 12th at the Sluitingprijs. 2014 will see Van Lerberghe transfer to EFC-OPQS, where he could get a bit better schedule than what he had.
North of Belgium, the Dutch are another fan of the V. On the bike, Dylan van Baarle is equivalent to a Bat Out of Hell. And no, not in the Meatloaf sense. Van Baarle can put out 30 minutes of fury that not many can match and it has snagged him a lot of big wins. I've written about the lanky South Holland rider at length before so I'll go for a brief overview of his 2013. His season started out as well as anyone would want. After a bad accident to end his 2012 season, he rode to breakaway wins in the Ster van Zwolle and the Dorpenomloop Rucphen, where he attacked in the final 10km solo and comfortably won by 12 seconds over a charging pack. After a shitty prologue at the Tour of Normandie because of rain, van Baarle attacked on the wet, hilly stage 5 and nearly made it but was passed by Anthony Charteau just before the line. He finished Normandie in 3rd overall and headed to Monts et Chateaux, where he finished 2nd in the TT he won the year before and 8th overall. He won the TT stage in Tour de Bretagne and 4th on the final day to finish 4th overall and winner of the KOM classification. While his early season was good, his form peaked in May and June. At the Olympia's Tour, he won the rain-soaked queen stage in the hills of Limburg and the next day, finished 3rd in the TT to sew up the overall classification, his 2nd in as many years at the race. After winning the Dutch U23 TT, he used the TTs to his advantage and climbed just well enough to win the Thüringen Rundfahrt by a scant three seconds on Lasse Norman Hansen. He then went on to win the Dutch U23 TT in a long ass breakaway and was in another breakaway at the UCI I.W.T. Jong Maar Moedig, where he placed 3rd. His Tour de l'Avenir was good; nothing spectacular with a 15th overall but sort of confirmed he isn't cut out for the biggest mountains. He finished off his season strong with a 7th in the U23 Worlds RR, 5th in the UCI 1.1 Münsterland Giro and 10th at the Paris-Tours Espoirs. His move to Garmin is smart in that hopefully he can avoid the Rabobank/Belkin syndrome where super talented U23s never seem to pan out to their full potential. I think he is suited for mid-length stage race and can handle climbs reasonably well but at this point, isn't as good of a mountain racer as other recent Dutch talents like Kelderman and Slagter. He starts his 2014 season at the Dubai Tour.
Just behind van Baarle at RBD was Nick van der Lijke, whose 2013 was outstanding and got him a two year deal with Belkin for 2014/15. Hailing from Zeeland, the Mosselman from Middelburg won the first UCI race of the year, the frozen Beverbeek Classic, in a tight breakaway sprint. He went from there and supported van Baarle at Normandie and collected two top 5 sprint places and then got his back scratched and went for the overall at Monts et Chateaux, where he finished 6th overall. After a strong 6th at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23, van der Lijke hung tough at the Tour de Bretagne and attacked with Riccardo Zoidl on stage two and the duo rode it to the line, where the Austrian distanced the young Dutchman at the finish. Van der Lijke, whose TT is satisfactory, held on to 2nd overall through the rest of the race and won the youth classification. After strong results over the early summer including 3rd in the Tour du Gironde in SW France, van der Lijke came 2nd in a breakaway sprint on the first stage of the Kreiz Breizh Elites and then rode out of his skin in the TT and won the test, which put essentially wrapped up the overall win, which he won the next day ahead of Vegard Stake Laengen and Top Competitie winner Nicolas Vereecken. While he started the Tour de l'Avenir with two top 5 stage placings, he dropped out after a bad crash but bounced back with a 3rd at the hard-ass 1.1 GP de la Somme. Van der Lijke could definitely carve out a career as a rouleur with an eye on some stage races, a bit like Lars Boom or Maarten Tjallingii.
Maarten van Trijp is coming along as a good sprinter for Rabobank Development. He had a stage win at the Tour de Gironde, had podium placings at the Ronde van Midden-Nederland and stages at the Ronde de l'Oise and Tour de Azerbaijan. He has some endurance issues to work out, especially on hilly terrain, but could be going places. Brian van Goethem really stepped it up in 2013 with Metec. Gotham City won the Zuid Oost Drenthe Classic II this year after getting in a break of four that went to the line. He won nine races this year in total and a theme through them all is that a) he loves to attack and b) he usually has a good kick on him at the line.
A small New Year's Resolution for this year is to check my expectations for riders that show talent early and than don't quite live up to the hype. Michael Vink won the New Zealand Elite RR at 20 years old and I thought his potential was fucking huge. He had also won the U23 TT and RR and then went to finish 5th in the New Zealand Cycle Classic. He was headed for Europe with VL Techniks and he that didn't go well as he didn't enjoy Europe and only had one good result in the Tour de Cote d'Or. He came back to NZ and hit the reset button after two years abroad with two different teams that didn't exactly work out. He started slow with a NZ U23 TT title and headed back to Europe with the NZ National Team. He made the front group at Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 and top 5 at the Olympia's Tour TT. Vink beat Petr Vakoc in a two-up sprint to win the Memorial Philippe Van Coningsloo and then he shocked with a 5th overall at the Thüringen Rundfahrt, where he rode the time trials very well and did enough on the queen stage to not cede time. Vink joins Australian Budget Forklifts for 2014, where he could get some more experience riding on the amateur level and on the Asian circuit along with a potential Commonwealth Games berth. Speaking of Petr Vakoc, he was one of the bigger surprises of 2013 and he got a World Tour neo-pro contract with OPQS for his troubles. Before this year, the Czech had shown some promise with 15th in the 2011 U23 Worlds in Copenhagen and 13th in the 2012 L-B-L U23 but after a good early season, he bursted out for a 2nd at the Memorial Coningsloo and then got into a long two-man breakaway with Slovene Tim Mikelj at the Tour of Slovakia, which gave him an unassailable lead in the GC and held onto it over the next three days to win. His next stretch of strong results came in July, where he notched three wins and more podiums. He kicked ass in the Vuelta a Madrid, where he won the first stage in another breakaway on a quite hilly stage and then got into the big breakaway on stage two, where he finished 2nd in a close sprint and wrapped up the overall title. He then went back home to the Czech Republic, where he won a stage and finished 4th in the Czech Cycling Tour and then finished 2nd on the brutal European Championships course in another close sprint, this time behind Sean De Bie. Vakoc, who has been studying economics in Prague, had an early end to his year at the Tour du Poitou Charentes but got good news that OPQS was picking him up for 2014/15. Vakoc will bring some good climbing skills along with aggression and a pretty good sprint, especially in a select group. At just 16, Alexey Vermeulen won the USA Junior RR when he beat out Colin Joyce in a two-man sprint, just 12 seconds ahead of a charging pack lead home by Greg Daniel. The next year, the Michigan product finished 4th in the Drei-Etappen Rundfahrt and 2nd in the Tour de l'Abitibi behind now teammate TJ Eisenhart. After a 5th place in the Rothaus Regio Tour, Vermeulen signed with the new BMC Development for his first U23 season in 2013. It was a tough year and Vermeulen didn't always get consistent racing but he did show off some climbing skills in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta, where he finished 23rd overall and 11th on one of the last climbing stage.
Finishing this whole ABC thing off is one of the best U23s of the entire season, Davide Villella. Even though I personally think he is an asshole, as he is full of Italian pride and has punched multiple riders in races including Toms Skujins and Caleb Ewan, you cannot deny the talent he has on a bike. After coming off an 11 win season in 2012, the Colpack rider came back to finish his U23 career in 2013 but was very frustrated in the beginning. For the first few months of the season, he could not win as he was being beaten out in sprints by the likes of Andrea Zordan and Niccolo Bonifazio including a stretch of four streaight races where he finishes 2nd. His first win came in May but after coming 2nd at the Italian U23 RR this year to Zordan, he just lit it up. Villella won the two biggest mountain stages at the Giro della Valle d'Aosta and with an impressive ride on the final mountain stage, he took the overall leader's jersey from Marc Garby and held onto it the next day to win the overall. After getting 2nd again to Zordan at the GP Poggiana, Villella went on a stagiaire assignment with Cannondale and rode the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (Tour of Colorado), where he got into multiple breakaways and got a lot of good experience. After punching Toms Skujins off his bike at the Ruota d'Or, Villella fell short at his home Worlds in Florence, where he finished 6th (4th in the bunch sprint). He bounced back and won the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia by a hefty 30 seconds before finishing his season with a few pro races. At the Coppa Sabatini, he finished 3rd in a small bunch sprint and at the Giro dell'Emilia, he was able to follow Diego Ulissi and C.A. Sorensen but could do nothing more and finished 3rd in the very hilly 1.HC race. Villella definitely has a future in hilly one-day races and most likely in Grand Tours, where he will be a shoo-in for stages and perhaps a GC or two down the line.
I would like to thank all of my readers for following me on this little journey through the U23 peloton. I am hoping to provide more steady coverage in 2014 by updating a bit more frequently, trying to keep a Top 5 Rider list and perhaps get a few more interviews. I never thought this blog would get this much attention but I am really going to try to commit to getting you the best news about the U23 peloton and young pro/amateur riders trying to make a name for themselves. -Chris