Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Weekend Review: San Geo, Guadiana and much more

Sorry for being tardy to the party for this weekends racing recap but I've had some important things to attend to. Without further ado, let's get back to the weekend and review some of the racing happenings.

My Ride of the Week went to Alberto Tocchella and his win at the Coppa San Geo, the opening Elite-U23 race in Italy for the season, ahead of Marlen Zmorka so I won't be going into too much detail there.

Starting in Italy, we had Firenze-Empoli, the Memorial Polese, GP De Nardi, the Coppa San Bernardino, La Torre and Memorial Lorenzo Mola. This seems like over kill but everyone and their father, in the case of Ignazio Moser and Davide Martinelli, came out for the opening weekend of races.

While Luca Sterbini might be the less heralded of the Sterbini brothers (Simone signed a pre-contract with Bardiani that starts in 2015), he thoroughly dominated Firenze-Empoli. With only 5 kilometers gone from the 137 km race, Sterbini attacked and was joined briefly by a few others before going solo. By the time he got to the finish, he was over a minute ahead of Luca Benedetti. Riding for Pala Fenice, formerly known as Palazzago, Luca might be able to finally capitalize on the talent he showed as a junior in 2010, when he won the Italian Junior TT Championship. The other Saturday race was the Memorial Polese, where Michele Zanon of Cyber Team was the first sprinter to hit pay dirt in Italy this year with a win over Zalf's Davide Gomirato. It wasn't the best of days for Zalf as they were denied twice after coming off a record-breaking year with nearly 60 victories on the road.

Sunday in Italia had some more breakaways and a breakthrough for Zalf. At La Torre, Mirko Trosino of Mastromarco lept away on the final uphill summit just before the finish line and was able to hold off a speeding Angelo Raffaele from Big Hunter. While only 98 kilometers, it was a good showing for the Tuscan as he will most likely be with the National Team for the U23 Nations Cups this spring. It is early for a clash of stars but at the Memorial Lorenzo Mola, Ignazio Moser and Davide Martinelli came close to clashing. Moser (BMC) took off in the breakaway with Marco Chianese (Pala Fenice) and Simone Consonni (Colpack). The trio worked well together on the flats and the Burago climb on the course, which went over 10% gradient. Moser attacked his break mates and went solo but behind, Martinelli launched some moves of his own. Martinelli, riding on home soil in Brescia and for his new Colpack team, was like a freight train behind Moser and swept up the remnants of the break and tried valiantly to catch Moser but it was to no avail. The BMC rider, who had been a bit of a problem child in the past, got a nice solo win while Martinelli won the sprint for 2nd place ahead of Luca Muffolini of the local Gavardo team. It was a sprinters duel at the Coppa San Bernardino down near the Adriatic coastline between Zalf's Nicolas Marini, Viris-Maserti's Jakub Mareczko and Pala Fenice's Romanian Andrei Voicu. The three were the top three in the bunch sprint at the Coppa San Geo the day prior and they were sick with bloodlust; ravenous for their first win of the season. With the help of teammate Davide Gomirato and Eugert Zhupa, it was Marini, who shook with frustration at San Geo, who took the win by half a bike length over Mareczko with Voicu in third, who might be one of the surprises of the season if he keeps it up. First year U23 Emanuele Sabatini finished 7th in the sprint for Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa's amateur squad. After a tumultuous last half of the season last year due to a heavy crash, Federico Zurlo started his season off early with a win at the GP De Nardi, which gave Zalf-Euromobil 2 wins in 2 days and got them started on their quest to top their 59 wins from 2013.

In France, it was the opening of the Coupe de France classification for the DN1 teams with the GP Souvenir Jean-Masse. Nigel Ellsay, the lone Canadian from the Sojasun Espoirs team, rode 105 kilometers (out of 140 kilometers) in the breakaway to secure the most aggressive rider award as well as the sprints jersey. When it came down to the business end of the race, Armée de Terre came to the fore and they were going full tilt into the sprint finish. U23 Marc Sarreau led out the sprint with 500 meters to go and only his more experienced teammate Benoit Sinner was able to come around him for the win. Sarreau finished in 2nd with young Lorenzo Manzin, who hails from Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, in 3rd for UC Nantes Atlantique. The Army team continued a very strong beginning to their season, which has mirrored their 2013 season so far, and Manzin is really coming into his own as a puncheur-sprinter.

Heading over to the Bay of Biscay coast of France and the French Basque region, GSC Blagnac took multiple wins over the weekend including Loïc Chetout's solo win at the Ronde du Pays Basque round of the l'Essor Basque and the Trophee de l'Essor, where Julien Loubet won the first stage and the overall while Chetout finished 2nd overall.

The Spanish Copa de España calendar also kicked off this weekend with the Circuito Guadiana in the wilds of Extremadura. The race, taking on a rolling course that was sure to break up a pack still a little rusty from the offseason, started with a breakaway of 11 that got a lead of over 5 minutes before the pace began to pick up. Soon, it was down to just one rider, Smitry Strakhov of the amateur Lokosphinx team, until he was picked up by a group of 28 riders with 30 kilometers to go. On the last time over the Magacera climb, the final selection was made and it was down to just 13 riders including defending champion, Russian Vadim Zhuravlev. With two kilometers left, Anton Ibarguren attacked and only Andrés Sanchez of Mutua Levante followed. Sanchez attacked in the final bend and won by 2 seconds over Ibarguren with Zhuravlev winning the sprint behind, just 4 seconds back. Zhuravlev was the best U23 on the day and beat out fellow U23 Jakub Kaczmarek, who finished 5th overall and 3rd in the sprint behind Zhuravlev.

The Oceania Championships finished up exactly as I thought they would with Australia dominating, New Zealand wondering why they bothered and Fiji wondering where the hell registration is. One of this year's biggest revelations, Harry Carpenter, won the men's U23 TT while Campbell Flakemore, who is still overcoming some bad early season form, finished 2nd. In the road race, Robert Power escaped from a group of 5 others including Carpenter, Rob-Jon McCarthy and George Tansley to solo to the men's U23 title with McCarthy and Tansley rounding out the podium. Oceania Cycling has some serious thinking to do about how to make this event more popular between its member nations and not just an excuse to have a little get together.

In America, a few U23s had some good rides. Daniel Eaton (Canyon Bicycles) won the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona after finishing 3rd in the opening TT and making the selection in the RR. Eaton won ahead of the likes of Luis Amaran (Jamis) and Ryan Roth (ex-Champion Systems). Hincapie Development wrapped up their team camp this weekend and they laid waste to the local Greenville, SC training series. Robin Carpenter posted two wins while teammates Joe Lewis and Toms Skujins each got a 2nd place. Very strong team that I am looking forward to seeing in the next couple of months.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ride of the Week 2/17-2/23

Seeing as we are getting into a bit of a beefier schedule, I figured that I would remove my "Ride of the Week" posts from the weekend updates and let them be their own thing. To review, the "Ride of the Week" is just a subjective take by yours truly on what I think was the most impressive ride by a U23 during the week that was. That could mean a big win or perhaps a good ride against WT or Pro Continental talent. Previous winners so far this year, which will soon be included in the sidebar, include Jack Haig, who is destined for the World Tour sometime soon, and Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, the Rwandan who will be joining Vendée U sometime this year. In any case, this week's Ride of the Week goes to...

Alberto Tochella's surprise win in the Coppa San Geo

When Alberto Tochella and Marlen Zmorka jumped away from a group of a seven others, I thought Zmorka had the race in the bag as I had never heard of Tochella before. But as the race entered the final kilometers, the duo held on to a slim lead as the pack was bearing down on them. Zmorka led out the sprint in the final half kilometer but Tochella, riding for the local GS Gavardo team, came around the Ukranian with relative ease while Nicolas Marini of Zalf-Euromobil was visibly frustrated in 3rd, just five seconds back of the Lombardian rider.

Tochella has some speed on him and might be one to watch this year, if he is able to get invites to bigger races. Zmorka is still as much of a diesel as he has ever been; a huge engine without much kick.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weekend Preview

So I know that France, the US and Spain have gotten some of their racing underway but this weekend is what I consider to be the season kickoff for the U23s and amateurs alike. This weekend includes the first DN1 French Cup Race, the kickoff of the Copa de España and the first Italian one-day race, among others. So while Armée de Terre has been terrorizing our eyes with their camouflage kits, it is finally time for some proper racing after the winter of our discontent.

Copa de España opener - Circuito Guadiana 

Out in the wilds of western Spain in Extremadura, the Circuito Guadiana will kick off the 2014 Copa de España, a series of 8 road races across Spain that includes categories for elites and U23s. For the eighth year in a row, the race in the city of Don Benito kicks off the series. The course has undergone a few changes but will include the climb of the Magacela, a 1.2 kilometer climb that averaged 9 percent, that will be done four times. Last year's race came down to a sprint won by Lokomotiv's Vadim Zhuravlev but I'm thinking a breakaway will be in order for Sunday's race. Here is the link to the race's twitter page, which should be giving out updates on race day.

Grand Prix Souvenir Jean Masse

The Coupe de France (French Cup) kicks off for the Division 1 clubs this weekend at the GP Souvenir Jean Masse, which starts and finishes on the outskirts of Marseille. The course is nothing too intricate with two different loops and five categorized climbs in total; the final one coming at just 16 kilometers from the line. The weather should be pretty good for the race but with all of the big guns coming out, I doubt a big bunch will be coming to the line. Benoit Sinner (Armée de Terre) is the returning champion and his team will be the favorites but they do not have it locked by any means.

Race Website including course map and startlist.

Coppa San Geo & Opening Italian Weekend

The Coppa San Geo, the race that traditionally opens the Italian amateur calendar, is celebrating its 90th edition. The race, located in Brescia up in Lombardia, is mainly a nice, easier introduction to the racing season and tends to end in a bunch sprint. Notable past winners include Roberto Ferrari, Alberto Loddo and Vittorio Adorni. Another race on Saturday is Firenze-Empoli, which is a relatviely newer race compared to the ancient San Geo but has a bit tougher course and a better list of winners inlcuding Popovych, Appollonio and Bettiol. Sunday includes, among a few others, La Torre, which is another shorter race that is just a taste of what is to come.

Valley of the Sun Stage Race

Not the biggest U23 race by any means but Arizona's Valley of the Sun Stage Race is always a good one to keep an eye on for upcoming talent on the American side of things. Some U23s should be in attendance and with a time trial, there might be a few surprises in the results.

GP Izola - Butan plin

New race in Slovenia for this year, which highlights the minuscule coastline of Slovenia and the surrounding area. Only 141 kilometers but the finale includes three small climbs with the final summit at just 6 kilometers from the finish line. Curious to see how this course rides.

Oceania Cycling Championships

Last but no least is the Oceania Championships, taking place on the 21st and the 23rd for the U23 men. They really need to get around to calling it New Zealand v. Australia on Bikes but in any case... Campbell Flakemore and Harry Carpenter are good bets for the TT. The RR? Well maybe Rob Power can take the win on the Toowoomba course. There is a grand total of one New Zealander in the U23 men's field so this is basically a repeat of the Aussie Championships without Caleb Ewan.

Also, if you are interested, you should keep an eye on the Vuelta Independencia Nacional from the Dominican Republic. 8 stages including a time trial and a short but decisive queen stage. Always a lot of breakaway action.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ride of the Week 2/10-2/16

This week's Ride of the Week goes to...(drumroll please)...

Liam Bertazzo for going 2 for 2 at l'Essor Basque

This week's Ride of the Week goes to the speedy Liam Bertazzo, who has taken his track racing form into the early road season and took out the first two races of the l'Essor Basque. Riding with the Italian U23 team that included Paolo Simion and Federico Zurlo, among others, Bertazzo took out both the Boucles de l'Essor and the Circuit de l'Essor. For those that haven't followed these races before, the l'Essor Basque is a series of short early season races in the historical French Basque territory, cushioned against the Bay of Biscay. In the Boucles de l'Essor around the sleepy town of Ustaritz, Bertazzo broke away with Italian "teammates" Simion and Olivero Troia and the three took a 19 second lead into the finish, with Bertazzo taking the honors. In the Circuit de l'Essor, this time a 115 km jaunt around Cambo-les-Bains, Bertazzo and Simion found themselves in the breakaway again but this time with a little company. Bertazzo soloed away from Simion, Bruno Armirail and Julien Loubet to win by a healthy 15 seconds while Simion won the small sprint for 2nd. Marino Amadori has the Italian U23s firing well just a couple weeks into the season. Watch out.

Honorable Mentions

Quentin Jauregui goes top 20 on Mont Faron at the Tour Mediterranean

While the amateurs have been getting started, the neo-pros on continental teams are getting their share of abuse against the World Tour riders. Quentin Jaurequi, the former cyclocrosser who is now with Roubaix-Lille Metropole, had one of the better U23 (non-WT) performances of the Tour Mediterranean by going 18th on the summit finish at Mont Faron on Sunday, just 55 seconds behind JC Peraud.

Alexandre Deletang leads 6-up Armée de Terre charge at La Tramontane while Guyot wins Ronde du Canigou win the next day

The French Army cycling team, Armée de Terre, started off 2013 with a bang and proceeded to go 2nd in the DN1 classification of the Coupe de France behind Vendée U and had the highest individual point-getter in Benoit Sinner. The camo-kitted men got off to a similar start this year by winning two races in a row in the very southern tip of France. On the 15th, U23 Alexandre Deletang led a six-man charge from the Army and took the win in La Tramontane ahead of breakaway mates Marc Sarreau and Mathieu Teychenne. The next day, the 16th, the Army transferred 50 kilometers to the west but the results were exactly the same. On a damp day in the Pyrénées-Orientales, Yann Guyot took a solo breakaway to the line on the 140 km course at the Ronde du Canigou, ahead of U23 teammate Christopher Piry and fellow U23 Sean Hambrook, a Kiwi with Sojasun-ACNC. It was a tough day out as there were only 25 finishers, with the final six riders coming in over 10 minutes down. The Army riders are tough as nails and in wet, rainy conditions, they always seem to step up.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ride of the Week: 2/3-2/9

With the Herald Sun Tour, races in the Middle East, France and Spain all racing over this week, the dearth of racing has finally come to an end and we are back to some proper action.

The Ride of the Week: Jack Haig's 3rd overall at the Herald Sun Tour
While there were some wins by U23s over the past week, I think that Haig deserves the nod for the 2nd time this season simply because of the talent that he was going up against. Haig, in my opinion, is ready for the World Tour and while he is also riding some mountain bike this year, he is going to be snatched up by a professional road team in 2015.

Haig, who was the best young rider at the Tour Down Under, took off on the 2nd stage of the Herald Sun Tour with Orica's Simon Clarke and Cannondale's Cam Wurf and the trio lept ahead of a reduced peloton. The worked well together and stretched their lead to over one minute. In the finale, Clarke sprinted ahead of Wurf and Haig for the stage win, with the latter hanging on for an impressive 3rd place. As the last stage was cancelled due to a raging fire in the area, Haig only had to hang on for one more stage and finished the race in 3rd overall, 11 seconds down on Clarke.

Speaking of the Sun Tour, another U23 rider took a big stage win, which gets him a nod for one of the runner-up spots...

Runners-up Rides of the Week: Louis Meintjes wins the South African Elite RR and Robert-Jon McCarthy takes a stage of the Herald Sun Tour

I could pick between either ride for a clear runner-up spot so they are getting stuck together.

Louis Meintjes, the reigning vice-champion from the U23 Worlds RR in Florence, started early this year in South Africa by doing the double in the U23 ranks with a TT and RR win along with a win in the Elite Mens RR. In the 180km affair in Durban, Meintjes broke away with Orica-GreenEdge's Daryl Impey, the winner of the Elite Men's TT, from a select group including Jay Robert Thompson. Meintjes outsprinted Impey for the win and though he is just a U23, he won the Elite title as well in the same race. U23s Ryan Gibbons and Nic Dougall finished 10th and 11th in the Elite race, good enough for 2nd and 3rd in the U23s.

Robert-Jon McCarthy, who will be joining AnPost-Chain Reaction for 2014, took out the 3rd stage of the Herald Sun Tour, when he sprinted ahead of Rico Rogers and Rapha-Condor's Felix English. McCarthy, riding for the Jayco U23 squad, took out the sprint ahead of some much older talent and the 19-year old is looking primed for his first European season in Belgium.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rides of the Week 1/27-2/2

Finally, some action is happening on the road and I can write about more than just the odd happening or two. I've been busy with a project the last few weeks, which I am finishing up now, so hopefully in the coming weeks, I'll be able to post a bit more frequently. Without further adieu, let's go through the Rides of the Week.

The winner for this past week is...

James Oram wins the queen stage of the New Zealand Cycle Classic

After a prologue and three sprint stages, the taps were opened full blast for the uphill finish in Palmerston North. Race leader Michael Vink, Bissell's James Oram and first year U23 Daniel Whitehouse made the selection and the trio shoved ahead of Ben Dyball, Adam Phelan, Graham Briggs and other more seasoned riders. Vink had taken the leader's jersey in the prologue and after safely getting through the sprint stages, he was showing the talent that got him attention all through his U23 career and just needed to stay with Oram and Whitehouse to secure his yellow jersey.

With Vink's overall secured, Oram and Whitehouse were able to duke it out in the final kilometer and it was Bissell's Oram that took the sprint over the relatively unknown Whitehouse for the stage win, which propelled the duo to 2nd and 4th overall, respectively.

I hope that this will be that Oram steps into a leadership role with Bissell and is able to fit into the big shoes that he got after his stellar results as a junior. I'm curious about Daniel Whitehouse though. I haven't been able to find many results or really much at all about him but he seemed very confident in the queen stage for a 19 year old. He looks like a stringbean in picture and he can fly up some hills.

The runner(s) up are...

Tecchio, Großschartner, Grosu attacks; Pibernik 8th at GP Etruschi

The Italian season got underway Sunday at the GP Etruschi, where all of the Italian teams (and others) came out of the woodwork to show off their early season form. A big break got away early that included U23s Francesco Lamon (Italy U23), Felix Großschartner (Gourmetfein), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa) and Marco Tecchio (Area Zero). The group of eight did the usual breakaway thing and when the race was entering the final laps, Großschartner and Tecchio were the final two left before being passed and dropped by neo-pro Davide Formolo, Patrik Dopewitz, Mauro Finetto and Matteo Rabottini.

As YellowFluo's Simone Ponzi lept off the front in the finale, the peloton came back together for a group sprint behind the rider that is currently one of many embroiled in the Mantova investigation. While Ponzi scheme went on to win solo, behind him Luka Pibernik finished 7th in the bunch sprint for 8th on the day while WorldTour neo-pros Formolo, Davide Villella and Jan Polanc all finished in the front group. Pibernik already has a pre-contract with Lampre and this year will certainly be big for him.

Other News

- The team list for the Tour de Normandie was released. Smartstop DS Mike Creed said on his podcast that Normandie is "one of the hardest race nobody gives a fuck about." It is a damn hard race every year and is one of the premiere races for continental teams, especially in the early season. A large amount of development teams have spots here and they will do their best to go up against the Pro Continental Bretagne-Séché Environment.

-With the Cyclocross Worlds this past weekend, there are a few notes. Mathieu van der Poel, after crashing and salvaging 3rd in the U23 race, has said again what he eluded to previously that he would be cutting back on the road in 2014 to focus on cyclocross. In the U23 race, riders that focus on the road mainly finished in the back half of the top 20 including Mike Teunissen, Anthony Turgis, Stan Godrie and Clement Venturini. Come February, it is so hard for guys trying to do both disciplines to be fresh enough to go against the best in their class.

- Herald Sun Tour starts down under this week. Jayco-AIS are fielding a U23 team including Nationals standout Harry Carpenter, Alex Clements, Robert Power, Robert-Jon McCarthy, Sam Spokes and Tom Hamilton. GB are fielding a national team piloted by Russ Downing but include five U23s including Germain Burton and Chris Lawless. James Oram leads the NZ National Team that includes U23 National Champ Hayden McCormick, Hamish Schreurs and Dion Smith. More U23 talent there will be overall contender Jack Haig, Campbell Flakemore and Rapha's Felix English. Racing starts Wednesday.

-In other racing, the Dubai Tour will start this week and will include the Vini Fantini-Nippo-De Rosa squad which has U23s in Grosu, Kim Magnusson, Manabu Ishibashi and Willie Smit.