Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Espoirs Central does World Road Championships

Hello all,

I was on the fence about going to Richmond but around mid-August, I bit the bullet and decided that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have the World Championships so close. Under 4 hours driving made it pretty convenient for missing work and it wasn't too much of a hassle coming back on Sunday night. I wish I had planned it out a bit better as the last weekend we were a few miles out of town and had to drive in each day but for being the first time spectating over such a long period, it was nice.

Now, this trip was more about being a fan than anything. I was thinking about applying for media credentials and trying to get interviews but I didn't want to stress about it. Walking around and feeling the environment was enough for me...this time.

We (being my girlfriend and I) rolled in on Sunday for the team time trials and were slightly lost having never been to the city before and the road closures were...something. I got quite a bad sunburn and my face proceeded to shed a layer of skin over the next 5 days.

The bikes of TTT winners BMC. Except they used Lightweight disc wheels instead of the Shimano Pro discs
Following a lovely dinner at Penny Lane Pub and an interesting night at our historic accommodations, which featured a room that was freezing (60F inside when we woke up but 70F outside). Under gloomy skies, we headed down to watch the junior women and U23 men time trials. First time ever spectating a time trial and it was...okay. The weather certainly wreaked havoc on the later waves on the U23 riders but Espoirs Central picked the first two steps of the podium with Mads Würtz Schmidt and Max Schachmann. Würtz Schimdt looked incredible on his TT bike with his back parallel to his top tube and churning a huge gear steadily. Even in the rain, Lennard Kämna just had the look of a champion on the bike. He will be scary good as he continues to build experience.
Soren Kragh Andersen's bike with a Lightweight disc. MWS machine is to the left
Marlen Zmorka crossing the line. He was on the naughty list after he ran into a lady while riding on the sidewalk. My girlfriend was cheering against him all week after hearing about that move.
Following the U23 TT, we had to get out of dodge so that I could get back to work. Well, I did have back spasms on the way back home that make for one of the worst car trips of my life. Following work on Thursday, we made it back down and stayed on the outskirts of Richmond by the Russian and Slovakian National Teams.

Our hotel was right next to this wonderful corporation
Friday was the junior women's and Men U23 RR. Like a sponge, I was just trying to soak in the atmosphere. The junior women's event was quick but damn, it Chloe Dygert intense. Blew everyone out of the water in both the TT and RR. 

Best. Sweater. Ever.
Somewhere in that scrum is Merhawi Kudus

I wasn't in the best viewing positions for the U23 race as I stuck around Governor's street for the majority of the race. I was in awe of the Eritrean support that had turned out in Richmond. Washington D.C. has a large East African population but I heard one guy talk about how he and his family of 35(!!!) came down from New York for this. They might come from a nation that is currently fucked beyond repair but they are some of the most proud people I have ever met.

I made my opinion of the U23 winner known. No skin of Ledanois' back. The French played some beautiful tactics at the end but why should professionals be contesting a race for development riders? The Pro Continental line in the sand is so arbitrary. If you want to let everyone in the U23 Worlds, then let's get the guys under from the WT in the race then. Caleb Ewan, Magnus Cort, Tiesj Benoot...come on down and take a jersey you won't even wear. Yet, I digress...

I do have to say that I felt for Simone Consonni. His sprint for 2nd place was incredible thanks to Gianni Moscon's leadout, which wasn't helped by the stalling tactics of Anthony Turgis. Consonni needed just 10 meters and he would have been the World Champion. He was a mix of rage, sadness and missed opportunity on the podium.
Perhaps it was due to my location in the U23 RR but one of my highlights of the weekend was the junior men's RR. These kids were going for broke from the beginning and giving it 100% the whole time. I was planted on 23rd St. and the climb was absolutely fantastic. I blame Adrien Costa for losing my voice. Felix Gall's move was impressive and to see him hold off everyone on the brutal finale was some thing special.

The women's race was good but I wish I stayed on 23rd St. instead of walking around the course. The descent off 23rd was a white-knuckled affair that I could have watched all day long. We saw the final couple of laps on Governor St and Armitstead put in his late attack right in front of us before taking the sprint for the win. Her win was followed up by some fantastic BBQ while sitting near some Italian photographers, including one rather large one that ate a portion big enough for three people.
Ivan Stevic decided to rear his ugly Serbian head in the Elite Men's RR and make it into the breakaway that included some damn good and admirable riders in Ben King and Connor Dunne. As you can see in the above video, I finally got to verbalize my hatred for him. Every fucking lap he went by, I yelled to him. Then he does his fucking parade lap and takes bows and blows kisses to everyone before pulling out. Dickhead. Rumor has it that he is hanging up the wheels and I hope it is the truth.

Of course on the longest race of the week, we were stuck next to some annoying Colombians who were obnoxious, filming everything & sticking their phones in my girlfriend face and ended up littering all of their stuff from the day. Douchebags, the lot of them.

The race itself got better as the day went off. The atmosphere on the climb was quite electric and when both Phinney and Farrar tried moves in the finale, people were screaming their heads off. Beers were flowing and it was hard to have a bad time. I'm convinced that Gatis Smukulis has the best legs in the peloton. My lungs burned watching some guys hold on for grim death including Sam Bennett, John Degenkolb and Nacer Bouhanni. And Sagan? That dude is a showman. When he shows up, his talent is off the fucking charts. I used to get annoyed with him winning but now I'm enjoying it.

There was so much more but I definitely felt like I could have stayed in that bubble for weeks on end. much is it going to cost to try and get to Bergen for 2017?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

U23 World RR Championship Preview

Just a little bit over 1 day from now and the U23s will be clicking into their pedals to take on 162 kilometers of up and down tarmac that makes up the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, Va. Just like the TT, Espoirs Central will be on the ground for the event so I expect someone to come up and say high. Or at least say something if they see me on TV. But I digress...

My picks for the TT weren't too shabby with my 1-2 of Mads Würtz and Max Schachmann slotting into position with my 3rd place of Ryan Mullen being slightly off. The TT is fairly straight forward but with a RR course like is going to be a crapshoot.

The course itself is punchy with three short climbs coming in at the end of the circuit. You can see the course profile here. When I say the climbs are short, Libby Hill, the cobbled climb that has been on the tip of many people's  tongues, is just 300 meters. The Paterberg, which is one of the shortest Ronde van Vlaanderen climbs, is 380 meters in length. The super steep 23rd Street is just 100 meters while Governor Street is just 300 meters. However, the big debate will be how selective this course will turn out to be. The finishing straight is tough. It is a deceptive false flat that some might attack thinking that they can stay away only to be brought back in the final 200 meters. Some might try to go for a longer move on Governor Street and hope the pack looks at each other. It could turn into a situation like Valkenburg 2012 where the pack gets over the climb and then it is a small group sprinting it out for the win. Or if it turns out like a classic, a group will get away with ~25km to go and ride away from the peloton. I'm tending to lean towards some sort of sprint but the possibilities are endless.

Now with the race being so wide open in terms of options, let's consider who is riding.

We need to start with Denmark, because if there Tour de l'Avenir showed anything, it is that the majority of their roster is capable of a win here. Soren Kragh Andersen is a name on the tip of everyone's tongue after a season with 7 UCI wins. Kragh Andersen certainly could take a small group to the line and win a sprint, depending on who is in the move. U23 World TT champ Mads Würtz Schmidt could do something similar however, unlike Kragh Andersen, he needs a breakaway to stick to have any shot.

On the sprinting end of things, they have Alexander Kamp and Michael Carbel. Kamp is the most classics oriented sprinter however he needs quiet a small group to produce anything. Carbel is the out-and-out sprinter here but if a group accelerates on the climb, he could certainly be spit out.

This is a country that will not be waiting on a bunch sprint to play out and will be very active in the moves. Denmark could do the double but on the other hand, their plans might backfire and we could see just 1 or 2 in the top 15. 

Gianni Moscon will be looking to redeem himself after last year's Worlds when he slid out on the final descent to the finish in Ponferrada. Moscon has proven himself to be one of the most pro-ready riders in the U23 peloton with podiums galore in the U23 one-day races including a win in the Trofeo Almar Nations Cup and a close 2nd at the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23. He can mix it up in a select sprint but for the best result, he will be looking to thin out the field as much as possible. In case of a sprint, Italy comes prepared with perhaps the fastest sprinter in the field, Simone Consonni, who is Lampre bound next season. Consonni comes with trade teammates Davide Martinelli and Oliveira Troia as help. If Consonni can't cut it, Martinelli is a safe back up as he was 3rd in the European U23 RR.

Jan Dieteren is another rider that lacks a signature win to his palmares but if he can make the selection, he is probably Germany's best shot at a top result. The Germans are stacked with TT talent in the likes of Lennard Kamna, Max Schachmann and Nils Politt. Without Silvio Herklotz, who has been out with mysterious injury the 2nd half of the season, the Germans will be relying on Dieteren or perhaps Jonas Koch, who is known for his long attacks that have proven to be lucrative.

Owain Doull showed at the Tour of Britain that his sprint is nearly pro ready and that in the u23 ranks, he is a danger man. Yet outside of Fleche du Sud, Doull has been the nearly man with a heaping handful of top 10s. Doull will be GB's first leader but in case of attacks, they have riders like Tao Geoghegan Hart and Alex Peters to pick up any slack.

Twan Brusselman is the best shot at a result for the Dutch on this classics-style course. They have a lot of other riders that are talented such as Steven Lammertink and Sam Oomen that could get into moves but Brusselman is their best chance if it comes down to a sprint.

Dion Smith leads a trio of New Zealand riders to the Worlds RR and Smith, along with fellow countrymen James Oram and Hayden McCormick signed with ONE Pro Cycling for next year, is the best shot for a medal. Smith has had an incredibly consistent year but lacks a signature win to hang his hat on. This finish suits him with the long false flat up to the line. Hayden McCormick, who was 10th in this year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege, will be his primary helper.

Daniel Hoelgaard will be the best shot for glory as Norway is looking to go back-to-back after Sven Erik Bystrom snuck away for the win last year. Hoelgaard is only bested by the fastest sprinters so if he can survive the selection on the climbs then he is within a shot of a medal. If the race blows to pieces, Norway has Truls Engen Korsaeth, who seems to be in very good form after his 4th in the U23 TT.

Erik Baska did win the European U23 RR in a bunch sprint however that was a very flat course around Tartu with just one small bump. He has the speed but is untested in this type of race.

Tom Bohli is the only viable option for the Swiss in terms of a result. While Dylan Page is their best sprinter, I don't see him making the fractured finish or at least in contention for any medals. If Bohli makes a move and gets some guys with him, it could be the best option for them.

Colin Joyce & Logan Owen will be amped for perhaps the only Worlds in the USA during their lifetime (if history holds true). Both are suited for this type of race with Owen having the more out and out speed while Joyce can stick with a more select group and sprint it out from there. If a longer move gets it, Greg Daniel has shown himself to be unafraid of getting into lactic acid up to his eyeballs.

Mikhel Raim & Martin Laas are the two dark-horse Estonians that could surprise with a medal (of the bronze color, at best). Raim is a through and through classics rider that was 6th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 after getting off the front of the peloton and 2nd in the Trofeo Almar, finishing 2nd in a group of 10 sprint to Gianni Moscon. Laas is the better rider in the bunch sprint but can make a selection on occassion. Estonia has been having one of their best seasons since the mid 00s so it could be a milestone ride here if the stars align.

France isn't shy with picking Pro Continental riders to try and go for glory in the U23 ranks. Some call it cherry picking. I call it a slap in the face to development cycling. Others say why the hell not. In any case, France has a deep team with many option. Kevin Ledanois and Anthony Turgis both certainly have the endurance for this race as both are professionals but I don't think either of them are capable of taking a win here unless the stars truly align. Both have a decent turn of speed and can get over a lumpy course but nothing that separates them from everyone else. If the race gets selective, they have Frank Bonnamour, who was just 8th in the recent and hellish GP Wallonie and was 5th in Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 earlier this year. Hugo Hofstetter is also in this mold but a bit less suited for the climbs. Fabien Grellier might be suited for the final climbs as he has a kick on him after some hills.

Belgium has never won the U23 Worlds RR and I don't think this will be the year. However, they have a pretty nice line up. The big name is Laurens De Plus, who is better known for his climbing in the high mountains but he can throw down some attacks in one-day races to snag results such as 4th place in the Trofeo Almar. Daan Myngheer has been the other consistent rider here with top 15s in RvV U23 and La Cote Picarde as well as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad U23 and GP Criquielion. The same applies for Maxime Farazijn, who is a better alternative because he has a better sprint on him than Myngheer. I would say the team is going with an open mind and will be laying it out on the line but if a sprint is looming, Farazijn will be the man.

Austria has a strong but perhaps misplaced squad. Michael Gogl has been in good form in recent weeks riding with Tinkoff-Saxo as a stagiaire but he would need to get a lot of luck for a high result. Felix Grossschartner is doing well after a strong Giro della Regioni including a stage win but the course is a little bit flat for him however he did win the Trofeo Piva in a solo move. Gregor Muhlberger is obviously a powerhouse but on such a flat course with short climbs, I don't see him being much of a factor unless he gets into a breakaway move.

Australia is I mean, perhaps Jack Haig can mix it up as well as some of their other time trialists but this team seems destined to be pack fill unless Haig gets into a special move with some other engines.

The only other major team I didn't touch is Russia but they just don't seem to have any riders that fit this course. Mamyr Stash can certainly sprint but needs a pan-flat course. The rest of the team is chock full of climbers that, while strong, don't fit the parcours. Ildar Arslanov is suited for Alpine climbs, not 300 meters climbs that demand 1000 watts.

A couple of other riders that could be coming to a top 10 near you if the chips fall right:

Frantisek Sisr (Czech Republic)
Gustav Hoog (Sweden)
Rok Korosec (Slovenia)

Got any more hot tips? Is someone on the form of their life? Is a favorite not doing too hot? Let me know.

Prediction are just going to have to wait on that. I need a little bit more time so follow me on Twitter @Vlaanderen90 for my podium prediction tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Richmond 2015: World U23 Time Trial Preview

 Hello everyone, it has been a little while. Life...can be annoying. Plus, you know, I don't get paid for this so every now and then, passion needs to be recharged.

In any case, let's attempt at getting a preview out for the U23 World TT Championship that is happening from Richmond, Virginia, USA. Espoirs Central will be in attendance for the U23 events with my lovely girlfriend but I don't know how much reporting I will be doing but more likely muses from Twitter (if you aren't following, it is @Vlaanderen90).

It is now just two days before the event, yet there is no confirmed start list for the U23 World TT so once again, great job to the UCI. Two days before the Super Bowl and you have no idea who will be actually competing. EDIT: CyclingFever has us covered

For now, I will go over the main story lines and once a list is confirmed, I will go more in depth either on here or on Twitter.

Steven Lammertink (Netherlands) will be a name on many people's lips simply because of his major wins this year in time trials. Lammertink, who signed with Lotto NL-Jumbo for next year, won the Tour de Berlin TT, the Netherlands U23 crown and a tight European U23 TT in Tartu, Estonia. While his pedigree is certainly there, he was a distant 8th at the recent Chrono Champenois, nearly 1'30" down. This happened last year with the Dutchman as he was on red-hot form earlier in the season but slipped in the latter stages and finished 14th at Worlds. So his form is certainly in question but if Champenois was a hiccup, then he could easily be a medal contender.

Speaking of usual medal contenders, Australia is in a rather unique situation. As a nation, they are usually gunning for the win in this event. The last time they had no one on the podium was in 2007. Since that time, they have taken 9 medals in the event (out of 21) including 4 gold medals with four different winners in Jack Bobridge, Luke Durbridge, Damien Howson and Campbell Flakemore. This year, they are faced with a dilemna because they lack a standout TT rider coming into Richmond. However, the Cycling Australia bosses have decided to put just 1 rider in the ITT instead of the three riders they could have.

If was are going by Chrono Champenois results, Miles Scotson seems to be on the best form as he went 4th place at 50 seconds back. Scotson has been primarily focused on the track with his eyes on the Rio Team Pursuit squad but he has popped up here and there on the road. Albeit, he has never done a U23 World TT before or many TTs against international competition so if he get the nod, will he be able to produce? Haig is obviously known for his climbing talents but the old boy can scoot on a TT bike and has been getting better with age. Carpenter has produced in TTs at home but is a volatile quantity abroad. He deserves a ride simply because he has chipped away at this for years and who knows, it could be his only chance at World's glory.

Mads Würtz (Denmark) was the junior World Champion in the discipline in 2011 and after being cut by CULT Energy this past year, he has bounced back fantastically and is now a favorite for gold. He was on point at the Tour de l'Avenir and demolished the competition at the Tour of Denmark TT so if his form has carried, he should be all over this.

French National Coach Pierre-Yves Chatelon made a gross oversight by not selecting Frenchman Remi Cavagna, the current national U23 TT champ, because he didn't feel like he could compete in the road race. Utter bullshit and Cavagna was the best chance at a major result. On a good day, Marc Fournier can throw down in a TT but with this crowd? Top 20 at best.

GB is coming with a few shots in the like of Owain Doull and Scott Davies but perhaps a top 10 will be the best they will get. Speaking of the island, Ireland has Ryan Mullen and Eddie Dunbar. The former is definitely a favorite for the win after missing out my mere fractions of a second last year to Campbell Flakemore. Dunbar is just a first year but was 9th in European Champs.

Davide Martinelli might be getting the hype for Italy but while he can TT well, I don't think he will be Italy's highest finisher. Filippo Ganna, who was 4th in the Junior Worlds TT last year and the recent winner of the Chrono Champenois, has been flying since graduating high school and should be the Italian that is on the tip of your tongue.

Germany has two top 10 talents that, in theory, could both medal in Max Schachmann and Lennard Kamna. Schachmann has been building the last couple of years with a 9th place in 2013 and 5th last year and was 3rd in the European Championships. The course is a bit more rolling than the Tartu course so it could play to Schachmann even more. Kamna has been the sensation of the season with his incredible riding and seems to still be in fantastic form after winning the German hillclimb championship in early September. Remember when he smoked Adrien Costa last year in the Junior Worlds TT by nearly 1 minute?

James Oram for New Zealand had a breakthrough last year when he went 10th on the Ponferrada course and if he is on form, he could repeat that result however the talent in this year's field seems quite deep so perhaps a top 15.

Marlen Zmorka (Ukraine) has persevered through some intense personal grief with the situation in Ukraine to get back to some of his best form. Based out of Italy, the Ukranian has been competitive with Martinelli and Ganna in the time trials even beating them on multiple occassions. He was 2nd in the European Championships but has been known to drop the ball in Worlds TT.

Finally, the home nation brings Dan Eaton & Greg Daniel to the table. Dan Eaton, aka Swole, has stepped it up with Axeon this year and when he is on, he is on. He was 4th in the USA Pro Challenge time trial and could make the home team very happy with a nice top 10.


1. Mads Würtz (Denmark)
2. Max Schachmann (Germany)
3. Ryan Mullen (Ireland)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Ivan Stevic

If you are not in the mood for hate and vitriol, then please close this window and go on to do something else. While nearing the end of my work day on Thursday, I scrolled through the day's results and saw a nice little gem from the Tour of Bulgaria. While the race did have Ukranian-Israeli  non-Jew Dmytro Grabovskyy in its midst, the final stage was won by none other than everyone's favorite B World Champion and Serb Ivan Stevic. For a rider that should have a lifetime ban, he seems to ride his bike a lot. Espoirs Central is not a fan of dopers and doping enablers and I have expressed some fairly draconian opinions. If you follow me on twitter (@Vlaanderen90), you will see me go off from time to time about riders such as Stevic or more recently, Oscar Sevilla.

Ivan always did like a bit of nipple play
Photo: Heidi Swift
Ivan Stevic should go fuck off to Belgrade or Almaty or wherever the fuck someone will take him and the authorities should get him banned permanently. He should be made an example of. Yet, he is a rider that trafficked drugs and has seemingly gotten away with it. He was temporarily inconvenienced by having to leave the USA but he has been racing for the past 7 seasons in and out of Central and Eastern Europe. He has won a heaping handful of races and seems to do fairly well for himself even with the persistent talk of drugs when his name is brought up. Serbia qualified for one rider in the Men's Elite RR in Richmond this year. Will Stevic make his glorious return to American soil to set a wonderful example for the sport's youth?

Ivan in his hairless Italian man-boy phase
Let's back track a little bit. Stevic came from Serbia but saw his formative years in Italy with V.C. Aran, where he rode for them 4 years. During this time, he took multiple wins every season and got multiple podiums on Baby Giro stages. It was at this time, in 2004, that he was popped in the Oil for Drugs raids with drugs in his possession that the authorities alleged were being distributed and sold by Stevic from Dr. Carlo Santuccione. The fuzz was onto him and in 2005, Stevic decided to split for new waters and that was...America! Yes, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave took in the up and coming Serb, who acted like he did nothing wrong in his past, and rode with Aerospace Engineering with a bunch of Serbs, Italian Clemente Cavaliere and some other tokens. Cavaliere ended up being suspended a few years later for a doping violation. Stevic and co. tore it up at races such as Sea Otter, the Vuelta de Bisbee and the Tour of Gila as well as proper pro races such as the CSC Invitational.

This success parlayed into a deal with the new Toyota-United team, which decided to trust Stevic at his word and not dig into his past at all. While Google was still in its infancy, I'm sure a call to the UCI would have been able to turn up a few stones and run in the other direction. The next 2.5 seasons were dominated by the red, white and blue train that included Stevic, Ivan Dominguez, Heath Blackgrove, Henk Vogels, Sean Sullivan, Chris Wherry and to a a shorter extent the likes of JJ Haedo, the Clarke brothers and Dom Rollin. At its peak, it was the team on the domestic criterium and one-day scene with wins coming out their ears.

Stevic hit his peak in 2007 when we won a stage of the Tour de Georgia (bring it back!), won the Nature Valley GP overall and won the B World Championship RR, which was a once every 4 year event for smaller nations to get a special rainbow jersey. Stevic continued in 2008 with a strong year while riding mostly for Hilton Clarke, who has a history himself. Following a 3rd place overall in Nature Valley, Stevic went back to Eastern Europe and got even got to ride the Beijing Olympics, where he finished 66th.

Unbeknowst to the general public and even his team, Stevic missed two hearings with Italy's Olympic Committee (CONI) regarding the Oil for Drugs Scandal. In November of 2008, CONI announced a lifetime ban for Stevic in regards to the drugs that were found in his hotel room in 2004 while with VC Aran. Stevic played dumb and said that this was all news to him. In an interview with VeloNews, Toyota-United's owner Sean Tucker said this, “This all took place in May of 2004 and the best any of us can tell, there is literally nothing anywhere on the Web or otherwise until recently regarding Ivan in this matter.” A simple Google search and Stevic's word were good enough for Tucker & co. to hire him.** There is only so much that a team can do ensure riders are clean.

(**Mr. Tucker reached out to me out of the blue on January 20th, 2016 at my place of work. Mr. Tucker found Espoirs Central while putting Ivan Stevic's Beijing Olympic bike up for sale on eBay, which has since sold. Mr. Tucker told me that he disagreed with some of the things written and he thought I would be interested in the truth. He stated that he is vehemently against doping and would have never hired any known doper. He stated that before Stevic was hired, the team contacted the UCI and were given the all clear. He also stated that he wasn't directly involved with the hiring of riders (which was left up to the directors, which according to the UCI website was just Frankie Andreu in 2006) but he did sign off on the moves.**)

Following 2008, Stevic has been persona non grata in the USA. While he appealed the CONI decision, the Serb began racing again. In Central Europe, he was getting a number of top 10s and in 2010, he signed with Partizan Srbija. He originally got a stage win in the Tour of Qinghai Lake but he flipped off the crowd and got kicked out. (Apparently it was a misunderstanding but the judges weren't having it.)

Silently, his lifetime ban was overturned to a two-year ban but it was backdated from 2008 to 2010 and none of his results were taken away. Way to go everyone. Since then, Stevic has bounced around teams from Turkey, Romania, Greece and back to Serbia. He is a magnet for the top 10 yet outside of Serbia, wins are increasingly rare. He got another Olympic bid for the London RR and finished 54th, in a large peloton 40 seconds down.

Stevic likes to hang out with a mixed crowd, with evidence from the Tour of Poyang Lake in China last year...

But back to the important question of Serbia's World Championship RR spot for Richmond. Stevic could be racing back in America 7 years after his disappearance. I will be there and if by chance he is there, I hope that he hears me because he is a drug dealing scum that does not deserve a spot in the World Championships. He is an unrepentant drug dealer that is a poison on this sport. He should be doing anything but racing his bike or being anywhere near bikes.

If you think differently, please speak up. Please, I would love someone to defend him and say how he has changed. He lost his chance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Road to Richmond: French & Australian Selections

In just about three weeks time, the World Championships will be in Richmond, USA and for the first time since this blog has been started, Espoirs Central will be on the ground and viewing the race live. So if you plan on being there, please let me know because I would love to see as many people as possible. That being said, the selections for the U23 races are being announced and with the clock ticking, it is time to go through them all so for the next couple of weeks, there will be a good amount of posts on the subject so if you are someone that hates this kind of stuff, then buckle up.


Coming out of the Tour de l'Avenir, the French are looking for more results. To do this, they are calling on Pro Continental riders to do some of the heavy lifting. Long time readers of this blog will now that I am not a fan of any pro riders in U23 racing including riders on Pro Continental teams. While the rules allow for Pro Continental riders to ride these events, they are on a different level and if they feel they are ready for the pro level, they should give their spot to another rider and quit clogging up the development track. Now the blame doesn't necessarily fall on the rider but, as previously said, on the federation and the national selector and more importantly, on the UCI.

The French team for Richmond is:

Road Race
Franck Bonnamour (BIC 2000)
Marc Fournier (CC Nogent-sur-Oise)
Hugo Hofstetter (CC Etupes)
Kevin Ledanois (Bretagne Séche Environment)
Nans Peters (Chambery CF)
Anthony Turgis (Cofidis)

Replacement: Fabian Grellier (Vendée U)

Time Trial
Marc Fournier (CC Nogent-sur-Oise)
Nans Peters (Chambery CF)

The two pros are obviously Turgis and Ledanois, who could both do well on the Classic-style course in Richmond that is certainly the flattest course since Copenhagen but by no means as easy. The fact they are on pro teams doesn't make them locks for a top finish either. The middle Turgis brother, between Anthony and Tanguy, was last year's Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 winner who won out of a breakaway of 4. He could be a rider that would launch a late attack and have the legs to stick it over the final climb to the finish.

Ledanois is more of a classics-style rider but his form has been hit and miss this year. If on form, he would do well with the short climbs on the course but for a result, he would need more selective course and perhaps a small bunch to sprint with.

Riders that are strong but might not be suited for the finish is a recurring theme. Fournier and Peters are strong time trial riders and have scored wins from breakaways but with the late uphill finish, their diesel engines might be caught out. Bonnamour is another that needs an attack to snag results so while he is well suited to a classics-style course, he will need to attack to find glory.

Two that might be well suited here are Hofstetter. Hofstetter has had a very successful year with CC Etupes and took his French U23 title with a late attack in the finale to hold off a frisky bunch. This type of move could work to his advantage and he even has a decent sprint on him so if possible, he could use that as well.

This French team seems to lack direction. They don't have a rider that sticks out that they will be leaning on and they will be more so waiting for the selection to be made and go from there. The race could certainly see 4 French riders near the front end of the race but with zero to speak of in terms of results.

In terms of snubs, there are a couple. The exclusion of Guillaume Martin is some what understandable as he is suited to hillier courses but he could have still been of some use. Yoan Verardo should have made this team as he was suited to the course however after his dynamite spring, he has been quiet. The obvious one, which I do not understand in the slightest, is how French U23 TT Champion Remi Cavagna wasn't chosen for the TT. There is no rule against riding just the time trial and he is France's best rider in the discipline so I would like to see an explanation by national coach Pierre-Yves Chatelon on this oversight.


Harry Carpenter
Alistair Donohoe
Jack Haig
Nick Schultz
Miles Scotson

No Rob Power or Alexander Edmondson...this is going to be difficult to pull a result. If this was a hillier course, Haig would be much more suited but that is not the case. Harry Carpenter seems to be going in guns-a-blazing for the time trial but the time trial spots haven't been quite confirmed however Carpenter is guaranteed a slot. Scotson should be gunning for a TT spot as well however he can can get through a road race in good shape and get over a few hills but I wouldn't expect miracles.

If it really comes down to any sort of sprint, Donohoe would be the best bet however with the uphill nature of the final kilometer, I'm not sure how he will handle that.

Jack Haig will finish in the front peloton but unless he somehow whittles himself into a breakaway, I don't see any medals in the RR for Oz.

More posts on Richmond 2015 to come...

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tour de l'Avenir Wrap-Up

It has been quite the week in U23 cycling. Favorites crashing, favorites underperforming and some favorites performing right on cue. Let's take some time to remember the week that was and perhaps some of the details that might have slipped through the cracks.

Breakaways rule

There were zero stages that were decided by a large group coming to the line together. The largest group that decided a victory was the group of 7 that decided the win on stage 2 when professional Mads Pedersen sat on the breakaway and then toyed with everyone in the finale to take the win. Looking back, it is the first edition of l'Avenir since 2007 where there hasn't been a true bunch gallop albeit that year was very close when Martin Kohler barely held off a hard charging Edvald Boasson Hagen for the stage 4 win into Contres. With the mountain stages back loaded, many teams brought a climbing-oriented roster but that seemed to be a mistake as there were more chances for glory in the opening four stages than anywhere else.

The Danes

While the appearance of Mads Pedersen here is debatable, the Danish team from this year's edition of the Tour de l'Avenir is the most successful team to date as they absolutely dominated the flatter portion of the race. Bringing 5 riders that were suited for flat to rolling terrain, the Danes started off with a prologue win by Søren Kragh Andersen and kept going from there. There only "misfire" from the early half of the race was missing out on stage 1, where solo breakaway Jonas Koch stuck it to the line, but they did manage 2nd place with an attack from Mads Würtz Schmidt.

They then just got into the meaningful breaks and animated the race. Pedersen's stage 2 win was perhaps the most controversial since he is a professional rider and was being a bad breakaway companion by sitting on the back, not contributing and then attacking everyone in the final kilometer. Kragh Andersen struck again on stage 3 with an impressive sprint over Mathieu van der Poel after his group got away in the final kilometers of the stage. Würtz Schmidt made it the third different rider by making it over the first couple of bigger climbs in the race and being the strongest sprinter to survive.

Obviously they were gone when the mountains came but 4 stage wins is the biggest Tour de l'Avenir haul...well at least in the last 15 years. There many been multiple teams that have won three stages including Edvald Boasson Hagen in 2006 and France in 2009. Even if some are unhappy with Pedersen's presence here, it was quite the performance that will be remembered.

Car Searches

Thanks to USA DS Mike Sayers, it was broadcasted that the the French feds had stopped the team vehicles on the transfer to the stage finish and searched vehicles for drugs. While it might be inconvenient, I would love to see IAAF federations submit to this type of searches. They would be shitting their shorts while watching police rip apart their operations. These searches should start at the junior and U23 level but continue through the pro ranks and perhaps even extend to hotel rooms, if it needs to come to that. Transparency is key to building trust so this move by the French gets Espoirs Central Stamp of Approval™.

The Course

After thinking about the course for this race, I feel like the organizers need to take a step back and stop making it some mountains-heavy at the tail-end. This year's race was incredible but as the stages wore on, the pack was beginning to be decimated. Only 61% of the starters made it to the end and only 11 within 10 minutes of winner Marc Soler. DNFs are inevitable but with how packed the mountain stages were this year and how the races went from the gun, many were on the back foot from the beginning.

I liked the race when they have a nice mix of mountains, rolling hills, flat stages and perhaps even a short time trial. Give something for everyone and mix the race us a bit; don't just make it a given for the best climber in the race to get the overall crown. When Jan Bakelants won the race in 2008, he certainly wasn't the best climber. He used rolling stages and breakaways to gain his advantage but had to hang on for grim death in the mountains to hold off Rui Costa and Arnold Jeannesson. While it doesn't have to be a flat race, give some more chances to riders that have an explosive finish such as Gianni Moscon or Gregor Mühlberger to mix it up with the pure climbers such as Soler.

Professional riders

Obviously, the winner of the race, Marc Soler, comes from the Movistar team and came into the race with nearly 50 racing days and a whole season of professional support behind him. Soler is a legitimate professional who, while still in his rookie season, is obviously with a strong setup and has consummate professionals helping with his coaching, nutrition, etc. He should not have been allowed to compete here. Give Jack Haig a year riding with Orica-Green Edge, bring him back here and then see what he would do. He beat the competition fair and square but the blame doesn't go on the rider.

The blame starts with the UCI ignoramus who passed this rule. Then it goes on the national federation and director, Pascual Momparler, who want to win at all costs instead of focus on getting riders exposure and develop them for the next level, which should be the main purpose of their positions. Momparler was having an orgasm when describing Soler as "he is just like Bradley Wiggins" and "there is one thing Marc Soler doesn't like: to lose". No, you just do not like to lose old man.

I've spoken on Pedersen previously but he shouldn't be here either after riding nearly the same amount of top level races as Soler did coming into l'Avenir.

Sebastian Henao is the one that sparked my outrage over this rule earlier this summer but wasn't on his best form for l'Avenir and was beaten handily by some of the U23 ranks best. And transition...


...was more or less a flop. The Colombian team came in with arguably the overall favorite in Henao  and a rider that could take multiple sprint stages in Gaviria. It became apparent early that Gaviria was on his own and with the lack of cohesion in the peloton in regards to keeping a peloton together for a sprint, Gaviria got the short end of the stick.

The team lost Rodrigo Contreras, Gaviria's climbing buddy that is also headed to Etixx, who was out on stage 5. The team also lost Gaviria on stage 6 but throughout the mountain stage, the team was either attacking at inopportune moments that wasted energy (such as Daniel Martinez chasing a streaking Guillaume Martin on stage 6) or their riders not being able to respond.

While Henao tried to make up for his race on the final day, the overall classification ride never happened and his 9th place overall capped a pretty silent week for the South Americans. Martinez is certainly one to watch in the future after some promising rides and being just a first year U23.

The Melodramatic French

Okay, that might be a bit mean but it was certainly an up and down Tour for the French. Coming into the race, they had a seemingly unlimited amount of options but they were slowly whittled down from 6 riders to just 1 on the final stage.

After a strong Tour de l'Ain, Nans Peters was looking like a viable overall candidate but a hard crash early on limited him and eventually saw him pull out on stage 5. Jeremy Maison was on a flier on stage 5 on the Col du Pre but on the subsequent descent, he crashed out and broke his collarbone. Even with these two riders down, Guillaume Martin survived a solo breakaway to hold of Gregor Mühlberger for the stage win.

The next day, it was Elie Gesbert who did the long solo attack over the Col du Madeleine that survived until the end. However, the French would be decimated on the final day. Gesbert attacked out of the gate but was caught and then dropped and eventually had to drop out, along with his teammate Leo Vincent and Fabian Grellier.

It was Guillaume Martin, winner of stage 5, who survived the race. Martin described the final stage as "a cyclosportive or an Ironman" because of how stretched the pack was and how most did not have any teammate around. Martin lost his KOM jersey on the final day but did manage 10th overall to go with his stage win. The philosophy graduate certainly has a promising future as a climber but perhaps needs a little more consistency.

Maison was the best chance for France to go for the podium so even with two stage wins, there is always that what if to think about. However, Maison is joining FDJ for 2016 so perhaps he can make up for it on a bigger level.

Individual Performances

-Jack Haig certainly picked up where Rob Power left off last year and did a great ride for 2nd overall and 1st overall for true U23s. It would have been an entirely different race if Power was present and Haig would have been riding on the front for countless kilometers, no doubt. Haig got stronger as the mountains went on and when it got really steep, he and Matvey Mamykin even dropped race leader Marc Soler on the final stage. Haig struggled with injury this year and then riding for others so seeing him relish this leadership opportunity is a good sign for the future.

-Laurens De Plus might have failed on the last stage but he did cap off a fantastic season of stage racing where he didn't finish outside of the top 8 in the overall GC bar the Circuit Ardennes in March. De Plus was sitting 2nd overall before his legs turned to wood on the final stage and he slipped to 8th overall. He isn't a robot. De Plus just enjoys winning. He climbed with Soler on stage 6 after having a disappointing stage 5. He has the tools but this is just his first year in a leader's role. Perhaps his jump directly to Etixx might be a bit premature as opposed to something like Loïc Vliegen or Louis Vervaeke jumping mid-season but he does have a three year deal so Lefevere will need to be patient with this one.

-Odd Eiking should not be trusted with a overall leader's role going into a race. If anything, he should be a dark horse but right now, he had failed in terms of GC in his last two big races that featured big mountains. Perhaps he is bound for one-week races or races without hills that stretch over 10 km or over 6 or 7% gradient. Sindre Lunke seems to be the better choice for a future Norwegian climber and GC threat.

-Another rider that will need consistency lessons in the mountains in the pro ranks is Gregor Mühlberger. The Austrian nearly had a stage win on stage 5 but was misdirected in the finale, which might have cost him the win. He paid for his stage 5 exploits the next day and implode any GC chances before coming back for 4th place on the final stage. This isn't the first time that this has happened with Mühlberger and no doubt the last time it will happen. He is another the does well in the medium mountains and even a day in the high mountains but after a big effort? Fogettaboutit.

-Sam Oomen was a hurting dog on the final stage and was dropped at one point with his back in incredible pain. Yet the young Dutchman fought through this and even managed to put in an attack off the Col de la Croix de Fer and while he wasn't able to hang with the best climbers in the end, he moved up on the GC to 4th overall. While I had him pegged for the win, he was much more consistent than a year ago and if he stays in the U23 ranks for another year, I do not see why he wouldn't be the favorite for the win.

The analysis could last for hours but that is all for now. Anything else that you would like to see picked apart? A rider with potential? Something that has been annoying you to pieces? Please let it me know.

Relive the race that was by going through Espoirs Central coverage from l'Avenir.

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
Stage 7