Wednesday, December 30, 2015

And now, we lay thee to rest...

With another year coming to a close, let us take a look at the teams that will not be seeing the light of day in 2016. In the current state of the cycling economy, it is bound to happen. A team's sponsor goes through a rough patch and stops making payments to the team. Riders are riding on hopes and dreams while surviving on oatmeal, pasta and the remnants of the team's energy products. You will see rider's selling their equipment early to make rent while the team will be absent at some races. Granted these are the worst case scenarios as some teams are able to budget through a whole season without imploding.

Itera-Katusha (Russia)
Oh, it is a sad day for Russia. Seriously, this was a team that dates back to 2008 with the first iteration of Katyusha led by Alexei Sivakov. We are going to take a moment and see all of the talent that passed through this team and if you enjoy seeing riders popped for doping...well, you are in for a treat.

It goes something like this...

Denis Galimzyanov, Timofey Kritskiy, Alexei Markov, Nikita Novikov, Alexander Porsev, Andrey Solomennikov, Petr Ignatenko, Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, Anton Vorobyev, Sergey Firsanov, Kovalev brothers, Alexei Tsatevich, Sergey Chernetskiy, Alexander Foliforov, Pavel Kochetkov, Ilnur Zakarin, Ildar Arslanov, Viktor Manakov and Matvey Mamykin.

And breath...

And this is without mentioning riders that even got a chance on the pro continental level. Talent factory but there are a number of names up there that got popped for doping. The team was shuttered on the back of news of two more doping positive from Ivan Lutsenko and Andrey Lukonin. In the announcement, a lack of budget (which is surprising seeing as the gas money had been pretty free flowing for a while) and a focus on Gazprom-RusVelo was mentioned.

Rest in peace, Itera-Katusha. You will be missed. Not necessarily by many but someone will miss you, I'm sure. Maybe. I mean, I liked some of your riders but you know, many Americans distrust Russians. Oh well, brush your shoulders off, kid.

Other Continental teams leaving us include:
African Wildlife Safaris (Australia)
CCT p/b Champion System (Belgium)
Champion System p/b Stan's No Tubes (USA)
MLP Team Bergstraße (Germany)
Frøy-Bianchi (Norway)
Team Idea 2010 (Italy)
Team Smartstop (USA)

Got any more that I missed? Let me know and they shall be added to the graveyard. I'm still waiting on some confirmation because some of those off the wall teams have made no announcements.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 Team Preview: Klein Constantia

It seems like it will be a yearly tradition for this team to switch headline names every year between all of the holdings of Czech oligarch Zdenek Bakala. In 2013, they were Etixx-iHNed. In 2014, the team was Etixx. This past year, the team switched to AWT-Greenway. For 2016, the Etixx-Quick Step feeder team is changing their name to Klein Constantia, which is a South African winery that is partially owned by Bakala. The company name is derived from the Constantia valley in South Africa, which is known as a wine-producing region.

Vino, Vintage Bakala
2015 was an up and down year for the team. They lost a lot of their core riders from 2014 and they struggled to produce at times. Erik Baska, the Slovakian bound for Tinkoff, was their saving grace with 5 wins but Jan Brokoff was the only other rider to snag a win in 2015. While they might have lacked in the win column, the team did show some stars of the future in Max Schachmann, who was the silver medalist in the World U23 TT Championship, and Michal Schlegel, the Czech all-arounder who was 6th in the World U23 RR and 10th in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.

A core of only five riders is staying from the 2015 team while the other seven go to new pastures. Rayane Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Baska are the only two riders bound for pro teams while Jan Brockoff heads for Leopard Development, Alexis Guerin & Alvaro Cuadros head to strong amateur teams in France & Spain, and Jakub Novak & Matej Bechyne are off to who knows where. The team now has no riders from 2014 let alone their first year in 2013.

The 5 riders staying include:

Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain)
Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Poland)
Roman Lehky (Czech Republic)
Max Schachmann (Germany)
Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic)

Cortina showed some potential in the Tour de Bretagne, where he was in the top 6 three times on the way to a top 10 overall finish and 15th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia. Look for him in hillier races as well as difficult courses with sprint finishes. Kasperkiewicz was a strong classics rider with 9th in La Cote Picarde and 11th in Paris-Roubaix., well 2016 is a new year. Schachmann and Schlegel, as mentioned above, had some good results this past year and look to be the two cornerstones for the team in the coming year.

The 8 riders joining include:

Jonas Bokeloh (SEG Racing/Germany)
Remi Cavagna (Pro Immo Roux/France)
Enric Mas (Fundacion Contador/Spain)
Nuno Bico Matos (Radio Popular/Portugal)
Kenny Molly (Fundacio Contador/Belgium)
Jhonathan Narvaez (Ecuador/Junior)
Hamish Schreurs (Sojasun-ACNC/New Zealand)
Frantisek Sisr (Dukla Praha/Czech Republic)

There are some very interesting names on this list but let us start with the one that I am most excited to see. Jhonatan Narvaez hails from Ecuador and a tiny town called El Pláyon de San Francisco in the province of Sucumbios, which abuts Colombia and Peru. His town just sits a stones throw away from Colombia but is situated in the middle of nowhere. Why am I so excited so see how this first year U23 gets on? Well he does hold the World junior record for the 3km Individual Pursuit, which he broke earlier this year. While it was at altitude, it is a very impressive feat as it was nearly .5 of a second faster than previous record holder Dale Parker. In 2014, he was 2nd overall in the Vuelta de la Porvenir (Junior Tour of Colombia) and this year, he was 2nd in the Junior Pan Am Games road race. He proceeded to go to the Vuelta al Besaya in Spain and won the overall while racing with a team from Colombia. You can read a write-up on him here, which I highly recommend, but he should be on many people's watch list for 2016.

After a not terrific year with SEG Racing, Jonas Bokeloh is heading for new pastures. While a quiet year can make people forget about you fast, Bokeloh was the Junior World RR Champion in 2014. Only had two top 10 finishes in his first year with a handful of DNFs on his resume but with a year under his belt and a new team, his confidence could be through the roof.

I will say once again that it was a crying shame that Remi Cavagna wasn't chosen to represent France in the U23 ITT this past season. He won the French U23 TT but even after the French had an open spot for Worlds, Cavagna wasn't chosen and the French put forth only Marc Fournier. Cavagna can go pretty well on the road as well too with a 4th in the DN1 round at the GP Pays d'Aix.

While he is New Zealand by birth, Hamish Schreurs rode for Sojasun-ACNC this past year and saw some good success. He won early at the Route Bretonne and then put up some pretty good results all season with the team. He was 15th in the Kreiz Breizh Elites (UCI 2.2) and 4th on the final stage. Look for him on hilly to flat courses that look good for a breakaway.

The Spanish are good at keeping their talent quiet (also thanks to lack of funding) but Enric Mas is pretty legitimate. This year, he was 2nd in both the Vuelta a Bidasoa (where he also won a stage) and the Vuelta a Palencia, which aren't super mountainous but hilly. In 2014, he was 4th in the U23 Zavod Miru and this year, he did make it through Valle d'Aosta in fairly good position without having raced many big mountain races.

Also coming over from Iberia is Nuno Bico, who is the U23 RR Champion of Portugal. At only 21, he already has three Volta a Portugals under his belt. With each being about 10 stages each, it is a considerable feat. He seems to climb fairly well so hillier races could be his game.

A teammate of Mas from Fundacion Contador is coming to Klein Constantia as well but he isn't Spanish but Belgian. Kenny Molly is a one-day rider that has a pretty good turn of speed on him. Molly had stagiaires with AWT-Greenway last year and could be an option in a sprint finish for the team that lacks a big sprinter.

The final new addition is a Czech rider coming from Dukla Praha that could also help with the sprinting issue. Frantisek Sisr has been splitting time between the road and track but it doesn't seem like he will be getting the bid for Rio in the Track Omnium. Sisr is a fairly handy sprinter but he is much more than that as he can get over some hills and can win out of a breakaway.


The development team of the dominant Etixx-Quick Step had a down year last year but with a little bit of luck, they should be able to get back near the level they were at in 2013 and 2014. With Schachmann, Schlegel and some of the newbies, it could be a pretty happy year and there could definitely be a few pro signings out of this group.

Espoirs Central prediction: 8 UCI wins and 11 overall.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2016 Team Preview: BMC Development

Half of the riders here are now on World Tour teams, including two with BMC.
(WikiCommons - Tour de Bretagne 2014)
With Rik Verbrugghe leaving the team that he had forged for IAM  Cycling, BMC Development was left in the hands of Jens Blatter and Geert Van Bondt taking over the directing role. Would the team falter or stagnate after a wildly successful 2014? Well, they were not hurting for results. With the Loïc Vliegen with the team for the first half of the year along the Tom Bohli and Floris Gerts, the trio proceeded to take 10 wins before June. Lukas Spengler took the biggest win of the season by winning the wet and cold Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in solo fashion. Alexey Vermeulen and Kilian Frankiny were big players in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta. Nathan Van Hooydonck started to come into his own and won the Belgian U23 RR. On all accounts, it was a very successful season. Yet 2016 looks like it could be a different story as 5 riders are moving to the professional ranks (as well as others moving on) and the team is bringing on 6 junior riders to begin to next building phase. Did I mention there will be a new director for 2016?

BMC Development

IN: Keegan Swirbul (Axeon), Zeke Mostov (Cal Giant), Pascal Eenkhoorn (Netherlands), Sam Dobbs (New Zealand) (as of 7/1/16), Bram Welten (Netherlands), Pavel Sivakov (Russia/France), Leo Appelt (Germany), Fabien Leinhard (EKZ Racing), Martin Schäppi (Switzerland) and Mario Spengler (Switzerland)

Bold = coming from junior ranks

STAY: TJ Eisenhart, Kilian Frankiny, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Bas Tietema, Lukas Spengler and Patrick Müller

OUT: Alexey Vermeulen (Lotto-JumboNL),  Tyler Williams (Axeon), Floris Gerts & Tom Bohli (BMC) Loic Vliegen (BMC - mid-year), Johan Hemroulle (Color Code-Aquality Protect), Jesse Kerrison (Charter Mason), Valentin Baillifard (Roth Gruppe)

Spengler winning in the muck of Roubaix
Photo: Jean-Marc Hecquet
The most recent news from the team is the departure of Geert Van Bondt and recently retired Klaas Lodewyck replacing him as the team's director. Will this be a huge shake within the team? Only time will tell. What is probably the most pressing for next year is the huge departure of riders from the 2015 team. Remember the trio of Vliegen, Bohli and Gerts? All are gone to the big BMC team. Vermeulen is headed for Lotto-Jumbo NL while Baillifard heads to the embattled Roth Gruppe Pro Continental team. Hemroulle is out to a Belgian continental team. Kerrison got shafted with the Dynamo Cover Pro Team but found refuge with Charter Mason. Recently engaged Tyler Williams is moving to Axeon for his final U23 season.

That leaves less than half of the 2015 roster in tact for the new year. While there are just six riders, they are no slouches.

I'm still trying to figure out TJ Eisenhart. He was a prodigious junior talent but does he have what it takes to prove himself on another level? He is one of the most positive people out there and shows flashes of brilliance but the results did not come the past year.

Frankiny came alive in the Giro della Valle d'Aosta after going 2nd on the final stage to vault all the way up to 4th overall. Now he didn't do this in every stage race but he showed promise in Utah with the big boy team. Can he string together a couple good mountain races?

While he might have fallen on Libby Hill on the final lap of the U23 Men's RR, Nathan Van Hooydonck made 2015 a bit of a coming out party as he began to show the potential that saw many salivating over him as a junior. He found what is probably his perfect stage race in the Olympia's Tour, where he finished 3rd overall, and won the Belgium U23 RR out of a small group sprint. He was only in his 2nd year and he should have a lot more coming his way in terms of results.

Tietema is another of the strong powerhouses that was strong in both the Olympia's Tour and in Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, where he was 10th. Perhaps a bit inconsistent with the results but he is one that shows that glimmer.

Not to say that Lukas Spengler's victory in P-R Espoirs was a fluke but...well, his results from this year don't necessarily rebuke that statement. It was a hell of a ride on a hellish day but more of a Jean-Marie Wampers than Tom Boonen, eh?

In just his first U23 season, Patrick Müller rode quite well and while he didn't win 10 races, he did ride quite consistently in hilly events including a 10th overall in the Rhône Alpes Isere Tour and leading group (and top 20) finishes in the Trofeo Piva, Giro del Belvedere and Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23. He did split time between the road and velodrome so with that still up in the air for 2016, he could be in for a similar year results wise unless he keeps his nose to the grind.

While that is a good collection of riders, that is less than half of the team for the new year. While these new juniors are strong, are they going to be able to compete right out of the gate?

First let's look at the riders that have some U23 experience under their belts...

For those that follow the U23 ranks, one of the bigger intra-U23 off-season moves was Keegan Swirbul leaving Axeon for BMC Development, citing a chance to get more exposure to European races. Swirbul, who was a cross-country skier in his younger years before moving to MTB and eventually the road side of cycling just a couple of years ago. He has had some problems with injuries through his two years but when he is on, he can go with the best of them. He really just needs to get some race miles underneath him and once he gets his feet set, he can go for results in the high mountains or harder one day races (remember, he is the the US U23 RR Champion).

The other American joining Swirbul is Middlebury College student Zeke Mostov, who is coming from Cal Giant. Mostov was 3rd place in the Junior World TT in Florence in 2013 as a first year junior and followed it up with a 5th in Ponferrada against the likes of Lennard Kämna, Adrien Costa and Filippo Ganna. Mostov didn't go into the deep end in his first year as a U23 but rode consistently in the top 20 overall of American events including the North Star GP, Cascade Classic and Green Mountain Stage Race. If he doesn't get thrown into the deep end too quickly, he could begin to show himself as a potential GC rider, especially in races with a decisive time trial.

The only rider that will not be in the U23 ranks for next year is a rider that has gone 12th and 6th in the past two U23 World RR Championships. Fabian Lienhard is a one-day racer. He can get through a stage race but his heart lies in the pursuit of emptying the tank on one course, on one day.

The last non-junior hasn't raced much outside of the junior ranks. So Martin Schäppi, you might have been a talented rider as a junior but you better bring your big boy muscles to the game.

It should be said that the team deserves a massive tip of the cap for getting this much junior talent together on the same team. Junior World TT Championship, check; 1-2 finishers from Paris-Roubaix Juniors, check; Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors winner, check; Junior World Pursuit Champion, check; A little brother, check.

The first time that I saw Leo Appelt, he looked like a junior version of Tony Martin. His cadance metronomic. He won the Junior World Time Trial Championship in a bit of an upset ahead of American favorites Adrien Costa and Brandon McNulty. In the road race, he was struck with mechanical difficulty and had to ride a Shimano spare bike up the cobbled 23rd Street that had clip pedals. While this took him out of contention, he had the look of a strong, powerful rider that could rip the cranks off a bike.

While his passport might read Russia, Pavel Sivakov has grown up outside of the motherland. Born in Italy, Pavel grew up in the foothills of the French Pyrenees with two ex-cyclists for parents though they were not pushy about getting him onto a bike. His father, Alexei, primarily rode with BigMat-Auber 93 during his career where he rode 6 Grand Tours. His mother, Alexandra Koliaseva, was 2nd in the Giro Donne in 1989, 4th in the Tour de France Feminin and was a double World Champion in the Team Time Trial with Russia. His father was the manager for the first iterations of the Itera-Katusha squads in the mid to late 00s. With Moscow Stars and Katyusha, the team was a scourge on the European peloton and riders like Timofey Kritskiy, Denis Galimzyanov and Alexander Porsev, to name but a few. Sivakov's talent has a wide range and this first U23 season will be used to flesh out where he should concentrate. He won the junior Ronde van Vlaanderen, can time trial very well and seems to do well on undulating courses that don't allow for much rest. Read about his upbringing and move to the team on Directvelo (in French).

If you saw the results here, you might suspect he won from a sprint but
Eenkhoorn stuck a late attack to win the Bernaudeau Junior
Another strong all-arounder that prefers a bit flatter terrain is Pascal Eenkhoorn. The picture above describes only one part of his style. Eenkhoorn was 2nd in Paris-Roubaix Juniors, can roll a decent time trial and isn't bad in a bunch sprint either. I think he will try to develop the art of the breakaway as a U23 to get more wins like his Bernadeau Junior victory.

Speaking of the Paris-Roubaix Juniors, Bram Welten won that race. Welten is a hardman that gets results by making breakaways or decisive splits. He won the P-R Juniors out of a two-man sprint; a solo win in the Guido Reybrouck Classic and a small group sprint in a stage of the Driedaagse van Axel.

After being announced with the Attaque Team Gusto, it seems that Sam Dobbs won't be joining BMC Development until about May. Dobbs was active in Belgium last year with the Isorex Team and he won a couple of races including one over U23 cyclocross star Eli Iserbyt. He has been riding on the Australian NRS circuit the past couple of seasons and is more or less looking for a smooth transition to Europe. Read more about the move here.

Last but no least is the little brother Mario Spengler. He is the Luigi to his brother if his parents were smart, they would have just named him Luigi. Unless Lukas is adopted and there is a 3rd brother named Luigi. But I digress. Luigi Spengler is a pretty good all-arounder that can do fairly well on all type of courses. He didn't have much of a specialty as a junior so I'll be curious to see what he develops into as a U23.


I think there will certainly be a bit of a transitionary period for this team as they lack a rider that gets results at will such as Loïc Vliegen, Dylan Teuns or Stefan Küng did in the past. That being said, the team should be able to mesh well and be fairly successful next year.

Espoirs Central 2016 Prediction: 25 wins (on the road) and 8 UCI wins.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2016 races: Kattekoers, Monts et Chateaux and l'Isard

Just a fortnight away from 2016 and riders are deep into training and preparing for the new year. Kits are being unveiled, plans are being set and soon, riders will be in their colors for next season and searching for sunny places to put in 25 hours a week on the bike. That being said, let's take a look at some of the races for 2016 that have been announced.


Belgium is a small country. Flanders is half of a small country. The area of Flanders is slightly smaller than the size of the state of Connecticut. The province of West Flanders is smaller than Rhode Island. So imagine having seven bike races take place on the same day at nearly the same time. Except this is a reality on March 27th in the heart of the classics season. The Kattekoers is moving up to the U23 Nations Cup from the Belgian Topcompetitie and moving from March 15th to March 27th. It is a showcase for the West Flanders region but a logistical nightmare.

The Kattekoers traditionally had 16 hills on the course but due to the course restrictions, there are only 6 hills this year with the trio of the Baneberg-Kemmelberg-Monteberg twice. The last hill is closed to the finish than in year's past being just 13 kilometers away from the Grand Palace from Ypres. The course length is increased to 185.7 kilometers so even though the hills have been cut in half, a sprint finish is by no means secured.

Triptyque Monts et Chateaux

Basically the Driedaagse de Panne for U23s (and other younger amateurs), Triptyque is always a fun race to see who is in shape for the upcoming Nations Cup races, which will be different this year with the addition of the Kattekoers for the Nations Cup. That is if many of the racers are invited.

The parcours haven't been announced yet but the main change is the race is going back to 3 days from 4 days and a time trial will be appearing once again. Espoirs Central is a big fan of time trials in the continental ranks because in many U23 races there is a dearth of time trials yet when these riders move up to the World Tour ranks, there are time trials in every stage race. How are you supposed to prepare for a certain discipline when you have no chances to practice it?

Ronde de l'Isard

While troubles with the race and rumblings of the race shuttering are an annual event, the Ronde de l'Isard is once again taking place and the 2016 race is set for a couple of big mountain top finishes.

For the 39th edition, the race will head up to Goulier-Neige for the 3rd consecutive year for the first stage. It is a climb that has an absolute brutal middle section that nears 12% while the finale is around 9%. It also sorts the wheat from the chaff and only a small handful are left to fight for the overall. Here is the profile of the climb.

The 2nd stage will feature a finish at the ski station of Ax 3 Domaines, which was previously used in 2010 when Yannick Eijssen won the stage solo. The side of the climb they are using is unknown but presumably the Ax Bonascre side, which averages nearly 9% with a peak of nearly 12%. You can see the profile here.

Stage 3 should be a usual chance for the rouleurs to get their shot at glory while the final stage into Saint-Girons should have a few hills involved but shouldn't be one that destroys the GC.

This is one of the premiere U23 stage races and should be treated as such. Amazing scenery, scenic and racing that rivals nearly any other U23 race. The Russians should be back again plus the British have applied for the first time. The French National Team is hoping to send a team, which is a boon for the struggling race, while many regional teams are looking for a bid, such as the Haute-Loire team that includes Max Moncassin.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Neo-Pros 2016: The Pro Continental Lowdown, Pt. 2

So I do not spend sleepless nights having convoluted dreams of being in a breakaway with a Moroccan, Estonian and a Taiwanese rider, I'm going to try something new and give a brief overview of these neo-pro riders instead of effusive paragraphs. By brief, I mean two sentences or less for each rider. Long winded-ness doesn't get you the attention of magazines. Or maybe EC will go Buzzfeed and do this in listical form. Or perhaps I'll ride my bike off a cliff. Onward.

Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM
-Asbjørn Kragh Andersen
-Mikel Aristi
-Romain Combaud
-Frederik Galta
-Martin Laas
-Quentin Pacher

The multi-cultural squad is losing a distinct amount of its French identity and be split 50% French/foreign for the upcoming season. If you connect with its VC La Pomme feeder team days, they have a strong connection bringing in foreign talents that thrive (think Ramunas Navardauskas) so this isn't necessarily stupid.

Asbjorn is the older of the Kragh Andersen brothers and is the better sprinter of the two, however he can survive splits in windy races with small hills. He has already been knipping at the heels of big sprinters so he could bring DMPKTM a much needed win early on.

Rising from the ashes of Euskadi, Aristi had a huge year domestically with 8 wins and another handful of podium places. Aristi can climb fairly well for a sprinter and growing pains aside, he should slot in well to the hardman, sprinty types at DMPKTM.

After a strong year with Armee de Terre where he had 8 top 20 places in French 1.1 races and 21st in Paris-Tours, Combaud is brimming for a win in a French one-day race this upcoming season. He gets into the deciding breakaways quite well, which DMPKTM will need with their step up.

A Norwegian on a French team isn't a new thing and Galta, being the rouleur he is that can thrive on flat to rolling terrain, should be at home in many of the French races. Galta was 4th overall in the Tour of Norway and won two consecutive split stages in the Kreiz Breizh Elites, one out of a breakaway and one in a sprint.

Coming from Pro Immo Roux, Laas is a bit of a sprinter but not pure by any means. He can get up in a bunch sprint but won't win by 5 bike lengths; he is one that needs to find a small group and then go from there.

Another Army recruit for DMPKTM is Pacher but he is a bit I'm struggling to find words to describe his riding because he is good at a lot but not great at anything. Chalk him up as a rouleur...job done.

Direct Energie
-Lilian Calmejane
-Romain Cardis
-Jeremy Cornu
-Fabien Grellier

This team is...a bit up in the air at this point. Money troubles are the norm with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, who seemingly has a yearly battle with the budget.

All four of these signings come from Direct Energie's feeder team, Vendee U. These guys aren't afraid to get into a crosswind and make people wish that they would crash into the ditch next to the road.

Calmejane won what was probably my favorite stage of a race ever in 2014 when he won the 2nd stage of the Ronde de l'Isard in the sleet and snow up to Bagneres du Luchon ahead of a motoring Louis Vervaeke. While he isn't at home in the high mountains, he loves a rolling to hilly course & he is never afraid to attack, which will be needed with his new team looking for attention.

Cardis was a machine this year in terms of getting on the podium (9 wins and 22 podiums overall) and was Vendee U's best sprinter. Cardis did well in amateur French races but on the UCI level, Cardis was a bit flaky so it will be interesting to see if he will be a bit more consistent.

Cornu is another rouleur but he seems a bit anonymous? Good rider that can do hard work but perhaps destined for the role of the yeoman in the pro ranks.

Grellier is a puncheur that does well in one-day events from cobbles (8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen) and hills (top 20 in Liege-Bastogne-Liege). He won 5 times in 2015 and will most likely be seeking breakaways this year and perhaps getting a top 10 or two in a French 1.1.

ONE Pro Cycling
-Tom Baylis
-George Harper
-Joshua Hunt
-Samuel Williams
-Hayden McCormick
-James Oram
-Dion Smith

New Zealand's golden trio join a British team that are moving up with some homegrown talent.

After an extended stay in America with Hincapie, Smith straddles the line between sprinter and overall GC talent by being able to survive some mountains, hit a time trial and play into the GC in races such as the Tour de Beauce (3rd), Joe Martin (4th) and Tour of Alberta (5th). He hasn't raced in Europe much over the past two years so there will be an adjustment period to get used to the significant change of racing style.

Oram is the same year as Smith (1993) but he will be facing a crossroads in the coming years in that is he a GC rider or just a time trial specialist? He shows glimpses of brilliance including an opening win on an uphill finish to Castelo de Vide in the Volta ao Alentejo and was 6th in the World U23 TT Championship but he isn't getting huge results every other week. He needs to find himself in his neo-pro days and build off of that.

The final of the trio of Kiwis is McCormick, who unlike the other two has been keeping himself in Europe with Lotto-Soudal U23. His racing days were a bit limited this past year but he was 10th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23, so he isn't a hack.

And then we get to the British riders...

Sam Williams has only gotten results in criteriums and past that, there isn't much to go on. George Harper? No, I'm sorry, I don't think this level is going to suit you. Baylis seems to have some talent behind him as he was 4th in the British U23 TT but he was only a first year this year and one needs to have special talent to survive on the Pro Continental level at age 20. Josh Hunt is the half-brother of journeyman pro Jez Hunt and has showed glimpses of being a strongman but on the British schedule, it hasn't been that easy.

I hope that these riders are not ditched after one season but I think that ONE Pro Cycling is going to be in for a rude awakening in 2016. They are going to have to rely heavily on riders like Steele Von Hoff, Marcin Bialoblocki and Matt Goss to get through this year relatively intact.

-Lukas Jaun
-Dylan Page
-Colin Stüssi
-Roland Thalmann
-Giacomo Tomio
-Valentin Baillifard
-Dimitri Bussard
-Marco D'Urbano
-Lucas Gaday
-Frank Pasche
-Nicola Toffali I really have to do this? That is 11 riders out of 24 for the team that are neo-pros this year. This team is going to be a shit show unless a select few riders get the majority of results. I hope the team management weren't expecting 20 wins this year.

Jaun is a bit of a sprinter that got a handful of top 10s this season but will most likely be thrown into the sprint train.

I talked up Page earlier this year with his sprinter ability and he did...alright. The young Swiss rider probably saw his best result in the 1.1 ranked Tour de Vendee, where he sprinted to 8th.

Stüssi had a relatively quiet year besides the Giro della Regioni, where he finished 3rd overall thanks to some a breakaway in stage 1 and consistent climbing thereafter. Not much to go on after that so he is going to really have to step it up.

Thalmann...does he deserve to be at this level? That is questionable but he was 8th in the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia so he will needed to build off that. A lot. Same thing with Tomio.

Coming from BMC Development, Swiss Baillifard had a huge ride on the final stage of the Tour des Pays de Savoie to take 3rd place on the summit finish at Valmeinier. Good climber but needs to work on his consistency.

Other than his 2nd place in the late season Tour of New Caledonia, Bussard hasn't done much of anything so yeah.

D'Urbano won the 2nd stage of the Rhône Alpes Isere after getting into a breakaway of 5 and outsprinting Jerome Mainard. He doesn't have a specialty and tries to get something wherever he can so he will be thrust into the breakaway as frequently as possible as this team will need it.

Probably their most talented signing, Gaday was somewhat inconsistent this year but has moments of sheer brilliance including his upset of Simone Consonni in the GP Liberazione and 8th in the tough Richmond U23 RR with a depleted Argentinian team. If properly nurtured and not pressured for results, Gaday could be a gold mine for Roth-Skoda.

While Pasche isn't a half bad sprinter on the road, his main focus has been on the track with the team pursuit squad, which has been turning in some wicked fast times including a 3:57 in the European Championships. Pasche will most likely be focused on a Rio qualification so his road time and endurance might be limited but he could surprise for a result in a continental race.

In his first season out of the U23s, Toffali didn't mess around and took 6 wins, mainly in breakaways, including a three-up Zalf-Euromobil win in the opening Coppa San Bernardino and a solo win in the Piccolo Giro dell'Emilia. Toffali has not raced much on the UCI level so I would be wary on backing him until he proves himself.

-Aleksey Rybalkin
-Evgeny Shalunov
-Kirill Sveshnikov

Russian climber...Russian puncheur...and a Russian doper. Sounds like a party.

After a podium finish in the Tour de l'Avenir, Rybalkin took a bit of a step back this year in a way by going 12th in the French race but he did finish 16th in the Volta a Portugal. A strong climber on his best day but like so many Russian riders, he is inconsistent.

At one point, Shalunov was a stagiaire with Radioshack but has stuck with Alexander Kuznetsov's Lokosphinx the last 4 years and have struck gold in the past couple of seasons in hillier racers including wins in the GP Liberazione and Trofeo Matteotti. When he in on form, Shalunov is a weapon in hillier races with sprints and even breakaways but he will be on another level this year and unable to take easy scalps.

Kirill Sveshnikov got off easy for doping and never served a proper suspension. He had shit for results this past year so perhaps karma does happen and doesn't even warrant a preview on here.

Southeast (or Tharcor or whatever)
-Julen Amezqueta
-Matteo Draperi
-Gilbert Ducournau
-Daniel Felipe Martinez
-Cristian Rodriguez
-Mirko Trosino

Oh Southeast, you somehow keep on surviving. You use a shell company in Britain to dodge Italian taxes. You have multiple riders go positive through your existence and yet, you still grace us with your oily presence.

The Colombian Martinez is the best pickup here as he is brimming with talent in the mountains but being just 20 in April of this coming year, he will still be coming into his own. What Martinez will need is race days to continue his development.

Spaniards Amezqueta and Rodriguez join the team after being stagiaires last year. Amezqueta won the Volta a Portugal do Futuro after a solo win on the queen stage. He is a rider for the hills and not the mountains where he prefers to use his strength to win out of breakaways. Rodriguez is a future GC talent in the rough as he did wonders with Caja Rural's amateur team with a win in the Vuelta a Leon thanks to a solo mountain stage win. He isn't half bad in a time trial but he seems to be on the wrong team if he wants future GC stardom.

Does Draperi know a sponsor? Because he is...alright. Pro Continental level? Hell no.

I ask the same question about Ducournau because in terms of results, I see next to nothing for him besides some results racing in America. Unfortunately, he does not deserve a place on a professional roster.

Trosino is a good one-day racer that has some nice results in Italy but on the amateur level. He will need to step up his level to compete on the professional level but could see himself make a few appearances.

Topsport Vlaanderen
-Aime De Gendt
-Maxime Farazijn
-Ruben Pols
-Dries Van Gestel
-Kenneth Van Rooy

Basically the best Belgian talent that didn't get picked up by a World Tour team. Every year, they are reloaded with new talent while those exiting (usually) go up to the World Tour or down to the continental level/retire.

De Gendt is a strong rouleur that won three overall classifications this year (Tour du Moselle, Triptyque Ardennais and Tour du Piemont Vosgien) thanks to some strong time trial work and getting into some decisive breakaways. 3rd in the national U23 TT, he should be a rider that focuses on short stage races and time trials.

Just like his daddy Peter, Maxime Farazijn has a penchant for the classics and will be looking to get into the Topsport classics squad this upcoming season for some reps. He was top 5 in both Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours, 6th in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and won a sprint stage of Triptyque Monts et Chateaux just this year alone and seems to be an interesting prospect, as long as he doesn't do what some Topsport riders have done in the past and hit a lull in results.

The same ilk as former Topsport rider Victor Campenaerts, Ruben Pols is a time trial specialist that fell a bit flat at Worlds and is a bit spotty at times in the discipline but does have some talent against the watch. He isn't bad in road racing either if he builds well, he could be another that focuses on shorter stage races.

The last two riders, Van Gestel and Van Rooy, both were stagiaires with Lotto-Soudal this past year. Van Rooy had a great first half of the season with consistency all over including 20 top 10s mostly in sprints and classics with 4th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the European Championships being his top results. While he was sidelined with bacterial infection after dropping out of the Tour de l'Avenir, Van Rooy could had instant results in one-day races (he was 7th in the RideLondon Classic) and stages in races like 4 Jours de Dunkerque. On the other hand, Van Gestel has a penchant for getting into breakaways and came away with some strong results including a stage win in the Carpathian Couriers Tour and 3rd overall, 2nd place in stages of the Ronde de l'Isard & Tour de l'Avenir along with 4th in Paris-Tours Espoirs. He can do a bit of everything and could be Topsport's saving grace in some lumpy races in France and Italy.

That wraps up the Neo-Pro Lowdown for 2016 so I now have time to actually cover the news that is going on.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Neo-Pros Lookback

As many websites dedicated to cycling do, I made a list of neo-pros to watch this past year. Instead of going for obvious picks such as Caleb Ewan, Tiesj Benoot Mike Teunissen and the like, I tried to be a bit more unconventional in my picks. The original article can be found here. The season has been long over and riders are getting ready for 2016 but let's take a look back at how the 5 riders that were Espoirs Central picks did this season.

The winner for the Best Mustache in the Peloton 2015, Rasmus Quaade had a fairly good year albeit with a slow start on the road due to Quaade's commitments on the track. Once a rider that could barely ride in the peloton, Quaade has gotten a bit better. He finally finished a stage race in May at the Tour of Yorkshire and then went top 20 overall in the Bayern Rundfahrt, where his teammates Gustav Larsson (9th) and Linus Gerdemann (19th) did the same thing. A month later, he got a crack at his specialty and was 5th in the inagural European Games TT, which was 2'12" off of winner Vasili Kiryienka (which was very similar to the deficit at World Championships, where he finished 21st).
Quaade hit form in the latter part of the season by finishing 5th in the Tour du Poitou Charentes behind the likes of Tony Martin, Adriano Malori, Jonathan Castroviejo and Sep Vanmarcke. He then proceeded to be the right-hand man for Rasmus Guldhammer in the Tour of Britain where Guldhammer finished 4th overall while Quaade was 13th.

Quaade has been busy with the Danish team pursuit squad having gone 3rd in the European Championships in Grechen. Currently, he spent 3 weeks in Australia in the buildup for the Cambridge, NZ World Cup. While it was a huge year in terms of results, I would expect to see more from Quaade after the Rio Olympics are over.

Carlos Barbero was probably the most successful on this list this year. Yes, he is one of the older riders on this list but with a big year under his belt, people will not be surprised in 2016. Barbero was a huge talent coming from Euskadi. He isn't a full out sprinter but he isn't a climber by any means. He excels on uphill sprint finishes that weed out the fastest finishers.
The start of his season was rubbish after crashing in Etoile de Besseges and fractured the head of his radius bone. After finishing Catalunya in late March, Barbero really kicked off with podium finishes and high placings in Vuelta a la Rioja, Klasika Primavera, Castilla y Leon, the Tour of Turkey where he nearly scalped Sacha Modolo and then his maiden win of the year at the Vuelta Comunidad de Madrid. In what is probably the perfect parcours for his style of riding, Barbero lit it up in the Philly Classic and left future World Tour riders Michael Woods and Toms Skujins in the dust to take the win, which would be follow up with two more stage wins at the Tour de Beauce.

 The result that showed true class was his win on the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos where Barbero pulled away with Dani Moreno, Jesus Herrada and Luis Leon Sanchez and took the win on the uphill finish on Romana de Clunia. Barbero dragged himself through the Vuelta a Espana finishing way down on the table but it was an important step for him in his development. If the road tilts upwards in the final couple of kilometers, Barbero should be on your radar.

After taking out frustation in 2014 by not being offered a pro-contract, Patrick Konrad had a fairly successful year with Bora-Argon 18. I described him as a climber that wasn't total shit on the flats and he certainly lived up to that designation. Konrad rode a good schedule and only DNFed in three later season Italian races, which are known to have high attrition rates. Konrad's biggest strength was in stage races that featured one really hard hilly stage. That description is a bit vague but hear me out.

Tour of Oman was Konrad's first big stage race and he made the decisive split on stage 2 and then was top 15 on Jabal Al Akhdhar to finish 10th overall. Same story with Criterium International, where he finished 13th overall. He was 7th on the queen stage of the Tour of Denmark and after a strong TT, he finished 5th overall. He had a steady week filled with top 10s at Tour de l'Ain and finished in a clump of riders that were just a few seconds away from one another between 4th and 10th overall. He was the team's best finisher at the Abu Dhabi Tour, where he finished 10th overall after a strong ride on the queen stage.

Konrad should find himself on a similar schedule with a steady diet of small stage races intermixed with some bigger tours. He hasn't shown himself in the big mountains yet but on smaller mountains, he is already top 10 potential. He will continue to pair with Dominik Nerz (hopefully he has a better season than last), Emanuel Buchmann and new signing Gregor Muhlberger.
After spending the majority of his U23 time in Belgium, Brit Dan McLay jumped to Bretagne-Seche Environment for 2015 and meshed well with his other sprinters Yauheni Hutarovich and Romain Feillu and had some promising results. With sprinters, it seems like the young ones either tend to be able to go up against the big guns right away or they take some time to get positioning down and build endurance, nipping at their heels for a couple years. McLay is a bit of the latter and his results show it as a lot of his results were in that 5th-10th place range when involved in the big bunch kicks.

I think that McLay can improve on this and start contending for podiums and wins next year but it will be dependent know, improvement. If he comes in and get hold that wheel at 3 km to go and not get bumped out; find the right team to follow; not wait too long to jump. There is so much speculation that can happen but I would rather wait to have the road sort it out.

McLay is staying with Fortuneo-Vital Concept (the next sponsors for the team) for 2016. Romain Feillu leaves and is replaced with a younger and faster Boris Vallee. They are more of a team of opportunists but with McLay, Hutarovich and Vallee, they have options in a sprint.
As I said back in March this year, Floris De Tier was a cyclocross rider but on the advice of Sven Nys himself, he made the switch to the road full time in 2013 and hasn't looked back. This year with Topsport Vlaanderen, he had a good season in terms of getting a lot of racing under his belt and even had a few promising rides. The Vuelta a Murcia was his best ride in terms of results (9th) but he also took on some big races that many neo-pros would shit their bibs over.

De Tier was the top neo-pro in Amstel Gold (43rd) and 2nd best neo-pro in Fleche Wallone (43rd), both of which are World Tour events. He was top 15 in both the GP Wallonie and the Giro dell'Emelia, which both feature some tough finishes. So he was a bit lacking in terms of big results but it is about building a foundation.

How far will these guys go in 2016? Well...who knows. There will be a new crop announced in the coming months for you to keep your eyes on so keep your eyes peeled.