Friday, December 30, 2016

Devo à la française: Chambery CF

Even before we hit the global reset button, Chambery Cyclisme Formation's 2017 season got off to a horrible start following the tragic death of Etienne Fabre, who fell to his death while hiking in the mountains. While carrying his memory in their hearts and legs, Chambery CF will be trying to match their success in 2016 in which they won the French amateur Division 1 overall by 53 points over VC Pays de Loudeac.

It was the first time that the Savoy-based club won the overall title in the highest amateur class in France and once again, they graduated a rider, in this case Nans Peters, to their parent World Tour team, Ag2r-La Mondiale. They are already guaranteed that for 2017 as well as Benoit Cosnefroy is making a mid-season move to Ag2r-LaMondiale in August on a full contract. Even with the losses of riders like Peters, Martin Salmon (Sunweb-Giant Development) and Jordan Sarrou, Chambery is still chocked full of talent and adding a few more to their ranks.

It speaks to the health of Chambery CF and their development system that many seem to be trying to copy. Riders must be in a school of some sort or be apprenticing for a career while on the team but still racing at a very high level. The team also provides a lot of education on health and wellness as they believe it builds the base for a strong person. Jon Vaughters is trying to copy this system with his Drapac-Pat's Veg Holistic development team but it is something that takes time to perfect. In its current iteration, Chambery CF began in 2001and it has taken 15 years to climb the rankings from Division 3 to winning the Division 1 ranking. That is time that many structures cannot afford or don't take the effort to cultivate. The end product isn't necessarily churning out the best professional cyclists though they haven't done too bad for themselves as 23 rides have gone professional from their ranks.

Nine riders return to the fold while six join the all U23 squad. Along with Benoit Cosnefroy, it will be Léo Danes, Jaap de Jong, Aurélien Doléatto, Kevin Geniets, Guillaume Millasseau, Aurélien Paret-Peintre, Hugo Pigeon and Rémy Rochas.

Cosnefroy is not a conventional stage race talent like recent French talents. One-day racing and stage hunting is where Cosnefroy will make his money. 2nd in both the Amateur and U23 French RR Championships, Cosnefroy was also 4th in the European U23 RR to go along with 16 other top 10 finishes including a win in the Annemasse-Bellegarde et retour, a race won by the likes of Warren Barguil, Kenny Ellisonde, Thor Hushovd and Giuseppe Guerini. On hilly or flat courses, Cosnefroy looks like he will continue the history of the plucky French rider when he transitions to the pro ranks.

Leo Danès is one for a hilly route though he has yet to translate that to a bigger race. De Jong is a good rouleur that is keen on Paris-Roubaix and will be looking to do well in his final U23 season. Doléatto is a keen climber and after a good first year, he should be able to help out in the finale more while getting some glory of his own.

Since Bob Jungels matriculated to the professional ranks, Luxembourg has been trying to find their next big rider. Alex Kirsch is finding his feet as a pro and Tom Wirtgen has been going alright but Kevin Geniets is looking quite promising after his first U23 season. Winner of the Tour du Beaujolais after he solo'ed to a stage win and taking the prologue at the Tour d'Auvergne, Geniets has some good climbing skills. He was 8th at the European Championships in Plumelec and 15th in the Trofeo Almar so a hilly course seems to suit him well.

In terms of a classics-style rider, Millasseau would probably be as close as Chambery CF get. In his first U23 season, he finished in the top 30 in Paris-Roubaix after a junior career that saw a lot of top 20 finishes in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors, Paris-Roubaix Juniors, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and others. He has a pretty good kick on him as well so with a year under his belt, he could be Chambery's rider to watch in flatter one-day races.

Next to Cosnefroy and Rochas, Aurelien Paret-Peintre is probably Chambery's most talented rider though he seems to still be finding his way. Paret-Peintre was a standout junior with overall wins including the Giro di Basilicata and the Tour of Istria as well as the Classique des Alpes Juniors. Paret-Peintre, who hails from the Haute-Savoie department, is a climber but besides his Ronde de l'Isard ride in 2015, where he finished 6th, he hasn't been able to string together a GC campaign in the mountains. He was close in Savoie Mont Blanc but he imploded on the 3rd stage. His Tour de l'Avenir started promising but he wasn't a factor in the mountains. If he can get some of the kinks worked out and works on not wasting energy before the climbs, he could round out into the big threat he showed himself to be.

Don't be mistaken by the small package at 57 kg, Hugo Pigeon isn't necessarily destined for the mountains. Pigeon is a former junior MTB National Champion and was 2nd in the junior cyclocross National Championship. He has marked Paris-Roubaix as his dream race, where he finished 35th this year after getting through the Ronde de l'Isard the week before. He is an all-arounder but without a standout result, his preferred terrain is still to be discovered.

Along with Cosnefroy, Rémy Rochas also got a stagiaire ride with Ag2r-La Mondiale this past season and he made the most of it. In the GP Wallonie, he was a solid 25th on the uphill finish at the Citadel of Namur. He also got across the line in the Tour du Doubs, GP Beghelli and Gran Piemonte. After a successful early season that was capped with an solo, uphill stage win in the Ronde de l'Isard, Rochas was 8th in the hilly Kreiz Breizh Elites, 2nd in the Estivale Bretonne behind FDJ signing David Gaudu and 5th in the downright difficult French Amateur Championships. The local boy from Chambéry most likely will not be developing as an overall contender but whether it is hunting for stages or a hilly one day race, Rochas could find a nice home somewhere down the road.

The six new riders include four juniors in Clément Champoussin, Enzo Faloci, Quentin Grolleau and Anthony Jullien while two current U23s Robin Meyer and Maxime Roger.

Champoussin is the Junior National Champion in MTB and finished 5th in the European Championships in Huskvarna, Sweden. Champoussin had a little success on the road with a few smaller wins but without any international rides, it will be hard to say how he will turn out.

Despite the Italian name, Enzo Faloci is quite French. When you share a scooter driver with Mikael Chérel, you are destined for 8 years as a professional hopping between Ag2r, FDJ and Cofidis. He was 2nd in the Classique des Alpes Juniors but he isn't a slouch on the flat either so he should be a potential all-arounder. Plus the peloton always needs another Enzo.

Coming from VC La Pomme Marseille Juniors, Grolleau is another climber coming to the team. 3rd in the Classique des Alpes Juniors in 2015, he isn't just a mountain dwelling wraith as Grolleau was 3rd in the National Junior Road Race and also 2nd in the Junior Scratch on the track. He did beat future teammate Champoussin in the Tour PACA Juniors on the 2nd stage but Champoussin did win the overall.

While he doesn't have any big wins of note, Anthony Jullien is probably the most seasoned junior coming on board in terms of international riding experience. He seems to do well on a undulating courses and could see some success in flat to hilly stage races and in one-day classics.

Robin Meyer comes from Aix en Provence and had a good year last year with a 4th in the Souvenir Jean-Masse DN1 race, won the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur Championship and 7th in the French U23 Championships.

Speaking of DN1 success last year, Maxime Roger won the DN1 finale at the GP Blagny-sur-Bresle in a small sprint, which is a huge win for a rider that just began racing on the road in 2015. Very strong against the clock who will most likely target time trials but should be good on flat to rolling races.

Even with the loses they have incured, Chambery CF has the strength to take the DN1 classification again in 2017. This is a team structure that more should be paying attention to now and going forward.

Stay tuned for more quick hits about French development teams going into 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

North American Devo: Etxabe signs with Aevolo

After a brief wait, it seems that the 10th rider for Aevolo, the new American development team led by former professional Mike Creed, will be Basque rider Jokin Etxabe, who comes from the Seguros Bilbao team. It has yet to be confirmed by the team, along with the rest of the roster, but if this is the case, Extabe would be the only non-U23 rider on the team as he was born in 1994.

Etxabe was never a standout junior rider but over the past couple of years, he has had some really promising results. He was 6th in the Vuelta a Palencia in 2015 and 6th in the Vuelta a Navarra this year, 21 seconds behind Movistar signing Richie Carapaz. Etxabe also was active in one-day races all season after getting ten top 10 finishes. His climbing skills are developing as he went pretty well in the U23 Peace Race (Zavod Miru) and in the Tour de l'Avenir. The wider roads and steadier climbs in the US might be a blessing for him.

What was the most interesting part of this announcement was in the Spanish press, which said that Aevolo is going to be affiliated with Cannondale-Drapac. This is quite interesting as it could, if true, throw a wrench into the team's plans for the season including their hopes for a Tour of Utah and Tour of Colorado birth. If there is any direct affiliation, that would mean that Aevolo would be ineligible to race in any race with with Cannondale-Drapac on the UCI level.

Officially, Drapac-Pat's Veg Holistic Development Team is the feeder team for Cannondale-Drapac and you can read all about their mission here.

A message to Aevolo for comment was not been returned at the time of publishing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

North American Devo: Axeon Hagens Berman

This article could sound a lot like a press release if I wanted it to. It was another banner season for Axeon Hagens Berman with huge wins like Greg Daniel winning the Elite Men’s National Championship & Tour de Beauce, Neilson Powless and Adrien Costa emerging as a GC threat, Logan Owen winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the list could keep going for 3 more paragraphs. Axel Merckx’s team just seems to keep finding another level year after year and after shipping a team-record 6 riders to World Tour and Pro Continental teams for 2017, the team is restocking half of their team with 3 American juniors as well as 5 foreign U23 riders around their returning core.

The returning core is based around Adrien Costa, Neilson Powless and Logan Owen

Costa’s talent is well documented after one of the most impressive first year U23 seasons this side of Caleb Ewan in 2013 and easily one of the best on record for a GC rider. Most likely this will be his last year as a U23 rider so I am certain he will be going out with a bang with the Tour de l’Avenir certainly in his sights.

Powless explosion of results was much in thanks to his time trailing ability, which saw him win Joe Martin, a time trial podium in the Tour of the Gila and then the head-turning 9th place overall in the Tour of California, where he finished 5th on the Gibraltar Road stage after attacking late in the stage. There are some areas of Powless’ riding that need some polishing so with the help of Axeon Hagens Berman and the U23 National Team, Powless could be bringing a marquee result to the team.

The recently married Owen (to Olympic medalist Chloe Dygert) has been trying to handle cyclocross and road over the past few years with good results including a Tour of Utah stage in 2015 and winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 this season in a late attack. All of this is quite draining and with a choice to come soon between the road and cyclocross, Owen has taken this season off from the dirt to rest and build his base for this upcoming year. Owen will be looking to make his mark on one-day races and sprint stages.

Also coming back again is Will Barta, Johnny Brown, Geoffrey Curran, Eddie Dunbar and Chad Young.

Barta seems to get his best results while in France but this year he will be trying to take his time trial and climbing abilities to a new level to help become a more rounded GC rider. 
After a rough 1st year, Brown will be wanting to settle down and get some solid race days in to live up to his double junior road race national championship.  Geoffrey Curran’s time trial went to a new level this past year that culminated in a 7th place in the Doha U23 TT Worlds. If Curran can continue the progress with his TT, he could become a weapon in shorter stage races and could put himself down as an early medal favorite for the Worlds in Bergen.  Dunbar showed his versatility by going in the top 20 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Tour of Utah and Tour of Alberta along with his 9th place in the U23 TT Worlds; will Dunbar reach a point where he will have to sacrifice versatility to get a career-defining result?  Young is another all-around rider that tends to end up in the 20’s when it comes to GC performances so if he continues to add race days and make progress in Europe, it will be a win.

The new crop joining the team include Edward Anderson, Chris Blevins, Ian Garrison (all three juniors), Chris Lawless, Jhonnatan Narvaez, Ivo & Rui Oliveira and Michael Rice.

With first year U23s, it is never good to expect any results as even the most talented riders need  a year to adjust to the new level usually.

In my time following cycling, I have never seen a more unprecedented signing by any professional team, including a development team, than Axeon Hagens Berman signing Edward Anderson. To my knowledge, Anderson only began racing this season in the Virginia High School MTB Series, where he won a round in the spring series and has won twice this fall as well in the same series. On the road, his best results he got when he was racing as a Category 4. Let me repeat, a rider that was racing in the Cat. 4 groups and not obliterating everyone will be riding with Axeon Hagens Berman. He did get an upgrade to Category 3 before season’s end. An interesting result was his 14th place in the Green Mountain Stage Race in the junior category albeit that was just short of a minute off of winner Matteo Jorgensen. Axel Merckx must have gotten some power files that are mind blowing to make a decision like this but even then, it is a stunning move to use a roster spot for Anderson at this stage in his development.

Chris Blevins is one of the brightest talents on both the road as well as in MTB, where Americans have been lacking in the Men’s XC department for a few years now (though Howard Grotts is helping). Blevins has won the National Championship in his age category in XC discipline each year for the last seven years and won the Albstadt World Cup this year, just two weeks after he won the Junior Peace Race (Zavod Miru) overall. Blevins has a good time trial, climbing and wheelie abilities so he should be a great helper for Costa and Powless while finding his own way. Blevins, a Durango, Colorado native, is attending Cal Poly for school.

After getting the bronze medal in the Junior Men’s ITT at the Doha Worlds, Garrison’s name should be familiar to many people. Behind Brandon McNulty, Garrison is the best American time trialist talent. He was top 10 in both the Trofeo Karlsberg (3rd) and the Tour de l’Abitibi (8th) mainly thanks to his time trial abilities. If you can time trial as a junior, you can time trial as a U23; it is just everything else involved that will need to be figured out.

The foreign contingent have been around the block before with some of them being huge talents that I know will turn many American heads after they see them perform.

I have so wanted Chris Lawless to come to America to race criteriums after his past couple of season where he was won multiple stages of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series. Lawless & a British contingent v. Australians in Scott Law and Jesse Kerrison v. Americans in Dan Holloway, Ty Magner and Brad Huff…throw in Ryan Aitcheson, Aldo Ino Ilesic…and now I need to stop before I get a hot flash thinking about a World Criterium League. Anyways, Lawless has gotten his best results in criteriums with six wins in Britain alone this past year with JLT-Condor but he isn’t a criterium rider alone. Lawless was only 19 when he went 6th in GP Pino Cerami in 2015, which is an immense result. This past year, he was 3rd in the Rutland (basically a race run over old farm roads), 13th in the Ride London Classic and also 9th in the British Championships, where he was one of three U23 riders to make the front group of 13. Lawless will certainly be a sprint option for Axeon Hagens Berman but hopefully with another year under his belt, his endurance level will rise so he is able to be competitive in longer and hillier tours.

While barely talked about at the time, Espoirs Central was one of the first, if not the first, English  language sites to talk about the Ecuadorian phenom Jhonnatan Narvaez. I talked about his background in last year’s Klein Constantia preview but for more depth on Narvaez, go to this article from Ciclismo Internacional. The only change from those articles was that his Junior World Record in the 3km pursuit was broken by Swiss Stefan Bisseger this year. In his first U23 season, Narvaez showed big potential in the mountains after winning the KOM and finishing 5th in the Tour des Pays de Savoie. With a full year under his belt, Narvaez could have some fun with Costa and Powless if and when they are teamed up together.

The Oliveira twins are Portuguese track talents that are dabbling in the road side of things. Rui and Ivo were both Worlds medalists in 2014 when Ivo won the 3km Individual Pursuit over Regan Gough, Ivo was 3rd in the Omnium, Rui was 3rd in the Scratch and the pair went 3rd in the Madison. As Elites, they have ridden nearly every track event in Western Europe with Ivo getting the slightly better results in pursuit events and the omnium while Rui had good results in the Scratch and Points. Ivo was 2nd in the European Championships in the Individual Pursuit to World Champion Filippo Ganna after riding a losing but still scorching time of 4’17”. Rui lost the majority of his season after fracturing his femur at the Tour de Gironde. If he recovers well and doesn’t lose a step or two, Rui seems to be more consistent on the road than his brother with a few top 10 results in UCI events, mainly in sprints. Ivo did well at the Worlds in Doha after making the front split so perhaps if his concentration goes to the road after the track season is done, Ivo could turn some heads somewhere.

The last new rider is Michael Rice, a Australian who came from the Canadian Garneau-Quebecor. Rice is a former Junior Australian RR Champion (2013) who left the Australian system for the New World. He has a good year last year too. He had three top 10 stage finishes in Joe Martin and later on, he won a stage in the Tour de Beauce in a late escape. His resume isn’t quite as deep as others but a stage win in Beauce is no joke so he will be looking for more of that.

The only other addition to the team will be a new European DS, Koos Moerenhout. The long time pro with Rabobank and Lotto was a DS with Rabo Liv for the past 5 year since retirement from the peloton. With Moerenhout on the ground in Europe, he will be key in making the day to day life a bit easier and trying to snag a few other invites to fill calendar holes.

With the big crop of talent leaving the coop, Axeon Hagens Berman will have to find an answer as over half of their podiums from 2016 were from departing riders but with the new riders joining and old ones hitting another level, it will be no surprise to see them gelling and excelling soon enough. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

North American Devo: CCB Velotooler

With the 2nd installment of this coupling, one of the oldest cycling clubs in America is making the move towards the continental level while working on a tight budget. Based out of Boston, CCB has been a club for nearly 40 years and will face a test trying to compete on the continental level while managing a budget of under $100,000 for the whole season. For 2017, the team will be known as CCB Velotooler and like Aevolo, the U23 riders will be either in college or graduate school but unlike Aevolo, the team is not strictly a U23 squad. As the riders will receive no salary, it is basically an elite amateur team with a UCI license. For more of the details about the project, Fred Dreier from VeloNews had a good article.

With many riders in college, the bulk of the team’s schedule will be done between May and August while riders will obviously target collegiate and amateur races across the Eastern seaboard of the US throughout the season. I am interested to see how well they are able to compete with other continental teams in American UCI races because they are a development team but they definitely should be able to mix it up in regional races as well as on the criterium circuit.

The UCI roster will feature 13 riders while there will be a few other first year U23 “development riders” that will be on the club level that will most likely join the pro team at different points. 

The UCI roster will include: Cameron Beard, Patrick Collins, Ansel Dickey, Noah Granigan, John Harris, Jonah Mead-VanCort, Nate Morse, Spencer Petrov, Sam Rosenholtz, Jake Sitler, Antti Sizko, Cory Small and Cooper Willsley. Josh Anderson, Ian Clarke and Wyatt Goral are the said “development riders” that are on the club team and will join the pro team at various points.

Cameron Beard is more known for his cyclocross with top rides across his junior and now senior career with a smattering of top 10 finishes in elite races and U23 races this year. He isn’t just a dirt monger either as he finished high in the Junior Peace Race (Zavod Miru) where teammate Chris Blevins won the overall while also finishing 6th overall in the Driedaagse van Axel behind Swiss Stefan Bisseger, who is the junior world record holder in the 3km individual pursuit. A good all-around rider that is a good time trialist, a good climber as well as having that short burst power that top cyclocross riders possess.

Patrick Collins has been on a diet of New England races the past few years and will be looking to move up to the next level on the road side of things. He is also a strong cyclocross rider with majority of his finishes in UCI races coming between 15th and 20th. 

The Kombucha-loving Ansel Dickey is another that is looking to hit a new level in his final U23 season. Dickey has gotten some of his best results in criteriums as he was 2nd in the U23 National Criterium in 2015 while with Cal Giant but he doesn't have a resume-making result quite yet. Also a coach, Dickey could benefit from the bolstered crit squad that CCB Velotooler will be bringing. 

New Jersey native Noah Granigan is another rider that has had success in criteriums, mainly ones in stage races, however he seems to have the endurance for longer one-day races that is stronger than some of the other U23s on the team. Races like Winston-Salem, U23 Nationals and Reading could be targets especially with a stronger team. 

Connecticut’s John Harris has been another rider kicking it around New England as well as some choice criteriums the past few seasons. He was never on the National team but he has plugged away including top 15 places in Wilmington, Iron Hill and a 5th in Chris Thater. He will be a good part of the crit squad as well as getting some opportunities in other one days.

Lupus was a disjointed team from the moment that they signed Chris Horner. Jonah Mead-VanCort did get a couple of races with the big boys including Joe Martin however the winner of the collegiate D1 criterium in 2016 didn’t get a huge amount of support from his “professional” team. Mead-VanCort will most likely be another one of the crit squad train.

Splitting his time between Furman University and the Northeast, Nathaniel Morse has seen some of his best results come in criteriums including 3rd in the U23 National Criterium this past year. Morse also gets around on a ‘cross bike as well so he should be shooting for a good result at U23 Nationals.

My hometown of Mason, Ohio finally has a pro cyclist to their name with Spencer Petrov. Move over George Clooney and Dan Patrick, you now have company. Brought up in the local Lionhearts and ProChain programs, Spencer has continued to improve every year, especially in cyclocross. On the road, Petrov rode for Holowesko-Citadel’s junior program as well as with the national squad a bit. He is a top 10 to 15 rider in cyclocross on the national circuit and one of the top U23 ‘cross riders in the country so how will he continue to develop on the road? Go the way of Logan Owen, who skipped cyclocross this year to rest up for the road season, or the way of Curtis White, who has exploded on the national ‘cross circuit this year with 9 wins while trying to continue to slowly expose himself to the road? An interesting question that will eventually need to be answered.

The scourge of the New England criterium scene joins CCB Velotooler as a mentor to the young crit squad. Sam Rosenholtz has come around in the last few seasons as a hell of a sprinter in New England that included a 4-race win streak this summer where he beat out future teammates in Dickey, Nate Morse, John Harris and Pat Collins. Rosenholtz’s highlight was a 2nd place in one race of the Memorial Day Gateway Cup in St. Louis where he was nipped on the line by Ty Magner but did beat out National Champion Dan Holloway and Aldo Ilesic. Rosenholtz will be the glue that will hold this young team together in bigger races plus his sprint could deliver some much-needed results.

Jake Sitler is just looking for the opportunities to show his talents. Former steeplechaser turned cyclist from Astellas that had a good year in 2015, had a big block of training in Tasmania and came into 2016 on very good form. He got through a trifecta of Redlands, Joe Martin and Gila, which set him up for a good late spring that saw him go 15th in Winston-Salem, 20th in Philly and then a 3rd overall in the Air Force weekend behind Ty Magner and Bobby Lea. Going into summer with great form, right? Except Astellas as a team more or less imploded and with very limited funds, the crit squad got the majority of the remaining budget as there is more bang for the buck. He DNFed Saguenay and the team didn’t start North Star GP nor Cascade. Sitler raced only a handful of times in July and August. With his age, Sitler will be a road captain this year but if he brings the form, it seems like he will get the opportunities he needs to shine.

Finnish Antti Sizko seems to be a bit of a rider/manager after coming over from CMI Cycling last year, a team that briefly including one of Espoirs Central’s favorite riders, Dmitri Grabovskyy.

Cory Small is one of the few current CCB riders that will be joining the club on their rise to the professional ranks. Small was the team's best finisher in the AnPost Ras this year with 24th overall. Comparatively, Small hasn't raced a large number of race days over the past few years so with some opportunities at high level events perhaps he will be able to have a breakthrough. 

Speaking of another strong cyclocross rider on the team, Cooper Willsey has taken a big step up in his 2nd season on the elite 'cross circuit. Willsey's best finish last year was an 11th in the late season C2 in Kingsport, TN but this season with, he already has eight top 10 finishes in UCI cross races including the U23 Pan-Am Championships. Like Nate Morse, Willsey splits his time between Furman University in South Carolina and the Northeast. Willsey was the Division 2 Cyclocross National Champion last year for the Paladins while on the road, he was the first non-Axeon Hagens Berman rider to finish in the U23 National RR in Lousville after breaking away from the field for 8th place. Depending on how many opportunities he gets, Willsey is definitely a strong piece of the road team that is just beginning to find his feet while still needing to balance his cyclocross priorities. 

Josh Anderson, Ian Clarke and Wyatt Goral are the three development riders. Anderson won a stage in l’Abitibi while doing well in a lot of junior criteriums. Goral is a good time trial rider including a solo win in the Junior Tour de Somerville. Clarke rode well in l’Abitibi however he didn’t have a ton of other results to back that up.

It will be interesting to see what CCB Velotooler will be capable of doing on a shoe-string budget. It is refreshing to see that the team has no illusions of what they are. They aren’t putting on a façade that they are a big-time "pro" team with "paid" professionals nor going the route of having one marquee rider with a bunch of pack fodder to fill in. They are just trying to get as many opportunities as they can and for a development team, it could pay off.

Monday, December 5, 2016

North American Devo: Team Aevolo

While it seems that every year there is the pessimistic wave during the transfer season of job losses in cycling and there just aren’t enough spots for pro-caliber riders, there are always a few bright spots. This year, the American development scene is getting some good news with the creating of Aevolo Development along with CCB moving up from the continental level. While more teams is usually always better, it certainly helps that other young riders are getting a good home and trying to topple the Axeon Hagens Berman leviathan.

This first post will be dedicated to Aevolo’s new team.

Aevolo hasn’t really divulged where the money is actually coming from as there are no obvious companies with the Aevolo name but it does see Mike Creed return to the professional ranks, after a bitter end with Smartstop at the end of the 2015 season. After a successful stint with the US Paralympic cycling team, Creed will now be running a U23 development team that is set for a full NRC calendar with hopes of getting berths for the Tour of Utah along with the new Tour of Colorado and Tour of the Commonwealth (Virginia) with an unconfirmed roster of 9 riders so far though in interviews, Creed has said he will have a roster of 10 riders.

A roster flashed briefly on the team’s Facebook page but has since been taken down so while unconfirmed, there were nine names that showed up with riders coming from the USA, Canada and Mexico. According to VeloNews, the riders will have to be in either university or graduate school.

Unconfirmed for next year include Jack Burke, Laurent Gervais, Lance Haidet, Gage Hecht, Michael Hernandez, Zeke Mostov, Jason Saltzman, Tyler Stites, and Luis Villalobos.

Before last year, Canadian Jack Burke might be better known to some for his positive doping test at the 2013 Tour de l’Abitibi after winning the stage 3 time trial. After a lengthy process, Burke was cleared of any wrong doing after the trace amounts of a diuretic named HCTZ was deemed to be ingested from the local town of Malartic’s water source, where Burke has filled his water bottles after running late that morning. Read this much more in-depth article on the situation from The Star. The most interesting bit from that article might be this description of his daily routine at the time, which was taken from Jack’s university video that was presented during the defense.

“Get up at 4 a.m. Down eight raw eggs. Ride from his north Toronto home down to the lake and back for a “short” 75 km ride. Go to high school. Sandwich in an hour-long ride. Go to work at Sporting Life to pay for the bike. Ice bath. Bed. And repeat.”

Sounds like Creed’s type of rider. Since this episode, Burke had quieter results until this past year with H&R Block where his time trial skills finally came through and propelled him to strong overall results including top 15 places in the Redlands Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race and Tour of Alberta. With Creed’s history with time trials and as a GC rider, Burke could be one to excel in this program.

On the other hand. Laurent Gervais is a bit of an unknown commodity. Originally from Quebec, Gervais rode for the Miller School in Virginia as well. He doesn’t have a ton of results to go off of so fingers crossed.
Both Lance Haidet and Gage Hecht are more known for their results on the dirt than the road but both have upside, especially with Hecht’s big results from the junior ranks.

Haidet hangs around the top 20 in Elite Men’s cyclocross races while he is a podium threat in the U23 races. On the road, his results are a lot less sparse however he did well on some stages at Cascade Classic including a top 10. So while he is no GC threat, he could be a one day or stage threat.

Hecht is a small animal on a bike with what seems to be boundless energy. On the ‘cross bike, he is one of the most promising talents for the USA after challenging for World Cup podiums as a junior along with bagging 5 junior cyclocross championships including last year’s junior title in Asheville. As a first year U23, Hecht is already a top 10 finisher on the American CX circuit but he is more than that. Hecht is also the reigning Junior Men’s RR champion after pulling away in the final stages with World Junior TT Champion Brandon McNulty while he was also 3rd in the National TT. Hecht is also the Junior Point Race Champion on the track. As long as he isn’t thrown into the deep end, Hecht could turn heads in a massive way next year in some bigger races on the road as his jack of all trades style gives him options. 

After a year with CCB, Michael Hernandez takes his sprint talents to Aevolo. He lacked a bit of endurance with the step up from the junior ranks this past year but did get a few good results after venturing over to Belgium with the Kingsnorth Wheelers (think Jack Bauer) with a few top 10 finishes in some kermesses. Hernandez will probably find success in criteriums however Creed would like to see him get up in the bunch kicks in some of the team’s stage races.

Three years ago, Zeke Mostov won the bronze medal in the World Junior TT behind the late Igor DeCraene. Then with the arrival of Adrien Costa, Mostov went to the background slightly even though he followed up his bronze in 2013 with a 5th place in the 2014 World Junior TT. Mostov even went 2nd overall in the Tour de l’Abitibi as a junior but once he hit the U23 ranks, Mostov went quiet. Riding for both Cal Giant and then BMC Development over the past two years, Mostov has not put up a large amount of racing days so if he gets a steady schedule with Aevolo and the U23 National Team, it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

Its all about the watts these days and Jason Saltzman seems to a diamond in the rough. Saltzman only weighs 115 pounds but with a power to weight ratio that is over 6 w/kg in 20 minutes, he packs a punch. (figures courtesy of  Saltzman now has to deal with the issue that many smaller riders deal with with: pack skills, not wasting too much energy before the climbs, getting blown around like a trash bag in the wind during a time trial. Being led along by ex-pro Scott Moninger, who was himself another lithe rider, Saltzman can crush a hillclimb but will need to use this year to try and round himself as a rider to continue to trend upwards. It’ll be interesting to see in any case.

The other two, Tyler Stites and Luis Villalobos, are both coming out of the junior ranks. 

Stites is a good all-around rider with a Tour de l’Abitibi stage win to his name and has been to Europe a handful of times with pretty good results. He hasn’t raced much with Elite men so this upcoming season could be a bit of an adjustment but judging by his Strava, Stites has a huge base to work off of.

Villalobos is currently the only Mexican rider on the squad however he rode for the LUX Development team while in Europe, the same team that included World Champion Brandon McNulty and is run by former pro Roy Knickman. Villalobos had a great season in Europe as he was top 10 in three separate stage races including a stage win in the St. Martinusprijs Juniors as well as winning the Mexican & PanAm Junior Time Trial. Villalobos might be one of the most ready talents on the team as he was 3rd in the Cat 1/2 Tour of the Gila this year, a race known for its climbing and one of the races that is close to Creed’s heart, as well as riding with the pros in some American races that will be on the team calendar including Redlands and San Dimas.

It will be interesting to see how the team does as a foil to Axeon Hagens Berman even though they most likely won’t race them much outside of Nationals but to get another strong development team will be nothing but a positive for the American scene. Once the roster is actually confirmed, an update will be issued.

Next up will be a run down of CCB, the long time Northeast club team that is now a budget pro team that will be hoping to make a splash on the market with their new model.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Rabobank bow out in style

From 2002 to 2009, Rabobank Continental won 9 consecutive Olympia's Tour. It should have been renamed the Rabobank Invitational at some point because they took out 16 of the 21 overall podium places during that time. While Taylor Phinney interrupted that run in 2010, Jetse Bol and Dylan van Baarle kept the name going through 2013. The talent that Rabobank put out year after year was loading the pro peloton (and the big Rabobank team) and seemed like a never ending pipeline.

Yet with all of the success and the huge amount of talent still present, Rabobank Development will cease to exist after this year. The orange kits that have been present for nearly 20 years will not be found in 2017. With many riders still figuring out their 2017 plans (or at least not announcing them yet), why not go out with a bang?

After taking some precious bonus seconds finishing 2nd on stage 5, Cees Bol (who is joining SEG Racing Academy for 2017) was finally in the yellow jersey after multiple days of chasing Pavel Sivakov. With the hilliest stage on tap for the final day, Bol was in defense mode as only a handful of riders could challenge his lead.

Riding from Margraten, multiple breakaways tried to get away from peloton including a move that included 3rd-place Harthijs De Vries (Rabobank Devo) along with Michael Storer (Australia) and Geoffrey Curran (USA) but was shut down in favor of a two-man move with Remi Cavagna (Klein Constantia) and Ole Forfang (Norway), which got a couple of minutes lead. Racing was fast with the first couple of hours around 41 km/h.

Rabobank went to the front to tap out tempo as another move went up the road with Julius Jelmer, Fridtjof Røinaas and Julien Van Den Brande making the junction but the freedom was short lived as the speed was picking up fast. Soon enough, it was in with the old and out with the new, who took off with about 20km to go.

Dewulf was the highest on GC but was over three minutes back and with only 20 kilometers, there wasn't enough road left unless Bol, Sivakov and the others pulled over and had lunch.

Going into the finish, another move of 10 riders split off the front of the GC-controlled peloton, again none of the fighting over GC. The groups were splintering on the uphill finish and after 170 kilometers in cold, rainy weather, everyone was ready for the end.

To make it a fitting end to a fitting run, Martijn Budding took the final win in the Olympia's Tour for Rabobank Development in a tight sprint over Piet Allegaert and Stan Dewulf. Dewulf and Curran jumped 4 places each to finish 8th and 9th overall, which made them the biggest movers on the GC board for the places that mattered.

To make it an even more sweet end to the bittersweet departure, Cees Bol hung onto the overall GC after coming across the line with Sivakov and 3rd place De Vries, which was the status quo from before. While the finish was a little anti-climactic as the previous stages were filled with tight racing, it capped off a great weekend of racing before heading off to Doha.

-This is by far Bol's biggest win as a U23 after coming close in races like the Paris-Arras Tour and the Ronde de l'Oise. Going to SEG next year is a big signal that he is on track for a big contract as they tend to move a lot of riders up if they do relatively well.

-This was also the final race for Klein Constantia, which started off life as Etixx-iHNed back in 2013 and was actually the subject of Espoirs Central's first ever article. Patrick Lefevere forever bitched about having to carve out money from his budget to support a healthy development team but this is a team that actually worked so it is a shame that it isn't continuing.

-Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile U23 rider at this time

-Edward Planckaert is quite deserving of his Topsport Vlaanderen contract after SO MANY top 10 finishes from February to October. Pretty incredible.

-For not being a Nations Cup and it being October now, the talent level here at the Olympia's Tour was pretty impressive. Sprints, breakaways and time trials...what is there not to like??

On to Doha...

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Olympia's Tour: Stages 1-4

The Olympia's Tour is halfway over and I have to say, the Olympia's Tour social media has been on-point for a U23 race. With no live video, they have provided a ton of updates, some small videos and  detailed previews on their website so kudos to them. Oh yes and the racing has been good too.

Stage 1 - TTT - Hardenberg

The Axeon-Hagens Berman filled American team put their team cohesion to good use by taking the opening team time trial ahead of some very strong teams from Australia, which was a mix of world class track talent and all arounders, home favorites Rabobank Development along with continental juggernauts in Klein Constantia, BMC Development and Lotto-Soudal. The USA was also unique out of the top 5 finishers as they finished with their whole team in tact.

Colin Joyce took the initial overall lead before the GC race exploded.

Stage 2 - Assen Loop

True to the Olympia's Tour, a windy day brought out a breakaway that ended up going to the line. To break up the monotony of twisting roads and crosswinds, a stretch of cobbles was used twice that shook everything up.

A large group of 22 got away from the peloton early and got nearly 2 minutes on the peloton. The breakaway had a large contingent of Dutch riders from Metec, Jo Piels, Rabobank as well as some composite teams plus overnight leader Colin Joyce, Mads Pedersen and BMC riders Lukas Spengler & Pavel Sivakov, among others. The first stretch of cobbles at Exloo saw some of the riders from the breakaway get splintered off and after the 2nd pass, they only had 11 riders left. Pavel Sivakov attacked in the final kilometers coming into the finish and only Jan Willem Van Schip, a U23 who was apart of the Dutch Team Pursuit team in Rio, was able to follow. Van Schip took the sprint from Sivakov but due to taking time from the rest of the breakaway, Sivakov slid into the 3M Yellow Jersey.

I have said it before but even as a first year, Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he was in sprints in the Tour de Berlin, competed in the mountains in Aosta and l'Avenir and now attacking through the windy roads of Holland.

Stage 3a - TT - Herenberg to Elten TT

Miles Scotson shot to the podium in the Espoirs Cetral virtual U23 World Championship TT after stomping on an otherwise tight top 10. Geoffrey Curran, who turned in a very fast time, was beating Mads Pedersen by a second and Espoirs Central pick for the win Remi Cavagna by another two while Neilson Powless and Nathan Van Hooydonck were close behind. Scotson proceeded to come in and beat Curran's time by 27 seconds.

Scotson has been bouncing around all year with road events and team pursuit commitments but has started to build form over the last month with this being an exclamation point before Doha.

Curran has been up and down the last few years but this year has by far been his best in the U23 ranks. His time trial game has been on point this year with top ten rides all over the place but this is by far his best ride. Definitely shooting for a top 10 ride at Worlds, with this current form.

Sivakov rode well for 15th however he lost time to Cees Bol and Harthijs De Vries (both Rabobank Development) to pull the GC within 8 seconds.

Stage 3b - Ulft to Gendringen

Due to starting too late, the stage had to be shortened due to the waining sunlight and even then, the stage didn't finish until early twilight.

Espoirs Central called a Kristoffer Halvorsen win and by god, did that Norwegian eat some herring. Obviously one of the best U23 sprinters this year after winning a fucking professional 1.1 race, the GP Isbergues, which wasn't stacked with talent but hell, it was a 1.1 event. He nearly won the Nokere Koerse only to be denied by continental wonder Timothy Dupont but beat out Dylan Groenewegen. A favorite for Doha, Halvorsen beat out Chris Latham by a nose, which could be a possible result in Doha as well.

Cees Bol grabbed a few bonus seconds to bring the lead down to 5 seconds overall on Sivakov

Stage 4 - Zutphen loop

I said it in my preview but because this stage was front loaded, there was nothing special about this except for Markus Faglum getting the KOM jersey before being sucked back into the breakaway along with his break mates. Not to make the race sound easy as it never is in the Olympia's Tour. If you feel like shit, good luck holding onto a peloton that is going 50km/h in a crosswind while you are riding in the gutter. Feeling good? You could miss a split in the peloton.

Once out of the hills, the race came back together as Rabobank Development leading the charge for the bonus sprints. Cees Bol came through on both of them and taking 1st and 2nd for 5 bonus seconds while Sivakov snagged 2nd one of the sprints. Bol finished up 2 seconds behind Sivakov at the end of the stage.

Coming into the finale, it was a familiar sight with Halvorsen again leading the sprint out and just barely holding off 2nd place Fabio Jakobsen, who was a tire length or two behind the Norwegian across the line while Van Schip finished up in a close 3rd. The tight finish didn't give anyone a ton of room so some other favorites like Latham, Lecrocq, Christopher Noppe didn't have the room to contend.

With two stages to go, Rabobank Development is ravenous to get their final Olympia's Tour win while Sivakov will not go down without a fight. Stage 5 should end in a sprint as the last two kilometers are more or less a runway for a fast sprint. I picked Ivan Garcia however if Halvorsen or Latham are around, it won't be a contest. Stage 6...well that is where the real fun begins.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Olympia's Tour Preview: Prelude to Doha

With the Doha World's being pushed back to beginning of October, the Olympia's Tour decided to make the move to the late season and serve as a tune-up race for the U23 ranks. Normally a race that was just a 2.2 that featured some big time non-U23 talent from the Netherlands (i.e. Wim Stroetinga, Jetse Bol, etc.), this year's event if going to a full U23 format that shuts out older riders but brings nearly all of the big teams for some hard nose, gutter-filled racing. Always hosted in Mid- to Late- May, the wind will still be a factor in the calendar switch however the chance of rain might subside slightly.

This race has been a staple of development racing for the last 60 years with Rabobank Continental using it as their training grounds for the last 15 years. Thomas Dekker, Thomas Berkhout, Lars Boom, Jetse Bol, Dylan van Baarle, Joost Poosthuma, Stef Clement...need I go on? In the 00s, Taylor Phinney is the only racer to break up the Dutch hegemony but this year looks as good as any to bring down the Dutch dominance. Seeing as Rabobank Development is ending its run as the leader in Dutch development this year, they will be hungry to get one last win here for the boys in Orange.

The 7-stage, 6-day race starts in Hardenberg with a team time trial. The course itself is fairly straight forward with nothing more than a handful of turns and no more than a 10 meter difference in elevation. It wouldn't be an Olympia's Tour without a team time trial.

Espoirs Central favorite: BMC Development

(I did write this before the TTT finished so being true to my word, I won't put in the USA just to save face. BMC didn't do too bad with a top 5 placing and only 22 seconds backs.)

Stage 2 begins and ends in Assen but does a big loop around Drenthe that has a few up and downs along with the ever present Dutch wind. Espoirs Central is thinking a reduced sprint or perhaps a small breakaway followed by a bigger peloton. If it plays out like the l'Avenir sprints, the smaller teams will not be able to hold the race together unless there is a very cohesive effort.

Espoirs Central favorite: Gabs Cullaigh

Stage 3 is a split day that features a morning time trial that finishes in Germany and an afternoon split stage, which should end in a sprint. The time trial is 15 kilometers, which isn't too long but for many U23 riders, this could be one of their only time trials of the season. It is also unique as it has a few kickers that are rather sharp that go up about 50 to 60 meters in elevation.

Espoirs Central favorite: Remi Cavagna

The afternoon stage is another loop circuit that finishes in Gendringen that is another prototypical Olympia's Tour stage with a mainly flat parcours filled with road furniture and a bit of a technical finish. Full blown sprint should be on tap.

Espoirs Central favorite: Kristofer Halvorsen

I'm a little dissappointed that Stage 4 has all of its hills in the first half of the race while the final half involves two laps around Zutphen, which are more or less flat. However, flat doesn't mean sprint in the U23 ranks so while I think it will come together as a sprint, it certainly could explode due to wind or tactics. If it does come to a sprint, the final kilometer is very tight with multiple turns and a 100 degree turn with less than 300 meters to go.

Espoirs Central favorite: Cees Bol over Chris Latham & Enzo Wouters

The Reuver stage has been a sprint stage in the Olympia's Tours of recent past but this year's stage 5, it looks to be the first key road stage for those with any GC ambitions. Wim Stroetinga won the last three Reuver stages but the old man won't be present. The first two big loops are bumpy but the final loops are going to be where any cracks appear. I don't think the race will go to bits but a reduced sprint should be in order. The last two kilometers are a dead straight shot into the finish line so any teams that can stay together will be whipping the pace up.

Espoirs Central favorite: Ivan Garcia

Smoke 'em if you get 'em. A twisty loop around the Dutch countryside that features climbs and descents at nearly every turn. The winner of this stage either be some no-name from a breakaway or more likely, will be on the GC podium as everything that comes before this will be baby steps compared to this. The finish itself is not an uphill one however there are some short, sharp climbs just before it that could serve as a launchpad for a sizzling attack.

Espoirs Central favorite: Michael Storer

Overall Prediction:

1. Neilson Powless (USA)
2. Michael Storer (Australia)
3. Lennard Hofstede (Rabobank Development)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thoughts on the Tour de l'Avenir

It's been two weeks since the Tour de l'Avenir has ended and I am just getting around to writing this. I have been trying to think of something meaningful to say. With social media these days, it seems like many people only really care about the information that is slapped together and sent out rather than stuff that has some actual thought behind it.

The mountains really make the race at l'Avenir and they certainly didn't disappoint this year. David Gaudu and Edward Ravasi separated themselves with the attack on stage 6 and they seemed fairly even through the rest of the race, with Gaudu having a little bit more top end at the end of the climbs. It seems that Adrian Costa was just a little bit off his best form but in only his first U23 season that has been fairly big in terms of racing days, a podium here is exceptional as he separated himself from the others behind him.

Tao Geoghegan Hart was good but was another that didn't seem to be on his best form as he wasn't as sharp. Perhaps a chink in the armor that he could be limited in the higher mountains compared to some others like Gaudu, Costa and Ravasi? SKY will turn him into a robot next year and their track record with developing young talent is so-so at best really compared with some teams like Movistar and Etixx-OPQS. Geoghegan Hart should be put on a one-day/Ardennes track but seeing as SKY's focus on those races is middling at best, it is a shame he might not shine in those races doing forward.

Hot take - Pavel Sivakov is the most versatile rider in the U23 ranks. He can ride the classics very well as he was a contender in the Paris-Roubaix and was 2nd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He was up there in sprint stages in the Tour de Berlin. Now in both Valle d'Aosta and l'Avenir, he has shown that he is able to climb some big mountains fairly consistently for a rider that can also do the above as well. With a year under his belt, next year could be very interesting for Sivakov.

It was also announced that l'Avenir will again expand with a 9th stage being added, which will make it the first time since 2009 that the race will be this long. The race course is not finalized as a start in Bretagne is being tossed around, which would certainly be a nice change of pace. I am all in favor of adding some legitimate sprint stages to this race and see teams bring in their best sprinters along with their best climbers. Obviously with small teams, selections are pretty tight but if there were say, 4 stages that could be designated for sprinters and 2 or 3 big stages for climbers, we could see a rounded roster as opposed to the teams in recent years which have been more or less all climbers and perhaps a big engine time trial rider.

It just comes down to my point that sprinters need their chances too and that includes on the biggest stages. While some people might salivate for climbers showdowns, I really would love to see Pascal Ackermann go up against Enzo Wouters, Chris Latham, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Cees Bol, Consonni/Minali/Maronese along with some other pros that are still U23. Well that would basically be a preview for this year's Worlds in Doha but one or two stages in the U23 circuits biggest event doesn't seem like enough.

Anyways, I think it is high time that I start writing more on here...

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 6: Denz explodes; Gaudu bounces to victory in Tignes

On a day that saw a beautiful loop over 4 cols, the Tour de l'Avenir GC was basically put in a blender, pulsed for a few seconds and then dropped from a helicopter over the French Alps. Attacks went back and forth through the day but when riders such as Adrien Costa and Tao Geoghegan Hart didn't follow moves, riders further down on GC got a chance to move up.

From Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, Nans Peters was the first to attack and drew out a rather large group from the peloton including Lennard Kamna, Miguel Florez (Colombia), Valentin Madouas (France), Giovanni Carboni (Italy), among many others. It was then Peters, Kamna and Florez who established themselves on the Col de Saisies.

The breakaway never really got over a minute for the vast majority of the stage. The trio made it down into Beaufort and started the Col du Pre together but then Florez went solo, dropping the other two, who were picked up shortly by the peloton, and went over the col du Pre solo. It was also here that Nico Denz said goodbye to any chance at GC as the yellow jersey was dropped like a stone.

Florez started the Cormet de Roseland solo but was soon joined by a quartet of riders including Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic), Max Schachmann (Germany), a recovered Lucas Hamilton (Australia) and stage 5 winner Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia). In the chasing peloton, France dominated with 4 riders while most other nations had either one or two.

On the descent of the Roseland, France decided to rip it. Even without their two best descenders in Aurelien Paret-Peintre & Nans Peters, it was Valentin Madouas, Mathias Le Turnier & Leo Vincent went out hard, which along with a crash by Artem Nych (Russia) got them a gap. The bad thing about this? They forgot their GC weapon David Gaudu. Whoops.

By the bottom of the climb, the trio got 50 seconds and were able to bridge up to the breakaway, which saw the group swell to 8 riders. Florez was the first rider to pop once the road started going up towards Tignes. Rodriguez and Hamilton were the next ones to attack, which brought out Schlegel with them. The trio worked well together while Schachmann & Vincent were forced to chase together.

At this point, the GC outlook was still normal and Tao Geoghegan Hart was in the main chasing pack along with other favorites. Then David Gaudu attacked with Edward Ravasi. Cue the blender. This duo, which needed to attack to get back much needed time on GC, lept away from the chasing group. In 7 kilometers, the duo got across a gap that was over 1 minute to join the leading trio while soon after Harm Vanhoucke, who is just 19 years old, would bridge as well to make it a sextet with 3 kilometers to go.

What does one do once they join the group they bridged up to? While attack of course. And who better to do it in front of than Romain Bardet, who was on course today on the climb to Tignes.

Good thing this jersey doesn't have sponsors David. Otherwise, 

David Gaudu put in another move that blew the front group apart. Ravasi and Vanhoucke trailed in his wake as Gaudu, the springy Frenchman who first showed his massive potential at the Ronde de l'Isard, bounced his way up through the ski resort and gave a mighty little roar over the line. Rodriguez came across in fourth, which lifted him to the overall lead thanks to his stage win yesterday.

Behind the attackers, it was Australia's Jai Hindley who came across first in 6th, at 1'43" down on Gaudu, while big favorite Adrien Costa came across shortly afterwards in 7th, 2 minutes down. While Egan Bernal was just another 15 seconds down, Geoghegan Hart lost over three minutes to Bernal.

May it be reminded that this was only the first of three big mountain stages so while the GC might have been put into a blender, it is by no means set. Just a day ago, Gaudu, Ravasi and Vanhoucke were 35th, 36th and 38th on GC over a minute down on Tao and nearly a minute on Costa. My how the tables can turn...

Here is GC as it stands:

1. Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia)
2. David Gaudu (France) +9
3. Edward Ravasi (Italy) +28
4. Harm Vanhoucke (Belgium) +29
5. Michal Schlegel (Czech Republic) +45
6. Adrien Costa (USA) +1:13
7. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB) +1:58
8. Jai Hindley (Australia) +2:07
9. Michael Storer (Australia) +2:14
10. Egan Bernal (Colombia) +2:17

Unless there is a shocking move from a rider like Sivakov or Schachmann, I don't see anyone winning the Tour de l'Avenir outside of this top 10. Rodriguez has put in a lot of energy in the past two stages so if you are taking Espoirs Central's tip, look for him to slide on stage 7.

Costa has moved a few times so far this race but compared to others, he has been relatively quiet. Will Gaudu be able to follow up this performance with some more magic? Ravasi showed he can go big on late stages over the last few years but with this deep of a field? Does Tao still have something in the tank? Will Bernal supercede Rodriguez as the best Colombian in the field?

So many questions and only two stages to go...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 5: The Mountains Are Here

Following the time trial stage that saw Adrien Costa take the first American win in six years at the Tour de l'Avenir, the race was supposed to really begin. It sort of did today but the finish did not prove that decisive, somewhat due to the stage length and after the teams have a fairly lengthy transfer, they didn't want to stir up the pot with four mountains summits.

What is surprisingly not the races shortest stage, the 98 kilometer affair started fast with riders trying to form a breakaway before the only real climb on the course up to Carroz d'Araches. A fast start saw multiple attacks try to get up the road and fail until a large group got off the front including three Americans, three Germans plus some dribs and drabs of Belgians, French and other riders. What was notable about the breakaway was that 2nd through 4th overall (Nico Denz, Nathan Van Hooydonck and Jon Dibben) all were present along with GC contender Neilson Powless.

Great Britain was keen to not let this move going and with Dibben in the breakaway causing disruption, the Brits clawed the move back just a few kilometers before the final climb. Pryzemyslaw Kasperkiewicz tried multiple times to get away in the finale but was subsequently brought back every time. About halfway into the climb, Jhon Rodriguez (Colombia) attacked with Pavel Sivakov (Russia) & GP Poggiana winner Michael Storer (Australia) at a moment when everyone was looking around and got some distance. None of them were immediate GC threats so the chasing peloton didn't really need to pounce on them.

The trio was working well together while some counter attacks behind were launched including one by Aurelien Paret-Peintre, Nans Peters and Alexander Vlasov. The chasers ran out of room as Sivakov was the first to move up front by ran out of gas and Rodriguez accelerated around him. Storer was able to follow but was limited as he was not in the big chainring when the climb leveled off, which allowed Rodriguez to take the first Colombian win in l'Avenir since "Superman", Miguel Angel Lopez, in 2014 on stage 6 to La Rosière.

Vlasov came in for 4th behind Sivakov making it two Russians in the 3rd and 4th spots, which funnily enough happened on stage 6 to La Rosière in 2014 with Aleksey Rybalkin and Alexander Foliforov. Actually the top five from that stage and this were almost identical in terms of nationalities and their finishing orders except that Paret-Peintre ruined it and let Alex Aranburu finish 5th (Pierre Latour was 5th on the 2014 stage).

David Gaudu led the bunch home 29 seconds in arrears with all of the main GC players as well as a few jokers still in their same positions. With Amund Grøndahl Jansen finally succumbing to his stomach issues, the yellow jersey was passed onto German Nico Denz, who holds a 1'40" lead back to Tao Geoghegan Hart, 2'05" back to Storer, 2'10" to countryman Jan Tschernoster and 2'13" back to Adrien Costa.

Storer, Rodriguez and Sivakov were able to move up slightly in the GC rankings but the main question being is about Denz. Obviously he is a World Tour rider and given that he has some free reign here, how long will he be able to hold this lead? He is a competent climber with some good results in the mountains from his U23 days but will he succumb to the onslaught of attacks or perhaps will a diesel engine like Max Schachmann be able to pilot him to an overall lead?

After a bad crash a couple of days ago, Steff Cras was forced to abandon today. He will most likely be back next year ready to give it another go.

The race continues tomorrow with a absolutely beautiful ride from Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc to the ski resort at Tignes over 4 climbs including a final ascent that is 17 kilometers in length.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir Stage 3: Norway is the New Denmark

What is the hell do they think this is? 1524-1814 during the Dano-Norwegian union? Is Olaf II riding bikes now instead of eating some pickled herring? Norway has had a very good year on the U23 circuit, which is more of a culmination of the work Joker and other teams have been doing with young Norwegian talent. It remains to be seen if it all turns out a little bit Danish (see Thomas Vedel Kvist, Rasmus Guldhammer, Sebastian Lander) or if Norway is a new light in development cycling.

The stage started out of Bourg-en-Bresse and on the longest stage, David Per (Slovenia) really wanted to be alone. I don't know if he had an argument with his team or perhaps he didn't shower after the stage yesterday. Perhaps the race served some goulash that didn't sit well with him. In any case, the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 winner took over 6 minutes after the peloton hit the breaks. Even after a puncture by Per, the gap was still over 4'30".

He might not have wanted to be out on his lonesome but Per was able to gobble up the KOM points on offer, which vaulted him to the lead in the KOM competition, which he will hold headed into stage 5 after the TT.

When Per began to flag, Galym Akhmetov (Kazakhstan), a former Asian Junior MTB XC Champion, bridged up to him. Soon, Akhmetov dropped Per but a counter attack from Adrien Costa (USA) and Gonzalo Serrano (Spain) soon made it a trio. Any substantial moves were short lived as the peloton was, at least for once, set on a sprint finish.

The last substantial move was by Gab Cullaigh (GB). The former Peace Race stage winner set out for about 15 kilometers and dangled in front of the jaws of the peloton until 4 kilometers to go. Once the catch was made, the nervous energy in the peloton was ratcheted up until the uphill finish in Autun kicked in

In the final, it was Kristoffer Halvorsen who did a copy cat sprint from his efforts yesterday except that this time, there was no one in front of him. Even with the steep pitch, Halvorsen was able to hold off Vincenzo Albanese and Jon Dibben for the stage win, making it three in a row for Norge, coming close to Denmark's 4 out of the first 5 stage win haul from last year. Really, this sprint was a lot like Nokere Koerse this year, where Halvorsen was 2nd to the flavor of the season, Timothy Dupont, as the finish on that course is a straight power sprint that can tend to drag on a bit.

It was a shame that Pascal Ackermann couldn't make the finale as he could have potentially made it interesting against Halvorsen. Also good to note that this was a finish that Simone Consonni would usually devour however with his track legs from Rio, he was off the back as well with Ackermann.

The real GC hunt starts in a couple of hours as the Lugny TT will be the first test that will begin to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tour de l'Avenir: Grøndahl Jansen dominated first two stages

In the Tour de l'Avenir, there is nothing that guarantees a sprint stage. With small teams and a big emphasis on the mountains, there are no teams that can waste riders to bring back breakaways. On stages that are definite sprint stages in pro races, small breakaways come to the line here. There hasn't been a bunch sprint here since stage 3 in 2014 when Dan McLay trumped Magnus Cort and Fernando Gaviria. It looks like we will have to wait until 2017 to see a bunch sprint unless a miracle happens on stage 3, which looks unlikely as the course is quite bumpy over the first half along with a short, sharp uphill finish.

Stage 1

On a slight downhill start, the Tour de l'Avenir got underway and it didn't take long before attacks were flying. Eventually, a group of 17 got away with some fairly big names including Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB), David Gaudu (France) Lennard Kamna (Germany), Michael Carbel (Denmark), Nathan Van Hooydonck (Belgium) and Vincenzo Albanese (Italy).

An attack by Geoghegan Hart was innocuous at first but drew out Grøndahl Jansen and Jan Tschernoster (Germany). In a post-race interview, David Gaudu regretted letting this move go as he sat on with the rest of the now chasing group. He really began to regret it when Van Hooydonck and Albanses bridge to the move, which then put it into over drive.

The dreary weather didn't help the proceedings. Albanese took the sprint as well as the two small KOM climbs on offer. The group held a minute gap on the chasing group with Gaudu while the peloton bided their time until 30 kilometers to go, when they took up the chase group again. With Germany and Italy having sprinters in the peloton but men in the move, they were no help to the chase. With no other sprinters having a big chasing effort, it was more about teams wanting to limit the GC loses with Geoghegan Hart gaining precious time before the mountains.

A small climb in the finish town of Veauche didn't do much to prevent the inevitable as Bardiani-bound Albanese won the sprint ahead of Grøndahl Jansen, from won the ZLM Roompot Tour & Tour de Gironde this year, and Van Hooydonck. Behind, it was Espoirs Central favorite U23 German sprinter Pascal Ackermann taking the bunch sprint ahead of Kristoffer Halvorsen (Norway) and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Spain). Albanese locked up the yellow jersey, sprint jersey and KOM jersey while Geoghegan Hart took 50 seconds on GC ahead of his closest rivals.

Stage 2

Even more straight forward, the attack of the day came on the only categorized climb of the day, the Côte de Charnay, when Grøndahl Jansen was at it again with a long range attack, similar to his day long romp in Gironde earlier this year.

It wasn't for another 20 kilometers that a counter attack was made with Jon Dibben (GB) and Nico Denz (Germany) dropping Sergey Luchshenko and motoring up to Grøndahl Jansen. Even with a World Tour rider like Denz up the road, the gap went way out to nearly 6 minutes.

The stage progressed on as riders in the peloton plodded along while the gap was minutes ahead. David Gaudu did take a spill but got up just fine. It really was a bit of a snore. Grøndahl Jansen does have a beautiful position on the bike that is a bit more old school than most riders these days; very long torso with a flat back.

In the sprint, Dibben and Denz tried to mix it up a bit as the finish was a bit uphill but Grøndahl decimated them in the sprint while Halvorsen got the better of Ackermann this time for the lower placings.

Grøndahl Jansen now leads on GC by 1 minute on Denz, 2 minutes on Dibben and over 3 and a half on the main pack. He is no climber however the decision to let Denz get time is puzzling as he is a World Tour rider and he isn't a slouch in the mountains either, especially when he is on some good form. Why risk it? Especially when he has over 2'30" on the main group of GC contenders.

Monday's stage is the longest of the Tour de l'Avenir this year and the last chance for any sprinters glory but as stated previously, the lack of organization with the chase is killing any chances of bunch sprints.

Friday, August 19, 2016

52nd Tour de l'Avenir Preview: This is it

Well, it doesn't get much better than this. The Tour de l'Avenir is here within a few days and for the first time in years, an actual time trial joins the race. U23 races have such a lack of stage races with time trials that if there is anything more than a prologue, there is a cause for celebration. How does one prepare for the pro ranks without ever racing a 45 kilometer time trial?

Stunning Le Puy-En-Velay in Auvergne is the take off point for the Tour de l'Avenir. One of my first memories of cycling was sitting in my grandparent's sitting room in West Virginia early one summer morning in 2005 watching Giuseppe Guerini attack his breakaway mates late in the game on stage 19 of the Tour de France before soloing into Le Puy-En-Velay for his final professional win.
Kicking off from Le Puy-En-Velay, the opening stage of the race isn't too difficult and should see a small breakaway get away early and get over the first two climbs of the race, both of which are fairly shallow. The trick will be if the small teams can pull back a strong move to set up for the bunch sprint into Veauche, which is just 20 clicks north of Saint-Etienne as well as on the banks of Loire River.

Teams will be keen to keep the race together as once the hills begin to come, the chances for sprints will go out the window. Remember last year? Obviously you would if you were following Espoirs Central but a bunch sprint wasn't even contested as breakaways were the name of the game.

Small note about the finishing town of Veauche is that former World Hour Record holder and World Pursuit champion Roger Riviere was married in the town and lived there. He has a small back street named after him.

Stage 2

The race takes off from Motrond-les-Bains and after a short northeast journey over another shallow category 4 climb, the race hits a few circuits in the Lyonnaise suburb of Trévoux, which is situated on a cliff overlooking the Saône river.

The finishing circuit is fairly flat but does have a few bumps in it, including a nice little kick up to the finish line that looks like it could shake things up a bit including the expected bunch sprint.

Stage 3

The Pyramid of Couhard, which sits near Autun and dates back to the first century A.D.
The longest stage of the race goes from the foothills of the Alps in Bourg-en-Bresse and travels northwest to the medieval city of Autun, which gets its first visit from the Tour de l'Avenir since 2000, when Janek Tombak won a breakaway sprint over Björn Leukemans and Sylvain Chavanel.

Transitioning into the Saône-et-Loire department, the race takes in three small climbs early on in the stage as well as an uncategorized 4th climb between Charmoy and La Tagnière. The race itself flattens out again after this climb and then it has another short, sharp uphill finish at Autun.

This stage could play to a breakaway as many of the GC favorites will be looking to protect themselves going into the time trial.

Stage 4

For the first time since 2010, a time trial of actual consequence will appear here in the Tour de l'Avenir. As I said above, it is a rare treat to see a time trial, even of only 16 kilometers, appear in a U23 race usually as they stretch teams equipment wise as well as they can be a bit more costly for races.
Lugny from above

25 years ago, Lugny was the launch point for the penultimate stage of the 1991 Tour de France, which funnily enough was also a time trial; a massive 57 kilometer test to Macon. Miguel Indurain won the stage on the way to his first overall win.

The race itself goes out and around Lugny on a rolling course that has a number of turns in it but it isn't too hard so time trial specialists should be licking their chops.

Stage 5

After a fairly long transfer that is 200+ kilometers from Lugny to Scionzier, the race finally gets its first uphill finish with the race going up the stair step climb at Le Carroz d'Arâches, a nice little ski resort. The stage itself is quite short by being only 98 kilometers and while there is a climb nearly right out of the gate, there is about 70 kilometers in the middle that are nice and flat, which will give the proverbial breakaway time to get some distance.

The gradient on the final climb isn't like a deep Alpine climb but at 5.5% for the last 3 kilometers up to the finish, it could definitely cause some separation. This stage could go one of two ways in that a breakaway could succeed as there are still three more mountain stages after this for GC men OR a GC favorite will lay it down to set the standard much like Marc Soler did on this stage last year.

Stage 6

Much like last year's stage 6, the race will first go over the Col des Saisies, which is only an average of 5% but hits ramps of up to 10% and certainly isn't a very steady climb. After 17 kilometers of descent down to the village of Beaufort, the race will deviate from last year's stage by taking in the Col du Pré instead of going up the long way on the Cormet de Roseland. The Pré climb is steep with an average gradient over 7% that jumps around in gradient but sees sustained gradients of 10 to 11% before the summit. After a short descent, brings the race up to the Lac de Roseland resevoir.

Lac de Roseland on the Cormet de Roseland pass
The Cormet de Roseland might be shorter but still has some decent gradients between 5 and 7% before topping out at nearly 2000m in elevation. Following 20 kilometers of nearly straight descending, the race finds a brief pause before entering Ste-Foy-Tarentaise, where the riders will begin their final climb up to the ski resort at Tignes. Profile of the final climb can be seen here and as can be seen, the climb is relatively steady (4.5-6%) for the vast majority of the climb until they approach the resort, where the gradient averages over 8% over the final three kilometers.

For most races, this would see a race defining event but for l'Avenir, there are still two more stages to go...

Stage 7

Moving just a stone's throw away from Tignes to Val d'Isere, which together form the Espace Killy ski area, which is one of the big three ski areas in the Tarentaise Valley. From the end of the neutral rollout, the riders go 300 meters before going straight uphill on the Col de l'Iseran, the highest mountain pass in the Alps that tops out at 2746 meters (9'086 feet), which is almost home for some riders from Colorado or perhaps Quito, Ecuador.

Once everyone is close to blacking out, the race tips downward for nearly 40 kilometers with only a couple of brief climbs upward. They go over the short and sweet Cote de Sardieres, which is easy compared with everything else on tap, before continuing downhill to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, which is over 2000 meters lower than where they were 72 kilometers prior (a 2.78% downhill gradient).

The  Col de Beaune, which is the third climb on tap for the day.
(photo: by the fantastic WillJ)
Making it back to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, the race goes along the valley to St. Martin d'Arc, where the climb to Valmeinier begins.
The final climb to Valmeinier is another two-part climb with the first part being a strong, sustained gradient around 8% for the first few kilometers before backing down slightly to 6 to 7%. With 5 kilometers to go, the road flattens out for half a kilometer where the actual village of Valmeinier is before going upwards again for the final 4 kilometers, where the gradients are sustained around 7 to 8%. The race finishes short of the true finish of the climb but the riders won't certainly mind that.

There is no place to rest once the race hits Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne so if you are a racer, you will need to be on point if you have any business being up front.

Stage 7

This stage is short, sweet and direct to the point. Two climbs. Once the first 15 kilometers of flat riding are out of the way, there are 57 kilometers of either up or down. The race is basically the opposite of last year's final stage finale as it is La Toussuire up first followed by a summit finish on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer.

The Saint-Roch chapel at Varcinières, just outside of Jarrier.
La Toussuire is La Toussuire. A prototypical Alpine climb that does level off in places but is in the 7 to 8% gradient range for the majority of the time. This year, they are climbing the other side of La Toussuire that begins at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Moving up the D 78d, the riders go past hamlets such as Jarrier before hitting ski towns like Les Bottieres and L'Alpettaz. The climb then takes a left onto the D 78 and hits the ski station of Les Sybelles, which is one of the largest in France and the summit of the La Toussuire climb.

Once off the descent, the course follows the l'Arvan river, which forms the Arves Valley to the feet of the Croix de Fer climb. The ride down the river valley is uphill for the most part and half of it is uncategorized, at least by the race, until they hit the Saint-Sorlin-D'Arves. From here, the race will be blown apart. The final 7 kilometers never fall under 7.5% gradient with one kilometer averaging nearly 10%. Topping out at 2057 meters, the 52nd Tour de l'Avenir comes to a close.

Last year, I said it was one of the best editions yet. This year's race look like it could even go past that.

**Unless otherwise noted, all photos are used via WikiCommons

In terms of favorites, the official start list has not been confirmed so if you are looking for a breakdown, you might want to head over to @EspoirsCentral on Twitter for more later on today.

Friday, July 22, 2016

European U23 Track Championships

It has been 10 days since Italian maestro Filippo Ganna laid down incredible individual pursuit times at the European Junior & U23 Track Championships with nary a ripple in the broader cycling community due to the Tour de France casting a gigantic shadow over every other event and discipline.

While Ganna's performance was one for the record books, there were others that certainly shouldn't be overshadowed. While I am a little late on this, you should thank me for giving you light reading during the time between 100 kilometers and 50 kilometers to go in the tour stages coming this weekend. You're welcome. Also, go to your local velodrome and support the racing.

Ivo Oliveira

If you haven't followed Iberia or track cycling closely, you are remiss in your duties to know everything about the cycling development world. Shame. Shame. Shame. Anywho, Ivo Oliveira is 1/2 of a very good twin brother combination with the other half being Rui Oliveira. Rui got himself quite banged up due to a pretty bad accident so Ivo has been carrying the weight and quite well actually.

While Ganna was setting his incredible times, Ivo was setting some scorching times himself and lowering personal bests by a healthy margin. In qualifying, Ivo put down a 4'18"671" and proceeded to lower than in the finals by riding a 4'17"448", which would have put him in 2nd place in the World Championships behind who else but Ganna.

Ivo then competed in the Kilo time trial and placed 7th, posting up a 1'02"497". Then the points race, where he was also 7th place. Enough? Nope. Ivo then rode the Omnium, placing 3rd behind Direct Energie's Thomas Boudat and Pole Szymon Sajnok. Ivo is pretty good in bunch events but he got worked over in the points race by only taking a lap (along with 5 others) and scoring in only 4 lap sprints.

So that you aren't shamed again, you need to put Ivo down on your list for Omnium favorites for Tokyo 2020.

Team Pursuit

With Italy's resurgence in the team pursuit on all levels (to my absolute joy), the French have showed continued progress in the team event. What I mean by continued progress is taking a huge chunk off of their last performance at the World Championships. At London Worlds, France rode a 4'05", which is fast but way off a medal times.

In Montichiari, France came out with 3/4 of their Worlds Team (Florian Maitre, Ben Thomas and Thomas Denis) but came with Corentin Ermenault, who is basically a two-cylinder engine. In qualifying, Italy took the top placing by running a 3'58"745", which was better than last year's European U23 TP winning time by Great Britain. France was close behind in 3'59"353, which is very fast but could have been even faster as France had a horrific opening kilometer that was 2.5 seconds slower than Italy's opener and only 9th fastest. They followed that horrible opening by three sub 58 kilometers to close out the race and end up six tenths slower than Italy.

In the finals, France started slower than Italy but much faster than their qualifying.  Then they ripped a sub 57 second kilometer, which is just leg melting. That is 63.5 kilometers per hour or 39.45 miles per hour for a whole kilometer. This was followed by a 57 second kilometer and a 57.5 second final kilometer. They took a 1.6 second deficit after the opening kilometer to a stacked Italian team and turned it into a win by .1 seconds.

France ended up with a 3'56"277" over Italy's 3'56"393", which is definitely getting into bronze medal territory. The encouraging thing is that theoretically both teams could get better. Italy has Viviani or even Liam Bertazzo that could replace Plebiani while with France, they have Boudat or with more slim chances, Bryan Coquard and Damian Gaudin.

While Italy is going to Rio and France is not, France is certainly looking healthy going forward to 2020.


Thomas Boudat and Jon Dibben rode very well with wins in the Omnium and Points Race, respectively. Boudat dominated the Omnium with wins in the Individual Pursuit and Elimination along with getting a massive 94 points in the Points Race after taking 3 laps along with eating up point sprints.

Dibben on the other hand is dealing with the kick in the gut that was missing out on the Rio Olympics due to Mark Cavendish's gold medal orgasm along with Ed Clancy coming back from injury but making the team pursuit squad. He proceeded to take 5 laps on the decent field of riders and show that he is on an Olympic level but will be most likely be left out until Tokyo 2020.

I was a bit surprised to see Xhuliano Kamberaj (Albania) here in the Scratch and Points Race, where he finished next to last and dead last. Good on him for trying something new as he hasn't been racing much with SkyDive Dubai (nothing since the Giro del Trentino) so this is something, I guess.