Taylor Eisenhart and Adrien Costa, two of America’s brightest young talents, made the trip across the Atlantic last week for the Tour of Britain. The week-long race marked the latest stage in their apprenticeships at two of the biggest teams in pro cycling – BMC for Eisenhart and Etixx-QuickStep for Costa.
22-year-old Eisenhart, who has raced for BMC’s Development squad for the past four seasons, was in high spirits as he prepared to start the race in Glasgow.
“It’s a dream come true for sure,” Eisenhart said of racing for BMC. “This is for sure the biggest race I’ve ever done – it’s like a show here – the crowds, everything. I’m more than excited to get this race going.”
The Utah native started his apprenticeship at his home race, August’s Tour of Utah, where he finished a strong seventh overall and supported team leader Darwin Atapuma as the Colombian finished fourth.
“I definitely wasn’t expecting that result. When we hit the first climbing day I looked back and there was nobody else on my wheel and just five guys up the road,” he said. “I was like ‘ok, we’ll see where this momentum is going’ and I was like ‘woah I can hang with the best at this race.’”
It’s a run of form he kept going at the Tour du Limousin, helping teammate Joey Rosskopf to the overall victory, and something he hopes to keep up this week. “By the time we hit the summit finish on stage six hopefully I’m the last guy for Rohan [Dennis] or I’m also up there in the mix,” he said. “Especially considering how I was climbing at Utah – I’m more than capable of being up there on those stages.”
Costa was also going well at Utah, ending up in second on GC – ahead of seasoned pros such as Andrew Talansky and Darwin Atapuma. Then he was off to France for the famous U23 proving ground, the Tour de l’Avenir – he took third overall to cap a great August.
Britain was Costa’s first race with Etixx-QuickStep, though he was already familiar with the team having taken part in a training camp with them back in December 2015. Racing with the team was a different experience though.
“I don’t really have any personal ambitions – I’m just trying to help the guys and see what I can learn,” he said at the start of the week. “I want to have some fun and I’m excited to discover this whole new level of racing.”
In the end Costa’s experience was a short-lived one, crashing hard on day two after his wheel slid on a reflector in the road as he ate a gel. He struggled on to the finish, rolling across the line in his blood-stained and ripped kit, over 23 minutes behind the winner – teammate Julien Vermote.
Suffering deep wounds to his elbow and side, he was off to hospital for surgery to close them – but not before a 24-hour wait. His race was over, but he remained with the team for the rest of the week.
“The cuts were right down to the bone on my elbows and on my abdomen, so it would’ve been too painful to clean and stitch while I was conscious,” Costa said outside the team bus before stage four. “Unfortunately I think if it had been on a normal road it would’ve been just a normal road rash sort of a deal but it was a really gritty, heavy road so obviously it cut me a lot deeper than normal.”
Costa, heavily bandaged, was smiling but clearly devastated to be out of his first race with the Belgian squad.
“It really sucks because you don’t get this opportunity every day, so for me that was the biggest bummer,” he said. “The wounds should be pretty much healed in three, four, five days so I just have to be careful with the bandaging. Hopefully I have a couple of races next week, so that should be nice.”
Meanwhile Eisenhart soldiered on, and looked to be improving as the week went on, taking sixteenth place in the Bristol time trial. After the summit finish of Haytor on stage six – where Eisenhart worked hard to help teammate Rohan Dennis take third – the Utahan reflected on his week.
“The whole race has been really hard – a lot harder than I honestly expected,” he said. “I think these power climbs are really just nutting me up. It’s different to getting on a 20km climb and setting a tempo.”
“The climbs – this whole race, just the style of it – it’s a lot more punchy, aggressive. It’s always very nervous in the bunch – honestly it’s been a fun race but it’s been tough.”
While Costa was forced out of the race early, Eisenhart left it much later – abandoning on the penultimate lap of the London criterium. The tough week eventually proved a bit too much for him, according to BMC DS Jackson Stewart, who said that he and teammate Loïc Vliegen had been suffering from stomach cramps.
He goes home having helped deliver team leader Dennis to a second overall and a stage win in Bristol, while Costa’s team went away with two stages and a spell in the yellow jersey.
But the calendar rolls on, and so will the American duo. Both headed to Belgium for the next stage of their apprenticeships. On September 17th they race the GP Van Petegem, while Costa’s first race back was the GP de Wallonie.
Looking further ahead, the duo’s futures are set, at least in the short term. Eisenhart was coy about exactly what he’d be doing in 2017 though.
“I’m still keeping that under wraps,” said Eisenhart. “I can say that I’m extremely excited with the team that I signed with for next year, and they’ve had a lot of belief in me for a while now. As each days goes by I think more and more about it and I know it’s the right place to be.”
Meanwhile Costa will return to Continental team Axeon Hagens Berman for 2017, though it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the teenager move on to the WorldTour after that. “It’ll be good to stay one more year at U23 level – at least one more year,” he said. “It was super fun this year, and it was only my first year as an U23, so there’s still time.”
So the Tour of Britain may not have been as positive an experience as the two young Americans might have hoped for, but it’s just the start of a new experience, a new chapter in their careers – and there’s a long way to go yet.
How FDJ and French cycling caught up with the rest of the peloton
Is it finally here? Every year since I can remember having followed cycling there is talk about how the French are back, or are on their way back.
At the Tour de France, which hasn’t had a French winner since Bernard Hinault back in 1985, we have seen Richard Virenque, Christophe Moreau, Thomas Voeckler, Pierre Rolland all hailed as the next French Tour winner, but still nobody has managed the feat.
It’s the same story at most major races. Paris-Roubaix’s last French winner was Frédéric Guesdon in 1997, at Liège-Bastogne-Liège it was Hinault in 1980, at the Vuelta a España it was Laurent Jalabert in 1995, and at the World Championships it was Laurent Brochard in 1997.
And it’s not just that they haven’t won these big races, it’s that no French riders have looked like coming close to doing so. There has been much talk about the peloton à deux vitesses but even as cycling moved into this cleaner era, the struggles of French cycling continued.
But now things look to be changing, and in a big way.
Putting aside the polemica, on which inrng wrote a great piece, earlier this month we saw FDJ’s Arnaud Démare win Milano-Sanremo – the first Frenchman to do so since Jalabert back in 1995.
Sure, he was an outsider but it marks a change in fortunes for the 24-year-old, who has yet win a Tour stage, and ensures his place at the top table of the sport.
Things are looking up elsewhere too.
The first name that springs to mind is Thibaut Pinot, the great hope for the Tour de France. He finished third in 2014 and has been in the top five of every race he’s competed in so far this season, most recently a dominating display at the Critérium International which included his first ever time trial victory. Will this be the year he joins the elite four of Contador, Froome, Nibali and Quintana?
His FDJ team has improved in many areas so far this season, notably with respect to time trialing. In February they won their first ever team time trial at the La Méditerranéenne stage race.
At the 12km Tirreno-Adriatico TTT, the team finished third – ahead of usual powerhouses Movistar and Sky and just nine seconds off winners, the TTT World Champions BMC.
At Tirreno’s closing San Benedetto del Tronto TT, the team had six riders in the top thirty, with Johan Le Bon beating Tony Martin to second place. This weekend seven of the team’s eight riders finished in the top 18 at the Critérium International time trial.
Frédéric Grappe, FDJ’s performance director, told me that “the excellent results of this season were expected.”
And the reasons why? Well some of the credit can go to the team’s new LaPierre Aerostorm DRS bikes, designed in conjunction with Grappe and FDJ, but Pinot has also stepped up. Team manager Marc Madiot told CyclingNews that the team leader had specifically requested that his team improve their time trialing over the winter.
“This winter, Thibaut asked us to form the best possible team for the team time trial. The guys knew that everything started with this event.”
“I think the turning point for the team was the first Worlds in Valkenburg. It was not good at all. It motivated the team and the riders for this discipline they did not necessarily appreciate before.”
When I spoke to Grappe about the bike’s design process, he painted a picture of extremely close collaboration between the team and Lapierre.
“It was total collaboration with Lapierre. We recruited several experts to transpose new aerodynamic concepts, cycling stability, rigidity and biomechanical position,” he says. “Each expert brought new dimensions.”
“My role was to manage the entire project, co-ordinating the entire team and validating the most relevant concepts. It has taken many years of work to get this result.”
While the new bike took a long time to perfect, plans for a new performance centre have been in gestation for ten years, says Grappe. In January FDJ announced the creation of Performance Pole, based in the eastern French city of Besançon, alongside, alongside news of FDJ’s renewed sponsorship.
With this centre comes a new digital system which allows the tracking of training data, statements of rider form and feelings, as well as an archive of race videos for analysis purposes. Also note the addition of a new nutritional partner.
“This performance model has evolved over several years, with the establishment of a research and development department where we work closely with all our partners,” Grappe says. “The trainers, sports directors and mechanics work together in true synergy, and the implementation of the Performance Pole to formalise all the work was very important.”
Grappe told me that the plans for the centre have been in place for over ten years, citing the specialised training of employees as a reason for the wait.
“We worked for several years on a new training model and the optimisation of all materials, and we knew we were in constant progression,” he says.
“First we had to acquire the confidence of the sporting directors and mechanics, then the riders had to gradually adapt to the new team operating model,” he says. “Finally, we recruited three qualified coaches, each with high-level skills in training, and a high level of expertise in engineering.”
“We also have the web platform which manages the entire training process. My motto is to always make the small innovations for the medium and long term.”
This focus on new training methods and increased specialisation is part of a wider trend of modernisation within French cycling, with FDJ leading the way. Think back to last season and FDJ’s team launch video, which put their increased use of technology front and centre.
Then there’s Francis Mourey – the cyclocross specialist and 11-year FDJ veteran that the team stopped sponsoring late last season. This money has gone towards wind tunnel time and training camps for the road squad, while Mourey now rides for Fortuneo-Vital Concept.
It’s not just FDJ either – in an interview with Rouleur magazine last Autumn, AG2R’s Romain Bardet told of how the team has progressed since he joined.
“This year’s team is nothing like the one I turned professional with in 2012. There is more structure now, more trainers, more training camps, and all my data is analysed. Before I didn’t have a power meter or a coach, and you just tried to do what you could.”
Clearly things are changing. At the end of last year his team were busy hiring another coach – a nutrition specialist.
And as for FDJ, there are plans to expand their system, but Grappe is keeping them to himself for now, telling me “Of course there are plans, but I can’t say more…”
It’s obvious that these teams have looked at how the likes of Team Sky are moving forward and have taken note. Now the onus is on moving away from traditionalism and making inroads into those gains, marginal or not, even if the budgets are incomparable.
But enough about the tech, what about the riders? We’ve heard about two of the big names but there’s a wealth of talent coming up too.
First of all there’s AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, a climber like Pinot and the same age too. He was a revelation at the 2014 Tour de France, finishing sixth overall, and and won the mountain stage to Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne last year, ending up as best Frenchman in ninth.
This season he should be sole leader, given Jean-Christophe Péraud’s advanced age and declining results. At the moment he looks a step behind Pinot, but there’s time.
His teammate Pierre Latour looks a good prospect too. The 22-year-old signed with the team last season and immediately got to work racking up stage race top-ten placings, including the Etoile de Bessegès, Tour de Picardie, Österreich Rundfahrt and the Vuelta a Burgos.
His best results were third at the Route du Sud and Tour de l’Ain and he’s fresh from finishing second overall at the Critérium International. Pais Vasco is up next, and if you want to read more look no further than his recent Rouleur interview.
Sprinter-wise, things are looking good too with Direct Énergie’s 23-year-old Bryan Coquard and Cofidis star Nacer Bouhanni, 25.
A punchy sprinter suited to tougher finishes, Coquard missed out on a big breakthrough victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen by millimetres last week. The flyweight has a grand pedigree, a multiple World Champion in various track disciplines and different age groups. He missed his first main goal of the season, Paris-Nice, with a broken shoulder blade but it’s a case of when, not if, his first big win will come.
Meanwhile, ex-boxer Bouhanni has already arrived, winning five Giro and Vuelta stages in 2014. This season he has won stages at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, and was in the mix for Milano-Sanremo too, until mechanical problems saw him beating up his bike. He’ll be looking cement his place as a top sprinter at the Tour, having crashed out early on last summer.
FDJ’s Marc Sarreau is another fast one. Third at Scheldeprijs last season, he also won a stage of the Tour de Poitou-Charentes. This season he has a handful of top ten finishes to his name, but at 22 he’s still learning.
Julian Alaphilippe is a French rider on a foreign team (Etixx-QuickStep), once a rarity but it’s becoming more commonplace nowadays. The 23-year-old puncheur burst onto the scene last season, finishing second in La Fléche Wallonne and Liége-Bastogne-Liége before heading to the Tour of California, where he won the summit finish on Mount Baldy and almost won the whole race.
However, he suffered from mononucleosis during the offseason and has yet to finish a race in 2016, so maybe expectations should be tempered this spring.
Speaking of the spring, AG2R’s 23-year-old Alexis Gougeard looks a safe bet to be a contender in the cobbled classics in the coming years. He finished 26th in last year’s Paris-Roubaix having featured in the early break, and capped the year with a Vuelta stage win. This season he has a fifth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to his name.
A year younger than Gougeard, Cofidis’ Florian Sénéchal is another for the cobbles. He beat Gougeard into second at Junior Paris-Roubaix in 2011, and has finished 49th and 17th in the past two editions of the senior race. Podium places at Tro-Bro Léon last year and Le Samyn earlier this month underline his potential.
Anthony Turgis is another young gun riding in red. He won Liége-Bastogne-Liége Espoirs in 2014 and took bronze in last season’s U23 Worlds road race, also winning the Boucles de Mayenne stage race earlier in the season. Earlier this month, the 21-year-old puncheur won the Classic Loire Atlantique by over a minute in a race his team dominated.
U23 World Champion Kevin Ledanois, 22, finished third at that race and has had some decent, if not amazing, results since joining what is now Fortuneo-Vital Concept last season. Top ten placings at last year’s Paris-Camembert and Tro-Bro Léon point to his potential but it’s the Worlds title that really stands out.
Lastly we come to Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Guillaume Martin. A staigiare at FDJ in 2014, they let him go and he went on to win Liége-Bastogne-Liége Espoirs and a summit finish at the Tour de l’Avenir last season. A knee operation in February has delayed his debut, but look out for the 22-year-old once he hits the road in April.
So it looks like there’s a lot to look forward to – the empirical and traditional style of training has slowly been pushed away in favour of the more modern, technology and statistic-based methods employed by the best teams in the world.
The results are already showing, and with a large group of promising up-and-comers still learning the ropes as professionals, it seems that things will keep getting better for French cycling.
It’s the second installment of Future Stars this week, and another Belgian, this time it’s Lotto-Soudal’s neo-pro Tiesj Benoot. The 21 year-old has put in a series of impressive performances already this spring, and starts the Ronde van Vlaanderen for the first time this Sunday.
Benoot has been on Lotto-sponsored teams for the majority of his career, with Immo Dejaegher-Lotto his junior team. He was a consistent performer at that level – 2010 saw him regularly take top ten places around Belgium at races in Lierde, Ichtegem, Steenhuize and at Kattekoers. At the Danish stage race the Tour de Himmelfart he fought for the podium almost every day, finishing up 7th overall.
2011 saw him compete in more international competitions, racing in France and Switzerland and scoring numerous top ten placings. A second place in the Oost Vlaanderen provincial TT championship was a highlight. The next season saw him move to the Avia-Fuji team.
He had a good start to 2012, finishing 12th in the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne juniors, but April’s Le Trophée Centre Morbihan saw him in the top six every day and third overall at the end of the stage race. More solid racing at the Czech race Course de la Paix and the GP Général Patton in Luxembourg followed before he went to the Oberösterreich-Rundfahrt in July.
There, after finishing second in a team 1-2 on the first day, he beat Matiej Mohoric to the win on a tough mountainous stage. He eventually took second overall behind the Slovene. More consistent results followed, including third at the Junior Belgian TT Championships and a stage win at Keizer des Juniores.
These strong season-wide performances saw Tiesj selected to the national squad for the Worlds in Valkenburg. On a tough course, he ended up in a creditable 12th place as Mohoric won and teammate Kevin Deltombe took 6th.
Benoot was brought into the Lotto-Belisol setup in 2013, joining their U23 team at the age of 18. He made an immediate impact with a great performance at the Circuit des Ardennes. It’s a 2.2 ranked race, with development teams race against senior Continental teams.
The youngest rider on the team, he was the top performer, finishing in the top five on every day of the hilly four-stage race. He ended up finishing 4th overall and taking the youth and points classifications as he mixed it up with pros Riccardo Zoidl, Markus Eibegger and Andre Steensen.
An 8th place finish at the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a stage win at the Vuelta a Madrid U23 followed, before he took overall victory at the Tour de Moselle in September. Current Etixx-QuickStep rider Julian Alaphilippe was the man he beat into second place, while two teammates filled out the rest of the top four. Tiesj rounded out the year with a 12th place in Paris-Tours espoirs.
Consistency was once again the name of the game in 2014, his last season at U23 level. Benoot started off with the points jersey and second overall at Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, with a great third place in the sprint at the Ronde van Vlaanderen beloften coming a week later. Later in April came a 5th place at U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège – chain trouble prevented him from finishing higher up.
Supporting team leader Louis Vervaeke, the big heroics of the race came on the road to Bagnères-de-Luchon as Benoot took to the front in the final kilometres of the stage, driving onwards with Vervaeke and dropping race leader Alexander Foliforov by over five minutes as every group in the race fell apart under the pressure.
Vervaeke went on to win the race, despite Foliforov’s desperate long-range attack. Meanwhile Tiesj finished 4th overall and took the youth classification too – a great performance all round.
Other highlights of the summer included 15th at the Teunissen-dominated Paris-Roubaix espoirs, 5th at Flèche Ardennaise, and 6th at the U23 European Championships in Switzerland. August saw Benoot join the pro Lotto-Belisol team for a spell as a stagiaire, with impressive results such as third place on a tough stage at Post Danmark Rundt and 4th at the hilly GP Stad Zottegem.
After dropping out of the Tour de l’Avenir due to illness, his 4th place at the U23 Worlds in Ponferrada was a late season highlight. As Sven Erik Bystrøm soloed to the win, Caleb Ewan and Kristoffer Skjerping just edged the Belgian out of the medals. Among his last acts before turning professional were an 8th-placed finish at Memorial Franck Vandenbroucke and helping Jens Debusschere to third at Paris-Tours as he finished 16th himself.
This spring, his first few months as a professional, have seen the man from Gent burst onto the scene. Finshing in 8th place at the second stage of January’s Challenge Mallorca was an early season highlight, but the cobbled races of March are where he’s really moved into the limelight.
At the tough Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, his first northern classic as a pro, he was in the front group until the final climbs and finished among the peloton in a creditable 36th place. A few days later he was in the lead group at Le Samyn.
A toughened-up course saw the addition of more cobbles in the finishing circuit saw Etixx-QuickStep with four riders in the eight-man lead group heading into the final kilometres. The powerhouse Belgian squad duly led-out for Gianni Meersman but Benoot helped teammate Kris Boeckmans secure victory, going on to finish 4th himself.
Since then we’ve seen him sprint to third in the Handzame Classic and finish 6th in the horrific conditions at the Ronde van Zeeland. Last week at Dwars door Vlaanderen he put in a huge amount of work for team leader Jens Debusschere. The chasers didn’t catch the Topsport-led lead group but Benoot won the sprint for 6th, an impressive feat considering how much energy he had expended after leading the charge for almost 40km.
He was active again at E3 Harelbeke, attacking midway through the race as the peloton split up and later leading the chase effort up Tiegemberg – bringing down the gap where three BMC riders had failed. He ended up 18th at the finish, and has since been resting ahead of his first participation at the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday.
While he’s had a great start to his pro career, everyone has to remember that Tiesj is still only 21 years-old. With added hills and kilometres, De Ronde will be a totally different animal to the races he has competed in thus far. He’ll be working for Jens Debusschere and Jurgen Roelandts, but it looks like he will be a leader one day.
Benoot balances his racing with studying economics at Gent University. He looks to have a bright future in racing though, describing himself as an all-rounder with similar qualities to Greg Van Avermaet (albeit on a lower level). Going by what we’ve seen so far it doesn’t look like it will take him too long to reach that level.
The cobbled classics are back underway and with the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen coming towards the end of their careers, the focus naturally turns towards youth.
This season we are spoiled for choice with young cobbled talents making their breakthrough. AG2R have Alexis Gougeard, while at LottoNL-Jumbo there’s Tom Van Asbroeck and Mike Teunissen. Meanwhile Etixx-QuickStep can look to Yves Lampaert in the coming years.
We saw two others at Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen. In the front group there was 23 year-old Edward Theuns, sprinting to second place behind his Topsport Vlaanderen teammate Jelle Wallays to cap a memorable day for the Belgian squad. Just under a minute and a half later came 21 year-old Tiesj Benoot of Lotto-Soudal, winning the sprint for sixth place after leading the chase on behalf of his teammate Jens Debusschere for the best part of 40km.
The two men from Gent will be riding the Ronde van Vlaanderen next week, with Benoot riding today’s E3 Harelbeke and Theuns joint-leader at Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. Here’s a look at what Theuns has done in the past, and what is possible for the future. A piece about Benoot will follow later.
Theuns started out at local club Koninklijke Gent Velosport, combining cycling with playing football for KFC Merelbeke. After some strong results he moved to junior team KSV Deerlijk-Gaverzicht for 2009.
The most notable alumni of the team is the legendary Briek Schotte, winner of two World Championships, two Paris-Roubaix and two editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Others that have passed through the ranks include Marcel Kint, Johan Bruyneel, Patrick Lefevere, Nico Eeckhout and current Etixx-QuickStep rider Julien Vermote.
Back to Theuns and he won his first race (the junior version of the Beverbeek Classic), taking seven other wins before changing team in 2010. The destination was VL Technics Abutriek, which would be his home for the next four seasons.
Combining racing with university studies, Theuns was successful straight away, winning a bunch sprint in the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux stage race. Among the men he beat were now-familiar names like John Degenkolb, Taylor Phinney and Jetse Bol, all of whom were riding for much bigger development squads.
His second season was tougher, the only win coming in a smaller race at the end of the season. 2012 saw him participate in the Ronde van Vlaanderen espoirs for the first time as well as becoming the time trial champion of East Flanders. Later in the year he finished in the top ten of Paris-Tours espoirs.
The final year before turning professional was his best yet with consistent performances throughout the year. Spring saw him win the time trial at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux before finishing sixth at Liège – Bastogne – Liège espoirs and then taking the mountains jersey at the prestigious stage race the Giro della Regione Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
A podium spot in the Belgian U23 TT Championships followed, before finshing eighth at the road race. His reputation as a strong time trialist was further enhanced by a win in the prologue of the Ronde van de Provincie Ost-Vlaanderen. Theuns rounded out his time as an amateur with a call-up to Belgium’s Worlds team and another eighth place Paris-Tours espoirs.
ProContinental team Topsport Vlaanderen came calling, and last year Theuns turned professional. He had a solid start at his new team, taking 21st at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, sprinting to third in the Handzame Classic and finishing Paris-Roubaix.
August was the best month of his first year as a professional though – he outsprinted Marcel Kittel to take third on stage two at the Arctic Race of Norway. Days later his first professional win came at the GP Stad Zottegem, as his team played the finale to perfection for Theuns to win a two-man sprint against Wanty’s Tim De Troyer.
2015 has seen him step up a gear, and three months into the season Theuns leads the UCI Europe Tour by 89 points. He started the season in France, taking seventh at the hilly GP la Marseilaise before consistent riding at the Etoile de Bessèges saw him take the points jersey fter four top ten finishes. Fifth in the sprint at the Clásica de Almería followed, and then a tough time in the mountains at the Vuelta a Andalucía (along with two top ten finishes) set him up for the start of the Belgian season.
Finishing 14th at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne were decent results, especially given how tough the former was. It wouldn’t be much longer until better results came though, winning the sprint from a five man lead group at the Ronde van Drenthe after riding on the front for most of the final kilometre.
The next day he was fourth at the Dwars door Drenthe, before taking fifth place at the weather-affected Ronde van Zeeland Seaports – a race which saw just twenty riders finish. We all know what came next, but we don’t yet know what is to come. Sunday sees the chance to measure himself against some of the best sprinters in the world as Kristoff, Sagan, Cavendish, Degenkolb and Greipel fight it out at Gent-Wevelgem. Beyond that, the big challenges of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix..
Theuns has come to wider prominence on the cobbles, and that looks to be where his future targets lie. Theuns is a great all-rounder though – he is a strong sprinter, can time trial well and can get over hills too. In terms of style, Greg Van Avermaet seems a good comparison to make.
As is usually the case with talented Topsport Vlaanderen riders, a move to the WorldTour beckons. We have seen Kris Boeckmans, Sep Vanmarcke, Yves Lampaert and Tom Van Asbroeck all make the move in recent year, and with Theuns’ contract up at the end of the year it looks like he will follow.
You can follow Edward on Twitter here, and view his palmares here.
For the fourth installment in the series we move away from the Low Countries and into Italy. Hailing from the town of Magenta, west of Milan, Davide Villella is at the beginning his second professional season with the newly-merged Cannondale-Garmin team. With races in Australia already behind him, here’s a look at what got him where he is today and what he could achieve in the future.
The locally-based GC Almenno San Bortolomeo was where he started out – Astana rider Alessandro Vanotti was once a member, so too were Diego Caccia and Sergio Ghisalberti. Villella provided consistent results for the club, with his strongest results coming in 2009, where he achieved 6 podiums. A win at the 51st edition of the Trofeo Comune di Arcore was a highlight, coming in one of his last races before a move up to the U23 level.
UC Bergamasca 1902 was Davide’s destination for 2010. While names like Aru, Moser, Nizzolo and Guardini grabbed all the headlines in in his first two years at U23 level, Villella was still only 19 and would have to wait for his chances. Highlights of 2010 included a fourth place at the Trofeo Monte Bondone (a race as tough as it sounds), and second-place in a UC Bergamasca one-two at the GP Rota Nodari in Almenno San Bortolomeo.
Colpack came calling in 2011. The strong Bergamo-based team has existed in its current form since 2010 and has seen riders like Edoardo Zardini and Gianfranco Zilioli pass through before moving to the professional ranks. If you strain your memory, you might recall Colpack as co-sponsor of the De Nardi team Charly Wegelius turned professional with back in 2003.
With the move came wins – the the first of which came in March at the Coppa del Grano U21 in Tuscany. Two months later he was back in Almenno San Bortolomeo, this time beating Moreno Moser to the win at the Memorial Angelo Ripamonti. Villella was on the podium three other times in May, and later finished in the top ten of the U23 Italian Championships, but 2012 would see him step up a gear.
It was a year that saw him on the top step of the podium no less than eleven times, and May was once again Davide’s best month. At the important Giro della Regione Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Colpack were one of five teams to have bikes and equipment stolen overnight. Davide made up for the loss by winning stages four and five on his spare bike as well as taking the points classification.
A few weeks later he led future Bardiani rider Edoardo Zardini in a Colpack one-two up the steep final slopes of the GP Comune Botticino. At the end of the month came more wins – two out of four stage in the hills around Faenza at the GP Pesca e Nettarina in Emilia-Romagna.
It was great preparation for what would turn out to be the last edition of the Baby Giro (Girobio) in June. Villella missed out on victory in stage three by centimetres in the sprint finish in Sora. The pink jersey was his for a day though, and teammate Zardini finished sixth overall.
By July Davide was back to winning ways, with four victories including the prestigious Ciriè – Pian della Mussa and a night-time finish at the Trofeo Città di Brescia A summit victory and fourth overall in the mountainous Giro della Valli Cuneesi (Zardini won) were great results in the run-up to the Tour de l’Avenir, where he came close to a stage win once again, losing out to Silvan Dillier in a three-man sprint.
Later in the season he was selected for the U23 World Championships in Valkenburg, finishing 74th. Villella’s brilliant season ended with a second place at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, and he ended up top of the Italian U23 ranking, with more wins than anybody in the country.
2013 was to be his last season in the U23 ranks. Villella had less wins, but the ones he got were big, and once again he ended up as the number one amateur in Italy, beating teammate (another now at Bardiani) Nicola Ruffoni into second in the rankings. Strong Spring results, including four podium spots in April, culminated in victory in the Medaglia d’Oro Domenico e Anita Colleoni in May.
Zalf’s Andrea Zordan outsprinted him to victory at the U23 National Championship. It would soon be forgotten though, as the famed Giro della Valle d’Aosta was summer’s main goal. Davide was in top form and third place on stage one was followed up by wins on stages two and four. This all added up to an overall victory and the points jersey – the biggest result of his career to date. Future teammate Davide Formolo was the man he beat into second place.
WorldTour team Cannondale called him up for a spell as a staigiare in August, giving him experience of racing with the pros at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the Brussels Cycling Classic. Sixth at the U23 World Championships in Florence was a strong result, but more was to come in October.
He returned to the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia, this time taking the win by half a minute. Then it was back to Cannondale for the final few races of the season – he exceeded expectations by taking third place finishes at the Coppa Sabatini and Giro dell’Emilia.
Last season was his first as a professional. Sixth in the Trofeo Laigueglia was an early highlight, while he won the mountain classification in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, leading the competition from stage one.
The Giro d’Italia was next on the menu, somewhat surprisingly. Unfortunately Davide’s race ended on stage six to Montecassino – he was caught up in the pileup before the climb and abandoned with a fractured elbow.
He was back racing in June before heading to the Arctic Tour of Norway. Second place on the lumpy opening stage led to fourth overall and the young riders jersey at the end of the race. Later on in the season he rode the Giro di Lombardia for the first time, taking a creditable sixteenth place before following that up with sixth at the Coppa Sabatini.
Davide is part of the merged Cannondale-Garmin squad in 2015, and he has a firm idea of what he wants from the season. Tirreno-Adriatico, the Ardennes and the Giro d’Italia are all on his calendar, while there is no doubt that his home race in Lombardia will be a big target, both now and in the future.
I think that the Race of the Falling Leaves is a very realistic target – he is strong in the hills and has a good sprint to go with it. It’s a versatile skillset that can make success in a wide variety of races possible. Hilly one-day races, and there are lots of them on the calendar, seem a perfect fit.
Sadly, we haven’t yet seen how well Davide can climb in the professional peloton. Thanks to his Giro crash, the only true mountain stage under his belt is the Kitzbüheler Horn stage of the Tour of Austria, his first race back from injury. It will be interesting to see how a healthy Villella copes in the high mountains this May.
One thing we can be sure about is how lucky Cannondale-Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters has been to find himself in the situation of being able to bring in Villella. Along with Moreno Moser and Davide Formolo, the team look like they have a good chunk of the future of Italian cycling on board.
The first future star of 2015 is Dutchman Mike Teunissen, a new signing at Team LottoNL – Jumbo. A convert from cyclocross, the 22 year-old is forgoing the cross season for the first time this season as he looks to concentrate purely on the road.
His first team as a junior was the Jagersveld-Merida team (now OrangeBabies). In the 09-10 cross season he was consistent in the Superprestige, racking up three 2nd places as well as a win at Diegem before finishing third in the national championships. Those results, as well as a fourth place in the junior version of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad saw Rabobank-Giant come calling, and the 2010-11 season was his first in the setup that brought him to where he is now.
Second place finishes at the National Championships and the Worlds were the highlights of his second season at junior level. Lars Van Der Haar was the winner on both occasions – he moves up to Giant-Alpecin for 2015. The 2011-12 season saw him narrowly miss out at the European Championships in Lucca, Italy to Van Der Haar, while his compatriot also nabbed the Superprestige title away from him. Despite two wins and three podium places, Teunissen’s twelfth place in the final round at Middelkerke saw him finish as the runner-up in the overall ranking.
The highlight of his time on the road in 2012 was an eighth place in Paris-Roubaix espoirs (the edition which Bob Jungels won), while fifth on GC at the Triptyque Ardennais stage race was another strong result. Teunissen hit the big time in the 2012-13 cross season, as he won the European Championship in Ipswich before taking the big one – the Worlds in Louisville. That season also saw two wins in the Superprestige as well as his first win in the UCI World Cup at Tabor.
While he hit his peak of his cross career, Teunissen’s results on the road were improving too. 2013 saw him finish runner-up to Dylan Van Baarle in the National Championships, while top ten finishes at the Tour des Fjords and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Espoirs were additional strong performances. His first win in a UCI-classified race came in September at the 1.2 ranked Baronie Breda Classic.
It was back to cyclocross for one last time (so far) last winter. The highpoint of the season was a win at Zonhoven in the World Cup, as young guns Mathieu Van Der Poel and Wout Van Aert made their presence felt (the pair have now stepped up to the senior cyclocross calendar and are winning there too). Teunissen’s intentions would become clear as soon as the road season started though..
Last season was the clearest insight yet into the potential of the Dutchman. Fifth place at the U23 version of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen was followed up in June by a dominating performance at Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. After breaking away from the main field along with teammate Ricardo Van Dongen and BMC Development riders Tyler Williams and Bas Tietema, Teunissen simply rode away on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, riding over the line 1:15 ahead of anyone else.
A week later, he finished in third place at the 2.1 ranked stage race Boucles de Mayenne. Later in the month a strong showing saw him finish second at the U23 TT National Championships – it was a signal of what to expect in the final weeks of the season. He doubled up at the Baronie Breda Classic before ending his U23 career with victory at Paris-Tours Espoirs after he and two teammates attacked over 30km from the line.
It all points to a bright future for the Limburg native. In an interview last August he said that his sights are set on trying the larger Spring Classics, saying “I would gain experience by working for the leaders.” Not every rider can burst onto the scene like Tom Boonen, and Teunissen is aware of that, though he wants to leave an impression in his first pro season “I don’t want to shout from the rooftops that I will be going for wins, but I will try to show as much as possible.”
His cyclocross career isn’t over though, just put on hold – “I won’t stop permanently. It’s not possible to do a full program and then peak at the end of March for the Spring Classics.” He certainly has every chance to succeed as part of the new guard of riders at LottoNL-Jumbo such as Moreno Hofland, Wilco Kelderman and Sep Vanmarcke. The Belgian, one of the world’s best cobbled riders, will be a valuable teammate for Teunissen as he looks to learn how to compete at the highest stage of all.
It’s the second in the series and another Belgian – BMC staigiare Dylan Teuns. He has already signed a contract with the team, which will have a more youth-oriented feel next year as Joey Rosskopf, Manuel Senni, Campbell Flakemore and Stefan Küng join the likes of Rick Zabel and Rohan Dennis on the roster.
22 year-old Teuns hails from Diest in the Flemish Brabant, not too far from the hilly region of Limburg. Indeed the hills have been his favoured terrain thus far in his career, though he has had some strong results on the cobbles too. As a junior he raced for Avia, a team affiliated with Omega Pharma – QuickStep. In his two years there he showed his talent in the northern classics, beating the Yates brothers to take sixth place at the Junior Ronde Van Vlaanderen in 2009 and winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Juniors the following year.
2011 saw Teuns move up to the Continental Jong Vlaanderen – Bauknecht team. It was a tough first year, with no racing before April and no major results to speak of. Things improved season-by-season though – the following year he took fourth overall at the Ronde de l’Isard, an important race on the espoirs scene. He also raced the Tour de l’Avenir as well as getting a taste of the action alongside top pros at the Belgian Championships and Paris-Bruxelles.
The next edition of the Ronde de l’Isard saw another consistent performance from Teuns – finishing in the top ten every day and ending up third overall. Fifth place in Liège – Bastogne – Liège Espoirs was another highlight of 2013 as he confirmed his talent for racing in the hills. A stage win at the Triptyque Ardennais backed this up.
I know what you’re thinking – he seems a good prospect but a future star? I’d be inclined to agree but his performances in 2014 have been much improved. After three years at Jong Vlaanderen he moved to BMC’s Development Team at the start of this season. At Liège – Bastogne – Liège Espoirs he was narrowly outsprinted by Anthony Turgis in the velodrome (yes, it finishes on a velodrome). Winning the senior version of the race is his dream, and he certainly seems to have the characteristics to suit.
Later in the month, Teuns grabbed his first win of 2014 at the hilltop finish of stage three of the Tour de Bretagne. He finished second overall on GC after a consistent performance. Teuns’ next big result came in Belgium in July, where he lost out in a two-man sprint for the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Beloften.
His last race before joining BMC’s senior team as a stagiaire was the Giro della Valle d’Osta. Stage 3 saw him solo away from his breakmates with 20km remaining to take the win on the undulating stage to Morillon. The Tour of Utah was his first race as part of the senior squad – he wasn’t eyecatching but took the young riders jersey nonetheless.
Soon after he took a win at the Tour de l’Avenir. On the summit finish of Carroz d’Arâches he attacked the peloton with 2km remaining and held them all off for his third victory of the season, and his first in the famous Belgian colours.
It was back to BMC in September and off to the Tour of Britain, a race he had a lot of praise for when I spoke to him on the final day. He was in contention for the podium until the stages in London, where he dropped down to tenth overall in the time trial. A highlight of the race was third place on the hilly finish in Bristol.
Sixth at the GP Wallonie followed (teammate Greg Van Avermaet was the winner), and he participated in the U23 World Championship Road Race for the first time. Teuns ended the season on a strong note, taking second at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia and on the attack from the chasing group in the finale of Paris-Tours.
BMC looks like a good place for Teuns to go next season. With a new group of younger riders at the team and some veterans leaving there should be a good deal of chances for him and others to prove themselves in the WorldTour. Some of the best puncheurs in the sport (Gilbert, Van Avermaet) are already at the team and they seem like ideal mentors for him. If Van Avermaet can help Teuns out with his sprint then he could make a formidable package in hills in years to come.
In the first of a new series that will run through the off-season I’ll be taking a look at some of the potential future stars of cycling. Some are already racing at the top level and starting to make their mark, while others are poised to move up to the big leagues next season. One thing they all have in common is talent, and although that alone isn’t a guaranteed signifier of success, I think we’ll be hearing some of these names a lot in the future.
It’s been expected for a while, but the age-old team currently known as Belkin will continue next season as TEAMLottoNL. The Dutch squad have secured new sponsors in the form of the national lottery De Lotto and loyalty programme company BrandLoyalty.
What does this have to do with young cyclists? Well the first order of business for the team, according to Dutch newspaper Telegraaf, has been to secure the signature of promising Belgian youngster Tom Van Asbroeck from the ProContinental Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise team.
The 24 year-old is a cobbled specialist with a strong sprint, and he likes the hills too. Put these three qualities together and only one race springs to mind – the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Van Asbroeck rode the race for the second time in his career this season, finishing in 71st place.
He hails from the European cycling heartland of Flanders. The city of Aalst, situated halfway between Gent and Brussels, doesn’t have a massive cycling pedigree though. No major races visit and the biggest name to previously emerge from the town is ex-QuickStep rider Kevin Van Impe.
To rewind a few years, he rode as an amateur with the Van Der Vurst Development Team in 2011. Tom was consistent all season, rarely finishing outside the top ten. He only won one race, but it was a big one – the U23 version of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where he outsprinted a small group at the finish.
After a single season with Van Der Vurst, he was signed up by current team Topsport Vlaanderen. It’s the same place where future teammate Sep Vanmarcke started his pro career, while others like Björn Leukemans, Leif Hoste, John Gadret and Thomas de Gendt all got their starts there.
In his first season with the team, Van Asbroeck won the 1.2 ranked races GP van der stad Geel and the Beverbeek Classic, both in reduced bunch sprints. He also had the opportunity to ride his first WorldTour races, finishing both Gent-Wevelgem and the Eneco Tour, while he grabbed tenth place at his first Belgian National Championships.
The highlight of Tom’s season though, was a bronze medal at the U23 race at the World Championships in Valkenburg. After a tough race he sprinted to third place behind Alexey Lutsenko and Bryan Coquard, who are now at Astana and Europcar respectively.
2013 saw more progression as he rode the full complement of Flanders Classics. The man from Aalst experienced the Ronde Van Vlaanderen for the first time, finishing (an achievement in itself) 79th. There were to be no wins, though he did show his sprint prowess with several podium finishes in stages of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen and the Tour de Wallonie.
Most of his August was spent in Norway, where he grabbed a couple of top ten placings on GC. He almost beat Thor Hushovd in a stage of the Arctic Tour, while in the Tour des Fjords he was never out of the top ten.
Onto this season, and it has been an incredibly successful one. As of the end of September, Tom leads the UCI Europe Tour after a very consistent past few months. Earlier in the season, he took the mountains jersey at the Vuelta a Andalucia before winning the hilly Cholet-Pays de Loire classic in March. A successful spring was rounded out by 6th and 7th place finishes at Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
In July he took another win, this time at the Tour de Wallonie, where he sprinted to victory in Waremme en route to a 4th place finish on GC. Since August Tom has been a podium regular in the slew of classics he has contested (see below), and should he keep this form up it looks like he’ll secure his place at the top of the Europe Tour.
With riders like Lars Boom and Lars Petter Nordhaug leaving Belkin at the end of this season, it looks like Tom will get good chances to prove himself further at the top level with TEAMLottoNL. The team are certainly investing in the future, as 2014 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs winner Mike Teunissen is also making the step up. They are certainly ones to keep an eye out for next spring, with the talented Sep Vanmarcke leading the way.
Going by his career thus far it seems as though barely anything is out of bounds for this young prodigy. His surprise win in Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday, on a stage where most expected the finish to be contested by the like of Cadel Evans, Michele Scarponi and Vincenzo Nibali, saw the 22-year-old all-rounder came through to take the win ahead of Roman Kreuziger and teammate Vincenzo Nibali.
With this in mind, lets take a look at what Sagan has achieved so far, and what he could do in future.
We already know what he can do in what most people see as his favourite terrain – short sharp hills. In 2010, he burst onto the scene at Paris-Nice, beating Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador into Aurillac after the short sharp Côte de la Martinie. Good placings towards the end of the year in the Giro del Veneto, Giro della Romagna and GP de Montréal confirmed this promise, and last year his domination at the Tour de Pologne erased any doubt that he would be a star of the future on hilly terrain.
His sprinting talent is clear for all to see. From the points classification in his first Paris-Nice and his stage wins at the Tour of California over the past two years, to his victories in the Vuelta last year, his immense talent in this discipline has been obvious for some time. However, we have yet to see him prevail against the likes of Greipel and Cavendish in a flat-out sprint. With Milan-San Remo fast approaching, maybe we won’t have to wait long.
Sagan has, however, proven more talented at shorter TTs and prologues (as one would expect from a sprinter). Last year’s podium finish in the Tour de Suisse 7.3km TT and his showings at the same race and Paris-Nice one year earlier prove this. So far then, it looks as if hilly week-long stage races will be his playground in the future.
We haven’t really had much to go on so far in his professional career. At junior Paris-Roubaix in 2008 he finished runner-up to Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s now neo-pro Andrew Fenn, so there is certainly some promise in this area. Last year he made it to the end of his first ever men’s Paris-Roubaix, finishing in 86th place. We will have to wait and see how he progresses in this discipline, but the potential is certainly there.
Last, but not least we come to climbing. In 2010, we got a taste of his climbing ability when he stuck with the lead group on the climbing stage to Big Bear Lake and then won the sprint – this on a day when Boonen, Bos, Haedo, Cavendish, Renshaw and Chicchi all failed to finish or missed the time cut. While this stage wasn’t as strenuous a mountain-top finish as we see in the Grand Tours, it still showed that he could climb mountains as well as hills.
On the Tour de Suisse stage to Grindewald last year, Sagan put in yet another shock performance, hanging in with the lead group over the cols, before putting in a fantastic descent, and winning the stage. In the process beating riders such as the Grand Tour winners Damiano Cunego and Danilo Di Luca, as well as the Schleck brothers and climber Juan Mauricio Soler.
So there is no doubt that he has some talent when it comes to the big mountains too. However, tomorrow he will find himself in an entirely new position. Sagan is in 4th place on the Tirreno-Adriatico GC, surrounded by some of the world’s premium mountain climbing talent – names such as Horner, Kreuziger, Di Luca, Nibali, Rodriguez, Scarponi and Garzelli. This is the first time he will find himself going into a mountain stage with a GC place to fight for.
The final mountain is a tough one to race up this early in the season, with a 6.9% average, including a short section of 12% towards the beginning. This is the big test of Peter Sagan’s climbing ability, and while it sounds absurd to be judging a rider already at the age of 22, the result of the stage might give us some idea of whether this guy could be someone who can contend in pretty much any kind of race.
Peter Sagan can already be considered as one of the best all-rounders in today’s peloton, and to achieve what he has done already, at such a young age, is quite incomprehensible. But there will certainly be more to come. With his talents for sprinting and climbing hills, races like the World Championships, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the points classifications at Grand Tours should one day be well within his grasp.
We haven’t seen him properly tested on the cobbles yet, but he seems like the type of rider that could go well at a hilly cobbled classic such as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. And how about Grand Tour GC aspirations? He isn’t currently the type of rider that one would expect to be fighting for the overall win at the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, but with so much talent it’s hard to rule anything out.
Today could give us an idea of just how many strings this amazing young talent has in his bow.
Ok, so this makes me look like a massive bandwagon jumper, but I have followed Sep’s progress for a few years now. I can’t say with any truth that I followed his performances before he broke into the consciousness of cycling fans with his podium finish at Gent-Wevelgem in 2010, but from that point on, it was obvious he would be a big talent for the future. Continue reading “Sep Vanmarcke: Future Monument Winner!”→