Norwegian team Hitec-Mistral Products furthered their claim to the title of The Best and Most Lovable Little Team In The World (a title vacated some years ago by previous holder Garmin when they turned to the dark side) by signing up two of the brightest stars of this year's World Championships race in Valkenburg, Silver medal winner mature-age cyclist (is that some sort of mysterious Aussie slang?) Rachel Neylan and up-and-coming Italian talent (although not at all unknown at the Café) Rossella Ratto.
Neylan has had what is politely called an interesting path to the top. A late starter in cycling, she came to Europe in 2010 courtesy of a scholarship with the Amy Gillett Foundation, got herself sufficiently noticed to score a contract with Diadora - Pasta Zara in 2011, then spent a year alternating great results and breaking bones. On the men's side of the sport you can shrug off one bad season, but for the women you end up right at the bottom again. At least the way up is a bit more familiar second time around. Some great results both with Abus Nutrixxion, and then in a few end of season mixed squads (as both the increased race schedule in the build up to the Olympics and the sharp increase in the price of fuel seemed to lead to more than a few teams shutting up early as they ran out of money) led to a recall to the Olympic team. Then when the nominal Australian leaders failed to follow Marianne Vos across to the break ahead, Rachel showed that she had more than enough power left in her tank to make it to the end.
Ratto should by all rights be a total unknown. A first year senior, possibly the youngest rider in the race (she doesn't even turn nineteen until later this month), but Café regulars will have read plenty about her. She's been dominating her age group for years. Every year Italian broadcaster RAI and Cycling Magazine Tuttobici get together to present what they call their cycling Oscars, and for the past four or five years, Ratto has won in her particular category. She won the Silver medal at the Junior Worlds back in 2010 behind one Pauline Ferrand Prevot, and just missed out in 2011 when she was caught a few hundred metres from the finish line. This year she has gained an impressive number of top 10 places including at races as prestigious as the Giro del Trentino and the Giro Donne, at the head of a Verinlegno-Fabiani squad very much built around her.
And Hitec continue to impress. What started out after the 2008 as a back of the envelope plan to improve the Norwegian women's cycling team in time for the 2012 Olylmpics has just grown and grown in ambition and ambit, yet somehow never lost that Norwegian focus. For the past two years Emma Johansson has been the force driving them on. Elisa Longo Borghini arrived from Italy just last year and seems to have found a place that suits her well. The omens look good for Neylan and Ratto.