Okay, I was just enjoying the alliteration there...I could have used fancy instead of follow but some of you might have taken that too literally. Anyways, I digress...
The next five young riders I will be giving to you have a fast finish in one way or another. Some might be bunch sprinters while others might be a small-group specialists but these guys will be going for wins in their first year in the big leagues.
Bryan Coquard (Europcar)
Age: 20 DOB: April 25th, 1992
From: Saint-Nazaire, Loire-Atlantique, France
Before the season began, Bryan Coquard was touted as a huge talent following his exploits on the boards of the London Olympic Velodrome where he grabbed a silver medal in the men's omnium. Coquard was a prodigy on the boards, winning two omnium world titles as a junior and 4 French elite titles, and his London performance was the icing on the cake. Yet while Coquard's indoor exploits were written about profusely, his achievements on the road with the Vendée U amateur team is what secured him his contract with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's Europcar squad.
When first looking at him, Coquard does not appear to be a rider that contains a hellacious sprint. Coming in at only 1.69m (5 feet 6.5") and 59 kilos (130 lbs), Coquard is the antithesis of guys like Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel but contains an explosive sprint. Coqaurd signed with Europcar's feeder team Vendée U in 2011 after running a year with local US Pontchâtelaine during his last year in the junior ranks where he was able to go 2nd in the European Championships in Ankara. His first year in the U23s was a teething year, riding a large track schedule to qualify for the Olympics while riding a road program that consisted of a number of smaller French amateur races.
2012 proved to everyone that Coquard was bound for the road. Coquard posted 9 wins including the GP Cristal Energie and GP Plouay amateur race. Even in races where breakaways got away, Coqaurd showed himself in the field sprints as evident by over 30 top ten finishes in 2012. The place where most saw him show his talents on the road was as the U23 World RR Championships in Valkenburg. Coming into the final meters, Coquard dashed up the right side of the course, going faster than anyone else, but was centimeters short of taking the World title from Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko.
GP Plouay video:
2013 has been very promising from the start for Coquard. Switching from the red of Vendée U to the green of Europcar, Coquard gained a mentor in Sebastian Chavanel, the former promising sprinter who has transitioned to a leadout man for Coquard. As the team lined up for Etoile de Besseges, expectations were low for Coquard as the team did not want to shoulder the burden on the young rider. In the first sprint, Coqaurd had to hop a curb at around 400 meters to go and "followed wheels" (as he puts it) to 6th place. Dissapointed in himself, Coquard came out on the 2nd day and blew the doors off everyone.
The young rider didn't know what to think when Pierre Rolland and Thomas Voeckler, two venerable Tour de France riders, were working for him in the final kilometers. He felt euphoric and his DS Dominique Arnould said that his contract was fulfilled but with this, the media swarm will begin. Coquard has stated that the media swarm has gotten to him a bit in the past but he is confident in his talents. Coquard went on to win the 4th stage of the race in another storming effort.
Where is he at next?: Coquard will be seen next at the Tour de Langkawi in Malaysia where he will be able to butt heads Theo Bos (Blanco) and Andrea Guardini (Astana). I do not want to over hype Coquard but his sprint...it is something to behold.
Enrico Barbin (Bardiani Valvole - CSF Inox)
Age: 22 DOB: March 4th, 1990
From: Treviglio, Bergamo, Lombardia, Italy
Fun Fact: Trained as a surveyor Twitter: @barbenry
While the majority of the attention of Barbiani Valvole - CSF Inox goes to the hyped Sacha Modolo, there is a wealth of Italian talent waiting in the wings. Included in this group is probably the gem of the U23 class from last year, Enrico Barbin. While the majority of the cycling fan base has probably never heard of the Lombardian, his combination of climbing and sprint will make him one to watch for the future.
Barbin began riding in his teens and had promising results in his junior years. Barbin's first year in the U23 ranks was a rough transition and little came out of the season. 2010 saw him join manager Mirko Rossato and Italian powerhouse Trevigiani Dynamon Bottoli (the amateur team of riders such as Napolitano, Malori, Nizzolo and a host of others) and Barbin began to flourish. Barbin thought he was originally a climber but as he progressed, he began to use his sprint more frequently. 2010 saw him take his first win. 2011 saw him take two as apart of a team that had 62 wins during the season. While Barbin was talented, he was not at the top of his class...well not until 2012.
Barbin's training and frustration over a lack of results finally was alleviated by a smashing 2012 campaign. Barbin won the Piccola Sanremo in a 5-man sprint that included Fabio Aru. Barbin took a bunch sprint behind teammate Daniele Dall'Oste at the Giro del Belvedere (Video). Enrico then went on to take a head-to-head sprint win over Alexey Lutsenko at the Toscana - Coppa della Nazioni Nations Cup race.
His white-hot late spring began at the historic GP della Liberazione. Also a word of advice, if you ever find yourself in conversation with Francesco Moser, don't bring up this race unless you want to hear all about Italian communists.
Barbin went on to win 3 more races in 3 different fashions: bunch sprint, solo breakaway and a two-up sprint (with Garmin recruit Rohan Dennis). Barbin capped off his early season with strong performances in the GiroBio (Baby Giro) with with a 2nd place on stage 5 and then this performance on stage 6...
Barbin's season cooled off towards late summer and into the fall but still included strong performances including a podium at the Piccolo Giro di Lombardia. This brings me to my concern about Barbin. While he had all of these strong performances in April-June, he did tail off a bit at the end of the season and was apart of the Italian Worlds team that fell flat at Valkenburg, a course which should have suited him. Will he be able to transition into the pro's where a rider on a Pro Continental cannot always rely on a strong diet of racing before a target event? That remains to be seen but his 30+ top tens from 2012 are certainly an accomplishment.
Where can I see him next?: Barbin will make his debut this weekend at Trofeo Laigueglia and will be present at many of the Italian one-day races up until Coppi e Bartali, where a decision on whether he will be in the Giro di Italia team will be made.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana)
Age: 20 DOB: September 7th, 1992
From: Petropavl, Kazakhstan (Northern Kazakhstan near Russian border)
Hailing from the same town as the legendary Alexander Vinokourov, Lutsenko has big shoes to fill when he entered sports school at 13 under the tutelage of Victor Potapov. Lutsenko has been one of the golden boys of the Kazakh development program since his junior days. He was the Asian Junior champion in 2010 along with a stage win in the prestigious Drei Ettapen Rundfahrt (Frankfurt). As with most young Kazakh riders, Lutsenko stayed with familiar settings and rode with the Kazakh national team in 2011. Most first-year espoir riders don't make a very big splash as they have to find their feet in the U23 ranks, where the races are faster and longer than in their junior days. Lutsenko exceeded expectations with both his climbing and sprinting abilities, excelling at difficult stages where many pure sprinters cannot hang on. Lutsenko was able to manage 14th overall at the Tour de l'Avenir in his first attempt along with strong first group finishes in classics such as La Cote Picardie and the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Lutsenko is a bit of an enigma when it comes to defining what he specializes in. He climbs too well on legitimate mountain stages to be classified as a sprinter and yet he has a great turn of speed that you cannot label him a pure climber. Coupling this with his decent TT skills, he defines the word all-arounder but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to keep this up when he makes his pro debut this season.
I make mention of his all-around skills because his 2012 campaign contained big results that were all over the board: bunch sprints, solo climbing wins, small breakaway sprints and high finishes in select time trials. He was beaten by Enrico Barbin in one of the videos above in a two up sprint in one stage of the Toscana - Coppa della Nazioni, a race where he also held the leader's jersey for a brief time. He was 3rd overall at Coupe des Nations - Ville de Saguenay after scooping up bonus seconds in multiple breakaways. Not to be outdone, he posted six top 10 finishes at the Thüringen Rundfahrt along with 8th overall.
After going 2nd in both elite races at Kazakh Nationals, Lutsenko lined up for the important Giro della Valle d'Aosta Mont Blanc, the 3rd biggest stage race on the U23 calendar. Not looking for a high overall finish, Lutsenko struck out on the attack as often as he could. After 2nd on stage 2, Lutsenko got into the break on stage 5...
Even with this breakthrough win, Lutsenko had his eyes set on the Tour de l'Avenir, the crown jewel of the U23 calendar. In the run-up, Lutsenko competed against some legit pros at the Tour de l'Ain where he was able to finish 2nd on one stage, taking the chase group sprint over Talansky, Cataldo and Coppel, and 11th overall. As l'Avenir started, Lutsenko put himself in good position and put himself in good position before the first of 3 mountain stages. As if he took a page out of Vino's playbook, Lutsenko faltered on the first mountain stage, losing time and any shot at the G.C. crown. To make amends for this, Lutsenko did what he does best and attacked, winning the shortened stage to Les Saisies after attacking multiple times and out sprinting Ian Boswell (now SKY) for the stage win. Lutsenko won the super combative prize for the race along with 11th overall.
The world championships course at Valkenburg looked like a perfect course for a rider such as Lutsenko; it was not incredibly hard but hard enough to either shell sprinters or deaden their sprints. Lutsenko, who won a stage of the Tour of Bulgaria in the run-up, was plan A for the Kazakh squad, who were putting all of their chips on the race coming together for a sprint. As the race swallowed up the breakaway as they approached the final left hander into the Cauberg, the pieces were all fitting together...
Lutsenko wept as he rolled to a stop and the emotion poured over him. It makes me wonder what he was thinking. Life could have been so much different for him; he could be stuck back in Petropavl and working in a factory or in an oil field. Cycling was his escape and he reached a high that few get to experience.
Where can I see him next?: How the hell should I know? What do I look like...the Kazakh Times? Lutsenko was scrubbed off the startlists of Oman and Langkawi. At this point the first race you might see him at is the Driedaagse de Panne, which seems quite late for him to start the season. As he has no twitter and the team is about as closed as Katusha when it comes to rider updates, there is no way of knowing what he is up to.
Steele von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp)
Age: 25 DOB: December 31st, 1987
From: Moorooduc, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Twitter: @SteeleVH
Fun Fact: He is a welder that is certified in boiler making
Finally, a real sprinter to talk about. No more lightweights. A real proper bloke who can sprint, guzzle a beer and then wrestle a bear. From this point on, no riders will be under...70kg. Okay, so maybe these guys aren't rugby players. Anyways, as you might have noticed, von Hoff is a bit older than your typical neo-pro. Steele tried his hand at about every other form of riding before he got himself on a road bike in 2010. He started out with recumbent bikes (who would admit this?) which led to triathlons which took him to MTB and finally riding on the road. 2010 saw him take a few wins on the Australian National circuit where he was first able to showcase his sprint.
2011 saw von Hoff join Andrew Christie-Johnson's Genesys Wealth Advisers and while he already found success with his sprint, no one expected what occurred that season. Von Hoff exploded for 17 wins on the Australian continental circuit, out sprinting all-comers and making heads turn. While he is capable of a massive sprint, he was already able to hang tough on circuits that would shell other sprinters. In his first attempt at the elite national RR, von Hoff rode to a strong 13th place where he finished with the likes of Leigh Howard, Michael Matthews, Baden Cooke and Allan Davis. His impressive 2011 was capped off by a strong ride in the Herald Sun Tour, which included a 2nd place against wünderkind Marcel Kittel.
Following his exploits of 2011, von Hoff was signed by Jonathan Vaughter's Chipotle Development team. WIth Allan Peiper in the follow car and always quick to impress, von Hoff went 6th in the Aussie RR. After a testing Tour Down Under, von Hoff immediately came to play in Europe. In his first race on European soil, von Hoff went 2nd to Roy Jans (now Accent Jobs) in a sprint at the Kattekoers. By April, von Hoff already had a European win, a stage at the Tour du Loir-et-Cher, and added to his tally in May at the Olympia's Tour
Following two stage wins at the Tour de la Guadeloupe, von Hoff set out on a stagiaire role for Garmin-Sharp, a team which had been lacking a knock-out sprinter. In his first race with the team, the Tour of Denmark, von Hoff was able to podium on the 2nd stage behind Andre Greipel and Michael van Staeyen. Von Hoff followed this up by hanging with the front group at the World Ports Classic by what he described as the hardest day of racing he has ever experienced (the front group averaged over 51 km/h for 4 hours) and ended up 6th overall.
Steele even went up against Mark Cavendish at the Tour of Britain and held his own on stage 4 into Blackpool
To cap off his impressive season, von Hoff went 19th at Paris-Tours, showing that he has the legs to go the distance in big races. Von Hoff was already able to show himself in the early season this year with Garmin-Sharp by going 3rd at the Aussie Nats RR and getting a 5th place on the first stage of the Tour Down Under. A big question from von Hoff this year is how many chances he will be able to get with Tyler Farrar back to concentrating on sprints for this season. Will he be able to get support in the sprints with a proper train or will he be relying on his mate Nathan Haas to give him a solo leadout the majority of the time? While this remains to be seen, expect to see von Hoff at the front of the race this year, especially when the course is a bit tougher than normal.
Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Argos-Shimano)
Age: 24 DOB: February 3rd, 1989
From: Virginia, Free State, South Africa (raised and lives in Pretoria) Twitter: @ReinardtvRnsbrg
So you thought von Hoff winning 17 races in a season was a big deal? Think again...For the last two seasons, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg has been a prodigious talent, racking up 27 wins and turning the heads of big teams in Europe. His all-around ability has taken him to great heights and he is now ready to show them off on the biggest stage. For all of his success the last few years, Reinardt has not always been the next-big-thing and he has had to get past his own doubts.
Choosing cycling over rugby at age 14, Reinardt was able to taste early success as a junior by taking the U14 and U16 South African TT titles along with winning the U16 National Tour. Reinardt didn't experience a great leap forward though once he got out of the junior ranks. While he got results, they were all in SA and after a while, it is hard to picture ones self getting out of the national racing scene and being able to go abroad.
I've written about Reinardt before so I won't go into as much depth. In 2010, Reinardt signed with Douglas Ryder's MTN-Energade squad. This did wonders for his confidence as he was now able to get outside of South Africa and ride the African continental circuit. He was able to show that he was a consistent sprinter along with being able to go with leading groups on difficult forces and not just sit in the pack and wait for a sprint. This continued in 2011 where he was able to ride a bigger calendar and even took a big sprint win at the Herald Sun Tour along with 22 other top ten finishes.
2012 was the season that the World Tour teams were lining up for his signature. His season started off fast with winning the SA TT championship and a 2nd in the RR behind Robbie Hunter. His team MTN-Qhubeka then went to the Tour du Maroc and won 8 out of 9 stages where Reinardt won 4 of them and the overall. Then he followed the team for their first long-term European foray which was to last two months and he got everything out of it. Over this stretch, Reinardt recorded 6 wins, two of which were overall wins, and 2 points classifications along with 10 more top ten finishes, two more of which were from G.C. finishes.
His crowning achievement was his breakaway sprint victory of Lars Boom (Rabo) and Gijs van Hoecke (Topsport Vlaanderen) at the Ronde van Zeeland Seaports
After a two month break, he and his team came back for the Volta a Portugal. Wasting not time, Reinardt won the opening prologue and then went on to finish 2nd in three more stages, including a 32km TT. On stage 10, he finally broke through on a sprint win, beating out Boy van Poppel, and secured his points jersey overall.
Back home in Pretoria, Reinardt experienced the greatest tragedy of his young life as his father Anton, the man who got him involved in the sport, took his own life after suffering from bipolar disorder for many years. Anton bought Reinardt his first bike when he was 13 and continuously supported his riding. To tribute his father in a fitting way, Reinardt soloed to victory at the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge and pointed to the sky in honor of his late father.
Reinardt signed with Argos-Shimano on a neo-pro deal for 2013 and '14 and is on a team that houses a bevy of sprinters and young talent. Ever since the signing was announced, I have been trying to think of what his role in the team will be. Obviously he has a sprint on him but on a team with Kittel, Degenkolb and even Tom Veelers, will he be able to get his own chances? His sprint is not as strong as the first two and where he will most likely find success is in one-day races and stages where the race is more selective. He will have to work in the train but with his TT skills, he should be able to find success in short stage races.
Where can I see him next?: Remember those short stage races I was just talking about? Reinardt will be at Ruta del Sol, which starts tomorrow, and starts off with a short prologue, which plays right into his wheelhouse. Past that, he is on provisional start lists for the Driedaagse van West Vlaanderen (has a short TT), Nokere Koerse (uphill cobble sprint) and the Driedaagse de Panne, which also has a TT. Really, do not be surprised if he podiums any of these races. He is primed and ready to go.
Danny van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM)
Age: 19 DOB: July 26th, 1993 Twitter: @Dannyvanpoppel
Child of old man sprinter and DS Jean-Paul van Poppel and brother of Boy van Poppel. One big happy family. He was a bit of a prodigy in the junior ranks, splitting time between road and 'cross and excelling at both. He gave up cross after his last junior season and chose to focus on the road with Rabo Continental. He had very good results in the early season with eight top 5 finishes. He broke through at the Thüringen Rundfahrt where he won two stages and the TTT with his team.
He won another stage at the Vuelta a Leon in August and then had three top 5 finishes in three stages of the Tour de l'Avenir. I was surprised when he was called up so soon by Vacansoleil but JP probably had some influence on that decision. I don't exactly know how many chances he will get. There is Feillu, Marcato, van Hummel, Markus, Bole, Boeckmans and even his brother that can contend in a sprint finsh. So he will have to make his own chances because there is no way the team will put all their chips in his corner.
Where can I see him next?: He just finished up at Oman and had an 8th place on the final sprint stage. He is on startlists for Almeria, West Vlaanderen and Nokere Koerse.
Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana)
Age: 25 DOB: March 7th, 1987 Hometown: Petropavl, Kazakhstan
Another mysterious Kazakh that I really don't know a whole lot about. He is another late bloomer that is finally getting his chance on the World Tour but how many Kazakhs have we seen that get their two year contract and then disappear afterwards? He has been racing in Italy and France since he turned elite but never turned any major results until 2010. Riding with the Kazakh National team, he scored results all over the Asian Tour, grabbing sprint podiums at Langkawi and Qinghai Lakes. He got a stagiaire ride with Astana in 2011 which got him a ride on Astana Continental for 2012.
He had a slew of results last season with about 25 top 5 finishes, which included 4 wins including a stage of the GiroBio (Baby Giro). At Qinghai Lakes, he had 10 top ten stage finishes which landed him 2nd in the points classification. If you combine the Tour of China I and II, he had six top 6 finishes.
Video of his Baby Giro stage win...which includes him actually turning around and riding the wrong way during the race for some crazy reason.
Anyways, who knows how he will do this year. He could get some promising results or absolutely bomb.
Where can I see him next?: Tour de Langkawi where he will be riding for Guardini probably. Perhaps he can sneak a result in.
Bonus Video: Crazy racing from the Dominican Republic...ASTANA ASTANA ASTANA ASTANA ASTANA