Sometime in April, 2006, after nearly every race had been won to date by someone too young to remember Friday Night Videos, we coined the U27 Project to describe the youth movement that was sweeping the sport. It sounded cute, and in retrospect (and maybe we sorta knew then too) it had some real significance as well. These guys were not only really young and really good, not to mention pretty numerous. They were also still coming up during the Festina/Tour and Pantani/Giro nightmares in 1998-99. Maybe, just maybe, they grew into the sport with a different attitude toward doping.
Not everyone from that group was pure as the driven snow (re: Kashechkin, Sinkewitz, Valverde?) but otherwise this wave has washed over the sport and swept away much of the stench. And sporting names like Boonen, Ballan, Contador, Schleck, Bennati, Cunego, Cancellara, Pozzato, etc., this generation has much to be proud of already. Tough, young and clean... wherein lies the salvation of the sport.
I thought it might be time for a new U27 group, but actually a few guys from the last round will still be under 27 when the gun sounds at Het Volk 2008. So, for a brighter distinction from the last effort, I thought it'd be fun to create a new version for 2008: the U25 Project. Two years ago, while Boonen and Cunego were already raking in hardware, these guys were racing U23. They represent a "next" wave of Cycling talent that, while maybe too green to take the sport by storm this year, will be guys to watch now, and will boast its share of champions before long. Without further ado, I give you the best riders I can think of right now who'll still be 24 or younger on March 1:
Greg Van Avermaet
JJ Rojas Gil
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Luis Leon Sanchez Gil
Hardly a definitive or exhaustive list, but a place to start the conversation. Feel free to nominate additions or subtractions, and help me track them as the year goes on.