Say hello to the Young Guns. This is the first of a two post series on young riders. This time around, we have a look at some of the kids from this year's Giro. What results are they bragging about so far this season? How did their grand adventure in Italy turn out? What are they looking forward to? And most importantly of all, do they have a cool website? In episode 2, we'll look forward to the June stage races and the July party in France. Feel free to suggest names in the comments, and to add tastey tidbits to what are, admittedly, brief profiles.
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The Giro has traditionally been the grand tour for young riders. For some teams, like Francais de Jeux, it remains so. Marc Madiot sent six riders under 25 to this year's edition of the Giro with the simple goal of gaining experience. We saw their kit a few times in breakaways, but not much else. They did, however, succeed in finishing six of their nine riders, which given the difficulty of the race is no small thing. Sadly, their webby completely foiled my efforts to determine if they had any successes to report from their adventures in Italy. I can say that Youann le Boulanger finished 20th in the final crono, five seconds down on Levi, but that's about all.
Riis over at CSC also is a fan of the young talent. To the Giro he brought a pair of young riders, Chris Anker Sorensen and Anders Lund. A grand tour debutante, Anders Lund, is a former junior national champion from Denmark with a very nice looking list of U23 results. Lund apparently can climb some, since he was 2nd in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and won a stage at the U23 stage race, Circuit des Ardennes. He also finished 5th at the U23 Ronde in 2005. So far, he has no professional wins. Do we know what he can do? Nope, can't say that I do. His U23 results suggest he's no slouch on the bike and has the potential to be a solid one day rider, but it's too early to say what role he will find in the professional ranks.
From CSC also comes Chris Anker Sorensen, a climber-stage racer from Denmark, riding his second season as professional. So far, his most notable result is 19th in last year's Vuelta, his first grand tour. This season has so far been a quiet one, though Sorensen did manage 2nd in the KOM at Paris-Nice. He came to the Giro with big expectations, and the team said publicly their goal was a white jersey. As it was for many riders, the stage to Presolana proved Sorensen's undoing as he lost nearly 30 minutes on GC. He rallied the following day on the Mortirolo to finish with the gruppo Diluca at Tirano. By all accounts this Giro was a hard one: the transfers, the weather, the lack of pancake flat sprint stages. It was perhaps not the best showcase for a young climber. Still and all, Sorensen finished 23rd in GC, despite the disaster at Presolana (Apparently even Jens! was freezing on the 30 km descent on that stage. Little wonder Simoni said he was "congelato.") As for Sorensen, the talent is there, no doubt the results will come. Nobody finishes in the top 20 in their first grand tour by accident.
More prominent, of course, is this year's final White Jersey winner, Riccardo Ricco. Do we need to say more about il Cobra? Probably not, since his mouth has done plenty of talking. He has nine professional victories, including three Giro stages, and he finished second in his second Giro. Not half bad at all. Last year, he lit up Lombardia with a series of attacks on the Civiglio, conceding in the end only to the speed of Cunego's finish. Ricco so far lacks kick for the one day races, but can climb like nobody's business. If you can ignore the mouth, his career is travelling on an enviable track. His webby is best viewed with the sound turned off, unless you are a fan of the techno. It's always a party with il Cobra.
Also riding his second Giro, Domenico Pozzovivo improved on last year's 17th to finish ninth, largely on the strength of his climbing. Together with team mate Emmanuel Sella, Pozzovivo earned his GC placing on the escape. His crono needs work. Even with the climber-friendly course at Urbino, he dropped more than 3.00 on the winner and 2.00 on fellow climber and former Giro winner Gilberto Simoni. Outside the Giro, the results have come few and far between for Pozzovivo, who has ridden as a pro for four years, all with *Navigare. Of note, he finished third at this year's Giro di Trentino, the form-test for the Giro d'italia. I doubt very much he can climb too much higher in the GC on breakaways alone. But I've been wrong before. He has no website of his own. If you thought the CSF kit made your eyes bleed, do not under any circumstances visit their webby.
On the slow and steady program, Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro di Trentino this year. This victory combined with his talents against the watch led to expectations of a huge Giro d'Italia and to co-leadership status with Pellizotti at Liquigas. Against these expectations, his Giro ride might rank as a disappointment, as the high mountains damaged irreparably his chances at a high GC finish. All the same, he placed just outside the top 10, eleventh to be exact, an improvement over 20th from last year, while doing stellar support work for Pellizotti. His seventh place finish at Urbino doesn't sound like much to brag about for a passista-scalatore, but looks better when we consider who placed above him: Bruseghin, Klodie, Pinotti, Savoldelli, and Menchov, experienced riders all. In his third year as professional, Nibali is steadily accumulating solid results (he has eleven wins to his credit), but the Big One hasn't come just yet. With Ivan Basso coming to Liquigas, Nibali's chances of a free hand at the Giro diminish still further. Perhaps the team will send him to the Tour instead, which with it's long cronos and slightly more forgiving gradients, might turn out to be the making of him. Nibali claims the Giro d'Italia and Paris-Roubaix (!) as his fave races. Hobby? Computers, though he has no website. (Slacker.) Favorite food? Home made pasta. (Me, I was expecting hot dogs.) Favorite Actress? Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Team Liquigas is increasingly stacked with Italian stage racing talent. Though mostly anonymous in this year's Giro, 23 year old Dario Cataldo won the Baby Giro in 2006. Last year, he also won two stages of the Tour de l'Avenir, the prestigious U23 stage race in France, and boasts a number of other U23 successes. His favorite food is Trofie con pesto genovese, favorite actress is Monica Belucci, who likes to pose with very few clothes (no, boys, you'll have to google that all by yourselves), and his favorite car is Ferrari. And yes, girls, he's currently single.
Like Nibali, Enrico Gasparotto comes from Sicilie. His 2005 win at the Italian national championship remains his biggest result to date. Greatest claim to fame? Provoking Diluca into some very vulgar Italian at the finish of last year's Giro team time trial by failing to yield to his team leader at the line. As a consequence of this cheeky little move, Gaspa enjoyed several days in Pink. A passista-velociste type, he won the first stage of Three Days of Pain this year from a four-up break. And that's his highlight for this year, as he passed a mostly anonymous Giro with his new Barloworld team, only occasionally showing his face and jersey in the last kilometer. He was among the many who complained about the transfers and difficulties of this year's Corsa Rosa. Perhaps next year he will find more success. He does have a lovely webby, which counts for something.
On the subject of Italian passisti who've worn the Pink and won the Italian National Championship, let's talk about Giovanni Visconti. Widely touted as the "new Bettini," Visconti won the U23 Ronde van Vlanderen and the U23 Italian national championship. He claims four wins in his pro career: Coppa Sabatini in 2006, Italian national championship, Stage 2, Brixia Tour in 2007, and Coppa Sabatini again in 2007. He has chosen to ride for Quicky in order to learn from Bettini, whom he considers the master of the one day races. A wise choice, though so far, his palmares isn't exactly overflowing with results. A rider like Cunego who at 26 already boasts victories in three major classics is far from the norm. For most, the big one day races require time to learn, and Visconti has set himself to the task with the right teacher. His defense of the Pink Jersey showed class and maturity, which will serve him well. Head over to his webby, where he sporadically writes a blog, and where you can learn about how his father drove little Giovanni around the junior circuit in a home-made mini-camper. Sadly, we do not learn whom he calls his favorite actress.
Francesco Gavazzi is also among the digitally incognito. Gavazzi is in his second year as a professional and rides for Lampre. In his last year as an U23 he had fab results, winning a stage of the Baby Giro and the Italian U23 national championship. He's not quite a pure sprinter, more of a one day rider with a fast finish. Earlier this season, he out-sprinted Loddo and Richeze to win Stage 2 of the Settimana Ciclista Lombarda. He made the break in stage 6 of this year's Giro, but could not turn this bit of good fortune into victory. And that's all I know about Signor Gavazzi.
Moving northward, like way northward, we arrive in Belgium. Belgium usually means cobbles and crosswinds and big robust riders with huge pedal crushing legs. Switched at birth? Maybe, for 25 year old Jurgen van den Broeck climbs, and climbs very well. So well, that he won the mountains competition at the Tour of Belgium in 2006, which is definitely much-sought after by the cycling world's climbers. Franco Ballerini called Ricco the surprise of the Giro, but for me, this Belgian earned that particular honor by finishing 7th in the general at 6.30. Plainly the kid has a future in stage racing, and his U23 results show that this Giro did not come entirely out of nowhere. In 2001, he won the junior world championship time trial. Also of note, he placed 2nd in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He turned professional at age 21, but three years with Discovery brought few results, nor was there much to write home about in his first year at *Lotto. He finished his first Giro last year in 74th on GC. Quite the improvement, then, this season. Over last winter, he reportedly lost 6 kg, and has been living and training in Italy. His contract is up at the end of this year, and certainly, Cadel Evans will hope that *Lotto keeps "the locomotive from Morkhoven" around. Today's press reports that van den Broeck is suffering from knee problems, which bothered him during the Giro. Though he can train, he will not race again for six weeks, ruling out the Belgian national championships, among other things. Flemish-only website. So disappointing.
Unlike van den Broeck, Colombian Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez rides true to expectations, thriving in the high mountains. He turned professional with Acqua & Sapone in 2006, and since then has claimed 8 professional victories. His most notable performances came in last year's Tour de France where he won the stage over the Galibier to Briancon and took home the climber's jersey. A second place GC finish at the Vuelta Castilla y Leon suggested that he was on form for a good Giro, but a crash ended his chances. We wait to see this July whether he can follow up his successes of last year.
Climbers! More Climbers! In his second year as a professional, 25 year old Matthew Lloyd is the current Australian road champion. A VeloNews biography lists Lloyd as a sprinter, but he finished 3rd overall in the Baby Giro, which together with his other results suggest that his talents extend far beyond the final kilometer. On the way to that 3rd place finish, he also placed 2nd on a stage finishing on the Alpe de Pompeago. This year, he placed 24th on the same passo, while playing with the big kids. Plainly, the boy can climb. Lloyd won his national champion jersey on a hilly course with a 20 kilometer solo break ahead of Adam Hansen and Rory Sutherland, neither of whom exactly suck at riding in the wind. This year, he rode his second big kids Giro d'Italia, riding consistently and improving on last year's 61st to 30th in the final GC. Before turning cyclist, Lloyd played ice hockey and won the 1996 Aussie Ice Hockey championships (for juniors, I'm assuming) In his free time, he likes to play drums, read books, and go to movies. Maybe he could get around to putting up a web site too. Just sayin'
A scalatore puro, 23 year old Morris Possoni has raced since the age of ten, and his wins have come in the hills from the start. As an U23 he won the Italian stage race, Giro delle Val d'Aoste, held in the mountainous region near the border with France. He finished this year's Giro in 44th in GC, and 8th among the young riders. In 2007, he finished 2nd in the KOM at the Dauphine, which included the Ventoux. His nick is apparently "the Flyer's Man," the significance of which is beyond me to explain. According to the always thrilling Team High Road site, his goal this season, his second as a pro, is to improve himself. Do they really all speak in press releases? So it would appear. His own website is colorful, but sparse on details. We do learn that his hair is as immune to gravity as he is, and that he will ride the Tour de Suisse in the coming weeks. Buono fortuna, Morris!
Do I need to introduce you to Mark Cavendish? Probably not. He's fast. Very, very fast. His nickname is Little Cowboy. Professional since 2007, he has 21 victories to his credit. Sprinters have all the fun. Like many British riders, he came from the track and is the current World Champion in the Madison with Wiggo. That background likely helped him win the 1.9 km Tour of Romandie prologue earlier this season. Cavendish's weakness is gravity, and the average freeway overpass pushes the boundaries of his climbing. But his turn of speed is unbelievable, and assuming he can get to the final kilometer, he has a very good chance of winning. This Giro he won a stage, beating out Bennati (of course, it's a photo of Bennati, as if we'd let an opportunity like this pass). His positioning could use a little work, too, but at 23 years old, he has time on his side. Watch a thoroughly cheesy viddy profile filmed last year, or pay a visit to his vanilla bean webby. No actresses, just the facts, ma'm. Over at Team High Road, he says, "I am never happier than when I am winning, whether it is a track race or stage of a big race. As long as I am winning, I am on top of the world." A bike racer who likes to win, really, I would never have guessed.
Italian sprinter Oscar Gatto is also seeking his fortune in the ultimo kilometer. In his second year as professional, 23 year old Gatto came out of the same Italian U23 team, Zalf, as Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego and won 80 victories as a junior. He continued his winning ways as a U23, and in his final year with Zalf won 13 victories, more than any other Italian. David Rebellin subsequently brought him to team Gerolsteiner, where he is riding his second season. Last year's sprinter-friendly Giro, saw Gatto achieve a string of top ten finishes, including an eighth place finish in Milano, which suggests he will not run from the mountains a la Cipollini. This year proved more difficult, with a tenth place finish at Milazzo as Gatto's best result. Currently, he lives in Treviso with his girlfriend Francesca, and drives a Smart car. He's also tried tennis, though he likes bike racing better, and does not update his website very often.
Last, but certainly not least, we turn to breakaway specialist Mikhail Ignatiev of Tinkoff. Ignatiev came to road racing from the track, and was a junior world champion several times over. The highpoint of his career on the track was an Olympic Gold in the Points. He also has a string of world cup victories in the Points and in the Madison. Meanwhile, on the road, Ignatiev won the junior world time trial championship twice. The 23 year old turned professional in 2007 with Tinkoff and celebrated three victories. He is a regular in the breakaways, easily recognizeable by his distinctive and super aero position on the bike, not to mention his hair. So far, none of these escapades have led to victory, and his most notable result this season is a third place finish in the final crono at the Giro. His parents both raced at a high level in the Soviet Union, and Ignatiev went to cycling school at an early age. He was two when he first got on a bicycle, a "Little Bear." He counts lying in bed among his favorite past times, spends up to four hours a day on his laptop, and drives a Ford Focus. Dream car? A Ford Falcon GT. He likes websites with funny animations. Shall we tell him about the Ricco-Piepoli game? Maybe not, if he wants to get his training done. Oh, and he prefers red heads.
To be continued...
all photos shamelessly stolen from rider and team websites.