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The Progressing Dutch Hegemony

Rembrandt_mediumThis post is an annual favorite -- not only because I get to use "hegemony" and a Rembrandt painting [Podium Cafe: cycling's classiest fanblog], but because I get to exercise my inner optimist and predict something that would make cycling even better: a wave of killer Dutch talent washing over the sport. As cycling nations go, the Netherlands is a big deal: plenty of history, decent-sized population/talent pool, and the Rabo Development Program is a model for how to grow future stars... assuming some of the names on this list grow into stars. Anyway, here's a rundown of what we said last year around this time, and how the Wonderkinderen progressed in 2009.

Overall -- I am not always crazy about the CQ Ranking internals, where they score every race under the sun, but this is an instance where they are most helpful, and miles beyond the stupid UCI system. This is a post about success at all levels... so here ya go. Rabobank jumped from eigth in the world to third, which is a pretty good reflection on Dutch cycling. Yes, foreigners Denis Menchov and Graeme Browne contributed to the points increase, but Oscar Freire's off year subtraced more than those guys added. In general, Rabo's solid season reflects marginal improvement across the board (individuals addressed below). The Netherlands has held the seventh spot in the world country rankings for four years; no change there. The victory total has slipped from 81 to 48, but I am not sure how much creedence to give this. No Dutch rider scored more than five victories in 2009, a mark set by Kenny Van Hummel and Theo Bos. Robert Gesink was the top rated Dutch rider overall, good for 23rd worldwide.

Individuals, on the flip...

Sebastian Langeveld, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 25

What we said then: He had some nice time trial results, 20th at Catalunya and 14th at the Tour de Luxembourg chrono. Otherwise, lots of teamwork. Rabo have a nice squad coming together, but if he's to become a leader in the classics, he'll have to earn it internally.

What he did in 2009: Doubled his point totals from 2008 and leapt up to 56th in the world. Most of his big point totals were in secondary races like Ster Elektroer and the SachsenTour, but he won three races, took second in the BeNeLux Tour ITT behind Edvald Boasson Hagen, and placed third overall. Moreover, Langeveld could frequently be seen mixing it up with the big boys of cycling, taking third in a Paris-Nice stage, 9th in E3 Prijs, 12th in San Sebastian, etc. Age 24 is still VERY young for a rider of the big classics, which are so demanding, competitive and hard to read. The steady improvement he showed this year in results alone -- to say nothing of first-hand impressions -- is a good sign that Langeveld remains on track to be a presence at the major classics, as early as this year.

Bauke Mollema, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 23

What we said then: A climber. He shadowed Linus Gerdemann around the DeutschlandTour, riding solidly throughout the mountains and taking 7th overall (chrono efforts need work). He also ran 15th in the Vuelta a Burgos, and competed in the Italian fall races. Off to a solid start.

What he did in 2009: Kind of a lost year, after he contracted mono and missed part of spring and all of summer. I am not sure there is any point in parsing his results, given this fact, but he is back racing (top 20s at Beghelli and Piemonte) and is undoubtedly looking forward to 2010, when he'll still be incredibly young in racing terms. His immediate ceiling will likely be some high-mountain support work or the odd breakaway, plus captaincy in some continental events. Maybe they will let him ride for Menchov at the Giro?

Martijn Maaaskant, Garmin-Slipstream

Age in 2010: 24

What we said then: Rode the Tour de France, generally did teamwork. Given his age, Garmin are smart to let him race a large chunk of the season without pressure. Am wondering if Garmin are going to build more of a spring squad? A healthier Backstedt should take some pressure off. Can Svein Tuft hit the cobbles? Can Hans Dekkers? Bears watching. JV has a gem in Maaskant, but he can't win races like Flanders on his own.

What he did in 2009: Not much change in his results over the past two seasons -- just swap that 2008 4th at Paris-Roubaix for a 2009 4th at the Tour of Flanders and you're done. Obviously both results are huge and solidify his spot among the potential winners on the cobbles. Maaskant also placed sixth in the opening stage of Driedaagse de Panne, the hardest of the race, and seventh overall. This is indicative of an April classics peak timed for Flanders and Roubaix and will likely be his program for years to come. Oh, and lessons learned: he crashed once and flatted three times in P-R, starting in the Arenberg Forest, an essential experience for aspiring cobbles guys. Bringing Johan Van Summeren on board may mean more protection and better results, but in any event, Maaskant has already arrived and is easily the country's best hope for a monument win.

Nikki Terpstra, Milram

Age in 2010: 26

What we said then: He's a ways away from competing in grand tours, but Milram are actually, finally building a stage race team around Linus Gerdemann and the Fothens, so Terpstra should have room to grow.

What he did in 2009: It's not easy being dressed like a cow, but Terpstra made the most of it, continuing his development... as a classics guy. [Not sure why I wrote "grand tours" last year.] His biggest day was winning a stage of the Dauphine Libere out of a five-man escape, earning him a nice yellow souvenir to wear for a day. More telling, however, are results like 17th in Paris-Roubaix -- a result that doesn't happen by accident -- or victory in the Ster Elektroer prologue and second overall just behind Philippe Gilbert. 29th in the final Tour time trial put him just 14" behind Christian VandeVelde, a result worth noting. Terpstra showed some real power this year, and could easily start creeping up the results lists, even if being on Milram means he'll have to win out of breakaways or in time trials.

Robert Gesink, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 24

What we said then: He's already a captain at Rabobank, taking 7th on GC at the Vuelta a Espana, the top-ranked foreigner after Levi. Don't be shocked if he pushes Denis Menchov aside for full captaincy this year. Oh, and for some reason, when he puts on the national kit, he always finishes tenth. Olympic RR: 10th. Olympic ITT: 10th. Worlds RR: 10th. Can I get a bet down next time?

What he did in 2009: Gesink moved straight to the top echelon of climbers in the world, and only an unfortunate crash early in the Tour de France prevented this from being a dream season. Honestly, I don't have much to add beyond reeling off his palmares: he won the Giro dell'Emilia, third in Amstel Gold, fourth in the Dauphine and on Mont Ventoux, and sixth in the Vuelta. He didn't place tenth in the worlds, however, defying the odds. Anyway, this is a post about development, of which Gesink has very little left to do. He rocks.

Thomas Dekker, Silence-Lotto

Age in 2010: 25

What we said then: Exiled for reasons that still aren't completely clear. Dekker's subtraction from Rabobank is Gesink's gain, but TD is the superior time trialist. If things work out at Silence-Lotto, and this whole episode doesn't turn into a doping matter (as has been rumored at times), then he'll probably go straight to the head of the class. And won't it just be typical Rabobank if Dekker is the one guy out of this talent wave to win big?

What he did in 2009: Got his ass suspended for some old EPO-tainted dope samples, after returning to the sport from a lost season with Rabobank... which brings us back to the subject of doping. Anyway, Dekker was racing pretty well at the time of the suspension, and there is no record of him doping since 2007, so the possibility of him returning in 2011 as a less fraudulent version of his old successful self can't be dismissed. He will still be just entering his prime. A bigger question is whether he wants to be a cyclist, and if so, whether anyone will want to help him in this endeavor.

Stef Clement, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 27

What we said then: Clement's calling card is the time trial. Ninth in Beijing, 22nd in Varese, but he ended on a high note winning the Chrono des Nations over guys like Pinotti, Gusev, etc. His 3rd in the Romandie ITT was actually even more impressive, beating these two and Martin, Larsson, Menchov, etc. Clement can climb a bit too, so he probably joins the Rabo Ardennes squad as a helper to Gesink.

What he did in 2009: He should get removed from this post on the grounds that he's not really a kid, but regardless he is was a very useful pickup for Rabobank this year. He's a consistently good time trialist, winning the Dutch national title and placing pretty high in various events. Also won a Dauphine stage. He is what he is now, a top-flight domestique in a variety of situations, including the high mountains and stage races, particularly where there's a TTT. Given the guys around him, he probably will only get occasional chances to ride for himself.

Laurens Ten Dam, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 29

What we said then: Obviously he wasn't captaining anything at Rabobank this season, but he may get his chance if and when they're not working for Menchov or Gesink. He showed strong in places like the Klausenpass and Hautacam, so his pedigree is clear.

What he did in 2009: Speaking of climbing domestiques who are too old to be in a "futures" post... he's another important cog in the shiny Rabo wheel. Hey, it's his birthday on Friday!

Lars Boom, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 23

What we said then: Like just about every continental rider, I'm not overly familiar with him. But he just won the Dutch national championship road race... and the time trial. Chew on that sentence for a moment. Turns 23 in late December. Good sweet Christ, is there any wonder why he just got kicked up to the Rabo senior squad from the development team?

What he did in 2009: Ah, the Special One. After losing all perspective on the guy, I have adopted a lower-key approach to predicting his impending greatness. He is, after all, just shy of 24 and slowly transitioning to road full-time. That said, after a quiet spring transitioning his form from cyclocross, he won his third race, the Tour of Belgium, with a ripping time trial that left Thomas Dekker, Serguei Ivanov, Nick Nuyens and a whole host of northerners behind. Later, after putting in his time, he won a stage of the Vuelta, his first ever grand tour, not merely by joining a successful breakaway but by burying a dozen of his cohorts with a devastating series of uphill attacks. Honestly, the only reason to maintain perspective on the Large Bomb is decorum or something. In my heart of hearts, and on more than a few pages of this site, my excitement over what he can and hopefully will do, starting soon, can't be contained.

Tom Stamsnijder, Rabobank

Age in 2010: 24/5

What we said then: Another seriously young kid, 23, just picked up by Rabo at the Gerolsteiner yard sale.

What he did in 2009: Good god, another cronoman? Stamsnijder couldn't crack the starting lineup at Rabobank very often in 2009, but no matter, he made it through his first grand tour, the Giro d'Italia, with enough in his legs to snare 19th in the Roma ITT. His past speaks of a power-crono-classics profile, so hopefully in 2010 he will get more of a chance to ride the big one-day races and start developing that set of talents.

Theo Bos, Rabobank / Cervelo TT

Age in 2010: 26

What we said then: Track kid, coming to the road. See Gavia's profile (of Bos, not Gavia). Anyway, missing from this Golden Generation was a pure sprinter, so the 25-y.o. Bos slots in nicely. Since he's coming from an entirely different discipline, fans will have to be patient with his development, but still.

What he did in 2009: I am in the I-believe-Theo camp, though reasonable minds will differ as to what happened on that fateful day in Turkey. Regardless, while his first full road season will be forever marred by the Daryl Impey incident, Bos soldiered on and scored six wins in both stage races and classics, even beating Kenny van Hummel for the Ronde van Noord-Holland, before the UCI sent him on holiday. Bos will be back in 2010 with Cervelo Test Team, lured by former Dutch sprinting ace Jean Paul van Poppel, whose boy Boy remains at Rabo.

In the comments you all mentioned a few other guys:

Ricardo Van der Velde, Garmin

Not much in the way of results in his first season with Garmin, but he got a taste of the big leagues by starting the Ardennes classics, Tour de Romandie, and Eneco Tour. His earlier palmares suggest he's a decent climber, though at 6' tall he will probably find more success in the lower climbs and power courses. Another cycling legacy: pop Johan was a points winner at the Giro and another long-legged guy. Anyway, as of this writing Ricardo is 22, so let's check back in a couple years.

Boy Van Poppel, Rabobank

Lopex had this to say last year: Son of famous Dutch sprinter Jean-Paul van Poppel. His mother podiumed five times in a row in the National Women’s road championships. Only 20 years old. And one of the few persons who managed to beat Cavendish in a sprint finale this year.

Oy, the kids just keep coming. Boy has double-lineage, which puts him one up on about half the guys on this list. Apparently to be a cycling prodigy in the Netherlands you need a note from your parents. Anyway, Boy was kept largely under wraps this year, winning a stage of the Tour de Normandie while getting a taste of continental-level racing at places like the Munsterland Giro, Circuito Montanes, and Driedaagse West Vlaanderen. Somehow I doubt he will be facing Mark Cavendish again anytime soon, but next to his 2010 plans on the Rabo Continental Team is a "maybe," so perhaps the callup is coming?