Chris mentioned just below that a thread on the Kids of the Giro was forthcoming. Yeah well, strike that ,sort of. I had it half written but I trashed it in favor of this one. Basically instead of a thread talking about a whole bunch of kids, I changed my mind because if I had to read about young riders, I'd rather read about the best: the Belgian Climbing Sensation (BCS) himself, Kevin Seeldraeyers of Quickstep. That's what follows below the next three paragraphs.
First though I gotta say that this Giro showed off the talents of four or five kids who should be entertaining us for a decade or more. Mark Cavendish we all know about. He turned 24 on that Five Terrors ITT. He's also #7 on the CQ list for 2009. Then you have his teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen, who turned 22 the day of the Milano Show. He's #18 on CQ's list. It will be interesting to see how Bob Stapleton handles these two. I'm thinking of how earlier this year Cav spoke of how he'd like to eventually compete in such races as the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix. Good for him. His teammate meanwhile, looks to me like he could win those things tomorrow. Such a beast. These two to me are the core of the team that I'll admit now is the world's best team.
A final word on one of their other teammates, not quite so flattering: Thomas Lovkvist. This Giro left a sour taste in my mouth with him. Not because of his trash talk; that was cool. More though on how it seems like he's developing a habit of fading in stage races. He just doesn't seem to last as long as most other riders. He faded in the Giro. He faded at Tirreno-Adriatico. He faded at Pais Vasco. He has talent for climbing and time trialing, especially the later, but he has much less of said talent after several days of any race. I'm not sure what's up. Does he have poor training habits? Does Columbia not know how to raise a young stage racer since it's not like they can point to one who the Stapleton regime has nurtured from the beginning. Rogers has been around and learned what to do long before. Kirchen started pre-Bob. So maybe someone can enlighten me here.
Two other Your Riders with promise at the Giro: Francesco Masciarelli of A&S and Jackson Rodriguez (J-Rod, part deux) of Diquisoonandsoforth. Masciarelli looks like he's learning his trade at the knee of Stefano Garzelli but I wonder if in time he'll move to Lampre or Liquigas. IMO he's the brightest young GC contender from Italy, Riccardo Ricco excepted since I have no idea how good The Cobra is. He'll be apart of the Giro scene for a long time as he only turned 23 four days before the Venice TTT. (So many May birthdays!) Rodriguez also has a bright future and what's interesting to be too is how Diqui has a good young bench. They can afford to lose Tin Tin, can afford to have Simoni retire, and still have a group of young riders who will be winning races for years. Thus it will be interesting of the team stays intact. Can they keep Rodriguez, Serpa, Scarponi, Gavazzi, and Ginanni? If so Lampre and Liquigas have another rival and that would be a good thing.
That brings us to the BCS... on the flip.
I'm dividing up this BCS essay into three parts:
1) What's he's done to merit a post.
2) A comparison to his peers.
3) A look at his team, Quickstep: Can they handle him?
Born in December of 1986, this is Kevin's third year on Quickstep. His highlight of 2007 was placing 5th at the Tour of Georgia. He was in the big stage 3 break that finished 20 minutes ahead of the rest of the pack along with eventual winner Jani Brajkovic and Christian Vandevelde. The Queen stage up Brasstown Bald saw him finish 15th, 2'28" behind stage winner Levi Leipheimer. That year he also finished 19th at Catalunya, 26th at the Dauphine, and 11th at the Tour of Austria and in each race he showed solid climbing skills. Again he was 20.
2008 was good though he didn't have such great results. He started and finished his first Grand Tour, the Giro, finishing in 73rd. For a 21 year old he was pretty solid on those much-harder-that-this-year's mountain stages including 20th on the last one, up the Gavia and the Mortirolo. To me that stage brought out the essence of Seeldraeyers: amazing stamina. He hasn't to this day taken a mountain stage and ridden away from his rivals. Instead he's amazingly tenacious. He's there every day, without fail. He also placed a solid 32nd on the freakishlyuphill Plan de Corones ITT. His other decent but not great result from 08 was 20th at the Deutschland Tour.
Tour of California: 14th place on GC., 6th on stage 2 where Levi made his move into yellow: Kevin was one of the main chasers.
Paris-Nice: 7th on GC, 1st in the Young Rider competition. Highlights were a 5th on stage three, that stage where Rabobank drove the peloton hard into the wind and rain, shoving Contador out of yellow and Chavanel into it. Then on the stage ending on Ventoux' Little Sister, Kevin finished 12th, 1'50" down from Contador. That decent result is all the more interesting when you note that a) he towed Chavanel to the finish thus sacrificing his chances, and b) he still finished ahead of Colom, Monfort, Trofimov, Van den Broeck, Kreuziger, Vlad Efimkin, Moreno, Garate, Karpets, etc.
After his 7th at P-N, I wondered if he, like Lulu Sanchez, was intentionally peaking for these early season races, with the understanding that we had seen the best from him for the year. Wrong!
After farting around on in Turkey and Fleche Wallonne, he tuned up at Romandie, and rode this completed Giro where he won the Young Rider competition and placed 14th on GC. How did he do it? Just like he's done it before, just better: very solid in the mountains, meh on the TT's. He never raced into the lead on any mountain stage; he was always just there, barely out of sight of the TV cameras, chugging along for another solid result. A true Iron Man.
He doesn't seem to have a burst like Contador or in a different way DiLuca have, though I can't be sure of this since, again, he's normally out of sight of the TC cameras. But you can see how his career is much like his mountain climbing prowess: steady. Give him about few years and he should be at the front of the pack.
He's an 86er as I said. That puts him in the same birth year as Bobo Gesink, and Roman "The Greek" Kreuziger among others (others being Matty Goss, Jerome Coppel, Daniel Martin, Rui Costa, Wesley Sulzberger, and Gerald Ciolek;1986 looks like a vintage year for cyclists). He's also the youngest of the bunch, a good seven months younger than Gesink and Kreuziger, which is huge at this age.
Gesink and Kreuziger are useful as measuring sticks for the other GC riders of this age. Compared to them, Seeldraeyers hasn't had quite the breakthrough race as they have had but he's not that far behind. Kreuziger has had the most success what with his wins at Romandie this year and Suisse last year plus his 12th place finish at last year's Tour. Gesink has no wins but a lot of near misses: an 8th place finish at last year's Vuelta. 4th last year at Paris-Nice, Dauphine, Fleche Wallonne and 9th at Emilia while so far this year scoring 8th at California, 11th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 7th at Pais Vasco, and 3rd at Amstel Gold. Compared to Seeldraeyers, Bobo and The Greek have better time trialing skills and perhaps slightly better climbing ability, though it's hard to say for sure.
So, a question: can Quickstep stand to have a real climbing, goatish stage racer? Will they give him the room to grow? Can they give him the time trialing guidance that a winning stager racer needs but a one day classics guy doesn't? Judging on history that answer is easy: no.
But I wonder if in fact they are slowly taking an interest in post-April races. They have assembled a decent if modest group of stage racing guys. The most high profile is the profoundly weird Devo who should be competitive on shorter stage races at least. Dario Cataldo is only a year older than Seeldraeyers and is a better chronoman if not as good a climber. Then you have Carlos Barredo... okay the team is not strong enough to make even Silence Lotto worry but still there's some support forsatisfied our hero. We'll see if he winds up thinking another team would be better for his talent set. Can Patrick Lefevre keep him down on the farm? The next couple of years will be interesting to watch.