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How Do You Spot the Next Big Thing?

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This is a big moment for my little brain, as my beloved Red Sox have acquired a cornerstone player in exchange for highly touted (by them, at least) young talent. How one views the deal depends on how one views young talent, but thanks to the economics of baseball these things happen regardless. And we shall now commence winning the 2011 World Series.

In cycling, young talent is bought and sold on the open market, and since those contracts don't approach the levels of the top senior guys, most teams can (theoretically) afford to get in the game. The question, which we tinkered with a bit in the Quick Step thread, is how do you decide whom to sign? This is one of my patented help-I-have-no-clue threads, as my interest in the subject vastly outstrips my knowledge. But I'll start by tossing out a few thoughts for discussion, on the flip.

What to look for?

1. Results

Junior results are certainly the easiest place for us fans to look; De Wielersite is accessible from any computer. But what do they mean? Almost everyone who makes it as a senior won as a junior. Tom Boonen was dominating the local scene; Heinrich Haussler owned the German juniors circuit; Alberto Contador rang up some telling results in Spain. But they are hardly alone in garnering results, and like other sports there are scads of up-and-coming heroes who never pan out. Contador bagged a second in the Circuito Montañés in 2002, but he finished with Oscar Serrano and Sergio Dominguez, both out of cycling. Boonen jousted with Andy Cappelle in those old cobbled espoirs races, but Cappelle hasn't come close to glory. And so on.

So... are there results which don't lie? Taylor Phinney has won two Paris-Roubaix Espoirs races. Is that an indication of relatively certain* future success? [*Actual certainty doesn't exist, of course.] Are there races the DSs track with special scrutiny because performances there don't lie?

So yeah, results. But there have to be guys who aren't getting results but are still strong enough to make it. And undoubtedly the DSs can look more deeply into a rider's profile than we can, to give them a better chance at predicting success. Let's turn over some more rocks.

2. Appropriate Results

Is there more to certain results based on a rider's likely future targets? This is in part a nationality matter. But surely a large Belgian rider who looks like a cobbles stud in the making and is getting results on the cobbles as a junior is a surer thing, as is a Spanish flyweight kid who's kicking butt in the Circuito Montañés. As opposed to a nice win in P-R/Esp by a medium-sized sprinter who won't likely keep up when making the jump to light speed. A tougher call might be with guys who project for races far from home. Italy puts out its share of cobbles warhorses (albeit less attacking ones), but can you see that potential in a 19 year old who probably only makes a few foreign forays a year? [Marco Bandiera, perhaps?] On the other hand, if the guy goes abroad as a junior and wins a race that fits his future profile, maybe that's an even better predictor?

3. Raw Power

Surely the DSs get a chance to bring a potential signee in for some testing, no? You know, weigh him, put him on the trainer for some bursts and intervals, open his jaw to check the teeth, etc. This sounds a little simplistic, since there's so much more to cycling. But cycling IQ isn't acquired overnight. Maybe the Tommekes of the world are born with it, but nobody seems to think Americans are, for example. So it's a matter of learning, and some are quicker studies than others. I suspect the American example is a significant one. If you're Dutch and you're very strong, everyone knows it because you've probably been paraded around Europe by the Rabo CT and had every chance to show what you can actually do. If you're American -- or maybe Canadian, Scandinavian, eastern European -- then you may well be underexposed. And this could cut either way: a mega-power kid with a short resume lacks the experience of his peers, and may need more time... but he also hasn't shown that he can't do it, and may be a high-cycling IQ project waiting for a chance.

4. The Race of Truth

One last idea to toss out: do time trials tell more? I don't quite know where to look for interesting crono results among juniors. But time trials tell a nice story of power, concentration, and willingness to suffer -- all things to pack in your suitcase of courage for the journey to The Show. They also speak of positioning and access to time trial bikes, wind tunnels, and events -- all things that vary wildly and can skew results.

OK, I'm out of ideas. Edumacate me!