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The Kids Are All Right

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What do the young guns have in store for us in May?

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With the first rider rolling off the ramp some time tomorrow (I’d be more specific, but I’m writing from Scotland for an international audience about an Italian race starting in Israel. The website says 1030, which I assume is Italian time?) it is a good time to look ahead to the young rider competition. So, let’s get into it, with just one bit of housekeeping. I know you think Chaves is 23, because he’s a babyfaced Colombian, but he’s 28. I don’t like it any more than you do, but these are the facts.

The white jersey winner

Let’s deal with the problem with this article early on. If Miguel Angel Lopez makes it to the finish in Rome without serious injuries or time penalties in the tens of minutes, he’ll win the youth jersey. He’s a realistic contender for the overall, and I maintain he’s the world’s best climber. No other eligible rider comes close to him. I’ve written enough about him, and there’s nothing to add, except I think he’ll probably win white and spotty jerseys (shut up. A mountains jersey is a spotty jersey, irrespective of whether it has spots on it) and be in contention for the other two.

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Wow. That was a really weak article, huh? Talk about shining a blinding light on the bleeding obvious. Still, let’s change the premise just a little, and look at what we can expect from the “jersey eligible” crew, not just a jersey preview. That is, the under 25s. Just missing out are Yates and Formolo, who would have made this a slightly more interesting competition. In the 26 year old camp are Konrad, Meintjes, Wellens and, to my continued surprise, Ellisonde. With a broader canvas, we can talk about a whole bunch of young riders.

Good riders in the service of others

Jack Haig is a guy who I think has a lot of potential, and I’ve been following him keenly since his win in Poland and sterling efforts in support during last year’s Vuelta. He’s riding back into form and looked sprightly in the Ardennes. A decent placing is likely but he’ll be looking after Chaves and then Yates. Incidentally, throw in Kruez and Nieve and this is a decent mountain train Mitchelton are providing.

Hugh Carthy saddles up for his second Giro and third GT, and I maintain we still haven’t seen the best of the young climber. Yes, part of this is bias because I like Brits who travel, and eschew the newly traditional Anglophone route to the top, but the boy can climb, be in no doubt. Looks to me like he’ll spend the next three weeks doing everything he can to help Michael Woods. He can probably do quite a lot.

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Sam Oomen is the third guy on this list. Curiously, he’s also the third guy on this list who I picked as his team’s “most intriguing rider” when I did the offseason capsules. How you feel about Oomen’s role depends on how you feel about Dumoulin (I am pessimistic), but I suspect he’s another star in waiting who’ll be supporting his team leader for most of these three weeks. Like Haig, started to show decent form towards the end of the Ardennes week.

Show us what you can do

Giulio Ciccone might have snuck onto the bottom of some lists of “possible stage hunters” when he won an audacious solo stage in 2016. Now he’s a little more seasoned, coming off a win in the Italian SSR Giro dell’Appennino and a top-10 in the Alps, where he climbed with the bigs comfortably. He’s a mountain goat who’ll need to demonstrate consistency and get through the time trials without calamity, but he’s one to watch and could be a stage/point hunter or a borderline top ten candidate.

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Max Schachmann So, QuickStep have had themselves quite the spring, as you may have noticed. Now that the GTs are kicking off, the cupboard looks comparatively bare. The Giro squad is lined up to support Viviani in his bid for the points jersey and stages, but don’t rule out the lanky German altogether. He’s got a more than decent TT engine and his climbing, whilst a work in progress, has kept him in races and saw him finish 8th in Fleche last month. Should have the freedom to take a step forward.

Richard Carapaz will ride for a Movistar team without an obvious leader. There’s been some chat on here about their tactics, with Landa, Quintana and Valverde all heading for France. Put me very firmly in the “it’s an idiotic decision” camp. No excuse for not sending Landa or Quintana to a GT in which they’d have a realistic chance of a podium, just to cause chaos in July. Anyway, there isn’t a leader unless you count Betancur (don’t count Betancur) and the big winner is the young and wildly impressive Ecuadorian, Carpapaz.

He’s been brought along slowly by Movistar (who can make good decisions, sometimes) and flashed talent last year, finishing with just Yates (A) and Uran in the artichokes race and grabbing a creditable 11th on the Angrilu stage of the Vuelta. This year he’s looked better than ever and he can make a bad Movistar decision look very good if he rides well in this Giro. Other than Lopez, the most exciting young rider in the field, for my money.

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Anything is a bonus, but we’re watching

Ben o’Connor has already had a great season. The virtually unknown Australian climbed with the bigs throughout the Tour of the Alps, grabbing a stage win with an attack on a descent and taking the youth crown to boot. He’s a very good climber and he’s the rare point of light in an otherwise dark start to the year for Dimension Data. He’ll be supporting Meintjes for much of the race but may get a moment or two to shine.

Fausto Masnada is a name I’m mentioning just because it was a rare good prediction from me. He’s looked good so far this year and proved my suspicion that he can climb and attack well. Won’t have the consistency to stay within hours of the leaders, but his team will be picking spots to attack, and this young star is the sort of rider who could easily grab a stage from the right break.

Niklas Eg was the obvious name to take from the seemingly endless final scramble up the mountain to end of the Tour of Croatia. Riding for Brambilla, he sat on the front and led the main group for a very long time, hard, shelling serious names from the back. It was all for nought as Brambilla cracked soon after Eg. Still, he impressed me and I think that serving with the other soldiers of the Giro will show him to his best.

Yes, there was a scramble, some soldiers, a shelling, and a cracking in there. Nothing wrong with an egg pun or four.

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Kilian Frankiny suits up for BMC, and I like him a lot. A quiet start to his pro career but he is reaching the stage where more can be expected of him. Should be able to help in the mountains and is no slouch on a TT rig. Shame he’s in support of Rohan Dennis’ doomed efforts, but that may grant him some freedom later in the race.

You don’t have to be a climber to succeed here (but it helps)

Of course, even in the Giro, not every stage requires mountain legs. There will be opportunities for other specialists to come to the party, and sure enough, youth will be served in those stages, too.

Ryan Mullen was, as I’ve said before, the politest man at the start of the Tour of Britain, and that counts for a lot in my eyes. More importantly, he’s a hugely talented young Irishman, who topped up his cobbled experience this spring and now gets to try his first grand tour. He’s another who’ll be domestique-ing for Trek, but he’s a chrono specialist and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the first to pull on the young rider’s jersey on Friday night.

Niccolo Bonifazio has won a race this year, perhaps in part because I finally gave up on him and took him off my VDS team. Feels like he’s been around forever but is only 24, and is part of a team in support of Pozzovivo without another sprinter. He’ll get his chances and given tough finishes (and the weak sprinting competition) can’t be ignored. His teammate Matej Mohoric will presumably be of more use to Pozzovivo, both uphill and especially downhill, but could be another youngster to nick a stage at some point.

Jakub Mareczko has been winning races for fun for many years. Thirty-five of them, to be precise, including six stages of this year’s Tour of Morocco… which explains the problem. The gulf in class between the races he’s been winning for Willier around the world, and the field he’s against now, is huge. Still, he has a nose for the line, a team who’ll support him as best they can, and as weak a GT sprinting field as you could hope for. Not without a chance, though that was also true last year and he didn’t manage it then.

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Mads Pedersen is in the same boat as Ben o’Connor: he’s already had a heck of a year and a good Giro is a bonus. Second in the Ronde is a career highlight for many riders, and he managed it at 22. Even without that, his cobbled campaign was impressive. He takes to the line for his second Giro tomorrow as the youngest man in the field, and is Mullen’s primary rival for the day one young riders’ jersey. He’ll be one to watch in the time trials but might also grab some points in the sprint stages.

Closing thoughts

There are more young riders in this race than I’ve mentioned, and I’d like to hear about them below. Still, I think what this shows is that we have a fairly typical spread of talented young riders. There’s the outstanding young GC rider (Lopez) and a smattering of well-established and talented riders still supporting their leaders. There’s also a few guys primed to have a breakout stage or demonstrate the consistency to be the stars of the future. There’s also lots of guys who are a year or two away, but who you need to keep an eye on. It isn’t long until you have to pick another FSA-DS team!