As the Giro d’Italia dominates the mainstream racing headlines, the under-23 season shifts Spinal Tap-like into the 11. At this time of year there are big races every few weeks and it’s the time to be in form: still early enough for results to impress potential 2020 teams, but a win in May or June is worth more than one in February.
With the Giro prologue on the other monitor, it’s a good time to take a look ahead to the next three weeks of under-23 racing…
Fleche Ardennaise (1.2) – 12 May 2019
Covering many of the same roads around Trois Ponts and Houffalize as its more famous cousin Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the “Ardennes Arrow” is a tough late spring semi-classic. Won in 2018 by SEG’s 23-year-old rider Cees Bol (now Team Sunweb), the race gives an opportunity to the punchier riders in the bunch to shine before the mountain goats come out to play later in the month.
GP Industrie del Marmo (1.2U) – 12 May 2019
Like so many one day races in Northern Italy, this is a lapped race which is best described as “a bit hilly but not mountainous”. The main climb of Ponte di Vara is covered four times and goes up 130m in around 2km, before the riders take in a new climb to Bedizzano, which comes with only 15 minutes of racing to the finish.
2018 winner Gregorio Ferri (now Zalf-Euromobil) is in decent form with 2 elite level wins to his name in recent weeks, and will face challenges from Colpack’s Paolo Baccio and Andrea Bagioli, as well as the in-form Matteo Sobrero (Dimension Data).
(Fact: three riders called “Gamper” and three called “Colnaghi” are down to start the race. Never let it be said that EW is uninformative.)
The Amgen Tour of California doesn’t count as a development race so it’s not really getting mentioned here BUT watching Hagens-Berman Axeon take it to the WorldTour pros is always good fun (remember the Philipsen-Gaviria head-to-armpit battle last year, or Sean Bennett getting done over by Tomas Skuijns for the stage win at Laguna Seca). This year they are joined by the USA Cycling Development Programme and the race is usually on Eurosport. If you’re not Euro enough for the Eurosport, it’s always worth following HBA on social media instead for ‘story’ and live updates from the younger end of the race.
GP Criquielion (1.2) – 19 May 2019
It’s easy to forget that Belgium still exists this late in the year, and to celebrate the fact the roads south of Geraardsbergen welcome 22 teams from Pro-Conti to club level. 2018 winner Lionel Taminaux (Walonnie-Bruxelles) can be expected to wear dossard #1 and will look to celebrate his 23rd birthday (nearly) with a third trip to the podium in as many editions.
Ronde de l’Isard (2.2U) – 23-26 May 2019)
The under-23 peloton’s first trip to the high mountains, this is a prestigious race in its own right as well as a chance to see who is coming into form in time for the Baby Giro, which starts 3 weeks later. Recent past winners include Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) and Stevie Williams (Bahrain-Merida).
Norwegian starlet Andrea Leknessund (Uno-X Development Team) made his senior debut at the race last year, taking second behind Williams at the summit finish in Goulier-Neige. With teammate Tobias Foss apparently back to form after a difficult 2018, the Norwegian duo will challenge for stages and the overall classification. Also watch out for FDJ Conti’s Kevin Inkelaar, whose stage win and 2nd overall at the Giro Valle d’Aosta in 2018 demonstrated his credentials when the road goes up.
An event with decent production values and a goat mascot who doesn’t quite fit into the podium vehicle, the race’s website and social media (which last year had daily video highlights) will keep everyone up to date better than most.
Despite rummaging around the website of the Orlen Nations Grand Prix (2.NCup – 1-2 June 2019) I’m none the wiser as to what it even is, besides being a two day Nations Cup round which clashes with…
Paris Roubaix Espoirs (1.2U) – 2 June 2019
The big one. A clash with the Orlen GP Nations Cup in Poland is either bad planning by the blazers or a deliberate means of redistributing Nations Cups points away from the traditional nations, whose strongest riders will prioritise Roubaix instead. As it seems unlikely that the UCI is that sophisticated, let’s assume it’s the former, although the value of Nations Cup points to the ‘bigger’ nations is debatable anyway.
Featuring 190km from Peronne to Roubaix, including most of the legendary secteurs from the senior edition (not the Arenberg, though), only the strongest and the luckiest will enter the velodrome at the head of the race. 2018’s third placed rider Thymen Arensman (SEG Racing Academy) and WorldTour-bound Brent van Moer (Lotto Soudal U23), as well as cyclo-cross world champion Tom Pidcock (Team Wiggins), are among the obvious contenders.