This article could sound a lot like a press release if I wanted it to. It was another banner season for Axeon Hagens Berman with huge wins like Greg Daniel winning the Elite Men’s National Championship & Tour de Beauce, Neilson Powless and Adrien Costa emerging as a GC threat, Logan Owen winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the list could keep going for 3 more paragraphs. Axel Merckx’s team just seems to keep finding another level year after year and after shipping a team-record 6 riders to World Tour and Pro Continental teams for 2017, the team is restocking half of their team with 3 American juniors as well as 5 foreign U23 riders around their returning core.
The returning core is based around Adrien Costa, Neilson Powless and Logan Owen.
Costa’s talent is well documented after one of the most impressive first year U23 seasons this side of Caleb Ewan in 2013 and easily one of the best on record for a GC rider. Most likely this will be his last year as a U23 rider so I am certain he will be going out with a bang with the Tour de l’Avenir certainly in his sights.
Powless explosion of results was much in thanks to his time trailing ability, which saw him win Joe Martin, a time trial podium in the Tour of the Gila and then the head-turning 9th place overall in the Tour of California, where he finished 5th on the Gibraltar Road stage after attacking late in the stage. There are some areas of Powless’ riding that need some polishing so with the help of Axeon Hagens Berman and the U23 National Team, Powless could be bringing a marquee result to the team.
The recently married Owen (to Olympic medalist Chloe Dygert) has been trying to handle cyclocross and road over the past few years with good results including a Tour of Utah stage in 2015 and winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 this season in a late attack. All of this is quite draining and with a choice to come soon between the road and cyclocross, Owen has taken this season off from the dirt to rest and build his base for this upcoming year. Owen will be looking to make his mark on one-day races and sprint stages.
Also coming back again is Will Barta, Johnny Brown, Geoffrey Curran, Eddie Dunbar and Chad Young.
Barta seems to get his best results while in France but this year he will be trying to take his time trial and climbing abilities to a new level to help become a more rounded GC rider.After a rough 1st year, Brown will be wanting to settle down and get some solid race days in to live up to his double junior road race national championship. Geoffrey Curran’s time trial went to a new level this past year that culminated in a 7th place in the Doha U23 TT Worlds. If Curran can continue the progress with his TT, he could become a weapon in shorter stage races and could put himself down as an early medal favorite for the Worlds in Bergen. Dunbar showed his versatility by going in the top 20 in both the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Tour of Utah and Tour of Alberta along with his 9th place in the U23 TT Worlds; will Dunbar reach a point where he will have to sacrifice versatility to get a career-defining result? Young is another all-around rider that tends to end up in the 20’s when it comes to GC performances so if he continues to add race days and make progress in Europe, it will be a win.
The new crop joining the team include Edward Anderson, Chris Blevins, Ian Garrison (all three juniors), Chris Lawless, Jhonnatan Narvaez, Ivo & Rui Oliveira and Michael Rice.
With first year U23s, it is never good to expect any results as even the most talented riders need a year to adjust to the new level usually.
In my time following cycling, I have never seen a more unprecedented signing by any professional team, including a development team, than Axeon Hagens Berman signing Edward Anderson. To my knowledge, Anderson only began racing this season in the Virginia High School MTB Series, where he won a round in the spring series and has won twice this fall as well in the same series. On the road, his best results he got when he was racing as a Category 4. Let me repeat, a rider that was racing in the Cat. 4 groups and not obliterating everyone will be riding with Axeon Hagens Berman. He did get an upgrade to Category 3 before season’s end. An interesting result was his 14th place in the Green Mountain Stage Race in the junior category albeit that was just short of a minute off of winner Matteo Jorgensen. Axel Merckx must have gotten some power files that are mind blowing to make a decision like this but even then, it is a stunning move to use a roster spot for Anderson at this stage in his development.
Chris Blevins is one of the brightest talents on both the road as well as in MTB, where Americans have been lacking in the Men’s XC department for a few years now (though Howard Grotts is helping). Blevins has won the National Championship in his age category in XC discipline each year for the last seven years and won the Albstadt World Cup this year, just two weeks after he won the Junior Peace Race (Zavod Miru) overall. Blevins has a good time trial, climbing and wheelie abilities so he should be a great helper for Costa and Powless while finding his own way. Blevins, a Durango, Colorado native, is attending Cal Poly for school.
After getting the bronze medal in the Junior Men’s ITT at the Doha Worlds, Garrison’s name should be familiar to many people. Behind Brandon McNulty, Garrison is the best American time trialist talent. He was top 10 in both the Trofeo Karlsberg (3rd) and the Tour de l’Abitibi (8th) mainly thanks to his time trial abilities. If you can time trial as a junior, you can time trial as a U23; it is just everything else involved that will need to be figured out.
The foreign contingent have been around the block before with some of them being huge talents that I know will turn many American heads after they see them perform.
I have so wanted Chris Lawless to come to America to race criteriums after his past couple of season where he was won multiple stages of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series. Lawless & a British contingent v. Australians in Scott Law and Jesse Kerrison v. Americans in Dan Holloway, Ty Magner and Brad Huff…throw in Ryan Aitcheson, Aldo Ino Ilesic…and now I need to stop before I get a hot flash thinking about a World Criterium League. Anyways, Lawless has gotten his best results in criteriums with six wins in Britain alone this past year with JLT-Condor but he isn’t a criterium rider alone. Lawless was only 19 when he went 6th in GP Pino Cerami in 2015, which is an immense result. This past year, he was 3rd in the Rutland (basically a race run over old farm roads), 13th in the Ride London Classic and also 9th in the British Championships, where he was one of three U23 riders to make the front group of 13. Lawless will certainly be a sprint option for Axeon Hagens Berman but hopefully with another year under his belt, his endurance level will rise so he is able to be competitive in longer and hillier tours.
While barely talked about at the time, Espoirs Central was one of the first, if not the first, English language sites to talk about the Ecuadorian phenom Jhonnatan Narvaez. I talked about his background in last year’s Klein Constantia preview but for more depth on Narvaez, go to this article from Ciclismo Internacional. The only change from those articles was that his Junior World Record in the 3km pursuit was broken by Swiss Stefan Bisseger this year. In his first U23 season, Narvaez showed big potential in the mountains after winning the KOM and finishing 5th in the Tour des Pays de Savoie. With a full year under his belt, Narvaez could have some fun with Costa and Powless if and when they are teamed up together.
The Oliveira twins are Portuguese track talents that are dabbling in the road side of things. Rui and Ivo were both Worlds medalists in 2014 when Ivo won the 3km Individual Pursuit over Regan Gough, Ivo was 3rd in the Omnium, Rui was 3rd in the Scratch and the pair went 3rd in the Madison. As Elites, they have ridden nearly every track event in Western Europe with Ivo getting the slightly better results in pursuit events and the omnium while Rui had good results in the Scratch and Points. Ivo was 2nd in the European Championships in the Individual Pursuit to World Champion Filippo Ganna after riding a losing but still scorching time of 4’17”. Rui lost the majority of his season after fracturing his femur at the Tour de Gironde. If he recovers well and doesn’t lose a step or two, Rui seems to be more consistent on the road than his brother with a few top 10 results in UCI events, mainly in sprints. Ivo did well at the Worlds in Doha after making the front split so perhaps if his concentration goes to the road after the track season is done, Ivo could turn some heads somewhere.
The last new rider is Michael Rice, a Australian who came from the Canadian Garneau-Quebecor. Rice is a former Junior Australian RR Champion (2013) who left the Australian system for the New World. He has a good year last year too. He had three top 10 stage finishes in Joe Martin and later on, he won a stage in the Tour de Beauce in a late escape. His resume isn’t quite as deep as others but a stage win in Beauce is no joke so he will be looking for more of that.
The only other addition to the team will be a new European DS, Koos Moerenhout. The long time pro with Rabobank and Lotto was a DS with Rabo Liv for the past 5 year since retirement from the peloton. With Moerenhout on the ground in Europe, he will be key in making the day to day life a bit easier and trying to snag a few other invites to fill calendar holes.
With the big crop of talent leaving the coop, Axeon Hagens Berman will have to find an answer as over half of their podiums from 2016 were from departing riders but with the new riders joining and old ones hitting another level, it will be no surprise to see them gelling and excelling soon enough.