As we head into the 2011 season, there are a host of young, hugely talented riders who will be expected not only to ride the biggest races in the world, but also garner results in those races. This may come in the form of individual results or in supporting team leaders, but either way these young riders will be asked a lot despite their inexperience.
Monday, January 31, 2011
The question is: How much is too much to expect for a young rider? With team budgets determined year in and year out by results, directors must wring as many wins out of their team as possible. Naturally the younger riders on each team are givin a bit of leeway to adjust . . . until they get their first result. After that the pressure steadily builds and more and more work and responsibility is heaped upon them. So what to do? Is it smarter to develop each youngster gradually or thrust them into a leadership role is they earn initial success?
The answer to the question isn't an easy one. In a typical scenario you have a young athlete who is eager to impress his new team. He trains hard in the off season, arrives at the first training camp highly motivated and rides well in the first few races of the year. Perhaps he picks up a win or a podium in that time and then asks for more responsibility. Or perhaps a sponsor speaks to the DS and suggests that he should be given more chances to win races. So the decision is made to give the youngster a shot at leadership.
At first things are great. The young rider continues to ride well, winning on adrenaline and force alone. He goes from race to race riding at the front, constantly pushing the limits of his mental and physical abilities. And then it happens. One race while riding in the bunch he feels a twinge in his knee. He continues on, convinced that it is minor. Three days later he is in real pain and finally tells the team doctor. A diagnosis is made and the young rider finds out he has sever tendinitis or worse. He has to sit out for a few weeks.
When he comes back the issue lingers, leading to a surgery. By the time he is rehabbed more than half the season is done. So he pushes hard upon his return and re-aggravates the injury. His team finally decides to shut him down for the rest of the season. Frustrated, he parties too hard during the off season and comes to camp the next year out of shape. A once promising prospect is suddenly in the second or third year of his professional career and is actually worse than when he began.
The scenario above is an extreme one, but we have seen cases that had at least a couple of the above characteristics several times over the past few years. Heinrich Haussler seems to most closely fit the above scenario, but there are others. Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Kevin Seeldrayers, Gerald Ciolek, Janez Brajkovic, Remy di Gregorio, even Damiano Cunego have had injuries, unrealistic expectations, or a combination of both affect their careers in a negative way.
This year there are a host of young riders who would be well advised to be careful that they don't head too deep into the red zone early on in their careers. These riders have already shown a clear ability to ride for results in the world's biggest races, but too much too soon could see them take a step down in 2011 rather than a step up.
Some of the riders who should be careful in 2011 include:
Richie Porte: The Saxo star may get Tour leadership now that Contador is banned. He was 7th overall at last year's Giro, but is the 25 year old really ready to lead Saxo at the world's biggest race?
Peter Sagan: Still categorized a neo pro, Sagan was THE breakthrough rider of 2010. He is looking at targeting all of the classics in 2011 for his Liquigas team, but at only 21 years old he is still a baby. He would be well-advised to duplicate his 2010 schedule and take it slow, but that is highly unlikely to happen.
Alex Dowsett: At 22 Dowsett is still very young and with exception to his experience on the track he is very inexperienced. He'll be on the big stage for 2011 and hopefully will be able to develop under another former trackie and teammate Brad Wiggins.
Taylor Phinney: Phinney is undoubtedly ready to move into the pro ranks, but he should be held back from chasing results in his first season. Instead BMC should focus on the learning experience, as he takes on some of the biggest races in the world for the first time. A huge talent, Phinney goes fast even at half-speed, so a prologue win or two along the way will happen organically.
Jack Bobridge: Ever since he impressed Lance Armstrong back in 2009, Bobridge has become a known commodity in Australian cycling. Garmin-Cervelo holds his rights for 2011 and the newly crowned Australian road champ will be itching to make his European debut. At only 21 he has a lot of developing to do and Garmin director Jonathan Vaughters can be counted on to keep his young charge in line. The same should go for Bobridge's new teammates Pete Stetina and Andrew Talansky, both of whom enjoyed solid 2010 seasons but have a lot of learning to do.
Tejay van Garderen: van Garderen, despite being only 22, has a good amount of experience in the European scene. He'll need all that experience and more for 2011 as he'll lead the HTC squad for the GC at the Tour of California and other smaller stage races. If he can rise to the pressure, van Garderen should be ready for his shot, but his young age makes him vulnerable to mental lapses.
Tiago Machado: Machado is relatively old at 25, but his lack of pro experience puts him into a catagory of vulnerability. With Armstrong virtually out of the Radioshack picture, Machado will likely be expected to chase results at week long stage races throughout the year. He won't be the only card in the Radioshack deck, but unlike in 2010 he won't just be along for the ride either.