Call it revelation weekend. Across two continents, young riders confirmed their arrival in the peloton with emphatic victories.
From North America to Europe, in Utah, Poland, Denmark, and Spain, four rising pros took their first important pro victories that not only confirmed their quality, but also gave a taste of more good things to come.
At the Tour of Utah, Joe Dombrowski, 24, delivered the performance everyone has been waiting for since he beat Fabio Aru (Astana) at the Baby Giro in 2012.
In Europe, three other emerging stars also validated their pedigrees. After finishing second two years in a row, Movistar’s Ion Izagirre, 26, took his first stage race victory with the overall at the Tour of Poland, while Tinkoff-Saxo’s Christopher Juul-Jensen, also 26, won on home roads at the Tour of Denmark.
And from South America, Colombia’s Miguel Ángel López (Astana), just 21, claimed his first pro victory Friday, and carried the leader’s jersey into the final stage, to end up a respectable fourth at the Vuelta a Burgos against a top field of veterans heading to the Vuelta a España.
Izagirre’s comments after wrapping up the overall in Poland summed up the mood across all the weekend’s races. There was a sense of relief, satisfaction, and blooming confidence.
“Winning any WorldTour race is extremely important, and in my case, winning a stage race for the first time of my career is huge, more so after twice finishing second,” Izagirre said. “I am simply very, very happy to have made the highest step on the podium at last.”
First win is often the hardest
Any cycling career is marked with important milestones. The first is simply earning a professional contract, quickly followed by keeping a place in the cutthroat peloton. Winning often proves more elusive, especially for riders who are not sprinters or time trial specialists.
This weekend saw four riders make that breakthrough. Whether those wins prove to be one-offs or the first chapter in a fruitful career remains to be seen, but the importance of winning for the first time was not lost on anyone.
Juul-Jensen, who recently signed a two-year deal to join Orica-GreenEdge for 2016, used his powerful time trialing skills to secure the overall at the Tour of Denmark. After riding in strong support of Alberto Contador at the Giro d’Italia, he won the Danish time trial championship in June, and will race this week at the Eneco Tour, where he could do well.
“It’s difficult to describe this victory,” Juul Jensen said. “Before the season, I had two main goals — to win the national time trial championships, and win the Tour of Denmark. And [Friday], I was able to secure the overall while wearing the red and white national TT jersey.”
Not forgetting winning ways
It’s during races just like the ones featured between the Tour de France and the Vuelta — against a quality field, but not quite at the season’s peak — when young riders can stake their claim.
Young pros rarely beat the established stars at the major one-day classics or grand tours, but there are opportunities sprinkled throughout the season for emerging riders to have their chances. Most teams want to give their younger pros a chance to race for a win early in their careers.
“We try to give all of our riders a chance to win throughout the year,” said Trek Factory Racing manager Luca Guercilena in an interview earlier this season. “A lot of new pros were used to winning in the U23 ranks, but there is a danger of losing that winning spirit when all they do is work for the big captains. It’s important they do not forget what it’s like to win.”
An example of that unfolded Monday during the first stage of the Eneco Tour. Trek’s Danny van Poppel, just 22, fell short of what would have been his first WorldTour victory, sprinting to second to Elia Viviani (Sky).
Sometimes punching through to that next level can prove trying. The 26-year-old Izagirre, whom some believe can develop into a quality grand tour rider, has been nipping at the edge of major stage race victory for the past three seasons. After a string of top-10s in weeklong stage races, including fourth at the 2013 Santos Tour Down Under, twice second at the Tour of Poland, and third at the 2015 Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), Izagirre kept plugging away, and got it right.
And some riders are able to deliver big results right off the bat. Many look to López as Colombia’s next big thing. At 21, he’s already known as “Superman” within the Colombian cycling community, and won last year’s Tour de l’Avenir.
Meet Colombia’s ‘Superman’
In only his second professional stage race at the Presidential Tour of Turkey in May, López was second in the decisive climbing stage, just three seconds behind stage-winner Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
At the Tour de Suisse in June, he was fourth in the key climbing summit finale up the Rettenbachgletscher climb in the Austrian Alps, 43 seconds behind stage winner Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
At the five-stage Burgos tour, López almost took a page from another Avenir winner who’s also done well there, Nairo Quintana (Movistar). With the Vuelta up next, Quintana skipped defending his back-to-back Burgos titles, opening the door for compatriot López.
In last Friday’s uphill finale, López outkicked Dani Moreno (Katusha), a winner of Flèche Wallonne and the 2012 Vuelta a Burgos. Moreno got his revenge the next day up the decisive Lagunas de Neila climb, winning the stage, and booting López out of the leader’s jersey. But it was only a question of seconds. Astana teammate Rein Taaramae took the flowers, with Michele Scarponi second, Moreno third, and López just missing the podium by three seconds in fourth.
For Dombrowski, the ride to the top of the Utah podium was a bumpy one, with the past two seasons marked by injuries and other setbacks. Now healthy again, Dombrowski secured his first major win, and will make his grand tour debut at the Vuelta later this month.
“I’ve sort of made steady progress,” Dombrowski told VeloNews’ James Raia. “Any time you fix something, you think you’re going to go straight back to the top. But it doesn’t really work that way. It’s not a linear progression. But, yes, I think this is the best yet. So I am happy to be back and racing healthy again.”