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We can almost stick a fork in the 2016 domestic racing season, now that the Tour of Alberta is over. Every year, some riders rise to the top of the domestic peloton, and 2016 was no different. Lachlan Morton, Robin Carpenter, and a handful of others showed that they are the best in the U.S. (and yeah, Canada too). The question now is whether these guys are ready for the jump from cycling’s minor leagues into the WorldTour, and whether any WorldTour squads will give them a shot. So who do we think is ready for the step up?
Scouting Report: We’ve always known Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly – Maxxis) to be one of the best climbers in North America, but this year he proved that he is perhaps the best stage racer as well. Morton won the Tour of Utah and the Tour of the Gila, finished second at the Cascade Cycling Classic, and won two stages at Utah, one at Gila, one at Cascade, and, perhaps most importantly, was seventh on the Amgen Tour of California climb to Gibraltar Road. His win in Utah showed that Morton has the maturity to protect the race lead, and then go for broke to snatch it back.
Is he ready? Sure, why not? Put Morton on any climb in Europe and he’s bound to finish near the front of the group.
Scouting Report: Robin Carpenter (Holowesko – Citadel) took a huge leap forward this year, transforming from a guy who can win tough, hilly stages, into a bona-fide stage racer. Carpenter won the Cascade Cycling Classic, finished third at the Tour de Beauce, and then won a stage of the Tour of Utah. The big result, however, is his overall win at Alberta, where he defeated Bauke Mollema by one second. Carpenter is an impressive power rider who can time trial and win tough, hilly races.
Is he ready? Possibly. Like Morton, Carpenter is just 24, so he’s young enough for a WorldTour team to give him a chance.
Scouting Report: Adrien Costa split his year between Europe and North America with Axeon Hagens Berman. On this side of the Atlantic, he was able to mix it up with the best riders in the peloton, finishing second at the Tour of Utah. But it’s Costa’s results in European U23 races that show that he’s ready to test his legs in Europe. He won France’s Tour de Bretagne, finished fifth at Belgium’s Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateax. The big result, however, was his stage win and third place overall at France’s Tour de L’Avenir.
Is he ready? His legs and lungs definitely are. But Costa is just 19 years old, and he recently announced that he’ll spend 2017 racing one more year with Axeon before joining the big leagues. Probably a smart move.
Scouting Report: Travis McCabe won stages at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Joe Martin Stage Race, and Tour of Utah, and was a close second at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic. He’s the peloton’s most versatile sprinter who can win a bunch kick, yet also survive climbs under 10 minutes. His team director, Thomas Craven, described him to me as the U.S. version of Peter Sagan. I mean, is there really such a thing?
Is he ready? Tough to say. If he keeps winning tough sprints, McCabe could take a Kiel Reijnen-style route to the WorldTour. But at 27 years old, the window is quickly closing.
Scouting Report: The revelation of the 2016 U.S. domestic season, Neilson Powless was the best young rider at the Amgen Tour of California, where he nearly won the stage to Gibraltar Road. Perhaps more impressive, Powless then showed that he’s a capable stage racer, winning the time trial at the Tour of the Gila and the overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race. Powless capped off his season with a stage victory at Tour L’Avenir. A former triathlete, Powless is equally strong in time trials and long, steep climbs. Like Costa, we’ll likely be seeing him racing in the WorldTour before too long.
Is he ready? Like Costa, Powless could probably benefit from another year in the domestic ranks before graduating to the WorldTour. At 20, he’s already shown himself to be a world-class talent. But Powless has only raced two full seasons. Jumping headfirst into the WorldTour could be too much, too soon.
Scouting Report: A former pro mountain biker and three-time collegiate champion, Sepp Kuss also burst onto the domestic scene in 2016, winning two of the most iconic uphill stages in North America: the Oak Glen stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic and the Mont-Megantic stage of the Tour de Beauce. He also climbed alongside the peloton’s best at the Tour of the Gila. Kuss spent the season’s second half dipping his toe into European racing, finishing the Tour Alsace and the Tour de L’Avenir.
Is he ready? Kuss seems to have the legs and the lungs. But the jump from mountain biking to road racing isn’t easy, so Kuss could probably use another year or two to dial in road racing dynamics, pack positioning etc. He’s just 21, so there’s some time.