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U23s: ten to watch in 2020

Ten British male under-23s worth keeping an eye on this season

A new wave of British joined the WorldTour at the beginning of this season, including four of our ‘riders to watch‘: Mark Donovan, Ethan Hayter, Charlie Quarterman and Fred Wright. Which riders might follow in their tyre tracks?

We recently introduced a crop of ten first-year under-23s to keep an eye this season. This post takes a look at the under-23 category as a whole. Choosing this year’s ten has been tough and it’s a list we’ve agonised over. So take a look at our ‘honourable mentions’ too for other riders worth monitoring.

The obvious omission from our list is Tom Pidcock (he’ll appear in another feature soon). Adam Hartley would have featured here until he recently took the tough decision to retire. Female riders, too, are missing. We’re working on another piece that should help to redress that balance soon.

With these caveats, here are our 2020 under-23 riders to watch…

2019 OVO Energy Tour of Britain – Stage 5: Birkenhead Park to Birkenhead Park. Jim Brown and Rhys Britton of Great Britain Cycling Team. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Second-year under-23 Jim Brown will ride for French elite team CC Etupes this season after spending a year at the Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy. Describing himself as a sprinter-cum-classics man, the Yorkshireman follows in the footsteps of Adam Yates, who rode for the team in 2013. Thibaut Pinot, Kenny Elisonde, Alexis Vuillermoz, Warren Barguil and Guillaume Martin are also amongst the riders to have represented the team, which gives you an idea of its record in providing a pathway for riders to the WorldTour.

As a junior, Brown got plenty of top results without ever quite grabbing a big win. In 2018, for example, he was 2nd in the Keizer der Juniores, 4th in the E3 Harelbeke, 6th in the Guido Reybrouck and 7th in Gent-Wevelgem. A fine tally, especially considering that more often than not he was up against Remco Evenepoel that year. Last season, his first at under-23 level, the first half of the year was interrupted by injury, but he finished strongly, riding the Tour de l’Avenir (where he grabbed a top 10 on stage 4) and then being part of the Great Britain team at the Tour of Britain that catapulted Matt Walls to some top sprint results.

As one of only two sprinters on the team (the other being former mountain biker Axel Zingle), Brown hopes the move will give him more opportunities than he would otherwise have had at the Senior Academy (where he often rode in service of other designated sprinters, like Matt Walls and Rhys Britton).

Sam Culverwell Photo: Trinity Racing

Sam Culverwell is a rider we championed last year after a string of top results in his first senior year. This year we believe he is capable of even greater things. At just 18 years old, a virtual unknown at the beginning of 2019, he capped an incredible first half of the season with 12th place in the National Road Championships men’s road race. That result has been preceded by no less than three National B race wins.

The second half of the year was even better. Riding pretty much as a solo rider, he finished 6th in the South Coast Classic, 9th at the Ryedale Grand Prix and 2nd at the Bourne CiCLE Classic. He then finished his season with a stint in Belgium, winning two kermesses races and finishing 2nd in two others.

This year he’ll ride for the Trinity Racing team. He may need some adjustment to get used to riding as part of a team, rather than as a solo operator. But surrounded by a string of other talented riders, some solid resources and a top race programme, it will be fascinating to see how he progresses.

2018 UCI World Cycling Championships. Yorkshire’s Great Britain Junior men’s team riders Sam Watson and Mason Hollyman at the start in Kufstein. Photo: Bruce Rollinson/SWPix.com

Another second-year under-23 who has already shown a lot of promise, Mason Hollyman will ride for the Holdsworth-Zappi team again in 2020. Hollyman is a climber by trade, a talent that was already apparent during his junior days. He won a stage of the Giro di Basilicata in his first junior season. The following year, 2018, he was 3rd overall at the junior Tour of the Basque Country (won by Team Ineos’ neo-pro Carlos Rodriguez), 4th overall at the Junior Tour of Wales and was part of the Great Britain junior team at the Innsbruck world championships.

Last season he quickly adjusted to the step by to the under-23 ranks. His early-season results included 16th at the Trofeo PIVA (1.2U) and 12th GP Palio del Recioto (1.2U). He then claimed 20th overall in the Baby Giro (and 7th in the race’s youth classification), a fine way to start his under-23 stage racing career. With a year of under-23 racing now under his belt, he could be ready to go even better in 2020.

2019 HSBC UK Men’s National Circuit Series – Colne Grand Prix, Lancashire, England – Rob Scott (Wiggins Le Col). Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

2018 under-23 national road race champion Rob Scott was on our list of riders to watch last year. A year on, he no longer has a national champions jersey to wear but has an improved palmares and is rider capable of even bigger results in 2020.

Last season he picked up some strong results without ever quite getting a ‘big one’. He showed early season promise with 4th in the under-23 Gent-Wevelgem and then picked up 9th overall in the tough Belgian development race, Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux. He picked up strong results in the National Road Series, including 2nd in the South Coast Classic, 10th in the Lancaster Grand Prix and 11th overall in the Manx International. And finished the season with a ride for Great Britain at the Tour de l’Avenir, followed by the Tour of Britain.

As a final-year under-23, 2020 is an important year for him. He’s moved from the now-defunct Team Wiggins Le Col team to the UK’s biggest Continental team, Canyon dhb p/b Soreen. It’s a team where he’ll be exposed to a much higher level of racing than he has been used to so far; its calendar is packed with .1 races. If he can make the adjustment, he’ll get a race programme that should suit his abilities.

Jake Stewart. Photo: Groupama-FDJ Continental

Followers of the British Continental will probably need little introduction to Jake Stewart. The Groupama-FDJ Continental rider was one of our under-23 riders to watch last season and had a stellar year, despite narrowly missing out on an elusive UCI race win.

He scored an early-season win in the French elite race the GP du Pays d’Aix, and followed that with a string of top UCI race performances. These included three podiums and 5th overall at Le Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux (2.2U), 3rd at the U23 Tour of Flanders, 3rd at the U23 Eschborn-Frankfurt race and 8th at the U23 Paris-Roubaix.

If he can put another good season together this year, a move to the WorldTour is a realistic prospect for the 20-year-old from Coventry. Indeed, he’s already had a taster of things, riding the Volta ao Algarve for the Groupama-FDJ WorldTour outfit in the early season. As he said in his interview with us last year, “Hopefully next year I can win some races and then after next year, we’re looking at stepping up to the World Tour.”

Dan Tulett. Photo: Cherie Pridham Racing

Dan Tulett was second in the junior world cyclocross championships in 2017, the year in which Great Britain secured a famous 1-2-3 (Tom Pidcock won the race, Ben Turner was third). Having continued to race cyclocross as he stepped up to the under-23 ranks, he’s now decided to go all-in for the road. He told VeloUK recently that, “I have reached a point in my career now when I need to give the road 100% and focus on one thing and try and make a living out of being a cyclist now.”

His road results so far certainly suggest he’s capable of succeeding in his quest to make a living from cycling. A bagged a trio of top tens in 2018 in National A races (4th in the Stockton GP being the standout result). Last year, riding for Team Wiggins Le Col, he was close to the win in the Lancaster Grand Prix, finishing 3rd behind Ian Bibby and James Shaw in a technical sprint finish. He also impressed in the Baby Giro. He was 25th overall and was close to contesting the win when in the break on stage 8, but was derailed by a mechanical, eventually finishing 8th.

He rides for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK. It’s a team where he should get plenty of opportunities to get noticed, especially as they plan to race an expanded European UCI race calendar (coronavirus allowing) this season. With his focus firmly on the road now, we’ll need to wait and see if he’s able to take them.

Jacob Vaughan wins the 2019 Perfs Pedal road race. Photo: Phil O’Connor

Jacob Vaughan is a rider who hasn’t quite been able to fulfil his potential at the under-23 level. Yet. As a top junior, he won the British junior road race championships and the Guido Reybrouck Classic, as well as picking up plenty of other impressive results. That earned him a spot on Lotto Soudal’s under-23 team. But he endured a tough year out in Belgium, so he took the opportunity to return to the UK when Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes came calling.

His 2019 started well. Very well. He won the Perfs Pedal road race, was second in the Severn Bridge road race behind teammate Alex Richardson, and then picked up 10th and 11th places respectively in two early-season pro kermesse races. But as he explains in a forthcoming interview, illness and bad luck meant he struggled to find form after that. And his season ended early due to a bad crash.

This season he returns to Belgium with the Indulek-Doltcini-Derito team where his race programme will include a good dollop of UCI 1.2 races, top UCI U23 races and top amateur races in Belgium and Holland. Importantly, he should frequently get opportunities to race for himself. His season has started promisingly. He was the highest-place Brit in the Ster van Zwolle in his first race of the season and then won the Lierde kermesse race. If he can build on this solid start, this could be the season he begins to truly demonstrate his potential.

2019 UCI Road World Championships – Men U23 Individual Time Trial – Ripon – Harrogate – Yorkshire, England – Ethan Vernon of Great Britain. Photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy member Ethan Vernon will combine road and track ambitions this year. In 2019, his first as an under-23, Vernon wasted little time highlighting his road prowess.

A talented time triallist and sprinter, he finished 2nd in the prologue in the Course de la Paix Nations Cup race in early June. Later that month he picked up a very impressive bronze in the U23 time trial at the National Road Championships, behind super-talent Ethan Hayter and Trek-Segafredo signing Charlie Quarterman. He picked up three wins, all from small group sprint finishes, in Belgium kermesses before becoming a key part of Matt Wall’s lead-out train at the Tour of Britain. His results were strong enough to gain selection to ride the under-23 time trial at the world road race championships, where he finished a creditable 21st.

The word is that Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy members will be given greater priority when it comes to selection for key Great Britain U23 races this season, which should mean Vernon won’t be short of opportunities. And if he can continue the momentum he began last year, there’s every reason to believe 2020 will be one to remember.

2019 Tissot UCI Track Cycling World Cup – Minsk Arena Velodrome, Minsk, Belarus – Matt Walls of Great Britain wins Gold in the Men’s Omnium. Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

In our view, 21-year-old Matt Walls is one of the best British riders not yet on a WorldTour team. The bronze medallist in the omnium at the recent track world championships will be firmly focused on track glory at Tokyo over the coming months. Road racing will be an important component of his Olympic preparation though, and in Trinity Racing, he has found a team that can help build his already impressive road racing palmares.

Walls already boasts five UCI road racing wins to his name. In 2018, he won two stages of the Flèche du Sud (as well as the points jersey) and a stage of A Travers les Hauts. Last season, he took another stage win at A Travers les Hauts, as well as podiums at the Arno Wallaard Memorial and Brenne & Montmorillonnais. But it was his results in other races that really caught the eye. A stage win in the Baby Giro was his first head-turning result. 13th in the Ride London Classic, his first WorldTour race, was also impressive. And then in the Tour of Britain, he showed he was capable of competing against some of the best sprinters in the world, picking up 2nd place on stage 5 against the unstoppable Dylan Groenewegen. A stagiaire stint with EF Education First ensued.

He is surely destined for a permanent contract with a WorldTour team next season. For now, though, it’s about track glory in Tokyo.

Harrison Wood. Photo: SEG Racing Academy

SEG Racing Academy is arguably the most successful development team around. They are regular winners at the under-23 level and have helped numerous riders onto the WorldTour. So when they signed up Harrison Wood for 2020, our interest was piqued.

Wood, now a second-year under-23, spent last season in France at AVC Aix-en-Provence. Starting on their reserve team, he quickly impressed, winning a stage of La Multipôle de l’Étang de Berre. In June he was second overall at the Spanish stage race Volta a Castelló. He backed that up with 10th in the under-23 time trial at the national road championships. He rounded out the year with 9th in the under-23 Chrono Nations to underline his ability to time trial as well as climb.

His palmares might not be as extensive as other riders on this list, but he’s a rider with plenty of potential. Relatively new to competitive cycling (he’s only been riding seriously for three years), SEG clearly think the same. This season might be more about continuing his development through increased exposure to high-quality races and supporting teammates than winning top under-23 races quite yet. He’s ambitious though and is backed by one of the best set-ups around. So keep a watch.

Honourable mentions

There are many other riders that nearly made this list. Our two journal contributors, Joe Laverick (Chambéry CF) and Joe Nally (Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK) are two that were closely considered. Thankfully we’ll be able to keep a close watch on them through their journal series this year. Also on our longlist were Rhys Britton (Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy), new Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling signing Charles Page, Callum MacLeod (Canyon dhb p/b Soreen), Reece Wood (Holdsworth-Zappi) and two members of SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling’s under-23 contingent, Charlie Meredith and Tim James.

Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com. 2019 UCI Road World Championships – Men’s Under 23 Individual Time Trial – Yorkshire, England – Ethan Vernon of Great Britain.