A blast from the past: current and former pros as juniors

by Dave Everett


Over the next two days the best junior and U23 riders in the world will take to the streets of Richmond with the aim of becoming road race world champion. And some of the riders that are successful this weekend will surely go on to star in the pro ranks in the years to come.

In the following article Dave Everett looks back on the early careers of some of the sport’s biggest names and digs up some great photos of them in the junior ranks.


Ageing. It happens to us all. Some manage to do it gracefully; others, not so much. For the athletes amongst us — or those of us that count ourselves as athletes — it’s hard to admit you’re not able to mix it up in the sprints like you did when you were in your 20s, or recover from hard efforts as fast as you did when you were an under-23.

But age also comes with a number of upsides. You may have learned how to suffer and not show it, your bike handling skills should be honed, you might have gained some authority in the peloton (or cafe), race tactics should have become a sixth sense, the local bike shop might cut you a better deal, and then there’s the cheaper car insurance.

If you’ve grown up in a cycling family, photo albums are where you’ll no doubt find early photos of yourself looking fresh-faced, hopeful and enthusiastic, riding bikes that may very well have been of the skinny steel-tubed variety. Downtube shifters, toe clips and straps (dependent on your era) and clothing that probably looks as though it’s hanging off your young skinny body …

The memories are great, remembering that first win or even that first club ride. Of course, these photos can be embarrassing at times. Mates will ridicule you for the flappy nylon jersey you were wearing and that skid lid of a helmet.

To honour this and, in all honesty, to amuse ourselves, we’ve scoured the archives to find some photos of current and past professionals as they were back in their junior days (or even younger, in some cases).

Mark Cavendish

The Etixx-Quick-Step rider hasn’t had the greatest of seasons so far and it won’t be improving any time soon as he’s having to recover from a shoulder injury from a crash at the Tour of Britain. The once dominant sprinter in the peloton, known for his low aerodynamic body position and rapid acceleration, clearly had a soft spot for David Millar as a junior. If only he knew then that he’d have him as a national team mate in the years to come.

cavendish

Peter Sagan

We’ve all seen the videos of Sagan’s amazing bike-handling skills. Sagan started showing his class on the cyclocross and mountain bikes scene. The lower left picture shows Sagan at the 2008 Junior Worlds (yes, he had legs that big as a junior) where he took a silver medal. The same year he took the junior crosscountry mountain bike world championships and the European junior champs title too.

Not too bad for a young kid who once won a race on a rickety bike he borrowed from his sister, after mistakenly selling his own.

sagan junior images

In the seven years since then Sagan has gone on to become one of the most dominant figures in cycling. His race tactics may be a little questionable at times with crazy breakaways and riding as if he’s got techno music pounding in his ears rather than instructions from his DS, but it sure makes for some spectacular racing.

Bradley Wiggins

Sir Brad clearly had good taste as a young kid — the Z Vetements team jersey is a classic. Wiggins is a rider who doesn’t just love the sport; he has a massive respect for the history of it too.

wiggins junior

Next year’s Olympics in Rio could very well be his swan song. His Team Wiggins setup was created as a launch pad to what he hopes will be another gold medal at the summer games.

Wiggins was part of the first intake of riders for what was then known as the lottery-funded World Class Performance Plan. This program has since changed name and churned out the vast majority of the recent wave of successful British riders and coaches such as Sir Rod Ellingworth. Wiggins’ first major success was at the 1998 Junior Track Worlds where he took the individual pursuit championships.

Frank Schleck

Frank is now the sole Schleck in the pro peloton after his brother was sent into early retirement at the end of last year due to a serious knee problem. Frank joined the pro peloton back in 2003 with Team CSC.

Before this though he had dipped his toes in the water with an end-of-season stagiaire ride with the Festina team in 2001. This was to come to nothing, however, as the team (unsurprisingly) folded at the end of the year.

frank junior

As has been well-documented, Frank’s had his ups and downs. At 35 years of age he’s now one of the older pros in the peloton but he clearly has the same haircut as he did when he was 16.

Jan Ullrich

Jan Ullrich retired in 2006 (with void results since 2005), but just look at that top left picture in the collage below. It’s like a painted photograph from the 1920s — rosy cheeks and well-coiffed hair. East-German photography at its best.

ulrich junior

Ullrich is a name that will go down in the history books for multiple reasons. To some he was a powerhouse; to others a guy that had too much black forest gâteaux in the off-season; to still others he was one of the many dopers of the 1990s and early 2000s.

A rainbow jersey in the 1993 amateur world road race helped him secure a pro contract with Walter Godefroot, a man who’d go on to direct him through most of his pro career.

Joaquim Rodriguez

One of the most exciting riders to watch over the past decade, Joaquim Rodriguez clearly had a love of the sport at an early age. The 36-year-old started his racing life by moving to the Basque region to race with the Iberdrola amateur squad. This team was linked to ONCE; a squad that would give Rodriguez his first pro contract in 2001.

One of the most exciting riders to watch over the past few years, Rodriguez clearly had the love for the sport at an early age. Now 36 years of age he started his racing life by moving to the Basque region to race with the Iberdrola a team that was linked to ONCE, a team that would gve him his first pro contract in 2001. Rodriguez in the past few seasons has gone from strenght to strenght, stage races and one day race seem to suit the adaptable rider.

In the past few seasons Rodriguez has gone from strength to strength. Stage races and one-day races alike seem to suit this adaptable rider.

Marianne Vos

Currently sitting the rest of the season out after struggling to recover from injury, Marianne Vos has been a winner since her early days.

vos

Like Peter Sagan, Vos started with the disciplines of cyclocross and mountain biking. In 2004 she took the first of 12 world championships — the women’s junior road race. Eleven years on she’s now racked up three rainbow jerseys on the road, seven cyclocross world titles, two on the track (the 2008 points race and 2011 scratch race), plus two Olympic gold medals. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the 28-year-old’s results.

Fabian Cancellara and Filippo Pozzato

Here are two juniors that raced each other as juniors and would go on to battle it out as professionals. Fabian Cancellara and Filippo Pozzato finished first and third at the junior time trial world championships in Valkenburg in 1998. Fabian’s class against the clock was on show as he won not once but twice at the junior TT worlds, taking the win in 1999 as well.

pozzato cancela

Greg LeMond

Legend has it that Greg LeMond won his first 11 races as a junior at the age of 15 before he was quickly moved up to the older age group category to give him some competition.

greg

LeMond’s professional career is one of legend: he won the Tour de France in 1986, almost died in a hunting accident then came back to win the Tour de France again in 1989 and 1990. He now runs a bike manufacturing firm, is an advocate for clean racing and is a commentator for Eurosport.

Have you come across other photos of current or past pros from when they were juniors? Or have you got a great photo of yourself as a junior that you’d like to share? We’d love to see them in the comments below.

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