Leo Hayter books in as ‘next big thing’ with Baby Giro triumph

Hagens Berman Axeon rider follows in footsteps of Tom Pidcock and Aleksandr Vlasov with victory in prestigious development race.

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Leo Hayter stamped his ticket to the big time with a huge victory at the Baby Giro.

The Hagens Berman Axeon team’s 20-year-old Brit came through the final stage of the prestigious development race unscathed to secure the GC and follow in the footsteps of Juan Ayuso, Tom Pidcock and Aleksandr Vlasov.

“I don’t have many words to be honest. I didn’t expect it and it’s a privilege to wear and keep the maglia rosa,” Hayter said after sealing the overall Saturday.

Lennert van Eetvelt (Lotto Soudal U23) and Lenny Martinez (Equipe Continental Groupama FDJ) took the bottom steps of the race fully known as the Giro d’Italia Giovani Under 23.

Hayter suffered with health issues and a COVID infection this winter and team boss Axel Merckx wasn’t sure what his young Brit could do when the race rolled out last weekend.

Arizonan racer Matthew Riccitello started the week as Hagens Berman Axeon’s GC candidate.

“I was actually a reserve rider and I was hoping to win a stage,” Hayter said Sunday. “I did that, and I exceeded my expectations so I’m really pleased.”

The Baby Giro breeding ground

Victory at the seven-stage “Baby Giro” is a well-trodden step in the careers of many young talents that went big. The Italian race sits alongside the similarly celebrated Tour de l’Avenir as the crown of any U23 rider’s calendar.

The 2018 Baby Giro winner Vlasov is now one of the few riders close to matching Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič in the grand tours. 2020 champion Pidcock won the MTB Olympics and cyclocross worlds as he blazed a trail through the past 12 months.

Others to have taken the Italian race’s top step include U.S. ace Joe Dombrowski and Ineos Grenadiers’ all-rounder Pavel Sivakov.

Triumph in Pinerolo on Sunday now confirms Hater’s credentials as the “next big thing” of British cycling.

Victories at the U23-Liège Bastogne-Liège and British U23 TT championships with DSM’s devo crew last year put Hayter on the map and in a similar frame to his elder brother Ethan, currently in his third full season with Ineos Grenadiers.

Consecutive stage wins at the Giro this week set Hayter’s trajectory for the overall and gives him a space in the record books.

“It’s the second time in Axeon history one of our riders has won the Giro d’Italia Giovanni U23. Leo Hayter also becomes only the second British athlete ever to win the Baby Giro,” his team wrote Saturday.

The Hagens Berman Axeon talent factory keeps churning

The Merckx-led Hagens Berman Axeon squad churned star riders at a remarkable rate through its 14-year history.

Dombrowski, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and João Almeida are among dozens to have graduated through its ranks before hitting big things in the WorldTour.

Hayter only joined the American squad in the final hour this winter when his former DSM devo team put a handbrake on his hopes for an accelerated move to the WorldTour. Merckx sensed a star-in-the-making, and an empty space on the 2022 HBA roster sealed the deal.

Merckx’s latest hot prospect has now been linked to a move to join his brother Ethan at Ineos Grenadiers in 2023. Ethan, 23, ran riot through a series of smaller stage races this spring and is pushing for a spot on Ineos Grendiers’ team for the Tour de France.

Ineos Grenadiers likely won’t be the only team to have Leo Hayter on speed-dial in the coming months.

“After yesterday who wouldn’t want him?” Merckx said earlier this week. “Winning two stages in the Giro, and the way he won them. I think his agent will have a lot of phone calls.”

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