Commentary: These were the 10 most important stories in US cycling in 2016

by Neal Rogers

December 22, 2016

4. Axeon Hagens Berman: Best development team of all time?

by Neal Rogers

How to put into context the Cinderella season the Axeon Hagens Berman team had in 2016? The squad of 12 Americans and four international riders was perhaps the best development team the sport has ever seen.

On a team stacked with talent, it’s hard to choose a standout rider, but if forced, that honor would go to Adrien Costa. In April the 19-year-old from Central California became the first American to win the seven-stage Le Tour de Bretagne, soloing to victory on the hilly stage to Lannion, moving into the race lead. In August, he finished second overall at the mountainous Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, ahead of WorldTour riders like Andrew Talansky and Darwin Atapuma. Three weeks later, he finished third at the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir, with a time-trial stage win. He wrapped up his season riding as a stagiaire with Etixx-Quick-Step.

Also exploding with natural ability is Californian Neilson Powless, who finished second overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and won the Joe Martin Stage Race before putting in a massive performance at the Amgen Tour of California, where he was set to finish fifth overall until he was tangled up in a crash on the final stage in Sacramento; he finished ninth as best young rider. Powless, turned 20 in September, went on to win a time trial stage at the Tour de Beauce, and solo to victory on the final stage of the Tour de l’Avenir, where he rode in support of Costa; he also finished second to Costa at the l’Avenir individual time trial. Powless helped drive the U.S. national team — composed entirely of Axeon riders — to victory at the Stage 1 team time trial of the Olympia’s Tour, and he finished the season placing sixth in the U23 world time-trial championship, a race where he’s almost certain to medal in the coming years.

In April, three months after finishing on the podium at the elite national cyclocross championship, Washington native Logan Owen became the first American to win the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège; teammate Ruben Guerreiro, of Portugal, joined Owen on the podium in third place.

Coloradan Greg Daniel, who turned 22 in November, took the stars-and-stripes jersey of U.S. national road champion in May, soloing to victory late in the race, and quickly backed that up with a stage win and the overall victory at the Tour de Beauce. The disappointment of a broken collarbone at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah was tempered by the fact that he’d signed a WorldTour contract with Trek-Segafredo. At the U23 world road championship, Daniel drove the daylong breakaway for 150km before it was caught with less than 10km remaining.

In June, at the U.S. U23 national road championship, Axeon riders took the top seven spots, two days after placing seven riders in the top 10 of the U23 national time trial; Geoffrey Curran won both national titles, beating out Powless in both events.

Colin Joyce, 22, took the biggest win of his career with a stage win at the Tour of Alberta, out-sprinting Cannondale-Drapac rider Alex Howes, making him the tenth rider from the team to register a win in 2016. Joyce will ride with Rally Cycling in 2017.

The wins didn’t just come from Americans, either. Guerreiro won the G.P. Palio del Recioto and Portugal’s U23 national road championship; Ireland’s Eddie Dunbar took a stage at the An Post Ras; and Tao Geoghegan Hart won at Trofeo Piva and took a stage of Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc.

In all, Axel Merckx’s development team won 36 races in 2016, including 17 wins at UCI events, with three riders — Daniel, Guerreiro, and Geoghegan Hart — advancing to the WorldTour. Powless, Costa, Owen, Curran, and Dunbar will all return in 2017, meaning the sport’s greatest development team could be even better next year.