Where are eight riders on Axeon Hagen Berman's record-setting team of 2016 headed in 2017 to #PROVEIT?
Seven of the eight will continue pursuing careers in the sport. Joining WorldTour riders Greg Daniel (Trek-Segafredo) Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Sky) and Ruben Guerreiro (Trek Segafredo) are Colin Joyce (Rally Cycling), Krists Neilands (Israel Cycling Academy), Justin Oien (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Tyler Williams (Israel Cycling Academy), who will compete in the professional continental and continental ranks.
The eighth member of the Class of 2016, Phil O'Donnell, is pursuing a criminal justice curriculum at the University of North Georgia and will intern with the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force this summer with a planned graduation in December. Last year, O'Donnell counted a stage win at the Tour of the Southern Highlands among his five podium results.
O'Donnell said he looks forward to putting the focus and hard work he did as a cyclist into helping others.
"Cycling has a major effect on the person I am today," he said. "I have learned so much over the past 10 years through traveling, commitment, work ethic, communication, friendships and much more. Cycling has really built my character and I am excited to build on that in other aspects of life. I am going to miss the Axeon family, but everyone has been very supportive and that goes to show the kind of people who are involved in this program."
Here are capsule glances on the other seven riders who are continuing on in pro cycling:
U.S. national road champion Greg Daniel said he aims to be "the best Greg Daniel" in 2017 as he shows off the stars and stripes jersey in races around the globe for Trek-Segafredo.
Daniel was the overall winner of the Tour de Beauce in June and part of USA Cycling's Under 23 victory in the team time trial at the Olympia's Tour. He will join two others from the Axeon program who are on the American team's roster - Guerreiro (2015-16) and Jasper Stuyven (2012-13).
"There are lots of leaders on this team and I would like to support them and learn from them," Daniel said. "Jasper is an example for me having come from Axel's program, too. He has proven himself."
British Under 23 national road champion Tao Geoghegan Hart was "the one who got away" in 2016. Not anymore, said Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford.
"Tao decided to do another 12 months at the U23 level," Brailsford said. "It has proven to be the right decision. He had some pretty good performances this past season and he was involved in the front of the races. He has definitely matured and learned more."
Geoghegan Hart arrived at Team Sky with an impressive list of international results in 2016: winner of the one-day Italian semi-classic Trofeo Piva and a stage of Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc in France, plus best young rider at Silver City's Tour of the Gila. In all, he earned more than three dozen top 10 results last year, his third with the team.
"We are thinking that he will be a rider for the stage races," Brailsford said. "I can't see why he wouldn't be. But like everything else, I think the key is to break it down into bite-sized chunks and look for progression rather than worry too much about the end result."
The reigning Under 23 Portugese national road champion, Guerreiro said he looks forward to working with Trek-Segafredo sport directors who have a history of developing young talent.
"If one day I could win one of the Ardennes Classics and perform very well in the Tour de France, that would be truly awesome," Guerreiro said. "But first things first: my aim is to learn as much as I can. I rode with the team at some of their training rides in December in Spain and picked up a lot in a short period of time."
Besides soloing to win G.P. Palio del Recioto in 2016, Guerreiro was also runner-up to teammate Logan Owen in the Under 23 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège for one of his five podium finishes on the year.
A chance meeting in a hospital a couple of years ago eventually led to Joyce signing on with Rally Cycling for 2017.
"I met (Rally Cycling Performance Manager) Jonas Carney in 2014 after crashing in a race in Portugal," Joyce said. "One of his riders was also involved in the crash and Jonas was there, came over and was super comforting to me and offered a lot of help and advice. I instantly had a lot of respect for him as he helped me when I needed it. I kept that in mind while talking with teams about 2017."
Joyce won the opening stage of the Tour of Alberta and went on to finish fourth overall while taking home the points classification and earning "best young rider" honors.
"I really just want to continue to develop and show that I am capable of racing at the highest level," he said. "I still have a lot to learn and am looking forward to the process. A lot of the older guys on the team have some amazing racing experience, and I want to use that to help further my abilities. My main goal is to help the team win or compete for the win in every race we enter."
Israel Cycling Academy Team Manager Ran Margaliot said he sees potential in Neilands, the reigning Under 23 Latvian national road and time trial champion.
"Although unpolished, we can see his this combination of power and great technical control," Margaliot said. "I believe that it all will develop quickly into the full package. More importantly, he is a perfect fit to our DNA as a team that wants to develop its riders and not be based mainly on proven veteran riders."
Neilands called the jump to pro continental "a big step" but said he is ready for it. "I am excited and confident that I will be able to handle it and face the challenge," he said.
After signing on with professional continental team Caja Rural-Seguros RGA of Spain, Oien said he immediately got to work learning Spanish, as well as beginning a regimented training program.
"I am going to continue to put the work in and with the help of my personal coach, the staff and riders at Caja Rural continue to progress steadily. I also want to enter each race with the goal of having an impact on the race because thats how you learn and get better by testing yourself and putting yourself in different scenarios. I am extremely excited and grateful for this opportunity. All efforts toward 2017 and on.
A member of the Axeon program for two seasons, Oien was part of USA Cycling's Under 23 victory in the team time trial at the Olympia's Tour last year and he finished second overall at the Tour of Murrieta.
Williams will join Axeon Hagens Berman teammate Krists Neilands on the Israel Cycling Academy squad on the pro continental level.
He made the most of his only season with Axeon Hagens Berman last year by earning five podium results. In July, he helped the team sweep the podium at the USA Cycling Under 23 national road race with a bronze medal finish. Later in the season, he was also part of that winning team time trial squad for USA Cycling at the Olympia's Tour.
"I am really excited about going to the next level," Williams said. "It will be a great opportunity to get into some big races and get a lot of great experience."
Team Manager Margaliot said Williams's toughness will play a big part in his role on the team. "He is extremely loyal, and a hard worker," Margaliot said. "We believe in these kinds of values, and if you possess them, we will give you a chance. Now it is up to him."
(Header photos by Davey Wilson. From left: Greg Daniel, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Ruben Guerreiro, Colin Joyce, Krists Neilands, Phil O'Donnell, Justin Oien and Tyler Williams.)