A cycling agent who works on behalf of some of the sport’s brightest talents has called on WorldTour teams to limit their signing of young teenagers, describing the new trend as “very worrying”.
In the past few years, urged on by the enormous successes of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar, top-tier teams have begun recruiting riders straight out of the junior ranks.
One coach recently informed Cycling Weekly that he knew of teams speaking with riders while they were sitting school exams and labelling it as the “next big challenge” in the development and management of young riders.
Jamie Barlow, an agent with 258 Protégé, has expressed his concern over the practise, revealing that some of the biggest teams in the sport are trying to sign riders who may still just be 16.
“Everyone is afraid of missing out on the next Remco or Pogačar and they’re scouting younger and younger,” he told Cycling Weekly.
“It’s got to the point where first-year juniors are being offered WorldTour contracts and pre-contracts. It’s very worrying actually.
“There’s definitely a massive push on unearthing and finding new talents, but development has to be done the right way, by going through junior levels and then U23 ranks, before turning pro when ready.
“In an ideal world, they’ll turn pro when 20 or even 22, but now every WorldTour team is trying to snap up 17, 18 and 19-year-olds.”
Barlow said that each individual situation should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, painting out that talents like Evenepoel and UAE-Team Emirates’ Juan Ayuso are physically capable of competing at the WorldTour aged 18.
But he believes that riders are better suited to learning their trade at specific development teams and competing in the U23 scene.
He added: “Some of the teams have development teams, and there’s no issue with scouting younger riders for U23 set-ups with the view of developing them and giving them the resources and time to eventually step up into the WorldTour level.
“There’s a good U23 calendar – Tour de l’Avenir, Baby Giro, Ronde d’Isard. These guys don’t get to go back to them when they turn professional. Personally, I want riders to go through these races, get their hands in the air, and push back on WorldTour teams until they’re a bit older.”
Barlow proposed a rule change that could address the situation. “One idea what could be interesting is if riders had to do a minimum of one year at U23 level before turning pro.
“But right now that’s not in place and I don’t see much changing. But I wouldn’t be against that being introduced.
“Whilst some 18- to 19-year-olds may physically be ready for the WorldTour, will they have the longevity and be racing into their mid-30s, while still enjoying riding and racing their bikes?”