21-year-old Dutchman Julius van den Berg received a call-up to join the WorldTour squad EF Education-First-Drapac p/b Cannondale in a rare mid-season signing for a neo-pro.
The U23 Paris-Roubaix runner-up and winner of a stage and the young rider's jersey at the Tour de Normandie brings the WorldTour team's squad to 26 full-time riders and two trainees. His skills on the pave were a clear asset when catching the eye of the American squad, who are looking to bolster their Classics team.
"Julius is one of the top U23 riders in the world," said Jonathan Vaughters, the team's CEO. "He's won a few impressive races and finished second at the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. As we look forward to reinforcing our cobbles squad and strengthening our TTT operation, Julius is a natural pick.
Van den Berg has been with the SEG Racing Academy development team since his junior years, and won the U23 Dutch time trial championship last season. The squad has already added trainees Cyrus Monk and James Whelan - the latter was also signed to a three-year deal starting in 2019 - but offered Van den Berg an immediate contract to expand his schedule of racing to WorldTour events and the World Championships.
"We expect Julian to be most useful this summer at the Binck Bank Tour and Worlds TTT," Vaughters added. "We anticipate successfully racing him in those two events. If he were a stagiaire with us first, we wouldn't be able to have him in either race, so this is a better way for us to approach his contract."
Van den Berg's palmares also include victories in the UCI 1.2-ranked Midden-Brabant Poort Omloop and Profronde van Noord-Holland, but it was a stage of the 2.2-ranked Tour de Bretagne where Van den Berg parlayed a successful breakaway into a win on stage 6 that got Vaughters' attention.
"He's not a pure time triallist. He's a good one, but he's also a great attacker. There was a stage of the Tour de Bretagne where he single-handedly disassembled a bunch of French Pro Conti teams that were trying to bring him back. It was really impressive."
Of course, Van den Berg was excited to ink his first WorldTour contract. "It's crazy how fast it all went. It's a dream come true, and it is really special for me," he said. "I strongly believe this is the best step I can do in my cycling career right now. The team environment is great, so it will be easy to fit in and be useful on the road, especially in the Classics.
"I consider myself really lucky to have close to four years within the SEG Racing Academy's development program. That allowed me to grow as a rider and keep improving each year. This season has been the confirmation of all the hard work.
"Now it is time to move on, and I'm really looking forward to starting my run with the team," Van den Berg continued. "With high profile riders like Sep Vanmarcke and Sebastian Langeveld in the Classics team, it will be nothing but helpful for me. I want to learn a lot from them and be a better rider in the future, so I can target goals like Flanders or Roubaix for myself."
Van den Berg joins the team's other neo-pro's Kim Magnusson and Logan Owen in the US-registered squad.
"I can't wait to get started with EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale," said Van den Berg. "It is a very unique opportunity to start in this way, and I will work really hard in order to make the most of it."