Two-time US junior national champion Max Durtschi will ride for the Leopard-Trek development team next season. Durtschi signed a one-year deal with the Luxembourg-based UCI Continental team that is owned by construction tycoon Flavio Becca 's Leopard SA, the same management company that owns the RadioShack-Nissan ProTour team.
“I was really just fortunate enough to have some people speak highly of me to the organization,” Durtschi said. “Things just kind of fit together and worked out. They actually called me, so I really got lucky that way.”
Durtschi, 22, from Ketchum, Idaho, won dual national championships in the road race and criterium in 2009. He rode with Slipstream Sports' Continental development teams in 2010 and 2011, and last season moved to Saxo Bank's Italian-based development team, which got off to a stutter-stepped start after Bjarnie Riis' ProTour team initially had trouble securing its UCI license.
Durtschi also rode for the U23 national team and on a trip to Belgium contracted a virus that hampered his early season. His poor luck continued with a badly broken wrist suffered in a crash at the Baby Giro. The setbacks wiped out a lot of the season for the former national Nordic ski team member who dreams of one day finding success in the storied Classics like Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but they also left him even more determined to right his ship next season.
“Last year was a really rough year,” he said. “It proved to be probably the toughest season I've ever had on the road, but I actually grew and learned more from that season than I have in the past, so I'm trying to see the positive. It had a silver lining, but it was bittersweet.”
He appears to have found a good spot for some redemption. During the Leopard-Trek development team's inaugural season last year, more than half of the riders scored wins. Luxembourg's Bob Jungels, who signed a deal with RadioShack-Nissan for 2013, led the team with six victories, including the overall win at Flèche du Sud, the U23 Paris-Roubaix and the Queen Stage of the Giro della Valle d'Aosta.
The team is directed by Adriano Baffi, the former Italian pro who rode from 1987 to 2001 with Mercatone Uno, US Postal Service and Mapei. Baffi won five stages of the Giro d’Italia and one stage of the Vuelta a Espana during his career. He had been a director of the Leopard-Trek ProTour team when it merged with Radioshack last season, and he subsequently moved to the development squad. Baffi arrived at Leopard-Trek from Astana and had previously worked at Phonak.
“With these 14 riders we will be able to race a solid program with a lot of diverse racing,” Baffi said in statement on the team website. “Results are of course important, as they are for any team, but our main goal remains to search and train talented young riders. We will share our experience with them and create opportunities for them to show their potential.”
Durtschi said he has already had quite a few email and telephone conversation with Baffi, and he's impressed with what he has read and heard so far.
“I can just really tell that he's going to be a great director for development,” Durtschi said. “And I think it shows; last year Leopard-Trek really kind of proved that they were the premiere U23 team. So I'm really looking forward to working with Adriano. I think it will be great.”
The team seems well-suited for the northern classics to which Durtschi aspires. Aside from Jungels' win last year at the U23 Paris-Roubaix, newcomer Sean De Bie of Belgium ran second in the 2012 Tour of Flanders U23 race, and Denmark's Kristian Haugaard comes highly recommended for the classics.
“I think they have a line up of races that really suit me, so I'm really looking forward to it,” Durtschi said.
He should have plenty of company and support during his quest. The team is returning seven riders from the previous year and adding seven more. Half the ream is under 23. Ten nations are represented on the 14-rider Leopard-Trek roster.
Durtschi, who said he will move to the Lucca area of Italy for the season, will also continue to ride for the U23 national team, which will be run next season by former BMC director Mike Sayers.
“I have spoken with him and I think it will work out really well to fit in some races, maybe some Nations Cups, with the national team as well,” Durtschi said.
The team training camp will take place in Spain next month, and Durtschi's season will start in late February, likely at a series of one-day races in Italy.
“I'll get over there pretty soon,” he said. “I'm going home to Idaho for Christmas to visit friends and family first, and shortly after that I'll head to Europe for camp and then the start of the season.”
2013 Leopard-Trek Team
Eugenio Alafaci (Ita)
Jesus Ezquerra (Spa)
Oliver Hofstetter (Swi)
Alex Kirsch (Lux)
Pit Schlechter (Lux)
Fabio Silvestre (Por)
Joël Zangerle (Lux)
Piero Baffi (Ita)
Sean De Bie (Bel)
Max Durtschi (USA)
Kristian Haugaard (Den)
Jan Hirt (Cze)
Daniel Klemme (Ger)
Tom Thill (Lux)