No matter what the sport, there’s always a drive to find the next young talent.
Cycling is certainly no different and, at the minute, it feels like we are in a period of baton-passing from one generation to the next.
The emergence of the likes of Remco Evanepoel, Pavel Sivakov, Egan Bernal and – today at the Vuelta – Tadej Pogacar shows there’s a steady stream of young talent coming through the ranks.
But how do these prodigious stars get picked up and how easy is it to spot who has a chance of making it?
Alessandro Mazzurana is a talent scout for Dharma Sports Management, the agency set up by former World Tour rider Manuel Quinziato.
A keen rider in his youth, Italian Mazzurana now spends his days pouring over race results, attending youth races and, as he describes it, playing ‘detective’.
He said: “It is almost like being a detective looking for a murderer! I love to go to the junior or Under-23 races, and at the same time I read articles and analyse results of every youth race.
“I don’t have a stereotype of a rider that I prefer over others, but surely what I am looking for in them is the right mix between legs, heart and personality that makes them emerge as people before than as athletes.”
Talent might be obvious from a series of race results but, in essence, it’s no guarantee that sparkingly form in a few races in an isolated period is going to translate into long-term success.
“You have to pay attention to many details, not just the results, especially for younger riders. That’s why I talk about the right mix when I think about what I’m looking for in them, because there are so many factors that can affect their development,” Mazzurana says.
“More than the results, that what matters is the way they ride and above all train. Especially in recent times, I hear more and more about juniors who are training like a pro and that is the worst thing they can do.”
I ask Mazzurana if he is surprised at how quickly someone like Evenepoel has developed.
The young Belgian, who turned heads by winning both the junior road race and time trial at last year’s World Championships, has already racked up some impressive results in his neo-pro season with Deceuninck Quick-Step.
And Mazzurana says: “I am only partially surprised because even in the past there have been riders who were quickly strong. Some of them had a brilliant career, others less so.
“The risk is that the career will shorten, starting immediately so strong, but it is an eventuality difficult to predict in any case. Maybe in some cases, there is too much exasperation, too much haste, and it would be better to preserve and protect more the most crystalline talents.”
Mazzurana has known Quinziato – who rode for Liquigas and BMC during a 16-year professional career – since the pair were in the junior ranks.
Quinziato retired in 2017, found Buddhism and set up Dharma Sports Management, Dharma being a term to describe the teachings of Buddha.
Among his clients are Mitchelton-Scott’s Matteo Trentin, who won a stage at this year’s Tour de France, and Astana’s Dario Cataldo, who tasted victory at the Giro earlier this year.
When he was on the hunt for a talent scout, Mazzurana was the obvious choice given his extensive knowledge of the youth and under-23 scene.
The 39-year-old, who hails from Merano in the South Tyrol region of Italy, said: “We had been teammates, and when he started his activity as an agent it was natural, considering my knowledge of youth cycling, to start working together.
“I have been one of his domestiques when we rode together, I was one of his fans when he continued his carrier, I am one of his collaborators now that he is a riders’ agent. But above all, I am proud to be a good friend of him!
“His big race experience makes things easier because he can analyse the many signs that I transmit to him until they become evident proofs of the presence of talent.
“Once a talent has been spotted, I prepare a data sheet for the agency, so they decide to get in touch with this talent or not and eventually to try to work with him.
“Fortunately, most of the time, I think we have the same opinion.”
While Mazzurana remains coy on which of his latest ‘spots’ might stand the best chance of success, he is confident enough to predict that we will see one or two of them contending for the GC at a future Tour de France or Giro d’Italia!
He said: “My proudest achievement is to connect very good talents to a very professional and expert riders’ agent, so they can start to work together and achieve good results.
“I have spotted some good riders – I think and hope that two of them could win the Tour or the Giro of 2025 – that is a fact.
“But I have no merit, they are the protagonists, I have just the right passion, perseverance and timing to identify talents.”
And while Bernal’s victory in the Tour de France this summer will have scouts flocking to Colombia looking for his successor, Mazzurana believes there’s many more untapped mines.
He said: “Everyone is now watching Colombia and South America, it’s normal and right considering the recent results, but thanks to globalisation it is possible to find young talents in every part of the world.
“I could name a “little-known” Belgian kid from 2000 who is already winning among professionals, for example. But even places in the world with a less rooted cycling tradition are showing cyclists with potential.
“I am thinking of New Zealand, and of some African states such as Eritrea and Ethiopia.”
Wherever the next big thing is to emerge from, you can bet your house that Mazzurana is already ahead of the game…