In "The Start Ramp," veteran cycling cyber-journalist Sarah tracks and reports on the Tour's Young Rider Competition (riders under 25 on Jan. 1) and Tour first-timers.

Damiano Cunego
Damiano Cunego

Markus Fothen
Markus Fothen
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Damiano Cunego and Markus Fothen

After three weeks of riding, it took a brilliant time trial by Damiano Cunego to secure the young rider's jersey. He'd predicted that Markus Fothen, the better time trialist, would bridge the gap and take the jersey back. Of course, what really happened is that Cunego rode the time trial of his life and took the white jersey to Paris.

Cunego told Cyclingnews "I dreamed about Fothen last night! I deeply wanted to win this jersey. This time trial is a good test for the future." As stated previously, he won't be back at the Tour until 2008, but he's proud of the jersey and his result. He said "I share the jersey with all the people who have suffered with me when not everything was going well for me. This experience at the Tour shows me that the best result can come with serenity instead of pressure."

Fothen, on the other hand, was understandably upset. He'd worn the jersey for most of the tour, only to lose it just a few days before the final stage. He told Cyclingnews he had thought he'd ridden well enough to take it. "I think I gave it all I had [...] I didn't expect that Cunego would ride so fast; I don't know if anybody did. That was a great performance of his." He was clearly disappointed, but he finished quite well in his first Tour and will probably do even better in the future.

Though Cunego didn't win a stage, he told Letour.fr , after the final stage, that "I'll cherish the memory of these days, especially the day to L'Alpe d'Huez when I finished second and the time trial in which I refused to give in." He rode exceptionally well for his first tour, especially after the rough year he had in 2005. He is definitely a rider to watch when he returns to the Tour in 2008.  (He will focus on the Tour of Italy in 2007.)

Congratulations are in order for both Fothen and Cunego. They rode extremely well and are quite clearly two talents to keep an eye on. We wish them all the best.

As for the rest of the 23 young riders? Only 19 finished, but of those two were in the top twenty overall. And, of course, David De La Fuente's gallant efforts during the mountain stages did not go unnoticed. He received the most combative classification award in Paris.

Good job to all of the young riders and other first timers. We hope to see you all back next year!