Last year I nominated a dozen riders to watch in 2012, from promising neo-pros to Chris Froome and Thomas Voeckler to see how these two would fare after their Vuelta and Tour de France performances in 2011. It’s been a mixed year and now it’s time to check in on their performances this year.
Jelle Vanendert has had a decent but quiet season with Lotto-Belisol. In 2011 he won a stage of the Tour de France and held the mountains jersey and was an invaluable helper for Philippe Gilbert. But this year he’s placed well, for example second in the Amstel Gold Race (pictured) but there have been no wins and come the Tour de France he was on team duty to support Jurgen Van den Broeck. In short he’s had some placings but didn’t become the star climber that 2011 suggested.
Chris Froome obviously did very well. Second in the Tour de France, an Olympic medal and more, including the public beginning to discover who he is. French TV call him le Kenyan blanc or the “white Kenyan” (they didn’t label David Rudisha le kenyan noir during the Olympics) but the TV did discover late in the race that he spoke French and this was well-appreciated. 2013 awaits.
Rein Taaramäe still feels like a work in progress. He’s staying with Cofidis and the French team won’t be too happy with his 2012 season. He was the leader but his only win came in the Estonian national championships. It wasn’t for trying, if anything he tried too hard for example ending up in a hypoglycaemic haze in the Paris-Nice stage from Sisteron to Nice as breakaway companion Thomas de Gendt rode away from him. 2013 might be his last chance to head the team, to decide between winning for himself or putting his power to work in the service of someone else. Injury and bad health took its toll too.
I asked aloud of Dan Martin was a stage racer or a one day rider. You can be both but it’s still hard to know where Martin’s talents lie as he’s versatile but also you feel he could win more. No wins in 2012 but
fourth fifth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège shows what he’s got.
After his 2011 Tour de France French hopes were pinned on Pierre Rolland. But the back seems to be his problem, he’s not aero on the bike and suffers in the time trials, losing enough time to mean he’ll struggle to win his home race. But the French love émotion in a race and he delivers it, winning the biggest mountain stage of the 2012 Tour to follow up his Alpe d’Huez win. He’s done very well to perform in the Tour but had a quiet season outside of July, although was strong in the early season Etoile de Bessèges, overcoming rivals and the icy conditions to hold the race lead. He’ll enjoy the 2013 Tour route.
I picked Thomas Voeckler because I wondered if everything would change. After fourth place in the 2011 Tour de France perhaps his modus operandi of breakaways would end. It was hard to imagine him becoming a calculating stage racer but easy to envisage the bunch refusing to let him go up the road again, knowing he could climb with the best. In fact he resumed the Voeckler we all knew in part thanks to a knee injury which hampered his approach to the Tour de France but he started and collected two stages and the mountains jersey. He had a good spring too where there was less show but he won the Brabantse Pijl and finished eighth in the Tour of Flanders, fifth in the Amstel and fourth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Now onto to the promising neo-pros. Remember the label applies to riders in their first two years. First up is Bart De Clercq. You might ask “who?” but the Belgian impressed me in the Giro on Stage 7 and the uphill finish to Montevergine di Mercogliano where he won the stage after holding off the bunch on the climb, an effort that took molto watts. 2012 was less impressive for panache but actually very good for improvements. He rode the Giro and Vuelta this year, finishing 17th overall in the Spanish Tour thanks to consistent finishing and he was 14th in the Tour de Suisse. These results don’t set the world on fire but they’re solid for a second year pro.
Diego Ulissi took a few wins in 2012 but in Italian races and the label of “the new Paolo Bettini” seems more to do with coming from the same town, Cecina Mare, as the former World Champion. A good 2012 but he’s not breaking through. Yet.
Andrea Guardini started 2012 with a contract extension with Farnese Vini until the end of 2013 but he’s off to Astana. What happened? Well he kept winning and even blasted past Mark Cavendish to win a stage of the Giro. But this was his only big win of the year, his team wasn’t invited to some races but he was winning in Langkawi and around Qinghai Lake.
Nikita Novikov was very strong as an amateur, so much so that Vacansoleil decided to hire the Russian instead of him staying on the Katusha conveyor belt. But 2012 didn’t meet the hype, his best result was 46th place in the Tour de Picardie.
Everything went to plan for Luke Durbridge in 2012. A first year pro he collected several wins and even scalped Wiggins in the prologue of the Dauphiné. “Durbo The Turbo” also won stage races outright thanks to his time trial skills, winning the Circuit de la Sarthe and the Tour du Poitou Charentes. Impressive.
Kenny Elissonde is a pure climber with FDJ. He might have seemed an outside pick but as a stagiaire in 2011 he rode the Vuelta a Burgos and was hanging with the front group in the mountains and aged 19, won the best young rider prize. 2012 was mixed, he didn’t get to ride some of the races he wanted but finished a good fourth overall in the Route du Sud stage race and won a stage of Paris-Corrèze. He’s still one to watch, not just for his climbing skills but he’s got a tactical sense, the kind of person you don’t want to play poker against.