As the 2013 season approaches here is a selection of riders to watch for. I’ve picked six established riders who face different challenges in the new year and six young riders who could impress but first have to hop the chasm from amateur and pro.
Vincenzo Nibali (pictured) moves to Astana and there’s a story of leadership here, whether he can become the chief of a squad that is a mix of Kazakhs, Italians and others. His old team Liquigas reminded me of the Italian teams of the past where a whole team rode in the service of its leader, eight workers and one chef. Now Nibali will find a different model and taking charge of the mix will be a new challenge, especially since Astana have hired young sprinter Andrea Guardini which suggests the team will be split in the Giro between fast men and mountain helpers. And as much as Liquigas rode in service last year when he aimed for the Tour the famed “demon descender” never bothered to recon a stage of the Tour, so much so that he believed the Besancon time time trial was a team event until just a few days. He’s also said he’s going to coach himself as he thinks he’s got enough experience now. Self-coaching can work but you really have to know what you’re doing and an athlete on millions of Euros should really be accompanied by several coaches.
Chris Froome won’t have to worry about a lack of support staff. But he too faces the burden of leadership, something to alter the power-to-weight ratio of many a rider, especially as h seems set to lead Team Sky in the Tour de France. But that’s a long way away and what will happen until then? Forget the Wiggins rivalry in the headlines, I’m more interested in how he can he improve his riding. At the start of 2012 Team Sky analysed the squad lack of experience when it came to leading a stage race so they set about learning what this involves thanks to Wiggins in Paris-Nice, Romandie and the Dauphiné. In their words “we trained for that”. Will Froome follow the same path and more importantly will he cope in the same way? Can he tuck those elbows in, or get lower for a time trial? Wiggins is an elusive character but Froome seems more human at times and by extension more prone to frailty. Wiggins himself has said taking on the burden of leadership was hard, heavy and took time.
Sylvain Chavanel is 33 years old now and time is running out to win a big classic. But I wonder whether time or team mates pose the greatest challenge? On a Belgian team he is going to find it hard to outdo Tom Boonen and can only hope to win by playing the Lieutenant card, going up the road whilst everyone watches Boonen. This can work, he is a powerful rouleur. But this power is potentially another concern as he’s the ideal engine for Mark Cavendish’s sprint train during the last 10km of a race. The whole Omega Pharma – Quickstep team is worth watching because of the variety of talent but for Chavanel, the clock is ticking. In short is he a winner or a domestique de luxe?
Is this the last chance for Cadel Evans? He had a great 2011 season, not just for the Tour de France but because he won plenty more. 2012 started fine but he came up short in the summer and then found the rest of the season a write-off after a virus. If he can regain the 2011 form then he’ll be exciting to watch especially if he can work well with Tejay van Garderen who will surely assume team leadership in some races during the year. Who is boss for the Tour is the big question and maybe the role can be shared, it seems fashionable now it depends on how Evans fares in the first half of 2013.
A similar story for Edvald Boasson Hagen only we can also ask what kind of rider is he? He wants to win Paris-Roubaix but he can win mountain stages in grand tours, a hard rider to label. Team Sky have a system where a rider is given a chance in certain races knowing they will be on team duty later. For example Richie Porte took the Tour of Algarve with Wiggins working for him. Expect to see him aiming for the Tour Down Under but what happens later? Where does Boasson Hagen fit into Sky, is he going to lead in the classics and work in the Tour? How many races can he win and his he happy with this role at Sky?
Andrew Talansky came within 12 seconds of beating Bradley Wiggins in Tour de Romandie, the kind of second place worth noting. He won the mountainous Tour de l’Ain in August before finishing seventh in the Vuelta. Along with Ryder Hesjedal, Talansky gives Garmin-Sharp plenty of options in 2013 and it’ll be worth seeing how he continues to develop. He’s still 24 so his case is worth watching to see whether he can win more and establish himself in larger races.
The strict definition of a neo-pro is any rider who joins a UCI ProTeam or Professional Continental Team for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year. In other words it’s not just someone in their first year. Here the challenges are different, the stories above are about confirming talent and assuming leadership. Below it is about coping with pressure, finding your way and learning.
Wilco Kelderman impressed in the amateur ranks with time trial wins in the biggest races and hit the pro ranks in August 2011 with the Tour de l’Ain where he still wore the jersey of the Rabobank development team but beat established pros to win the prologue. Come 2012 and he was seventh on the Mount Baldy stage of the Tour of California and finished in the same place on the overall, before flying to France for the Dauphiné where he was fourth in the main time trial stage, beating the likes of Chris Froome, Cadel Evans and Sylvain Chavanel. He finished the week eighth overall, all impressive for a 21 year old. It’ll be interesting to see how he copes as in times past Rabobank has seemed like a Dutch comfort zone where homegrown talent found a ready contract. Now the lack of sponsors means the survival instinct might promote some more aggressive racing.
Rohan Dennis has been part of Australia’s team pursuit squad for the Olympic year but was also racing on the road. Now he’s signed for Garmin-Sharp. For years Australian track riders have taken conveyor belt from the velodrome to the European podium, see Stuart O’Grady, Bradley McGee, more recently Luke Durbridge and many more. Dennis is touted as the best in a long time but who knows? Sometimes riders peak early, other times promise can be ruined by bad luck. Certainly he’s one to watch but give him space, some Australians have been projecting his career years ahead with visions of the Champs Elysées but hopefully they’ll be happy with a prologue win in a good race this year.
Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg will be fighting for space in 2013 whether on his team or in the closing moments of the race. He scored 14 pro wins in 2012, only beaten by Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and André Greipel. Clearly there’s a gap in quality, the South African was not going for Tour stage wins. Still when tested against the best he’s done well, for example beating Lars Boom in the Ronde van Zeeland. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with Argos-Shimano team mates, for example will he become a lead-out wagon for Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb? It would have been nice to see MTN-Qhubeka keep his services but he’s had such a strong start that a move was long planned and if anything his success has inspired the African team to venture further into Europe with a Pro Conti licence. Don’t be surprised to see him winning early in French races if Kittel and Degenkolb are looking at bigger wins.
Moreno Moser took four wins in 2012 plus the overall in the Tour of Poland. But it wasn’t so much the quantity or quality, it was the manner of his wins. He made it look easy and exciting and, like Peter Sagan, seemed a cut above his rivals when he did it. He’s a good time triallist as the name suggests and he’s coped with long distances too. The challenge for 2013 will be identifying races that suit him, where he can improve and learn whilst also leading the Cannondale team.
Warren Barguil might be France’s new Richard Virenque. If that label sounds like a curse, it is not meant that way. No, here’s an impulsive rider at ease in the mountains but who can also cope with other races when he puts his mind to it. My concern is that Argos-Shimano haven’t had a good record with bringing on climbers and Frenchmen, see Alex Geniez but each case is different and if anything, being outside France could help him as the media burden Pierre Rolland and Thibaut Pinot. Integration should not be a problem as Barguil has already set about learning English over the winter and proved willing to help lead out his sprinters when he rode with the Dutch team as a stagiaire for the late season races. Plus he’s been the outstanding amateur in France and one of the best in Europe, winning the Tour de l’Avenir. His margin was small but that only showed how he could mark rivals and didn’t win via a lucky break.
FDJ Boss Marc Madiot gets annoyed when people ask who is the better sprinter between Arnaud Démare and Nacer Bouhanni because nobody seems to be pitting Kittel and Degenkolb together, nor Boonen and Cavendish. But Démare and Bouhanni overlap and maybe the French media isn’t used to winning riders competing on the same team. The simple solution is different calendars and both riders will have separate programmes although they’ve asked to race together at times too and seem to get one fine. With a World Tour spot there’s room to have a wide calendar. But the challenge is whether each rider can step up and go beyond the comfort zone of Coupe de France events and start to win big. Bouhanni impressed in the Vuelta and can climb when he has too whilst Démare has already started to win against the big names, for example outsprinting André Greipel in front of his home crowd in the 2012 Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg.
That’s thirteen riders but Bouhanni and Demare seem to come as a package even if they won’t race together very often. There are many more riders to watch. Dennis gets some pressure but Sky’s new recruit Joe Dombrowski does too although I didn’t pick him as I can’t see him having many opportunities for himself in 2013 even if he learns plenty whilst there are several other good neo-pro picks. If you have a pick, let me know via the comments below.
There are many established riders with a point to prove, a story to tell or just the quiet need to confirm past performances in 2013. Unlike other sports where a handful of participants can dominate all season long, cycling shares the spoils a bit more and many riders will have their chance which means many stories. As much as the list above has riders to watch next year, there’s plenty more to follow.
After all, Joaquim Rodriguez might top the UCI rankings but his team has no licence, he’s free to ride marchas, the Spanish gran fondos and little else. What about Damiano Cunego? Will Philippe Gilbert be back? Can Peter Sagan match actions to his words? How will Cavendish do? What will Taylor Phinney win? How will Jens Voigt cope? And beyond the peloton, what’s going to happen to the UCI, the proposed calendar reforms and much more. Suddenly picking a handful of riders seems restrictive.