After some established Riders to Watch for 2017, here is a selection of ten neo-pros to introduce ahead of the new season with a mix of stage race stars and classics champions and a couple of riders who have excelled in both and need to decide what they type of rider they’ll become.
David Gaudu (pictured, Photo by Flickr’s Ronan Caroff/) is from Brittany in France but seems more at home in the high mountains. He won the Tour de l’Avenir last year which means he tops the page here. This U23 race stage race tops the calendar of amateur stage races and the list of recent winners includes many of the most promising stage racers in the pro peloton too. Gaudu wasn’t just the best in the Avenir, looking back he had a great season as he won the Peace Race too, all while aged just 19. He finished 5th overall in the tough and mountainous Tour de l’Ain alongside the pros too after making the main break in the mountains. He was second in the Ronde de l’Isard’s summit finish too. As well as the prolific results the manner impressed, no luck or race craft, just an impressive climbing speed. But he’s now just 20 and you wonder if he’s stepping up too soon, the leap the World Tour is big for someone who has burst on to the scene. One rider who can pass on tips is new team mate Thibaut Pinot because he turned pro age 19.
Second to Gaudu in the Tour de l’Avenir was Edward Ravasi and by contrast there was talk of him turning pro but he stayed on a year with Lamre-Merida’s feeder team Colpack and now he’s turning pro with the team, now under new sponsorship of the UAE Abu Dhabi. It’s one of the sport’s strange things that we have a team bearing the name of a nation but it has next to nothing to do with that country and the UAE Abu Dhabi team is still Lampre, the northern Italian pro team. Ravasi’s a local from the Varese area and a tall and lean climber with plenty of top results to his name including the final stage of the Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc, a race as gruelling to finish as it is to type out in full upon each reference to it and this stage win happened below the Matterhorn on the same climb that Ryder Hesjedal used to power away and ultimately win the Giro d’Italia. A future Giro winner too? Time and more will tell but his tall build means he could carve out a valuable role as a mountain gregario too.
Filippo Ganna has been a team mate of Ravasi and now moves with him to the same UAE pro team. You might know Ganna already thanks to his win on the track last year where he became World Champion in the 4km pursuit and two months late won the U23 Paris-Roubaix. He achieved both feats while still a teenager and in style too: setting a new Italian record for the pursuit; and arriving solo in the Roubaix velodrome. He’s set for the classics and reminiscent of Roubaix winner Andrea Tafi with his big build, tree-trunk thighs andthe old school bike position featuring a low seat-to-bar drop which means he rides with his elbows bent when in full flow like his predecessors. That vintage vibe is reinforced by his visit to a local church soon after winning the track worlds to pose with the rainbow jersey and his priest, a rare sight today.
Vincenzo Albanese has signed for Bardiani-CSF. Why sign for a Pro Conti team when you’re such a big talent? Because you’re Italian and there are no Italian teams in the World Tour. Besides he’s been riding for an Italian U23 team that worked as Tinkoff’s feeder squad and the demise of the Russian squad closed off this avenue too. There’s something of the Sagan in Albanese, visually at least with his chunky legs rather than his skills. He sprints well and won a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir plus the points jersey and even beat the pros last year to win the Trofeo Matteoti but he’s more than a sprinter, at least among the U23 ranks he’s been excellent in hillier races too. He’s notable too because he’s from Campania, the region outside Naples making him one of the rare pros from Southern Italy.
From south to north now with Denmark’s Mads Würtz Schmidt who looks set to star in the spring classics. Katusha have quietly brought on (and bought) several young classics riders like Nils Politt and Sven Bystrøm and the Dane could eclipse them both. He was U23 world time trial champion in 2014 and has a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir to his name too. He’s from a cycling family, a profile over at cyclingnews.com explains his father was one of Denmark’s best MTB riders and also says he fancies his chances in hillier races and he won the hard Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux in the Belgian Ardennes. It’ll be great if he’s so polyvalent as a pro but the top flight of the sport sees every niche filled by specialists so he might have to choose. To illustrate this Tom Boonen was runner up in Liège-Bastogne-Liège’s U23 version yet a result, even a start, in the pro version of this race sounds fanciful.
Nans Peters may have to choose what do as well. He can climb and has been spring classics contender too. In 2015 he finished in the top-10 overall in the Tour de l’Ain and earlier that year finished fourth in the U23 Tour of Flanders too, a late puncture ruining his chances of a win within his grasp. He’s the latest rider off the Chambéry conveyor belt of talent (Bardet, Latour) that feeds Ag2r La Mondiale. Despite the Dutch-sounding name he’s French and told Direct Vélo he was named after a shepherd character from a TV series he can at first glance look more like a footballer or even a rugby player with his solid build. The camera often lies in cycling photos and he’s not that big but he does look larger than you might expect for someone so at ease in the mountains, it’s that barrel chest which surely means cavernous lungs. His recent results haven’t been as prolific as could be expected but he’s had injuries. He seems to be a data geek, his personal website doesn’t just list every result and diary entries but is packed with data like the total vertical metres logged in the year and he’s keen on Strava too.
Tao Geoghegan Hart will be familiar to many. British readers will know him because he’s British and has signed for Team Sky, US readers will know him from his time on the American circuit with Axel Merckx’s Axeon Hagen Bergmans team and French readers might know him from his role in the “Rêves d’Enfer” film about the U23 Paris-Roubaix. Of all the riders here the move to the pro ranks seems inevitable for Geoghegan Hart who has been linked to Team Sky for a long time. Even as an amateur rider he’s had pro media skills, a recent interview with The Cycling Podcast has him pouring out articulate views on his team and the U23 scene while many neo-pros – and veteran riders – are microphone-shy and tend to stick to safe phrases like “I’m taking it day by day“. He’s got the results and consistency at the highest level, the interesting thing will be seeing whether he can progress at Team Sky, both because he seems a polished product already but also because Sky isn’t seen as a place to develop, especially for climbers who can’t pace their career with spells on the British track team.
Enric Mas gets better every year. He’s from the Spanish island of Majorca and turns pro with Quick Step. He’s been labelled the “next Contador” and he is a promising stage racer from Spain but the connection is made by some because he’s also been on Contador’s junior team. Now he’s gone signed with Quick Step. What’s a Spanish stage racer doing with Flemish cobble eaters? Of course Quick Step rhymes with spring classics for many cycling fans but of course the team is more wide-ranging these days. With Mas there’s also a long-standing connection to Specialized and the US manufacturer is keen to nurture talent from the youngest age and they took him on-board the Contador junior team and he then moved to the Quick Step feeder team, each time with Specialized backing. Now Quick Step team is the only World Tour squad to employ a scout, Joxean Fernández Matxín. Back to Mas, who was Spanish junior time trial champion in 2012 and had a very consistent season last year with wins and high places in all the major mountain stage races including a win in the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc and second place in Valle d’Aosta behind Ravasi.
Does nominal determinism dictate the future of Rob Power? He featured here a year ago because of the promise of his power but then got robbed of his full first pro season by a bone marrow illness which ruined most of the year. He’s made a good recovery and resumed racing late in 2016. It took a while to get going, the Tour of Britain was a week of hanging on to the wheels but he finished the year with a podium in the Japan Cup. Orica-Scott are overflowing with stage racing talent at the moment but Power won’t be surplus to requirements and he’s still tipped as the biggest Australian talent for some time. He’s easy to spot because of his giant hair that spills out of his helmet.
Rémi Cavagna‘s from the Auvergne region in central France that’s also home to Romain Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe. Now he’s joining Alaphilippe at Quick Step but unlike these two punchy climbers Cavagna is a time trial specialist. This ability has owed more to brute force than pacing strategies and wind tunnel sessions. He himself has said in interviews that tactics and finesse are not his thing, or at least there’s progress to make here. He’s known as the kind of rider who can is very hard to bring back once he gets 50 metres ahead of the peloton. If things go well France will have a classics contender but we’ll see, he could equally become a valuable lead-out rider too.
- Neo pro? All the riders above are new pros starting their first year with top teams, except Robert Power. But the strict definition of a neo-pro is “any rider who joins a UCI World Team or Professional Continental Team for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year” and applies to first and second year pros because any pro signed into the World Tour or Pro Conti ranks has to have a minimum two year deal.
- As ever for all the names, talents and promise remember that almost every neo-pro was once a hot shot, a star in the making who collected more silverware than a pirate. Success in the coming season and beyond are as much about learning, adapting and working as they are about inherited DNA and accumulated kilometres. Hopefully some of the names above become champions but some may simply become valued team workers.
Finally if you have any local tips please share in comments below. It’s hard enough to follow the main European scene for U23 riders let alone to know who are the hot prospects in America, Asia or Africa.