Here are ten riders to follow this year. They’re not picked as ten of the best who are forecast to top the rankings, more that some could go onto great things and others have different challenges.
Is Richie Porte unlucky? It’s a glass half full/empty matter for a millionaire paid to ride a bike but he’s had his fair share of what Fabian Cancellara called “unluck” with crashes, punctures, even wheel changes. He’s been one of the best one week stage racers and had a great season from January to June last year only to crash out of the Tour de France when the podium seemed a reasonable projection but just that. Only now his biggest rival Chris Froome is supposed to ride the Giro and quite possibly facing at significant ban. Will he get lucky this July?
Mikel Landa was one of the big transfers. Two years ago he left Astana when it was getting crowded alongside Aru and Nibali, only he moved to Sky which is even more crowded and either because of internal competition or bad luck he could not fulfil the leadership role he craved. Now he’s gone to Movistar where he’s got Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana as the established team leaders. The team promise El Tridente at the Tour de France, three team leaders but back to Landa. He was one second from the podium last July having done the Giro too. What if he had been left off the leash: the “free Landa” hypothesis? It’s interesting but freedoms can come with responsibilities too and how does he shoulder the burden of leadership? And as exciting triple leadership sounds, with teams reduced to eight riders and Movistar having an exodus of lieutenants – in part to fund Landa’s salary – and just getting through the first week of the Tour with its crosswinds, coastal cliff roads and cobbles is a lot to ask.
Rather than moving to a crowded team Warren Barguil was another big transfer but he voluntarily took a step down. He was a very promising amateur who kept going when he turned pro, winning two stages of the Vuelta in 2013. Since then he had beaucoup promise but no wins and plenty of setbacks and injuries, including a fractured hip in the Tour de Romandie last May. Then came the Tour de France when he took two stages, the mountains jersey and made a name for himself as the darling of the French audience. So what to do for an encore? Just recovering the form of last July is a big ask but if can win a stage or take the mountains jersey again then 2018 will be a satisfaction for him and his entire team. However the background has changed, he’s moved to the small Fortuneo-Samsic team outside the World Tour and he’s very much the leader of the team and he’ll be expected to show along the way.
Dylan Teuns is hot prospect. A very good climber in the amateur ranks things went quieter results wise for two years until he was a surprise third in the Flèche Wallonne, that steep finish that so often takes years to master. It was his run in August that impressed as he took three stages in a row and in impressive manner, he was just riding away from his rivals on the short climbs with the kind of searing jump that compatriot Philippe Gilbert displayed in his pomp. So what’s next, does he try to extend this climbing range to other stage races or go all in for the Ardennes classics and then stage-hunting in a grand tour?
Egan Bernal won the Tour de l’Avenir last year and has joined Team Sky. So far, so inevitable as the biggest team buys up the best young riders but despite having just turned 21 Bernal is no neo-pro having ridden for Gianni Savio’s Androni team for the last two years, reportedly on a four year contract meaning Savio’s pension plan may have been topped by a release fee. The Colombian stereotype of specialist climbers is increasingly looking like a relic and Bernal contributes to this, he had a strong season last year with results in hilly as well as mountainous races, he’s got a nose for a breakaway and can position himself for an uphill sprint and he’s an ex-mountain biker too. Having a VO2 Max of 88.8 helps but he’s got race craft. Now we’ll see how he fares with Team Sky, if anything the results could be slim given the hierarchy above him. If you want more on him, friends at Ride have just interviewed him.
Look closely and Zdeněk Štybar is in the picture. He has come so close but that big win is proving elusive. He was second in Paris-Roubaix for the second time last year. His cyclo-cross background helps but he’s got more than skills as his stage win in the Tour de France and the Strade Bianche show. So can he deliver a monument for Quick Step now that they’ve lost Tom Boonen? As ever it’s about seizing opportunities on a team that does quality and quantity alike and his team mates are just as ambitious with the likes Philippe Gilbert and Niki Terpstra licking their lips at the prospect of more monuments.
Rigoberto Urán is proof that persistence pays off for several of the riders cited above, keep plugging away and the stars can align. The Colombian had a perfect Tour de France on his way to second place in Paris although he rarely weighed on the race or shaped events but had he tried anything risky a lot could have gone wrong. So what now? Does he bank the Tour de France and return for more of the same again? That ought to be the idea but this time last year the plan was to send him to the classics and then see if he could poach a stage win here or there in the Tour.
Nacer Bouhanni is picked both to see if he can deliver results and because his team depends on this. Le bad boy has been his own worst enemy at times thanks to wild moves, whether along the finishing straight or down hotel corridors. Much has been made of Bryan Coquard’s lack of an invitation to the Tour de France and yes, Cofidis do sponsor ASO races which helps but Bouhanni has also won multiple stages of the Vuelta and Giro, Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné and beat some big names along the way. Cofidis need that Tour stage win – Milan-Sanremo is a target too – and they’ve been trying for a decade now. The sacked their team manager over the winter with a promise to shake things up but this all depends on Bouhanni winning big, here’s a team with a €10 million but but not the results to show.
Another Quick Step rider to watch is Bob Jungels. Of course the likes of Gaviria, Lampaert and Alaphilippe are exciting but arguably they’re more known concepts, we know what they can do, the question is whether they can achieve it. For Jungels the limits are not yet clear, he’s still just 25 and trying to find a niche that suits: can he become a grand tour contender? When picking highlights for last year his Giro stage to Bergamo just missed out but it showed us his race craft, the big test is tackling the big mountain passes in the front group and he was close but not comfortable in the Giro. Time is on his side but 2018 ought to tell us a lot.
Team Sunweb seem to like long term planning almost as much as Soviet officials and pick career objectives for their riders years ahead of the event, something that can’t always be said for rival teams. They’re riding high with Tom Dumoulin and Wilco Kelderman is coming along again and Sam Oomen is one to watch. He’s a third year pro but still 22 and was part of Sunweb’s team time trial squad that won the world championship title as well as hovering around the top-10 overall in several stage races where he can climb very well but as an amateur won the U23 Paris-Tours. So look to see if he can crack the top-10 overall and start to pick up individual wins.
- Others who almost made the list were Michael Woods, Oliver Naesen, Esteban Chaves, Miguel Angel Lopez, Jasper Stuyven, Emmanuel Buchmann, Primož Roglič and Ilnur Zakarin and the problem with picking 10 is you could pick 20, 100, 200 and so on. Every rider has their own challenges ahead and the density of the peloton with almost 500 riders in the World Tour alone there are many characters to follow
- As for the likes of Peter Sagan and Chris Froome they have their challenges but obviously their every move is going to be broadcast, shared and written up already