Riders to watch for 2012

Twelve riders for 2012. Some are riders you will be familiar with, some you might have forgotten about and maybe you will read about some for the first time below.

Established riders
First up, six established riders who are worth watching for in 2012 to see if they can confirm results from the past year.

Jelle Vanendert: loyalty is the word. He was a vital lieutenant for Philippe Gilbert’s annus mirabilis but decided to stay with Lotto because apparently he promised his kid brother Dennis he’d ride with him, instead of moving to BMC with Gilbert. His form was surprising, after not winning a race since 2007, he took a stage win in the Tour de France and another second place, both in the high mountains and wore the King of the Mountains jersey. We’ll see if he can win more for himself or if he becomes a useful support for Lotto’s main GC hope, Jurgen Van den Broeck.

Chris Froome: arguably the most improved rider this year, it’ll be interesting to watch what he does in 2012. Just repeating the same kind of performance in the Vuelta would be huge but with more support and confidence, how far can he go?

Rein Taaramäe: 12th overall in the Tour de France, fourth overall in Paris-Nice and a stage win in the Vuelta, Taaramäe continues his progress from prospective talent to real winner. It’ll be interesting to see if this trajectory can continue, certainly his Cofidis team will be counting on this and if the Estonian can achieve more in 2012 then a bigger contract and a stronger team await.

Dan Martin: a stage racer or a one day rider? A gifted climber with a Gilbert-esque tolerance of lactic acid, the Irishman finished the season in ninth place on the UCI rankings. A stage of the Vuelta, he took a string of podium places throughout the season. A methodical and intelligent rider, we’ll see if he can win more in 2012.

Pierre Rolland: after an outstanding Tour de France many will ask what he can do in 2012. But in fact he’s already been the-next-big-thing in French cycling after winning his very first race as a pro in 2007 and going to claim a few wins including the King of the Mountains jersey in the Dauphiné stage race. Nevertheless, the attention from the Tour de France this year was something else and we’ll see how he copes with the pressure, the first test should be Paris-Nice.

Thomas Voeckler: Voeckler’s made a career of going in breakaways on hilly days and once in a while, winning. A modus operandi if you like. But now his riding in the Tour de France means few will want to let him get up the road. Yet I suspect he’ll struggle to become an ice-cool stage racer who saves energy at every opportunity, his temperament won’t allow it. So I’m interested to see both how he does and also how the peloton treats him.

Neo pros
I’m going to use a wide definition that includes any rider on a neo-pro contract, in other words this can include a rider who rode as a pro during 2011 and has another year to go under the label in 2012.

Bart De Clercq: you’ve probably forgotten but De Clerq won a very impressive stage of the Giro d’Italia. I’ve included the video clip above. Stage 7 had a substantial uphill finish on Montevergine di Mercogliano. Not steep, but when De Clerq jumped away with 7km to go he stayed away to win the stage. Analyse this for a moment and he managed – solo – to hold off a chasing pack with all the race’s top riders going full gas. On a climb like this it means he was putting out massive numbers whilst the chasers could benefit from slipstreaming, especially thanks to the work done by Lampre. He only started riding a bike in 2008 so there’s surely a lot more to come.

Diego Ulissi: another Giro stage winner, Ulissi is talked about as the new version of Paolo Bettini. The similarities in style and size are obvious and in fact Ulissi is from the same Tuscan town as Bettini. He was outfoxed by Thomas Voeckler in the final stage of Paris-Nice but come the Giro and he beat Giovanni Visconti in a close sprint.

Andrea Guardini: eleven wins in 2011, outstanding for a neo-pro although Marcel Kittel won more and took bigger wins. Still they say Guardini could become Mark Cavendish’s biggest rival and the styles are similar, an aero position on the bike and a style that seems to come from the track. His biggest limit is his team, the Farnese Vini squad aren’t even sure of a ride in the Giro but are counting on Guardini to secure them race entries. His more modest team though means he gets time to learn his craft, in fact plenty of time since he’s signed a contract extension through to the end of 2013 already.

Nikita Novikov: the Russian has joined Vacansoleil, a strange story. Novikov has arguably been the most complete amateur in Europe this season, with wins on the track and in the high mountains alike. You’d think the self-appointed Russian Global Cycling Project would be offering countless roubles to hire Novikov, especially since he was on the Itera-Katusha team, Katusha’s development squad.

Luke Durbridge: “Durbo the Turbo” beat Marcel Kittel for a medal in the TT World Championships in Geelong back in 2010. Now we’ll see how he fares against Kittel and others in the pro ranks as he’s signed with Greenedge. The Aussie squad is packed with sprinters and we’ll how often he gets his chance – something Kittel didn’t worry about. At the same time, it means plenty of experienced riders to learn from and an atmosphere free of pressure.

Kenny Elissonde: a pure climber, Elissonde made a long breakaway and almost won the U-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège but was caught on the line. He delivered several other good rides in 2011 including winning the prestigious Ronde de l’Isard stage race in the Pyrenees and duly became a stagiaire with FDJ in August. Normally riders are tested to see how they fit in but Elissonde delivered results. As several big names were warming up for the Vuelta in the Tour of Burgos, Elissonde was twice in the front group in the mountains and took the best young rider whilst only 19.

Some names to watch but remember almost all neo-pros have been winning big across Europe in the amateur ranks. I didn’t mention FDJ’s U-23 world champion Arnaud Demare although the team expect wins from him right away; I didn’t mention Marcel Kittel because he is too obvious. There are many more, some have given some very good tips in the comments, I could pick 20 more.

There’s something I enjoy about watching new riders emerge and trying to spot the stars of tomorrow but a lot can happen to a rider in the early years of their career. The promise of new riders, a cast of new actors for the theatre of pro cycling, is as enticing as ever.

28 thoughts on “Riders to watch for 2012”

  1. Voeckler never has been Captain Popular with the peloton, has he?

    For me the one who missing but really should be there is Henao. Assuming he settles he really could be the Next-Big-Thing.

  2. DeeJay: thanks, that’s right.

    Iain: yes, apparently the Spaniards nickname Voeckler “Hollywood” for his acting skills during a race, when he pretends he is too tired to work in a breakaway… only to ride away for the win. Good pick with Henao. Sky seem to have so many riders you wonder when he’ll get the chance. Matt Rendell has been tipping him.

    paul: another good one… but there are so many.

  3. Whetting my appettite nicely for the new season with this post.

    Very keen to see how Froome and Martin get on in 2012 and enjoyed Guardini’s riding last season so look forward to more.

  4. With an unashamed Australian perspective:

    – For established riders, I’ll be intrigued to see how Goss and the GreenEdge team go. How will he cope with genuine team leadership and all the pressure that goes with that after his breakthrough year last year?

    – For neo-pros, keep an eye out for Nathan Haas (Garmin) in his first year. He seems very level headed and won the SunTour here in Australia against much more established riders. I don’t know what his program will be but I can see him winning a hilly race or two in his first year in Europe.

  5. Yeah, I concur with the De Clerq pick, also look how beat he still is at the champagne ceremony.
    Well, I will continue to keep my eyes on the ex-htc riders van Garderen and Degenkolb, who I already watched last year, because I expect great things from those two. van Garderen should really be able to develop into a threat in week-long stage races, maybe in a few years even a Grand Tour contender? And Degenkolb will hopefully develop into a threat at the cobbled classics, since he is a real hard man. He is much more know for his fast finish, but I never thought of him, and apparently he himself too, as a sprinter but as a classics guy. I’m really looking forward to see him in next years spring classics.

  6. Haas could be the big surprise, stuck with Cameron Meyer on Arthurs Seat and should he was more than up to the task.

    I dont expect big things from him this year, but who knows.

  7. For me – interested in seeing if ‘breakout’ riders like Peter Sagan and Matt Goss can take the next step up. For Sagan, a big Classics win, and for Gossy a consistent year as a team leader.

    Froome & Rolland are also really exciting. I’m hoping they’ll get their chances though – although I suspect they’ll be kept ‘in development’ and still riding as support for their team leaders…

    As an Aussie – I’d love to see Richie Porte get his chance this year. But similar to his new teammate Froome, he’ll be a support rider for a while yet…

  8. Like everyone else, I was impressed with Voeckler in the TDF. It seems that no one in the peloton (including Bernard Hinault) likes or respects him, though. Is it just that he acts too much, or is it something else?

  9. I met Dan Martin at a Garmin sponsor’s ride out, and a nicer bloke you couldn’t find. He was uncomfortable signing autographs and having his photo taken, he just wanted to chat about bikes and racing. He may be Irish, but he’s probably more British than Chris Froome! He was saying how he was targeting Lombardy, which was two weeks hence, and ended up doing OK there! I’d love to see him go well this year.

  10. I can see why nobody likes Voeckler – he makes most of them look like robots out there! I hope he NEVER becomes “an ice-cool stage racer who saves energy at every opportunity” as we have too damn many of those already. Just like Claudio Chiappucci, T. Blanc is one who races to WIN rather than races not to lose. Most of the peloton disliked “El Diablo” as well, but the fans (including this one) loved him.

  11. Larry T. – Doesn’t the sheer stupidity of a lot of TV’s riding drive you mad? During the Alps in last years Tour I was literally thinking “WTF are you doing you moron?”

    Cycling should be about the head and the legs, not just gurning because a camera is pointing at you.

  12. Interesting to see that you didn’t mention any spanish riders. Is this a result of the post-Fuentes era?

    In your first list, you could have considered Kruiswijk or Mollema.

    In the second list, Guardini is indeed a great talent. And not well known outside Italy.

  13. Voeckler told L’Equipe his team should have held him back on the Galibier, that his DS should have stopped him. A question: is he blaming the team managers for losing the podium place or is he so aware of his attacking instincts that he needs others to direct him?

  14. Ian, this is the same stuff they said about El Diablo though I think he was a bit less on the facial expressions…I remember Claudio doing more hand-gestures, trying to get his breakaway (or chasing) companions to work rather than mugging for the TV cameras. Bernard Hinault was often good for what looked like (and quite often turned into) a suicide attack when the mood struck him. I always like to see someone TRY even if most of the time they fail. Nobody gave Chiappucci a chance back in 1992 on the way to Sestriere but that will go down as one of the most epic rides in my history. I believe negative racing handed BigMig the win a few times…not that he shouldn’t take advantage of his rivals stupidity, but it wasn’t exciting to watch. Cold, calculating riders might win more but they fail in the excitement/entertainment category — Ivan Basso is an excellent example of BORING.

  15. I’m interested to watch the development of Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin). He was an accomplished U23 who seemed to be able to adapt quickly to the workload of Pro Tour, even getting selected and riding strongly in le Tour. I think if he gets an opportunity at Garmin he has the engine to make the most of it.

  16. Surely a Cavendish v. Kittel head-to-head matchup has to be a moment to look forward to in 2012. Will it happen?

    Just read the bio that VN wrote after his stage win in the Giro, and the Bart de Clercq story is pretty amazing.

  17. Just watched the highlights vid (as I watched that stage live), and as much as I love American commentators for the NFL and NBA they are shocking when it comes to cyclinbg.

    Had to hit mute, for my own sanity.

  18. Someone sent me a long email about Ramūnas Navardauskas. As I said in the reply, I did think of adding him. A neo-pro he rode the Tour de France with Garmin and helped win the team time trial as well as doing a lot of work in the race and for the whole season. A big engine. But I left him off because he might be working a lot for the team and less visible. But not any less valuable and he’s a dark horse for many a breakaway and even Paris-Roubaix.

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