After picking 10 established pros to watch for 2015, here are some neo-pros to keep a look out for. You’ll know some already, the definition of a neo-pro is someone in their first two years. But a good first year doesn’t always bring glorious second year, just ask Moreno Moser or Brice Feillu.
Below there’s a mix of sprinters, climbers, classics contenders and future stage race stars.
Vincenzo Nibali won the Italian championships with a powerful display but Davide Formolo, aged 21, was second and the only one able to match the Sicilian’s attacks. All this after placing top-10 in the Tour de Suisse and fourth in the Tour of Turkey thanks to his second place behind Adam Yates on the crucial summit finish above Selçuk. He went on to get top-10s placings in the Tour of Poland too and then sixth in the Giro dell’Emilia with its tough finish to the San Luca basilica. Read the stats for yourself but the lesson is that he’s been very strong in races with awkward climbs to the finish. Maybe he learned this on his home roads north of Verona and as an amateur he was excellent in the high mountains too. He turned pro with Cannondale but the team merger brings big change of culture, swapping the empiricism and traditions of Italian cycling for Slipstream’s encouragement of self-expression while wearing argyll.
Mike Teunissen* joins LottoNL-Jumbo (née Belkin) from the Rabo development team and seems to be a prototype classics specialist. Some neo-pros can step up without being famous but Teunissen might be a name familiar with many thanks to his U23 Cyclo-Cross World Championship win in the USA, leaving Wout Van Aert to finish third. 2014 saw him race on the road all the time, or sort of, given he won the U23 Paris-Roubaix. He collected other big wins like Paris-Tour Espoirs and a string of good places when it mattered. Moving up to the pro ranks is a leap for a classics rider, a period of apprenticeship is needed to refine positioning skills and have the courage to chop and flick Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara or Peter Sagan if necessary on the approach to a cobbled sector. Watch and wait.
One rider who seemed fearless right from the start was Silvan Dillier. He was active in the classics – that’s him up the road with Stijn Devolder – and was later part of BMC Racing’s winning squad at the world team time trial championships. This wasn’t a flamboyant début marked by victory salutes but plot his learning curve and it must resemble the Mur de Huy. He seems a certain pick for BMC Racing’s classics squad already.
Caleb Ewan* shouldn’t be a new name. The Australian’s been in the headlines since he was a 17 year old outsprinting the pros and has finally turned a pro. He’s been versatile in the U23 ranks, competitive on hilly courses too but that’s common for someone on their way up. Thor Hushovd came close to winning an U23 stage race in the Pyrenees and Tom Boonen placed well in the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège too. Ewan seems cut out for sprinting with his low position and sharp acceleration and could well start with a win in the Tour Down Under. If recruiting young riders is detection and development, the talent detection part happened such a long time ago that he’s been on a development path for years. He’s still so young but in some ways he’s already a polished pro after several years as a full-time bike rider as opposed to the rough-diamond variety so seeing how he improves further will be interesting.
How about Miguel Angel López* for a rough diamond? He started riding early, it only way to get to school. But racing is a recent activity. He told Colombia’s El Pais he feels lost in the world of pro cycling with its computers, power and nutritional science. He’s the kind who goes training with peanut butter sandwiches in his back pocket instead of gels and, if he spoke English, would say “what?” more often than “watt”. But he’s no bumpkin, he won the Tour de l’Avenir with a display of stoic determination that resembles Nairo Quintana, calmly seeing off repeated attacks as whole teams tried to pressure him. “Superman” is used to seeing off attacks, the nickname was earned after thieves tried to steal his bike but he fought them off despite being stabbed twice in the leg. I sighed when learning he joined Astana. No, not for the reasons you’re thinking as the first Iglinskiy had yet to be busted back then. Rather Astana seems an odd place to develop riders. Yes the team have brought on Fabio Aru but he’s very much part of DS Beppe Martinelli’s system while Angel is literally foreign to the team: a Colombian on a Kazakh team with sideline Italian culture.
For a better development path, look no further than Julian Alaphilippe who rose up through the OPQS talent system. He starts his second year with Etixx-Quick Step after an impressive 2014, he hit a sweetspot in the Tour of Catalonia by finishing third, fourth and second on the flatter stages and later took a stage win and the points jersey in the Tour de l’Ain. But he’s not a sprinter; as an amateur he won a mountain stage of the Tour de l’Avenir and should become a punchy finisseur or, less poetically, a French Peter Sagan or Michael Matthews. His best result was arguably fifth place in the GP Plouay, proof he can last long distances already.
Those who have raced will surely remember a time when the peloton is stretched out in a long line, everyone is struggling to hold the wheel in front and suddenly the thought arrives “if I’m hurting this much just to hold the wheel, who is the rider on the front setting the pace?” That guy could be Alexis Gougeard of Ag2r La Mondiale. He took two wins in his first year as well, and each in style after solo breaks. He’s a chunky build, a rouleur who can put the hurt on others and stretch the peloton elastic to breaking point. Whether he becomes a TT specialist, a classics contender or just a sprint leadout specialist is up to him and the team. He might find 2015 harder, he had a full season for a neo-pro and the early zip in his legs might be missing plus he’ll be marked in any French race.
Lorenzo Manzin* is a new signing for FDJ and from the island of Réunion, next to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Labelling because of his exotic, at least by pro peloton standards, origins feels awkward but he could make a name for himself quickly with some sprint wins rather than being “Monsieur Réunion” or “the pro from the Indian ocean”. Like other French territories Réunion is, legally, as much a part of France as Brittany or Corsica and besides Manzin has spent the past year racing on the French mainland, both the road and the track.
A Dane joining a team with Danish roots looks normal but Michael Valgren’s move to Tinkoff-Saxo is worth viewing in an alternative light, a worthy signing for one of the most high profile and well-funded teams. He won the U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2012 and confirmed with a stage win in the Tour de l’Avenir in 2013 before turning pro for 2014. He was third overall in the Four Days of Dunkerque, won the Danish road race championships and won the Tour of Denmark overall. He rode, and finished, the Vuelta in the service of Alberto Contador’s win before his 20th place in the Worlds after being away in a move on the final lap with the relentless Alessandro de Marchi, a show of strength and depth. What next? The high mountains might be too much but it’s reasonable to expect another quality win in 2015 with discreet progress in the Ardennes classics.
Magnus Cort* was a team mate of Valgren in 2013 and stayed with the Cult Energy team for 2014. Cort might have been jealous of Valgren’s promotion but 2014 saw him win enough races to make anyone envious. He won 11 times, putting him among the most prolific winners of 2014 only they say he’s not really a sprinter. Seeing him sandwiched between Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb on the win count is flattering as he won in lower level races than them, but he’s still 21. He does have a fast finish but seems to enjoy letting a tougher course thin the field. He moved to Orica-Greenedge mid-season. Finding opportunities on a team packed with opportunists could be the biggest challenge.
Last but not least comes Adam Yates. Almost too obvious to pick but impossible to exclude. The Briton had a superb season with Orica-Greenedge after winning the Tour of Turkey and hanging with the best in the Dauphiné too, all while looking stylish on the bike with a mellifluous pedal stroke. A crash in San Sebastian stopped him challenging Alejandro Valverde for the win. Twin brother Simon is equally worth watching because if anything he could win more, he had a bad crash in 2014 and came back for the Tour de France should thrive in 2015.
“Any rider who joins a UCI ProTeam or Professional Continental Team for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year.”– Article 7 of the CPA-AIGCP joint agreement, uci.ch
So this includes riders who were pros with Continental teams before moving up. A neo-pro can be 26 years old too.
* First year neo-pros are noted with an asterisk above *
More and more
Formolo’s listed above but just one of nine (9) neo-pros with Cannondale-Garmin including the likes of Dylan Van Baarle, Matej Mohoric and Lasse Hansen, all tipped for the top too. BMC Racing have an excellent supply of young riders with Stefan Küng, Dylan Teuns and Campbell Flakemore to name just three. Lotto-Belisol have got Louis Vervaeke, a real Belgian GC prospect and Tiesj Bernoot too. Ag2r La Mondiale’s Quentin Jaregui and Pierre-Roger Latour are exciting, attacking riders. Lampre-Merida’s Ilya Koshevoy is a steely climber who has ridden into the pro ranks outside of the Russian system. Manzin’s mentioned above but FDJ have signed another sprinter in Marc Sarreau, a tough rider from the French army team who’s already a father too. More talent, more stories et cetera.
The Merckx-like path of early glory followed by instant wins at the highest level is exceptional. It takes time to progress, constant work, curiosity and some luck too. Romain Sicard won the U23 Worlds and the Tour de l’Avenir but hasn’t lived up to the promise or hype generated; a back injury’s not helped. A thriving first year pro can struggle in the second year with pressure, fame or fatigue, see Moreno Moser or Brice Feillu. Others can get the weighty “future Tour de France winner” label but further progress requires time, see Wilco Kelderman, Tejay van Garderen or Rohan Dennis who had stunning early results and then quietly got to work on improvement rather than taking over the sport from the start.
Some names to watch for 2015 but no guarantees or expectations. It’s relatively easy to spot a wunderkind in the U23 ranks. The hard, if not impossible, task is working out which ones will continue to progress in the pro peloton.