At the start of the year 10 neo-pros were mentioned as worth following. Time to examine how the predictions fared and more importantly to see how the riders got on this year and what might come next?
Caleb Ewan continues to match all the hopes placed in him and glides along a steady career path. Still just 21 years old he’s been raced sparingly this year, 57 days in total, a deliberate choice rather than illness or injury. This care has included just three World Tour races and he even skipped the Tour Down Under despite his obvious suitability. Even with lightweight calendar he’s taken 10 wins including the Vuelta Stage pictured above. With John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan left trailing you’d understand if Ewan’s got this as his desktop background. It’s been a productive year and better still sign that he’s part of a development program with no rush to rely on him for results. Things change on the team with Ewan and Michael Matthews set to become the established sprinters with the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves leading on the hillier days and Robert Power joining for 2016. It makes Orica-Greenedge look like an orchid nursery as they try to develop rare and delicate talents, a far cry from the Team Bogan public image.
Some milliseconds can last a lifetime. Mike Teunissen won the Tour de l’Ain prologue ahead of FDJ’s Alex Geniez by six hundredths of a second, the Frenchman went onto win the race overall while Teunissen is now part of the select club of neo-pros to win a race during their first year as a pro. It was his best result in a year where he finished the Vuelta and took second place in the Ride London Surrey Classic too. So a solid season but not barnstorming and let’s hope after a long season he’s enjoyed a good rest. He’s also going to be one of the last in the line for the Rabo development programme with the Dutch bank having announced it will pull back further from cycling sponsorship, the end of an era.
It was one of the oddest signings from 2014. Miguel Angel López opted for Astana which has no record of developing young riders and few Spanish speakers too. He’d just won the Tour de l’Avenir and this looked like the Kazakh team making him an offer too good to refuse. Lopez is one of the rare riders to make a name for himself before to turning pro thanks to the “Superman” nickname derived after he fought off bicycle thieves despite being stabbed in the leg. He does vibe hardcase on the bike, a compact ball of muscle rather than the usual slim build, picture a Pit Bull Terrier rather than underfed mountain goat. He’s had a slender year in terms of racing but made up for it with the Vuelta a Burgos where he won the mountain stage summit finish ahead of veteran Dani Moreno although this pre-Vuelta a España tune-up had a very light attendance with just 88 riders and several make-weight teams padding out the peloton. He was second in the Tour of Turkey’s summit finish at Selçuk and could have done better had he timed and measured his efforts better but arguably his best result this year was seventh overall in the Tour de Suisse, built on fourth place in the Queen Stage to the Rettenbachgletscher above Sölden.
Lorrenzo Manzin is the first professional cyclist from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean which makes him a more curious prospect that fellow FDJ neo-pro and sprinter Marc Sarreau. But he’s not the exotic choice, word is that he’s faster than Sarreau although he’s not had too many chances to prove it, take the Tour Down Under where he had a big crash early on. Still he won the Roue Tourangelle this year and remains a rider to watch, 2016 should see him start to pick off more races on the French calendar.
“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. Now onto the neo-pros in their second year…
Imagine you’re a neo-pro who finishes second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of the hardest one day races going: you’d be tempted to pump the air with pride. Not Julian Alaphilippe who offered a theatrical demonstration of bar bashing as he lost out to Alejandro Valverde… again after the Spaniard had trumped him in the Flèche Wallonne days before. This was the highpoint of a run that went from the Volta a Catalunya in March (two top-5 places), the Tour de Romandie in May (three top-5s) and the Tour of California where he took a stage win and finished second overall to Peter Sagan. Before gastric woes got the better of him he was slated to rival Sagan in the Worlds which sounds fanciful but if he can match Valverde in the Ardennes then why not? The real question is where does this versatility lead? Leadership is probably the next step, he’s been able to sit the shadow of Michał Kwiatkowski and Mark Cavendish this year before deploying his punchy finish and carrying such a heavyweight team will be something else.
Davide Formolo was the first rider named and in his season’s been defined by his Giro d’Italia stage win in La Spezia, one of Cannondale-Garmin’s rare high profile wins. Elsewhere he’s been a regular contender for best young rider competitions and among the big boys he placed tenth overall in the Tour of Poland. The Italian has progressed but as the photo shows he still needs to remember to zip up his jersey when the finish line approaches.
BMC Racing might race under a US flag but there’s no doubting their Swiss heritage as they continue to produce Swiss talent via their development team. Silvan Dillier got the tip after impressing in 2014 although 2015 saw him overshadowed by the towering force of Stefan Küng although the pair are team mates at BMC and also on the Swiss team pursuit on the track where Dillier has spent some time. On the road he’s won his second world champion title in the team time trial event and took the Swiss national TT title too plus a stage in the Arctic Race of Norway where he was second overall. He’s a powerful rider who should be more visible in the classics next year.
Alexis Gougeard went into 2015 with question marks over him. He’d impressed in his first year where he took several wins but did his rivals let him slip away thinking the hefty neo-pro wouldn’t last long only to discover he’s almost impossible to bring back? This year was all about confirmation and he’s making a name for himself as a breakaway specialist, a modern version of Jacky Durand but with one big difference: he wins regularly. That’s him winning a stage of the Vuelta above and, as if to prove lapping Spain didn’t tire him, he took the Tour de l’Eurométropole overall after powering to win the prologue. He had a strong spring classics campaign, notably in Paris-Roubaix where he went in the morning breakaway and when the group was caught he just attacked again and went in the next move. Speaking to L’Equipe his old coach Jackie Tiphaigne said “Gougou” just needs a a five metre lead for him to consider he’s in a breakaway. All that remains to be seen his prowess in the high mountains and whether that bulk can be slimmed down although there’s no rush for Ag2r La Mondiale given Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour can occupy these roles.
After impressive results in 2014 Dane Michael Valgren was tipped for the Ardennes classics this year only to offer two DNFs. Arguably his results this year have been worse than before but he’s had progress in other ways, for example making Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France team all while being a Dane on the receiving end of the Oleg Tinkov’s rants against Bjarne Riis and Denmark.
Magnus Cort is another rider who hasn’t continued in 2015 as he did in 2014. Arguably his 2014 season saw a World Tour quality rider racing in smaller events, the classic tale of the big fish in a small pond as he racked up enough wins to finish in between Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb on the victory rankings. 2015 hasn’t brought a single win, it hasn’t been a disaster with many third and fourth places and he’s still 22. Looking ahead if anything his problem is internal to Orica-Greenedge, he sprints well from a small group on hilly days but so does Michael Matthews although this can be easily resolved by calendar planning and cooperation.
Finally there’s Adam Yates. As stated at the start of the year he was almost too obvious a pick yet he was impossible to ignore. He won the Clasica San Sebastian although he had to be convinced of this by an Orica-Greendge soigneur waiting after the finish line, if he missed the finish line celebrations at least he got to enjoy the podium protocol. Both brother made it to Paris for the Tour de France and Simon had a great year too with results like fifth overall in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Dauphiné, sixth in the Tour de Romandie, all while 22 years old.