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Riders To Watch for 2020

A dozen riders to watch for 2020, some could break though, some will feel the pressure to deliver and others could surprise.

Enric Mas had such a great Vuelta in 2018 that last year felt a bit underwhelming. Sixth in the Tour of the Basque Country, fourth in the Tour de Suisse and above all second in the Vuelta made him hot property but the temperature dropped a bit last year, the sight of him being dropped on the climbs in the Tour de Suisse didn’t bode well for the Tour de France and he finished a decent 22nd overall including a ninth place in the Pau time trial along the way and helping team mate Julian Alaphilippe. He’s signed for Movistar and the Spanish team has undergone big changes with half the team’s roster changing and of the 14 signings (fourteen, no typo) they’ve made for this year Mas is the big one. The team can no longer win the Giro and then wield a trident of leaders in the Tour de France, so watching Mas this year is as much about seeing how Movistar allocate their resources too, especially as Mas has only just turned 25 and still needs nurturing.

What’s the point of the Astana team? To promote Kazakhstan and give the country’s riders a platform. Alexey Lutsenko is the embodiment of this, the reigning Kazakh champion and a very strong rider. Too strong almost, more brawn than brain at times but if he keeps getting strong he’s also learning too and it’ll be interesting to see what he does next, especially as he’s so important to the Astana team. One to watch for the Olympics road race.

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Team Sunweb had a torrid time last year with Tom Dumoulin crashing and then leaving the team and one extra woe must have been the loss of Lennard Kämna to Bora-Hansgrohe. The former World Junior TT champion has made quiet progress since turning pro. Aged 20 he finished eighth in the Vuelta’s time trial stage in the third week of the race which was quietly impressive. Last summer in the Tour de France he was on the attack a lot in the third week in the mountains and took two top-10 places, all while still eligible for the U23 ranks. Put simply he’s shown he can time trial with the best and climb with the best so if he can combine both then there’s a lot to watch for in the coming years. Only it’s not so simple, in order to get better at climbing he says his TT skills have been neglected and back in 2018 he took time out from the sport. Bora-Hansgrohe won’t be a in rush given they have Emanuel Buchmann – fourth in the Tour last summer – as a more ready GC contender.

 

Who was the best sprinter of 2019? You can make a good argument for Dylan Groenewegen and Elia Viviani. Viviani’s moved to Cofidis which, even if the team has been promoted to the World Tour, is a step down from Deceuninck-Quickstep. So why move? Presumably it’s a variation on “what tempted you to sign a €2 million contract with Cofidis”? Even if the leadout isn’t as good, and Cofidis’s managerial gerontocracy not as sharp, he should still deliver the wins. Should Cofidis get Liquigas Viviani or Sky Viviani then this would still bring wins galore including World Tour races which is what Cofidis craves and, with a growing business in Italy, a Giro stage would be ideal. More than ever they want and need a Tour de France stage win, they haven’t had a success there since 2008. This year’s route makes this tougher but Viviani is versatile however he’s got ambitions for Tokyo too which further mitigates the chance of a stage win in France. He’s an interesting character too, in a way because he’s the antisprinter personality-wise. While rival sprinters often have egos to match the size of their trophy cabinets, Viviani’s often modest and even shed tears after being unable to win Gent-Wevelgem for his team in 2018.

 

Staying with modest Italians who have made a career switch brings us to Matteo Trentin. A classics contender, a sprinter, handy in a team time trial, able to win hilly and even mountainous Tour de France stages and make the podium in stage races. Plus he briefly looked like was going to be World Champion. Trentin is one of those Swiss army knife riders who will be very useful for this new CCC team. Only this team has Greg Van Avermaet who sprints less these days but does all the rest as well. So how will the two cooperate? On paper it’s promising as one can go up the road in classic while the other sits tight and should make CCC a stronger outfit in the spring classics. If you use social media, give him a follow as it’s a stream of positive messages, encouragement to others and more.

 

Can you spot Jack Haig in the picture above? We’ll see if he can come into sharper focus for 2020, the Australian is in a luxurious position of being a valuable helper for Simon Yates at times, a mountain stage lieutenant, but has been racing for himself at times and it’ll be interesting to see if he can convert some promising results into wins or at least podium places this year. For example he was fourth overall in Paris-Nice last year and had a second place in the final stage of the Dauphiné, made the podium in the Bretagne Classic (ex GP Plouay) and was sixth in Lombardia so he’s been in the mix but how to convert this into wins? He keeps improving each year but easier said than done, he’s a tall lanky rider rather than explosive finisseur.

 

Which brings us to the punchy Sergio Higuita . He had a dream season last year, moving to Europe to race with Euskadi first and then making a planned switch to EF Education First where he kept progressing with second overall in the Tour of California and then a stage of the Vuelta late into the third week of racing, always a good sign as it shows recovery powers too. He’s Colombian and climbs fast but it’s his finishing punch that makes him an exciting prospect, he can convert placings to wins.

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As the reader of a niche blog you probably don’t need a tip about Remco Evenepoel so let’s look at Kasper Asgreen instead. After a quiet first year with Deceuninck-Quickstep he made a name for himself with second place in the Tour of Flanders, soloing away from the chase group behind Alberto Bettiol, yes the others were marking each other but just being present in this group was impressive. That was only one visible result, he was barely out of the top-10 in time trials during the year and finished third overall in the Tour of California. So what to focus on this year, a tilt at the classics, become a TT specialist with an eye on the Olympics perhaps or become more versatile, a Danish version of Bob Jungels?

Groupama-FDJ’s Valentin Madouas had a quietly impressive 2019. He was 11th in Paris-Nice, eighth in the Amstel Gold Race and with barely a break went and rode the Giro where he finished 13th overall thanks to getting in some breakaways when it mattered. There’s more than a nose for the right move on the final road stage to Monte Avena he was hanging out with a lot of big name climbers, a feat for a neo-pro on the fourth Saturday of a grand tour. So what next? Putting his hands up in the air is the aim and Groupama-FDJ will give him chances but they haven’t recruited big to back Pinot so he could be a precious helper too, especially as he’s versatile, he looked equally at ease on the attack in the Binck Bank Tour too.

Brandon McNulty is still 21 but technically not a neo-pro as he’s already served two seasons with US pro conti team Rally Cycling and took his chances along the way, including winning the Giro di Sicilia last year. And no, he’s not going to gravel racing. He’s signed a three year deal with UAE, a sign they’re keen to back him. If one problem for US riders is adapting to the smaller, twisty European roads then triumphing on the cracked tarmac of Sicily suggests he’s got fewer worries here. He’s been a TT specialist but can climb too and being from the US makes him a valuable commodity.

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After World Tour picks, now two from the Pro Teams, cycling’s second tier. Simon Pellaud rode much of last year like he was searching for a pro contract. He’s Swiss but thanks to a Colombian girlfriend spends time in Colombia but if he’s signed with Androni, he’s not one of Gianni Savio’s imports. In fact he started out in the World Tour with the IAM Cycling team. That team ended and so did his job but he kept racing at Continental level thanks to crowdfunding. Invited as part of the Swiss national team to ride the Tour de Romandie he duly took the mountains jersey on home roads and got more results to get a ride with the Androni team for 2020. Now he’s got a pro contract we’ll see how he rides, just repeating 2019 with more mountains jerseys and breakaway riders would make him even more visible again and who knows, maybe Savio will export him onwards?

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Lastly Anthony Turgis of Total Direct Energie. You probably know the team has an invite to all the World Tour races this year and a lot of this is down to Turgis who won the French season-opener the GP La Marseillaise and then kept on placing throughout the spring – that’s him second to Van Der Poel in Dwars Door Vlaanderen – to the point where he finished 64th on the UCI rankings, once place higher than Enric Mas to bring us full circle in the dozen. Now we’ll see if he’s freed from chasing points and can start to take results for himself.

Picking a dozen riders means excluding hundreds of others. There are more obvious stories for 2020 such as whether Chris Froome can make a full recovery from his injuries and resume racing? Will high profile signings like Richard Carapaz, Mikel Landa or Tom Dumoulin deliver? Will Primož Roglič improve on 2019, ie win the Tour de France? Can Julian Alaphilippe thrive in the classics and get the yellow jersey in July again, and then garnish this with more from the Olympics to the Worlds or would settling for half of 2019 still be a great season? Will Thibaut Pinot get his Tour de France legs again and can he keep them for three weeks? Can Simon Yates recover his 2018 mojo? Is Peter Sagan getting bored with road cycling, what is left for him? Where will Mathieu van der Poel win on the road? How will Tadej Pogačar do? Can Michał Kwiatkowski find winning ways again after a burn out last year? Another dozen and we haven’t mentioned Egan Bernal but these are all high profile names and should get acres of media coverage. But you can have plenty of interesting low profile picks, like the late blooming Carl Fredrik Hagen who was top-10 in the Vuelta last year; can Ag2r La Mondiale’s Benoît Cosnefroy go from winning French races à go-go to a World Tour win? Can Trek-Segafredo’s Matteo Moschetti get a win or will he follow other Italian sprinters like Andrea Guardini and Jakub Mareczko who go from torching the U23 calendar to the backdoor? Will Sam Bennett automatically join the top league of sprinters now he’s at Deceuninck-Quickstep? Can Arkéa-Samsic ride like the 20th World Tour team? Can Kevin Rivera be Gianni Savio’s next deal? Hour record holder Victor Campenaerts only needs a bit more luck and he’ll start winning big time trials. Can Michael Valgren, Ben O’Connor and Louis Meintjes resurface at NTT? Can Giulio Ciccone improve on 2019? What next for Mark Cavendish? That’s the beauty of the cycling season, there are many riders and stories to enjoy and the vast calendar of races is like a blank page to write them on.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Larry T Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 1:22 pm

    Nice piece. Your last sentence says it all. Since I’m not on the Lotto-Soudal team I’ll raise a glass to you, the other readers and commenters and all of pro cycling in hopes for an exciting, safe and competitive season of racing this year. Cheers, Cin-Cin, Prost, Salud, Sante, Proost, Kanpai, etc!!!

    • DaveRides Thursday, 16 January 2020, 6:59 am

      I sincerely hope that a race organiser somewhere decides to mock Lotto-Soudal by presenting one of their riders with a bottle of water at a podium presentation.

      • Larry T Thursday, 16 January 2020, 8:57 am

        How many podium ceremonies (outside of Italy) still have the bubbly these days? Is it only banned in France…the “Land of Champagne” for Pete’s (or in this case Pierre’s) sake???
        What about the “sandbox” races where alcohol is banned (unless you’re part of the monarchy and have it flown in via 747 freighter, as someone I know who once lived in one of the countries that host those events told me) in general?

        • DaveRides Thursday, 16 January 2020, 9:12 am

          No idea.

          Time differences mean I often go to bed straight after a race finishes.

          Ludicrously large glasses of beer still seem to be common at races in Belgium, that would seem to be a good chance for a Lotto-Soudal rider to be given a disappointing prize.

        • Nick Thursday, 16 January 2020, 11:57 am

          F1’s sandbox races use sparking rosewater, or similar, for their podium celebrations. Suspect cycling’s do too.

          • Larry T Thursday, 16 January 2020, 3:22 pm

            Please clarify – are you saying what’s in the bottles isn’t sparkling wine, though the bottles are labeled as Champagne (or similar) or that they spray something out of unmarked bottles that’s just fizzy water? I’d certainly be surprised/upset if my victory bubbly turned out to be nothing more than sparkling water!!!
            In France I guess it’s now (in the land of Champagne!?) illegal to show alcoholic beverages being used in a sporting (or other?) celebration. Thank gawd that’s not (so far anyway) the case here in Italy…the land of Prosecco 🙂

          • DaveRides Friday, 17 January 2020, 11:45 am

            The custom bottles made for the podium celebrations only have the branding (Carbon) and not the word ‘champagne’ on them.

            There’s no apparent difference between the normal version and the ostensibly non-alcoholic versions used in France, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi (and the USA if a <21 driver gets a podium) – so who can say for sure what is in them? I doubt that anyone involved would be keen on the disruption caused by spilling the beans.

            It gets worse – it was a sparkling chardonnay for 2016 and the first part of 2017 before Carbon took over!

            I'm sure the tradition would have a bit more protection from the French if it was a French tradition. But since it was the American driver Dan Gurney who started it at the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hours, obviously not.

          • Larry T Saturday, 18 January 2020, 8:29 pm

            DaveRides – Thanks. I guess there’s a difference in a) what is written on the bottle b) what’s in the bottle. It seems in France there can be no celebrations even implying the use of alcoholic beverages. In the land of champagne this is outrageous IMHO while putting fizzy water in the bottles instead is just dumb. I’m happy this stupidity has not taken over here in Italy 🙂
            I’m always puzzled by attitudes towards wine and beer in Anglo-Saxon countries vs the Mediterranean. In the former they are too often demonized as evil “drunkening liquids” while in the latter they’re simply food – to be enjoyed like most things – in moderation.

          • Nick Monday, 20 January 2020, 12:22 pm

            I mean that in the countries where alcohol is banned, the F1 victory celebrations do not use an alcoholic drink, but a non-alcoholic fizzy drink.

            France is different because alcohol brands are banned from sponsoring sporting events because they’ve taken a view that the obvious disbenefits of alcohol consumption precluded it from being associated with healthy activities, just as most countries ban sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco producers.

            I assume that the illegality in both cases means that bottles aren’t misleadingly labelled as if they did include alcohol.

  • jc Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 1:52 pm

    I did wonder if the Jack Haig image was an oblique reference to what will almost certainly be the subject of endless speculation, ie the state or otherwise of Chris Froome’s fitness.

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 4:36 pm

      No, just about the only image I’ve got of him.

      We’ll see for Froome, only he and his doctors and support staff know what is going on but it fills plenty of column inches and pixels. I’ve heard more but it’s all single source stuff so waiting to see if there’s a date for him to resume racing first.

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 5:25 pm

      Nobody recovers from illness or injury like Froome and his Vuelta drug test non-failure shows that his body works in different ways from others. Expect him to do little or nothing all season and then to win the TdF.

      • Cedrik Saturday, 18 January 2020, 4:23 am

        I‘ll just come right out and say it: I predict Chris Froome will not win the 2020 TdF. Though I wish him a successful recovery.

        • Ecky Thump Saturday, 18 January 2020, 12:23 pm

          He’s going for it though, together with Thomas and Bernal.
          A clash of the dreadnoughts with Jumbo-Visma looks set for July 👍🏻

          • Cedrik Saturday, 18 January 2020, 4:58 pm

            Should be a good race with the current cast of characters!

  • Cascarinho Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 5:01 pm

    I wonder how Cyril Barthes and Geoffroy Bouchard will manage this year.
    On the french domestic races level, we can wonder what Jérémy Cabot, who has had interesting result two years back, had to go back to amateurs and crushed the season in France, could do now that he’s hired by Direct Energie, or people like Jordan Levasseur, who was pro in Armée de Terre few years back and had some nice results, and now is heading to Natura4ever-Roubaix. Adrien Guillonnet is an interesting one too.
    Would you have any names, distinguished readers, for the italian domestic calendar (what is the plan of Ficara and Celano ?), the belgian one, the spanish one, the american one, the dutch one, the british one, or others ?

    • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 5:29 pm

      I’ll do a separate neo-pros to watch piece in the coming days.

    • Mathew Mitchell Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 10:02 pm

      I can give you some UK Domestic names:
      Jerôme Baugnies & Brenton Jones for Canyon dhb
      John Archibald & Steve Lampier for Ribble Weldtite
      Tristan Robbins & Owen James for SwiftCarbon
      Chris Latham & Joey Walker for Vitus

      Chris Opie is back racing for Saint Piran after his GCN stint and obviously Tom Pidcock for Trinity.

  • MJJ Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 5:31 pm

    As you say, so many names to list… World Champion Mads Pedersen, Flanders champ Alberto Bettiol and Sepp Kuss (one of the strongest climbing domestique last year) are others to watch for me.

    • Ecky Thump Wednesday, 15 January 2020, 8:00 pm

      Certainly agree on Pedersen. I hope he does the WC colours justice, though it could be a very tough ask – not least over his placing in his own team’s hierarchy.
      I’m also interested to see how a group of riders – QSD’s Wolfpack – get on as a collective, and whether they can continue their successes to the same degree as the past couple of seasons.
      Can the new-look team click as cleanly as the proprietary flooring?

      • Patrick Thursday, 16 January 2020, 2:07 am

        QSD will most likely be highly successful as always
        to me the main question is always how the stars that leave them fare on their higher-salary teams without the wolfpack around them – many/most struggle to maintain their level of success

    • CA Thursday, 16 January 2020, 1:26 am

      I can’t wait to see how Mads Pedersen does. I hope he picks off a few wins here and there. You don’t want him to feel too much pressure to go for races he isn’t designed for, but will be interesting to see the rainbow jersey carrying bottles at certain races!

      The Wolfpack is going to roll, they have some upcoming beasts in their lineup.

  • Augie March Thursday, 16 January 2020, 2:13 am

    Who was the best sprinter of 2019? I think the only answer to that is Caleb Ewan.

    Also, the Astana team makes even less sense now given the Kazakh capital was renamed last year to Nur-Sultan. The name is promoting a place that no longer exists, this would like a cycling team being called “Leningrad” in 1992.

    • Lukyluk Thursday, 16 January 2020, 5:59 am

      Not sure about the “only” answer… He’s in contention for sure, but Groenewegen, Bennett and Viviani might have something to say about that, and Ackermann had an amazing season all-round.

      • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 January 2020, 10:00 am

        Ewan had a great season as well at the Giro and Tour, I should have cited him above as well.

        • DaveRides Thursday, 16 January 2020, 10:39 am

          Ewan was great, but I reckon he fell short of claiming the crown as the king sprinter.

          I’d say he’s the one most likely to assert a claim to that status this year – but that’s not enough to rule out one of the others dominating instead or having another year without a king sprinter becoming clear.

    • DaveRides Thursday, 16 January 2020, 7:04 am

      One of the largest contributors to the sponsorship of the team is Astana Motors, and their name has not changed.

    • Larry T Thursday, 16 January 2020, 10:01 am

      Some might ask if the idea of the Astana team EVER made sense? Fans of pro cycling who live elsewhere are going to visit? Invest their money? Buy cars from Astana Motors?

      • CA Friday, 17 January 2020, 3:14 pm

        Shhhh Larry – please don’t use common sense!

        Astana Motors!?! I didn’t know that existed – I picture a Lada that’s only sold in bright aqua/teal!

    • CA Thursday, 16 January 2020, 3:34 pm

      Has to be Ewan – 3 stages at Le Tour, including on the Champs, plus 2 at Giro. Groenewegen didn’t win much. Bennett did well at Vuelta.

  • The GCW / Strictly Amateur Thursday, 16 January 2020, 5:09 am

    Sepp Kuss

  • DJW Thursday, 16 January 2020, 9:03 am

    An example at a more modest level, James Shaw. Dropped after two unremarkable WT years with Lotto-Soudal, an improved 2019 with SwiftCarbon CT (5th Tour of Yorkshire, 4th Loir et Cher…) despite limited opportunities. Now he has clawed his way up to PCT with Riwal Readynez and still only 23. Will the chances come, and can he take advantage? Cycling interest is not just at WT level.

  • Adrian Holman Thursday, 16 January 2020, 9:56 am

    Will Tiesj Benoot win big again in the Spring? Almost two years since his epic Strade Bianche win and only one win last year.

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 January 2020, 9:59 am

      An interesting pick, one of the ones left out. Not a regular winner but so versatile as he can do the cobbled classics and is getting better and better in the high mountains, and now a leader at Sunweb.

    • CA Thursday, 16 January 2020, 5:17 pm

      And Sunweb as a group will be interesting this year. Who will step-up as their leader? With Benoot and Matthews they have a couple solid Classics contenders. It isn’t yet a wolfpack, maybe a Fox Pack.

  • Wayne Thursday, 16 January 2020, 4:20 pm

    I’m interested to see how Landa will do. Feel a bit for him as I think he’s better than his recent results have shown.

    • CA Thursday, 16 January 2020, 5:40 pm

      I know – he’s always an interesting rider, but I suspect like most things Movistar touched the last 5 years, only someone who is extremely focused and disciplined (eg. Valverde) can thrive there. Other riders may get affected negatively by their management style. Team Sky’s dranconian management style may be what helps apply Landa’s skillset.

      But still, finishing 4th on GC riding mostly in support of the Yellow Jersey, inspite of losing time early on in the race before he became a rider for a high placing.

    • Larry T Friday, 17 January 2020, 8:27 am

      Landa’s what I call a “number’s rider” like Richie Porte or Bauke Mollema. On paper his “numbers” suggest he should win GT’s all the time, but when rubber hits road he can’t deliver.
      Mollema’s now won a Monument so perhaps there’s still hope for these guys, but I wouldn’t wager a dime on any of them when it comes to GT success, especially since they’ve all had their chances leading various teams trying to win them.

    • CA Friday, 17 January 2020, 3:12 pm

      Agree with Larry T – and these numbers guys need to be in a top team in order to win. It’s like F1 – Lewis Hamilton might be the best driver in the world right now, but if Mercedes never had a spot for him he would never have won what he won. It’s impossible to predict exactly what would have happened, but if the world’s most talented driver/rider is stuck at Renault/Movistar then they won’t win the title/TdF.

      • Larry T Friday, 17 January 2020, 4:21 pm

        They’ve all had chances in top teams as undisputed leaders…and failed. Landa’s 2017 Giro d’Italia with SKY comes to mind as do the many times Richie Porte failed as leader of various teams pursuing a GT win. IMHO Mollema might be the most promising of the three, but that’s far from a ringing endorsement. I don’t think any of them have what it takes as a GT team leader on-the-road, despite how competitive they might look based on their numbers.

        • Eskerrik Asko Friday, 17 January 2020, 9:51 pm

          Wasn’t 2017 Giro d’Italia when Landa was brought down in the big pile up behind the parked police motorcycle? Landa was able to finish the stage – but lost more than twenty minutes. He was able to in a manner save his Giro by winning a summit finish stage in the third week.
          But I have to agree that somehow there’s never been a perfect constellation of things when Landa has been the designated leader or co-leader – and unlike some great cyclists who seem to have an ability to make even bad looking situations work for them, he seems to require that everything is in its place and to feel that nothing is working against him in order to perform at his best.

  • Martijn Friday, 17 January 2020, 1:00 pm

    Fausto Masnada was one of the most fun riders to watch in last year’s Giro. He seemed more of a one day than a tour rider to me, so it’s good to see he signed for CCC, where he can learn some tricks from GvA and Trentin.

    I also expect a lot of Hugh Carthy in the coming year. Top 1o in a grand tour, maybe winning a smaller one.

    • SYH Saturday, 18 January 2020, 3:43 am

      The Vuelta was a fun race but losing Carthy to a crash was tragic. His solo raid in the Tour de Suisse needs no reminder, but his pace destroyed the peloton on the final climbs of stages 2 and 5, he was looking hugely impressive.

  • JeroenK Friday, 17 January 2020, 10:06 pm

    I’d like to add Tim Merlier. He’s the Belgian champ, has a deadly sprint and no one is talking about the possibly lethal combination of MvdP lighting it up from far with him following the wheels. MvdP has shown to be able to ride his own race, but now he has an insurance card.

  • Samuel Heddle Saturday, 18 January 2020, 3:39 am

    Want to give a shout out to Benoit Cosnefroy, not sure what races he’s doing next year, but he’s consistently lit up the races I’ve seen him in.

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