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.
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.
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.
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?
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.