With the 2020 season underway, 10 neo-pros to watch out for in the coming season. The bar has shifted with the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar who struck gold in their first year but for most newcomers the story is more likely one of steady progression.
What’s a neo-pro? Technically it’s not a first year pro, instead it’s “any rider who joins a UCI WorldTeam or UCI Professional Continental Team for the first time no later than during his twenty-fifth year” according to UCI regulations but for today’s blog let’s just go with first year pros otherwise it’d be easy to pad out this piece with tips about Remco Evenepoel, Tadej Pogačar and Marc Hirschi.
Alberto Dainese (Team Sunweb) is the latest hotshot Italian sprinter. There’s been a conveyor belt line of them, but questions over the quality control. Matteo Moschetti is promising but Jakub Mareczko is finding things hard and the likes of Andrea Guardini and Riccardo Minali have struggled. But Dainese has been racing abroad for several years with the SEG Development team (that’s him in the picture above after winning the Euro U23 title in the Netherlands) and looks like the complete package. He’s already bagged a stage win in the Herald Sun Tour this year, look for him to take a handful of wins in Europe this year.
Picking Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ) is easy as he’s already won a stage of the Etoile de Bessèges and finished third overall but he’s been on the radar for a long time, he was European junior time trial champion and has built up an impressive palmarès ever since, for example picking up the French U23 time trial title in his first year out of the junior ranks. He was a stagiaire with the Groupama-FDJ team two years running and the French U23 time trial champion last year and finished second in the U23 road race. He won the U23 Paris-Tours. A time triallist? Yes and no. Yes as he’s been a prolific winner in this domain and during the Etoile de Bessèges said he was looking forward to the final time trial as he’d be on home ground compared to race leader Benoît Cosnefroy; no because he’s won more like U23 Paris-Tour last year. He’s long had the physique of a classics rider and he looks as if he’d be equally at home with a rugby ball or a pneumatic drill in his hand and was probably the kind of kid who had a beard in school aged 12. Watch for him in the classics but also as a human windbreak for the likes of Arnaud Démare and Thibaut Pinot.
Kaden Groves (Mitchelton-Scott) feels like another easy pick as he too has won already but that’s this blog’s fault for putting this piece out once the season is underway. Is he a sprinter? His wins have come in bunch sprints but as an U23 he’s got results on hilly terrain. This is normal for U23s though, to make it into the World Tour means you have to be good in several domains, you specialise once you turn pro – but Groves feels like more than a sprinter, think of a classics contender and a stage poacher.
Einer Rubio is Movistar’s Colombian signing. The team’s exodus is well known and part of it down to a bust-up with rider agent Giuseppe Acquadro who is Italian but has a stable of Spanish and Latin American riders leaving the Spanish team looking for Colombian talent outside of Acquadro’s sphere. Rubio is a pure climber, not for him being dropped in at the deep end to pad out Movistar’s classics team this April, he’s fifty-something kilos. Second in the U23 Giro last year and with a string of results in Italy, he’s a promising rider but in a crowded field. The test is learning to ride in the World Tour peloton, it’s one thing to be able to climb faster than a rat up a drainpipe, another to get to the foot of a climb ready and in the right place but watch out for the name in Spanish and Italian stage races.
Benjamin Dyball is the odd one out as he’s 30 but he’s been on Continental teams for his career before finally making the move into the World Tour via NTT. It’s a risky signing of sorts but read Dyball and think “Moneyball” as team management scout for talent and overlooked riders rather than compete to sign the next phenomenon on a giant contract. He’s excelled on the Asia tour with the Tour de Langkawi and stage wins in the gruelling Tour of Quinghai Lake but has barely raced in Europe so it’ll be interesting to see if he can parlay his time trial and climbing skills in the World Tour. Maybe there are no big results but he could slot in as a useful helper.
Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) is another Aussie climber from the Andrew Christie-Johnston pipeline, the Tasmanian team owner has helped many a rider turn pro, especially climbers who fall outside of the Aussie track programme. Harper won the Tour of Japan last year and then went to France to win the Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc, a 2.2 race where he was the best climber by far. Jumbo-Visma aren’t short of leaders so the first task will be fitting in as a mountain lieutenant with a sideline as an engine for the team time trials.
Tobias Foss (also Jumbo-Visma) won the Tour de l’Avenir, following on from Tadej Pogačar and Egan Bernal. Like many Norwegians he started out on skis and took up cycling as a way to keep fit over summer but the means to an end opened up new beginnings. He seems more of a consistent, steady rider rather than an instant hit. This isn’t to downplay things, just think of him more like, say Pavel Sivakov or Wilco Kelderman, a tall rider with the proverbial “big engine”. His pro career hasn’t had the most auspicious start with a fall in his opening race in Valencia but look out for him as a valuable helper this year.
Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) is probably a familiar name thanks to his junior road race title in Yorkshire last year and being American means he’s in the headlines in the usual English-language websites. Born in 2001, not for him a few years in the U23 ranks, he’s turned pro right away out of the junior ranks, presumably Trek saw him as too important to miss but had an astonishing run of results last year where he was almost never outside the top-5. He should have a relatively light programme this year, don’t expect instant wins but look for the small signs like being able to finish long distance races and to perform in time trials.
Attila Valter is Hungarian and a headline writer’s gift as such but there’s plenty more. A natural fit for a central European rider with a central European sponsor, he’s been on CCC’s development squad and now moves up to the World Tour. He took the Tour de l’Avenir stage to the high altitude ski resort of Tignes, a breakthrough win for a rider you’d keep seeing in the results but without a big trophy. CCC aren’t top-heavy when it comes to leaders so he should get his chances, look for him in breakaways on hilly days.
Mauri Vansevenant isn’t a pro yet either, he’ll formally join Deceuninck-Quickstep this July but joins the list as one to watch out for if only because he’s the son of Wim Vansevenant, the three time Tour de France lanterne rouge (his story is well told in Max Leonard’s enjoyable “Lanterne Rouge“). Wim was a loyal worker but Mauri might win more, he ran away with the Giro Valle d’Aosta last year and Deceuninck-Quickstep might rhyme with classics contenders but they keep signing promising stage racers, see Andrea Bagioli this year too.
That’s ten and plenty but watch out for Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) as another versatile
German Dutch rider, Clément Champoussin (Ag2r La Mondiale) isn’t a pro yet as he’ll move up in April, a date brought forward perhaps to stop him being tempted to sign elsewhere sooner and Gianni Savio’s signed Ecuador’s Jefferson Cepeda on a four year deal. Add any tips to the comments below…
- Note: Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar have shifted expectations but they’re the exceptions, the normal path is still for riders to take a few years to develop, for example Egan Bernal is a very young winner of the Tour de France but was a fourth year pro
- Talent scouting is a big deal but still a tricky subject because if a team happens upon the next Eddy Merckx they risk losing them as soon as their contract is up anyway, it can cost a lot to hire a budding neo-pro but they usually don’t deliver big results from the start meaning it can be an expensive option on further contract talks in two or three years’ time
- Also it’s not for everyone. You might have big lungs, long legs and a heart with a turbo but talent is only one thing and racing for fun as a junior and as a job in the pro ranks can be very different