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Neo-Pros to Watch in 2020

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Morten Reippuert Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:41 am

    Mikkel Bjerg, three times U23 UCI ITT world champion !

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:43 am

      One to watch for sure… but he’s been pro conti for the last two years.

      • Morten Reippuert Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:46 am

        Pretty shure Hagens Berman Axeon was only Continental and not pro continental but i could be wrong.

        • Joel Simister Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 11:35 am

          They were PC in 2018 and 2019.

          • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 12:59 pm

            That’s right, it was the way they could ride the Tour of California near-automatically.

    • Morten Reippuert Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:45 am

      + the 2nd fastest man on the hour since since he was 19y.

  • plurien Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 11:03 am

    Evenepoel and Pogacar may have broken the mould but is there also an effect of the team Kapos no longer being able to keep ahead of fresh blood? Sure, there was doping but is there also more willingness on the part of DSs to let riders have their head in a race?
    The racing seems to be a lot less predictable and some teams thrive on it, whilst others seem to have more difficulty bossing things like they used to. It’s all for the good.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 1:06 pm

      These two are very good and Evenepoel’s riding before turning pro shows plenty, as did Deceuninck-Quickstep giving him a big contract right away as Sky started talking to him. But others have been good from the start, think Sagan or Boonen, as soon as someone can perform they tend to get a chance. The interesting thing to see will be the progress and if it can keep up or if they’ve reached the limits already, eg is Sagan today better than in the Liquigas days?

      • CA Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 4:06 pm

        Even Sagan took years to develop. Remember how early on he won/placed in lots of stages GT/1-week races. But it wasn’t until 2012/2013 that he had the engine to compete in the Classics (2012 he placed, and 2013 he was smart/strong enough to win). Then it was a couple more years and he was finally able to win a Monument.

        You would think that right now he’s trying to keep hitting his previous peak form levels from his Monument winning days, but it’ll be harder and harder every year.

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:00 pm

          I can remember Sagan flying in Paris-Nice in his first year. It was a bitterly cold day with the start moved because of snow and later nobody knew who the Liquigas rider was that was riding away from Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez on an uphill finish… even if he’d just placed the second the day before. By the end of the week he’d taken a second stage win and was suddenly hot property before winning in Romandie and the Tour of California.

          • CA Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:16 pm

            He was definitely flying early on, but don’t you also remember he used to run out of gas in the longer races? He’d be up with the winners and then he’d blow up in the last 30-45 minutes of the Semi’s, and then the same thing would happen in the Monuments for a few years?

          • plurien Friday, 21 February 2020, 9:56 pm

            How many seasons on Liquigas – I miss their panache – did Sagan have to endure supporting the crushing mediocrity that Basso had become?

          • peter s Sunday, 23 February 2020, 8:18 pm

            interestingly enough, prior to peter’s p-n premiere, lefevre was not impressed by the test result the year before -> no contract offer from the quick step team.
            there are rumours after the paris-nice 2010 lefevre fired the guy responsible for the lab equipment calibration. (jokin)
            peter had always been quickly in shape early in the spring during his junior times.
            i personally enjoyed his early years more, lots of kick.
            re these days – well, the tdf crash on the rocks took its toll.
            in this context, i am really curious, where mvdp in 3 years will be, with a rapidly increasing marketing value.

        • Anonymous Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 1:21 pm

          He wouldn’t run out of gas.. won the bunch sprint in San Remo in 2012, was top 10 in Amstel and Flanders too. The engine to do well in these races was always there but in San Remo he wasn’t even team leader (Nibali finished 3rd)

  • Joel Simister Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 11:34 am

    There’s also Ardila, who comprehensively out-climbed Rubio at the baby Giro, and after being injured since then, was with the small group of favourites until 2km from the end of the mountain stage in Colombia a couple of days ago. Promises a lot, hope his knee has recovered. Check out stages 4 and 5 on YouTube of the Giro and just watch him go.

    Niklas Larsen also looks like a huge prospect, Tour of Denmark winner last year, but now at Uno-X as a Pro-Conti rider for the first time.

    Not to mention Batistella, Bisseger, Leknessund, Bagioli and Rutsch.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 12:09 pm

      Some good picks. There could be 10 neo-pros to watch from Colombia even with Ardila certainly there, I went for Rubio because he looks more experienced at a higher level and the Movistar angle was more interesting. UAE are building up a strong team, Covi, McNulty, Philipsen, Bjerg.

  • DJW Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 12:28 pm

    and what about Matthew Holmes. He been a solid rider knocking round the UK with Madison Genesis for years but came out in his first WT race and rode aways from an in-form Richie Porte – of all people – on Willunga Hill. In interviews he seemed to indicate being ill at ease in a fast-moving dynamic peloton. If that’s the case that fear needs to be cured rapidly, but if he can become comfortable in the peloton and in a foreign country, then maybe we have a good late developer.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 12:59 pm

      He’s impressed already, being able to follow Porte and then beat him after being in the breakaway. But he’s 26 and with Dyball above I’d gone for the “new pro but older than 25” exception. It’ll be interesting to see what is next for Holmes, his first season is practically a success already but as you say it’s learning all the new things now. And if he doesn’t like rubbing shoulders in the peloton, he won’t be alone as several breakaway specialists have this trait too and it’s one reason they go up the road.

  • Thomas Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 12:47 pm

    Love this type kind of blog entries.
    noticed 1 small mistake , Ide Schelling is Dutch, not German. Unless Germin is referring to the team…

  • PaulG Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 1:21 pm

    Not a neo-pro by the blog definition, but is by UCI, James Knox still under 25 and starting his 3rd year with D-QS….Coming along very nicely and improving every year. Going well in the 2019 Giro until an accident and finished 11th in the Vuelta last year inspite of a nasty crash on the penultimate stage. Certainly one to watch.

  • AndyW Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 1:32 pm

    Minor picky proofreading, but Mauri Vansevenant to formally join Deceuninck-Quickstep, rather than formerly

  • Ron Obvious Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 1:50 pm

    I expect great things from Thymen Arensman, because… well, that name! He won’t turn pro until July though (with Sunweb). It seems he might become a good allrounder, whose U23 results have been somewhat hampered by injuries and studying on the side.

  • JP Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 1:54 pm

    Charlie Quartermain, unsure how much they will use him in WT races this season but will be interesting to follow.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:24 pm

      What’s interesting? (asking as I know next to nothing, is there a particular story behind him, or a connection JP)

      • JP Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:50 pm

        Just that’s he’s so young (I’m keeping with current recruitment strategies) and comes from Flavio’s set up (like James Knox). Clearly got a huge engine but unsure how this will translate to WT racing………

        • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 7:03 pm

          Off to a good start, took the mountains jersey for a day in the Tour de Provence so a podium plus jersey as a souvenir.

          • JP Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:51 pm

            Yep I saw that in the results. Just not the typical rider that Flávio usually gets but his father was integrally involved in the Zappi set up. He’s clearly really talented but seemingly a TT specialist first and foremost (so far). No personal connection to Charlie myself however a good friend been involved in the Zappi team for the last few years

  • DJW Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 3:08 pm

    On a similar theme it’s interesting to see WT teams integrating development team riders in event squads with, for Groupama-FDJ, Stewart riding the Algarve and ven den Berg to Haut-Var. Yvon Madiot explains how it works:

    https://www.equipecycliste-groupama-fdj.fr/en/news/the-development-team-and-the-worldteam-get-even-closer/

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:20 pm

      It’s an interesting concept, it makes sense in that stagiaires used to be needed to see how riders fit in but now they can join training camps before, power files emailed etc so why not draft in riders all year and to races to suit them rather than the end of year only?

      • Joel Simister Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 9:46 pm

        Alternatively stick a 30 year old Avila in the devo team on devo wages and use him as and when necessary.

      • DaveRides Thursday, 20 February 2020, 2:54 am

        It’s a long-needed reform.

        This will help establish a positive incentive for a pro team to have a development team, where until now there have only been restrictions.

        Hopefully it will evolve further with things like reducing WT teams to 25 riders, transfer payments, and WT teams having the right to match offers made to riders in their dev team by other WT teams.

        • Larry T Thursday, 20 February 2020, 1:45 pm

          Agreed. If I was the king of pro cycling getting into the WT (if I couldn’t simply get rid of it) would require a development team funded with X euros + a women’s team funded with X euros along with the rest of what you outlined. It seems way-too-easy to get into the WT at present as the current numbers would indicate.

  • anonymous Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 3:13 pm

    By UCI regulations, Dyball is past the age of being a neo-pro.

    ‘Why does this matter if it’s his first full year in pro continental?’, you ask? Because it means the team aren’t forced to give him the security of a 2 year contract.

    Also, I wouldn’t have him in a list to watch, anyway. He’s raced in europe before and was less than impressive.

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:23 pm

      It’s still interesting to see someone >30 turning pro and if he bombs this year we’ll have a comparison between the Asia Tour and World Tour. The main interest is NTT trying to shop around, they’re clearly limited for budget and so trying alternative means. As you say he doesn’t get an automatic 2 year deal, it could be a one year deal which is really 8 months or so as you need results/performance by then to secure a renewal.

      • Anonymous Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 1:44 am

        There are plenty of comparisons between Asia and both the Europe Tour and World Tour already. Both Mareczko and Minali were mentioned as warnings when assessing Alberto Dainese. Mareczko’s 40 pro wins are a joke and Minali’s only 2 pro wins came in Tour de Langkawi 2 years ago. The climbers are no better.

  • Rafal Pruszynski Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:00 pm

    Simmons’ schedule, as per PCS:

    01.03 Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne
    07.03 Strade Bianche
    27.03 E3 BinckBank Classic
    29.03 Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields
    01.04 Dwars door Vlaanderen – A travers la Flandre
    12.04 Paris-Roubaix
    13.05 Tour de Hongrie
    31.08 BinckBank Tour

    How is this a light schedule? It compares with schedules for guys like Jungels or Stybar. Obviously we don’t know the results but we do know the schedule, and looking at PCS it makes me wonder: How well researched was this article?

    • The Inner Ring Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 6:17 pm

      The PCS lists are indicative, eg some riders are listed as riding both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico… which would be a challenge. But if it’s true then it’s four days in March and two in April, which is light and I’d expect him to do more than this. Was more thinking he’s not going to be doing a grand tour soon and as long as he’s healthy we should see him stick to a pre-determined programme rather than be used as a reserve to cover a sick rider in Romandie here, an injured team mate in the Basque Country there etc which is often the fate of neo-pro riders. He’s also aiming for the Dirty Kanza gravel race at the end of May too.

    • Lab Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 10:21 pm

      I would imagine that this article was very well researched.

  • Bede Marton Tuesday, 18 February 2020, 8:45 pm

    You missed the other Hungarian neo-pro who is even more of a headline writer’s gift: Barnabas Peak. (Barnabás Peák actually, but noone will bother with the accents.)

    • Anonymous Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 10:33 am

      Might have missed a write up about Barnabus Peak, but used photo of him above Kaden Groves write up!

      • The Inner Ring Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 10:36 am

        Better fix that, was listed in the photo as Groves.

  • Larry T Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 8:05 am
  • Zenju Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 8:42 am

    I’d add the 21 year-old American Ian Garrison, riding for Quick Step, to the list. Runner up in the U23 Worlds ITT, and just scored a stage podium in his first race with DQS, Tour de la Provence.

  • noel Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 9:27 am

    no Fred Wright?
    latest kid out of the Herne Hill Velodrome/BC junior track ranks. Won a stage at l’Avenir and the baby Giro last year… now under the tutelage of Ellingworth and Cavendish/Haussler etc…

  • Kjetil Haaland Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 11:30 am

    Tobias Foss was recruited from Uno-X Norwegian Development Team.
    I’d like do add some info on the team, organisation and what Uno-X do for Norwegian cycling, since it was discussed in a now closed entry (I work with my local club with Uno-X on an 1.2 race series called Uno-X Development Weekend, this year scheduled for 4-6. September. Ours on the 6th, Gylne Gutuer, is “the only race in Norway that looks like a classic”). It was a Continental Team, but this year it has stepped up to Pro Team level. They did mighty fine over in Colombia just recently, and I look forward to follow them at Algarve.
    Uno-X runs a chain of self service energy stations in Norway and Denmark. They are owned by the Reitan Group which also owns the YX service stations and Rema 1000 food retail chain. There is no government involvement. Uno-X also co- sponsors a couple of Danish Teams (look for Uno-X logos on the kit sides), several Norwegian clubs and races, and alsio the Norwegia Cycling Federation.
    The “Development” in the name(s) is philosophy. The team don’t ever talk results. They are there to be a step for Norwegian and now also Danish riders on their way to a World team (e.g. Tobias Foss). Too many Norwegian riders have gone to the top level unready.
    So what’s in it for Uno-X the brand? Exposure. In CX skiing or football they’d drown. Not so in cycling.

  • Rotohed Wednesday, 19 February 2020, 1:23 pm

    Jaakko Hänninen (Ag2r) is the one I’m cheering for.

  • Tom Friday, 21 February 2020, 1:20 pm

    Sam Gaze (2x U23 MTB world titles, 1x Commonwealth gold, 1x World Cup win) joins Alpecin-Fenix as a neo pro. He’s certainly got an engine, and it’ll be interesting to see what tricks he learns from van der Poel.

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