This blog picked a dozen riders to watch for 2020. The idea wasn’t to predict who will win the most or soar up the rankings, more to look at particular issues and challenges. So let’s revisit the piece to see what happened…
Obviously there’s been a pandemic but often the first duty online is to restate the obvious so the year saw plans blown out of the water and half a season condensed into August-September-October…
Enric Mas was the first pick, both because he’s a talented rider but also because he marked the enormous change at Movistar. Exit Nairo Quintana and with him half the team’s roster changed. Yes half as in 14 riders were newcomers including Mas. Cyrille Guimard has a dictum that a new teams needs three years to bed in and if you change half the squad then surely at least one season is needed. 2020 was a dire year for Movistar, just two wins thanks to Marc Soler although a salvage operation with a precious home stage win in the Vuelta. But they won the team prize in the Tour de France in part thanks to Enric Mas who was fifth overall, and then fifth in the Vuelta with the white jersey as best young rider although without shaping either race much. But he’s still just turned 26 years and should keep improving.
Alexey Lutsenko has been the standard bearer for the Astana team, the Kazakh champion riding for a Kazakh team. On the bike he had a solid year, almost winning the Tour de Provence but he was marked while team mate and 2020 revelation Alexander Vlasov rode off to win the first uphill finish above Cassis. He was third in the UAE Tour which was a useful test on a summit finish but he still seems to have his limits in the high mountains. He took a big stage win in the Tour de France. Behind the scenes the Astana team has had a lot going on, reports of unpaid wages, some profound management changes, and almost a takeover by sponsor Premier Tech with the Canadian horticultural firm buying a stake in the team. With this it wasn’t certain if Lutsenko would stay with the team, the standard bearer could quit. But he stays and should be a force again in 2021.
Lennard Kämna was a new hire for Bora-Hansgrohe, another youth rustled away from the Sunweb nursery. He can time trial, he can climb and used this win ability to win a stage of the Dauphiné and then one in the Tour, both were big wins on hard fought days in the mountains and once in select company for the stage win he was able to go solo for each win. He’s only recently turned 24 and Bora-Hansgrohe will be delighted to have another German GC contender on their ranks.
Elia Viviani moved to Cofidis and it did look very a case of “So Elia, what was it about Cofidis that tempted you to sign a €2 million contract“. Yes, the leadout wouldn’t be as good, nor Cofidis’s managerial gerontocracy as sharp but he was still going to deliver some wins, right? Only he didn’t get one. It’d be harsh to pin this all on him, he had a nasty crash in the Tour Down Under and team management say the pandemic ruled out chances to spend time perfecting the new leadout. But Viviani can win without a train, it’s just harder but his ace card is the torque he can turn out in the final 150m to pass rivals. He rode both the Tour and Giro and cut a bit of a sorry figure at times, he’s the kind of sprinter who is quick to question himself rather than blame his bike or team mates. Hopefully 2021 is different and he’s back on the podiums.
Matteo Trentin was going to ride shotgun with Greg Van Avermaet in the spring classics. Both are similar riders, strong at the end of a hard day and riders who aim for the cobbled classics but can collect Tour de France stages too. But we never saw much more than fourth place in the Omloop and he was sprinting for points in the Tour de France without much of a chance of ever winning the points competition. Where he was invaluable was as a team mate and if CCC had a tough year he was helping out colleagues in situations when the temptation to play his own card might have got to others. Look out for him at UAE Emirates now with Alexander Kristoff.
Jack Haig had a tidy year but the sort that niche bloggers notice more than households. He’d come off an impressive 2019 where he’d been helping Simon Yates while also placing fourth overall in Paris-Nice and taking second on the final day of the Dauphiné. 2020 wasn’t as consistent but a stage win in the Ruta Del Sol did get headlines. Among the developing talent at Mitchelton-Scott Lucas Hamilton stole his thunder a touch but both missed the Giro when the Aussie team pulled out and we’ll not know what could have been in the third week. He’s joined Bahrain now and they’ll count on him for results.
Sergio Higuita had a great start, winning the Tour Colombia at the start and then finishing third overall in Paris-Nice where he surfed the echelons as well as the likes of Mads Pedersen and Peter Sagan despite conceding 30 kilos to them. But an unlucky crash in the Dauphiné hampered him there, and another in the Tour de France finished off his season when he would have been most visible.
Kasper Asgreen won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, riding across to the breakaway with 30km to go and then allowing them to sit on his wheel for as long as they liked, or rather as long as they could for he burned them off to win solo, just holding off the sprinters. He was third in the Paris-Nice time trial, picked up two Danish championships in the road race and time trial and is an invaluable helper for the Deceuninck-Quickstep team, a stalwart for the classics and grand tours alike.
Valentin Maduouas‘s 2020 was much like his 2019 season, but better. No wins but versatile on all kinds of terrain and a valuable helper who got his chance in the breakaways of the Tour de France once his leader Pinot was injured. The harder a race was the more he seemed to be visible at the end of it. But how to win? Being good on a variety of terrains is impressive but being a specialist in a particular niche tends to land the wins.
No wins for Brandon McNulty but plenty of solid top-10 results and often in very good company. Fourth in San Juan, then he was hobnobbing with Jacob Fuglsang and Mikel Landa in the front group of the Ruta del Sol. Then after racing resumed he rode the Giro, his first grand tour and it was a success, he didn’t make the front page of La Gazzetta but for a 22 year old it was strong, helping Diego Ulissi to stage wins and a second place in Tortoreto on the stage won by Peter Sagan, plus third in the Valdobbiadene time trial. The only limit looks to be the high mountains but they look accessible. Much is made of UAE not recruiting much help for Tadej Pogačar but with “McNuts” they can always hire internally for the job in July.
Gianni Savio’s made some lucrative signings to the Androni team over the years such as Egan Bernal. Simon Pellaud is in a different category, a canny deal rather than a cash bonanza but the Swiss rider delivered with his trademark breakaways and this landed the intermediate competition prize in the Giro. Wildcard invitee teams such as Androni can’t expect to feast at the table of the Giro when up against much bigger teams but they can pick their targets and Pellaud helped deliver.
Anthony Turgis was the second pick among the UCI ProTeams and he had a solid time with fourth in the Tour of Flanders as the highlight, he’s a rider who seems to thrive in tough conditions and enjoys racing with a 55T chainring despite having a slight build that means he doesn’t look like the usual cobble-eating flandrien. His consistency in 2019 helped Total Direct Energie get enough UCI points to get invited to all the World Tour races and he kept scoring in 2020 but landing a win is elusive and it’ll be interesting to see him alongside Terpstra and Boasson Hagen this year.