Neo-Pros To Watch For 2021

After picking ten established pros to watch for the season, now it’s time to look at some newcomers. It’s not been an easy time to join the pro ranks as plenty of Under-23 riders saw their chance prove themselves last year vanish only increasingly recruitment to the World Tour isn’t based off recent race results but longer term evaluation.

First a quick definition of a “neo-pro” as it’s not a first year pro, instead it’s someone who has signed for the first time with a WorldTeam or ProTeam who is under 25, so second year pros are included. Normally the riders below would only include first years but not many riders turned pro over the winter so a couple of second year pros are included.

If pro cycling had a draft system then Tom Pidcock would be at the top of many people’s list and he’s the obvious pick here. He can do it all, in 2018 he won the U23 Paris-Roubaix and took a win in the the Planche des Belles Filles summit finish in the Tour d’Alsace. Last year he won the Baby Giro on the road (pictured above) and the U23 cross-country MTB worlds title among other successes, and despite being 1m57 tall he’s good in time trials too. As you might have seen this winter he can challenge Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in cyclo-cross and he’s five years younger than them. So a move to Ineos looked inevitable, the Brits with the budget. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with the most roadie of road teams, a world of power meters, altitude camps and sitting tight during stage races. But this could be where he scores because the team want to get away from their corporate monolith image and a rider with charisma and panache could be just the ticket.

Now to another Brit in Simon Carr… who is also French. He’s got dual nationality and certainly his cycling career has taken a French path as he went from his local club to top regional team, then the U23 team AVC Aix and and then to the Delko team and, thanks to some behind-the-scenes work late last year, a chunk of the Delko team’s riders and sponsors have merged into EF Education-Nippo and voilà, Carr’s now in the World Tour. Carr turned pro last year but only in August so let’s crowbar him into the 2021 list. He even won a race too, the Prueba Villafranca in the Basque Country and if the field wasn’t stacked, he still rode away from everyone on the final climb to win, plus he won the white jersey at the Tour of Portugal. British broadcaster Ned Boulting did a podcast interview that covered a lot of ground (here, start at 29m30s) about his background should you want more.

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Staying at EF Education Nippo brings us to Diego Camargo. The Colombian looks a very steady rider, a diesel-style of climber much like Dani Martinez who has left early for Ineos. Camargo won the local Tour of Colombia ahead of much older riders and took many steady results in the last two years. Like many Colombians adjusting to life in Europe can be a challenge to overcome but watch for him in the mountain stage races this summer.

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David Dekker has got the pedigree and the palmarès already. He’s known in the Netherlands as the son of Erik, a four time Tour de France stage winner and more. You might remember him from Le Samyn, the March semi-classic won by Hugo Hofstetter but Dekker was on the podium, having outsprinted riders like Giacomo Nizzolo and Florian Sénéchal. Crucially he’d persisted just to make the front group on grim day which suggests he’s a classics rider more than a pure sprinter so look to see how far he can last in the classics in support of Wout van Aert this year and maybe for a personal placing or two along the way in the sprints.

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Trek-Segafredo have had their eye on Antonio Tiberi for a while and the team has both an Italian sponsor in Segafredo coffee and an Italian manager in Luca Guercilena making them almost an Italian team. With Vincenzo Nibali getting long in the tooth who is the next Italian grand tour winner? The Italians might end up waiting as long as the Belgians and French but in Tiberi they’ve at least got something to project on to right away as he’s an accomplished rouleur who climbs well, he was junior world champ in 2019. Now many juniors can time trial and climb, specialisation tends to come later and Tiberi’s just 19 so look to see what chances he gets this year. Just being able to ride in service for Vincenzo Nibali is going to be a big learning experience, a masterclass, but watch for how long he lasts on climbs in races like, say, the Tour of the Alps.

Marco Brenner is another rider hired straight out of the junior ranks and on a long term deal, the German has joined Sunweb on a four year deal as an 18 year old, and that’s him next to Tiberi in the photo above. There are more and more cases of this and while Remco Evenepoel has made the headlines thanks to his prodigious success, others might prove more evanescent and these deals are probably better seen as a kind of option on talent. As Groupama-FDJ development team manager put it there’s more chance of finding a nugget by recruiting a kid star than by picking up someone who’s done several solid U23 seasons but the flipside is the precocious star might not be cut out for the pro ranks. It’s a tricky situation and as Sunweb only know to well if they do find a gem the risk is they’re rustled by a bigger team. Anyway Brenner is a big talent who has been crushing rivals on the junior stage: winning sprints, mountain stages and time trials and sometimes all in one go during a stage race. But this happens more often in races, it’s later that riders tend to specialise and we’ll see where Brenner feels best at. Expect a light programme this year and small trials in week long stage races.

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Clément Champoussin turned pro midway in 2020. The trend to turn pro early gave Ag2r La Mondiale a dilemma: they’d wanted to see Champoussin develop another year in the U23 ranks; he saw Chambéry team mates like Matteo Jorgenson join Movistar. The risk for Ag2r was that he’d go elsewhere too so a mid-season deal was brokered. Because of the pandemic Champoussin ended up paid to sit on his hands but he made up for lost time by starting and finishing the Vuelta and making a name for himself on the climbs where he was attacking the front group in the final moments on some days and making the break next. So while Ag2r Citroen have hired lots of flandriens, their feeder team continues to supply mountain climbers.

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Now to another mid-season pro in Olav Kooij but here he’s turning pro with Jumbo-Visma later this summer and he’s only 19. Kooij is pronounced like koi as in carp but think barracuda instead as he’s fast. He’s the latest Dutch sprinter to follow Groenewegen and Jakobsen and as an 18 year old fresh out of the junior ranks he racked up a series of sprint wins including a pro win in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali ahead of established pros.

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It’s always worth watching who Gianni Savio signs for his Androni team and Natnael Tesfatsion was hired out of the demise of the NTT feeder team. The Eritrean’s raced in Europe but seems to have thrived in Africa winning the Tour du Rwanda and finishing second in the Tropicale Amissa Bongo too. Savio hasn’t signed Tesfatsion on a long term deal through, only for two years but look to see if he can place in hilly races in Europe this year.

Ever get the feeling you’re in wrong job? Well Ben Zwiehoff (photo from his website) has been trundling around the Euro mountain bike scene for a few years without great success, a medal in the mixed relay competition at the Euro champs a highlight. He’s 26 so he’s not a neo-pro by the legal definition but makes the list because of his interesting story. He’s known he’s not explosive enough for the hard efforts needed in MTB racing with the sprint start and the sharp climb so his race strategy was more tortoise than hare and he could sometimes place but rarely win. Only this style pays on the road where being able to hold a even pace for 20 minutes or even an hour counts in stage racing. It’s here that he could surprise. As Radsport-News recounts Bora-Hansgrohe management started to talking to him and he impressed on a training camp. Word got out and Jumbo-Visma also approached him, inviting him for a lab test where he set the best results on the ergo they’d ever seen, a high score to make Primož Roglic jealous. With this offers suddenly come in but he felt happiest with Bora-Hansgrohe and he should quickl become part Emu Buchmann’s cadre of mountain support.

37 thoughts on “Neo-Pros To Watch For 2021”

  1. Andreas Kron, Lotto Soudal ?

    or do you not consider him ‘neo pro’ because Riwal was Pro Continental in 2020 and becuase he has already won on 2.Pro level among the adult pro’s?

    • It’s just as you say because being at Riwal means he doesn’t count as a neo. Certainly one to watch and Lotto-Soudal need riders like him to deliver on the days when Wellens, Gilbert, De Gendt, Degenkolb and Ewan aren’t, they’ve signed a lot of young promising riders but not necessarily the top of the draft although Kron’s a crafty move.

      • yeah, strictly speaking it make sense, same conditions apply for dano-norwegian Uno-X riders.

        I heard on danish eurosport’s weekly cycling magazine with B.Holm & T.Bay that he is not on a neo pro contract with Lotto-Soudal, and that the team expects him to win and that he is ranked just below Wellens, Ewan and c/o in the hierarchy because he already has won among the Pro’s at 21.

  2. If Carr is allowed then logically Stewart is too. He seems valued at Groupama-FDJ, but what sort of rider is he? Not a pure sprinter so he needs hills to break it up, but LBL looks just a little tough. As I write he’s in a breakaway of seventeen with Bernal, Gilbert, Wellens, Van Avermaet, Pollitt, Coquard and Kwiato. Good company.

    • He was on my list but with two Brits already it was good to look around elsewhere. He was an impressive stagiaire last year with the Tour du Limousin and by the sounds of things there’s room for improvement, he’s not the finished item yet. Plus he’s there today with team mate and neo Lars van der Berg too, both look solid for the classics.

  3. I’ll believe Brailsford’s words about Ineos’s new attacking style when I see it. If they’re not dominant in a race, sure. But if Bernal is leading the Giro, for example, it’ll be all aboard the train.
    I also don’t see Carapaz being allowed to ride aggressively in the TdF as such attacks are likely to cause Thomas to lose time – I think Ineos have very much re-focused on prioritising British riders.

    I sometimes wonder if (excuse my *total* lack of technical knowledge here) a way of stopping train-style riding by teams in grand tours would be to prevent bikes from having such low gearing. Would this stop many domestiques from pounding up climbs? Or just knacker their knees?

    • Preventing lower gears would destroy knees… higher cadence lenghtens riders’ careers. It’s a non-starter. You can’t force riders to pedal a certain way.

      If you want more exciting racing, make the races shorter, eg. 2-week grand tours with 12 stages of 2-3 hour stages max. Or… give the kids full kits of epo and let them blast each other up the climbs.

      As much as some people think riders will always cheat, I completely think cycling is the cleanest it has ever been… which means that riders can’t ride 3 weeks (4-6 hours a day) at intensity. Remember that “amazing” stage between Contador and Rasmussen with all the repeated big-ring attacks and Contador winning a flat ITT (beating cancellara)?!? Those stages are a thing of the past.

      • Yes, it very probably wouldn’t work. A budget cap for teams so they can’t load up on uber-domestiques is our only hope of an interesting GC contest in the TdF. (And if there was a will there would be a way.)

          • Odd how my regular anonymous hater appeared almost exactly around the time ‘RonDe’ stopped posting, and also uses similar phrasing to RonDe. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but really, who cares?
            My use of ‘our’ was simply a fairly lazy, shorthand way of saying what I had to say.
            But you feel free to carry on your petty little vendetta. As usual.
            Remember, though, nobody else even remotely cares. As usual.

    • A bit of topic i presume. The easiest way to make stage races more “exiting” is to reduce the depth of the field. I don’t really mean that as a joke. Its true. Lower depth field makes it harder to control a race. This is the main reason other stage races than the TDF seem more uncontrolled. The best teams send there A team to the TDF and don’t usually have the depth at the other races.
      The other way is best but difficult to do perfectly. Design a course with just the correct amount of difficult to control stages without over doing it. This normally means either windy stages, cobbles or days with lots of smaller steeper climbs and a shorter distance.

  4. Karel Vacek, Qhubeka Assos. One of the very few if not the only one who was permanently challenging and sometimes beating Remco in their junior times

  5. Savio consistently picks up promising riders, a fact largely ignored by British Eurosport commentators while they mock him about their own invented aspersions about his character (loves to get himself on TV, a show-off, ‘Swiss Toni’, etc.).

    • Totally agree. I hate the ‘Swiss Toni’ trope that ES’s team (well one of them mainly) roll out. It might not always the most desirable business model but Savio has kept that team running for 25 years now, always on a very modest budget. Alongside identifying talent, sometimes in less obvious places, he also has the ability to forge long-term relationships with his sponsors which I am not sure all his peers can claim to the same degree.

      • And today he’s been shafted by RCS, as they once again choose a Giro team for financial reasons (as they did with the Russian and Israeli teams in the last few years – can’t even be bothered to look up those teams’ names at the time: they did nothing in the races, from my recollection).

        • Please allow me to jog your memory:
          – Gazprom-RusVelo received a wild card in 2016 and in 2017; they raced under the same name in both races; before that they were just RusVelo, but I don’t think you’d heard their name before 2016
          – Israel Start-Up Nation started as a Pro Continental team under the name Israel Cycling Academy and received a wild card in 2018 (famously or infamously) and in 2019 (on what I would consider as purely sporting grounds
          – I think that riders like Sparagli, Cimolai, Neilands and Plaza were quite visible (and got a few Top10 stage finishes) and I certainly remember
          – I have to agree that Gazprom-RusVelo did nothing in 2017, but I do remember

          That said, I would’ve been happier to see Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec than almost any of the wild card teams chosen…

  6. Watch out for the 20 year old who just won the Australian TT after a good ride in the reduced tour down under. Luke Plapp. By the look of his jersey he’s just on the local scene this year but maybe next year.

    • Plapp is an Australian Cycling Team rider focused first on Tokyo.

      In the National Road Series he rides for Inform TMX Make, which is part of Andrew McQuaid’s development system along with Trinity Racing in the UK.

      Inform TMX Make went 1-2-3 (1 rider winning from a long break, 2-3 dropped the chasing group in a late attack) against quite a competitive field in the U23 race at the Road National Championships today, so they are clearly doing something right.

      • They had two in the top ten in the open race today too, with one on the podium in Kel O’Brien. Plapp featured in the final laps. Such a strong weekend from Inform TMX.

    • There is indeed a big difference between 157 cm and 170 cm – it’s even bigger than the difference between 5 2 and 5 6.
      But why are you saying the latter is likely? I haven’t stood next to him and I find it rather difficult to tell a person’s height from a photograph that isn’t a police lineup shot 🙂
      I searched for “Pidcock height” and all but one results quoted the same correct or erroneous 157 (or 5 2); the one that didn’t was a (quite readworthy) Cycling Tips piece. I have no opinion or indeed preference 🙂

      Although somehow I’d like to think that a journalist writing for the Guardian would know how short 157 cm is and would not blindly trust a questionable looking stat, even if it’s in a bio supplid by the rider’s team, but could still be a simple silly typing error,

  7. Minor error about Simon Carr. It’s AVC (not UVC) Aix-en-Provence. Amicale Vélo Club Aix-en-Provence. Long list of pros coming from the club; for example Christophe Laporte, recent leader of Etoile de Besseges.

  8. AS always it’s a pleasure to read you articles, INRNG 🙂 – Thank you so much…..
    Also respect and thanks to all the nerd-guys and your comments…you rule, guys…. 🙂

  9. Thanks Inrng, this is always one of my favourite posts of the year.

    You mention the podcast interview with Simon Carr, definitely gonna listen that. Tip for Dutch-speaking readers: podcast de Rode Lantaarn did an episode each on Olav Kooij and David Dekker. They also interviewed two other young Dutch riders: Thymen Arensman (already a pro with top 10’s in the Vuelta) and Nils Eekhof.

  10. As an Aussie/Pom ex pat now in the Ruhr Valley (Bochum) it was great to see the local guy Ben Zwiehoff in there. Ben comes from just down the road a few kms away in Essen although he’s just moved up the road to a “new” Dortmund suburb. Ben started out I believe at the local Essen Steele MTb club (MSV -Steele) where his dad is the chairman. My youngest (9) trains and races there (well, normally) and the club are a lovely, helpful bunch and do a fantastic job with the kids and are also very successful with bringing along MTb talent. Ben featured on the local news a few months back. (In German obviously, and some filmed at the club –

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