Ten neo-pros to watch this season, from sprinters to stage racers and some who’ve yet to decide or discover what sort of rider they will become.
Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) won the Tour de l’Avenir which is enough to make him a default pick but he had a fantastic 2021 season, second overall in the U23 Giro and the same result the Sazka Tour in Czechia, a 2.1 race and up against the pros. But the L’Avenir win was impressive, winning solo atop the Grand Colombier and just holding off Carlos Rodriguez of Spain/Ineos on the final stage. He’s on a three year deal with the Uno-X team and so in no hurry, the hard part will be getting invitations to the hillier stage races he’ll want to test himself in, but he’s going to be part of the team’s appeal to organisers. Plus he’ll have the space to make moves, so will his twin brother – and fellow landscape gardener – Anders who is equally promising too and finished seventh in the Tour de l’Avenir. Both mark a contrast to Tobias Foss, the Norwegian winner of the Avenir in 2019, who could break out this year after steady improvement but has been on a different path.
Another twin brother combo. Mick van Dijke (Jumbo-Visma) won the “Rider of the Future” award last year in the Netherlands and for good reason. Even Jumbo-Visma didn’t see much point in having him on their development team any more and he turned pro last September. He’s got an apt name as he’s from Colijnsplaat in the Zeeland meaning he and everyone else lives behind the sea defences. He’s 1m90cm tall and his twin brother Tim – not identical, to the relief of TV commentators – will also join him on Jumbo-Visma but Mick is the pick. He’s a versatile rider who has been winning bunch sprints, hilly races and time trials and was a pre-race pick for the Worlds last autumn. Watch for him in the classics where Jumbo-Visma are building a strong team where Wout van Aert is the obvious star but in a couple of years they could have options galore.
Filippo Baroncini (Trek-Segafredo) looks like the finished article already. The U23 World Champion took a clear win in Flanders thanks to an attack that nobody else could counter and won the TT stage of the U23 Giro, a big improvement on the start of the season spoiled by a broken collarbone. Eolo-Kometa were the first team to approach him in 2020 but he confidently said no thanks and joined the Colpack squad, got more results in 2021 and Trek-Segafredo came a calling. A keen cynophile, watch for him in the one day races where his sprint and punch should round out the team’s options in one day races.
Groupama-FDJ have a great Conti development team to the point where it’s attracting so many good riders that the pro team can’t sign them all. Not that they should either, but a lot of teams would have wanted to sign Dutchman Marijn van den Berg (EF Education-Easypost) who finished last year with a lot of wins, placings and points jerseys. Or that’s what you’d think, but when he won a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir in August his victory celebration involved making the phone gesture with his hand, an invitation for teams to call him about a ride in 2022. MvdB is a sprinter and could have won even more last year had he not broken his elbow at the start of the season. EF did call and look for him in the sprints as beyond Magnus Cort, the team doesn’t have a house sprinter.
When Remco Evenepoel burst onto the scene some started whispering there’s an even better rider coming up behind him in Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-Hansgrohe). A flattering comparison but if Evenepoel’s got to deal with expectations, imagine the weight on Uijtdebroeks. Despite Patrick Lefevere’s best efforts he signed with Bora-Hansgrohe’s development squad and won a string of junior races last year and often in style, he won the junior Classique des Alpes race with four minutes to spare… on team mate Luis-Joe Lührs (one to watch this year as well) and it was a one day race. Whole teams deployed strategies to just try and follow him uphill or even to just let him go and salvage what they could behind. Now he’s another rider to turn pro without even one season in the U23 ranks, in fact he’s so young he’s still eligible to race as a junior today. He can win time trials, he can climb but doing this against teenagers is one thing, in the pros it’s something else. He’s a stage racer in the making and so arguably more versatile than Evenepoel. Uijtdebroeks straddles the Belgian divide thanks to a Flemish father while he lives in Hannuit in French-speaking Wallonia, plus he speaks German and apparently some Latin too. He will have a go in the smaller World Tour races, plus he wants to have a go at the Tour de l’Avenir later this year too.
Spanish cycling’s had a few lean years after the swashbuckling era of Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde. Enric Mas, Marc Soler and Mikel Landa have not been like-for-like replacements. But with Carlos Rodriguez at Ineos, there’s now also Juan Ayuso Pesquera (UAE Emirates) the “new Valverde” because he can win sprints and climbs with the best. Ayuso actually turned pro mid-season last year after winning the U23 Giro but he’s too good to leave out in this review, besides he couldn’t go in the blog’s picks last January. The Spaniard has a long term contract with UAE Emirates until the end of 2025, the team approached him as a junior and placed him with the Colpack U23 team for his first year out of the junior ranks. Born in Barcelona, he his early childhood in the US and on return to Spain he went to an international school teaching the British curriculum in Valencia meaning he’s already fluent in English. He skipped school one day in order to go and see the Ruta del Sol race… which he’ll now ride next month. His home town of Javea is just a short spin along the coast from Denia where his UAE team is holding its pre-season camp. The team’s in no rush with him, he won’t do a grand tour this year but look for him in the hilly and mountainous races this year… and his bovine branding as he’s had graphic designers working on a logo for him this winter.
Talking of matters bovine Arnaud “The Cowboy” De Lie (Lotto-Soudal) is an important rider for the Belgian outfit. He’s been winning for many years now, first as a kid in local races and each time he’s gone up a level he’s kept winning. He was Belgian junior champion – a hard fought contest – and then he had wins and strong placings in U23 races last year, his first season out of the junior ranks, picking off bunch sprints and good on hilly days too. We’ll see what rider De Lie becomes, a sprinter or a classics contender… or both. He dreams of the Ronde and Roubaix. He’s still 19 and has joined the World Tour after one just year on Lotto-Soudal’s development team but as a promising Belgian he’s a rider they couldn’t afford to lose. The Cowboy says if he was an animal it’d be a bull, and this is because he grew up on a large dairy farm and has been combining training with farm work. He knows he’ll have to focus more on the bike now.
Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-Easypost) only had one win in 2021 but it was to Cogne in the Alps (where the Giro goes in May), it was solo and he had minutes on the other riders in the final stage of the prestigious Giro della Valle d’Aosta. As impressive were all his placings, including a top-10 against the pros in the tricky Tour de l’Ain where he was trading attacks with the likes of Michael Storer. A stage racer with a big engine, he could be an immediate help to team mates on hilly days, the harder part will be getting opportunities. If the surname is familiar, well there are plenty of Steinhausers (and Steinhäusers) in Germany but Georg’s father is Tobias, an ex-pro from the 2000s with T-Mobile and his aunt Sara was married to Jan Ullrich for a decade.
A year ago the “summer of cycling” in Australia was abbreviated without the Tour Down Under proper but Luke Plapp (Ineos) stole the show, beating established TT specialist Luke Durbridge to the national TT title, to add to his U23 and junior titles before. Ineos won the stampede to sign him with a big contract. The northern hemisphere’s summer of cycling wasn’t so kind, as part of the Australian team pursuit squad their efforts were undone by those broken bars; then “Plappy” crashed in the Tour de l’Avenir. Watch for him in time trials to start but the interest is to see where he can deploy his big engine.
The World Teams really get the pick of all the best riders these days, not many riders start in cycling’s second tier of Pro Teams and rise up. But B&B-KTM signing Victor Koretzky is a curiosity. He’s been one of the best mountain bikers in 2021 now wants to try the road. The signing was announced only for the social media announcements to get deleted following a dispute with Koretzky’s MTB sponsors but apparently this hurdle has been cleared, although perhaps not settled in full. The next Wout van Aert or Tom Pidcock? Probably not but if he’s the new Jean-Christophe Péraud the team will be delighted and if he’s the next Ben Zwiehoff it’s great for a team that’s understaffed for the mountains. Underneath there’s a big engine and one to watch to see how he adapts especially because he’s hardly raced on the road at all.
As ever picking ten means leaving out plenty more. Having mentioned Koretzky’s switch the road, Milan Vader is joining Jumbo-Visma. Half-Swiss, half-Brazilian Alexandre Balmer has joined Bike Exchange when he had been talking about swapping the road for mountain biking but will be staying on tarmac most of the time. Omar El Gouzi could be a clever signing by Bardiani-CSF, the Italian climber could work well with Filippo Zana. Gianni Savio’s next find could be Colombian climber Didier Merchan. Karl Patrick Lauk has gone to Bingoals-Pauwels Sauces when teams in the World Tour needing points may regret not signing him. Lewis Askey gives Groupama-FDJ some more sprint power, perhaps in the leadout train at first but he can do more in the classics… and on an MTB too. Daan Hoole should be in Trek-Segafredo’s team for the classics and an apprenticeship alongside Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven, at the same team Marc Brustenga could be Spain’s next big sprinter. Magnus Sheffield was a top junior and technically not a neo-pro as turned pro with Rally last season before transferring to Ineos. Paul Lapeira is a punchy rider in the mould of an Alaphilippe or his team mate at Ag2r Citroën Benoît Cosnefroy. DSM’s Henri Vandenabeele impressed in the mountain stage races. Quickstep signed Stan Van Tricht and he should get opportunities soon.
Got any tips for more names to follow this year? Please share in the comments.