Riders To Watch For 2022

Ten riders to watch for the season. There are a couple of tips for riders to get breakout results but others are cited for varying reasons, from the way they shape the sport to the way their team is counting on them.

Tadej Pogačar because he’s an obvious pick and also because it’s becoming as much about what others do as he does. To explain, he was so solid last year that he’s quickly become a cornerstone of the sport, the kind other teams are basing their race schedules around, even recruitment decisions. This is rational because at his best he can win time trial stages, take summit finishes and even sprint for Monuments and time bonuses alike, and there’s every sign he’ll improve with experience too. Yet, this position’s a hard one to occupy at the best of times and arguably he’s not been pushed hard in grand tours, he was upright when others fell in last year’s Tour and then Jumbo-Visma and Ineos went into salvage mode to get a podium, rather than to knock him off it. Alas, one test here was going to be how Pogačar would cope with this year’s long climbs like the Granon, Alpe d’Huez and Hautacam against Egan Bernal and Ineos and that dream’s been extinguished this week. But the point stands, Pogačar will find repeating much harder especially if whole teams try to take him on.

Mark Cavendish or how to go out on a high. Do you remember André Darrigade’s last race? You’d need to be pretty old, so how about Mario Cipollini’s last race? No? Marcel Kittel’s last day? No, me neither. So a rider doesn’t have to pick a perfect moment to leave the sport to still be held up as a champ: the palmarès speaks more than the exit. Still it’s something to think of, as are any missing races. Once nice problem for Cavendish is that his career has been so long that he’s outlasted cultural reference points, for some time the only things he had left to win were Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Tours, longtime held up as classics accessible to the sprinters, but now their format’s changed. In winning those Tour de France stages last summer Mark Cavendish buried the talk of decline after a four year spell with just two wins. So what to do? Just start winning, keep winning and try to finish winning.

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Ivan Sosa is both a great signing and marks a reversion to tradition for Movistar who spent the last couple of seasons hiring young riders from all over the place and frankly got little to show for it. Now they’ve signed a Spanish-speaking climber who on his day can ride with the very best. You might remember Sosa as Gianni Savio’s pension top-up, he rode for the Androni team in the wake of Egan Bernal and got the “New Bernal” label, although Sosa’s more a pure climber. Trek-Segafredo wanted him, lawyers got involved,  he went to Sky and he was solid but not spectacular. But he was paid well to do this on a team with big leaders. Now he’ll have more chances and while winning a mountain stage is always a big ask, he’s a contender and should give Movistar some previous wins this year.

Who is the best sprinter in the world? I’d say Caleb Ewan but wouldn’t spend hours arguing it. Ewan’s shown he can win often and win big, plus he’s got a tendency to question things and search for improvements. Still, his crash at the Tour de France had a reckless touch and if there is a prize for being the best sprinter, it’s not for what you’ve done before, it’s for what you can win today and tomorrow. His success is linked to his whole team’s success this year as if he can score UCI points – in one day races as much as grand tours – then the venerable team will avoid relegation from the World Tour. But just winning sprints is a start. There’s talk of Milan-Sanremo, and he can, but so many riders feel Sanremo is within their grasp, that’s what makes the race so interesting. He’s interested in the worlds too but we don’t know the official route yet so note his polite interest but don’t bet on anything.

This time last year Remco Evenepoel was on the mend from a big injury, in contract talks, and team management were trying to secure long term sponsorship. All of these were interconnected, Quick Step’s sponsorship of the team rides in part on the prospect of Evenepoel winning big which required him to be fully fit. Then the Giro didn’t work out and we saw “classic Remco” wins in the tours of Belgium and Denmark but now he’s got a normal season ahead with fewer outside pressures, a chance to widen the repertoire. The Vuelta is his next grand tour but a diet of week-long stage races awaits, including big ones like Tirreno-Adriatico, the Basque Country and the Tour de Suisse.

Mark Padun had a breakout win in the Tour of the Alps in 2018 and the following year a win at the big Tre Cime di Lavaredo climb, but in the smaller Adriatia Ionica race. Then things went quiet until the 2022 Dauphiné. One stage win would have been a result, instead he took two, consecutively and the hardest ones on the final Alpine weekend. The apparent ease of his wins, plus riding for Bahrain, did more than raise eyebrows so some are waiting to see how he fares with EF Pro Cycling this year but all this imposes some kind of outside test that neither proves or denies anything. One difference is his new team will want him in breakaways more often and he’ll be more central to their way of racing than he was at Bahrain. There’s shades of Carlos Betancur here, the prodigiously talented Colombia won some races while visibly overweight and Padun’s had food and diet issues to tame.

Last year was all about leadership lessons for David Gaudu, sent into races as the boss and being expected to manage the pressure and get the best of those around him at Groupama-FDJ. By all accounts it worked, he had some decent results all year; but his season was outwardly defined by a collapse on the hot day on the slopes of Mont Ventoux where his Tour de France plans wilted. Now 2022 is all about converting being in the front group into wins. Easier said than done and there’s a lot riding on him given the team’s two other leaders Arnaud Démare and Thibaut Pinot are, well, worth watching this year. Now at 53kg or less Gaudu is going to struggle if there’s a stage race but all other hilly terrains are open.

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Does home advantage work in cycling? Ethan Hayter was pushing Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert hard in the Tour of Britain. If it helped, he managed fine without it as he was comfortable in almost any hilly road race all year, plus he’s the British time trial champion, he took silver in the velodrome for the Tokyo Olympics too which was the season’s big goal. All that before turning 23 and once he did, he won a rainbow jersey on the track soon after. Versatile, he and Ineos will be happy if he can keep on scoring like this, they’ll hoover up more stage races this way. But the next test is how he can cope with longer distances and deeper opposition in World Tour races. The Giro is on the cards and he’s a name to add to the list of contenders for the opening day’s uphill finish and the waiting maglia rosa.

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Alessandro Covi is a straight pick as one to watch for results this year, assuming he can get a chance on a crowded team. He had a lot of placings last year, and often in hard, hilly races which are the kind where a little experience can go a long way so he should be able to improve with the wisdom learned. But UAE is a big squad with obvious ambitions for the grand tours with Pogačar and João Almeida. They’ve got sprinters like Pascal Ackermann and Fernando Gaviria who will want lead out riders. So it’s not going to be opportunities galore for Covi and then he’s got team mates like Ulissi and Trentin who are in a similar niche.

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Why have the Pyramids lasted so long? One factor must be design, engineering a wide base able to support each successive load is a winning format. For years the Total Energies team under past names was the top of a strong pyramid. Back in the day, the Europcar team was full of riders who’d graduated from its impressive Vendée-U amateur squad, which was then one of the very best squads on the French U23 scene. Now it isn’t and with the stream of local talent drying up the pro team’s been buying older foreign names in order to swing wildcard invites. Now to make them incontournable comes Peter Sagan, along with his large entourage of loyal riders and support staff. The Total Energies pyramid looks inverted, can the structure hold up? If so there’s a pivot point with a giant sponsor – one of the world’s largest oil forms – looking on and they might be persuaded to buy more. Is Sagan up for it and how does he fold into a French team that’s more a family firm than a multinational? Into this comes expectation management, the team hasn’t won a Tour stage since 2017 so one triumph here would be a joy, but it’ll be judged by a higher standard now. For Sagan too just repeating something like last season would be solid, a string of world tour level wins and to parlay the Giro stage win into the Tour… although Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel have their plans too.

54 thoughts on “Riders To Watch For 2022”

  1. I will be interested in the injury returnees. It a tragedy when these athletes which have such short periods to make there money get major injuries. It can have life changing financial implications for the athlete.

    I will put MVDP on my list of riders to watch. Will he recover properly from the back injury. Probably but who knows it seems to have affected him for quite a few months now.

    But mostly i will be interested in Egan Bernal. Can he ride again this year or next and will he be good. I don,t know the exact seriousness of his injury but when it comes to broken femurs and the like sometimes there is no 100% recovery. Which leads into my next pick.

    Chris Froome. Surely his last year to prove he can still back up the big salary. Didn’t seem likely last year but perhaps a solid year on the bike will have given him the base he needs to come back.

    • From what I’ve read I very much doubt Bernal will be racing again this year, its so sad. Perhaps he will be able to achieve the comeback that Froome is dreaming of.

      • A lot of work for the physios and medics here. It really is too soon to tell with Bernal, although he’s a big figure in Colombia and news outlets are competing to bring the latest news and add analysis on top, his story’s front page news and led the TV news. But too soon to tell, let’s just wish him well.

    • I was thinking at the end of last year, before his recent surgery and further news about his back, that MvdP was probably entering that territory I’ve seen many times in the NFL and NBA where a phenom suffers an accumulation of minor and nagging injuries and goes from superstar status to sporadic and increasingly rare bursts of quality performances. I suspect he may continue to do fairly well in CX, given the races are much shorter. though the utter domination he once demonstrated seems unlikely now. I’m guessing that we’ve seen his peak as a road racer. The aspect here that might show the greatest decline are the long, difficult races like the Monuments and WCs, which will play havoc on his back. I’d be happy to be wrong, as he’s incredibly exciting to watch.

    • Surely the last year to prove he can be up there with the best but the big salary is being paid for a whole load of other reasons completely unrelated to current performance.

    • You new here?:-)

      It’s absolutely no slight towards female riders or a sign of sexist disregard for women’s cycling. You can surely understand that it is too much to ask for one blogger to cover everything.

      PS My list would have five of the above names plus three Danes, Benoit Cosnefroy and Philippe Gilbert.

      • Cosnefroy is an interesting rider, though it seems like he’s been on a plateau for the last three years. I’m curious why Gilbert is on your list – for the one-in-a-million chance he’ll win MSR?

        • Cosnefroy seemed to find himself in Bretagne and it will be quite interesting to see whether he will continue at the same level in, say, Strade Bianche, the Ardennes classics, San Sebastian etc.
          Gilbert is on my list as a rider who I don’t think has tarnished his reputation by not quitting while he’s on the top. I don’t expect him to do well in MSR, but I do look forward to him stealing at least a few podium finishes from the young(er) riders.

    • No, I’d like to do more and will enjoy watching the season especially the new Tour at the end of July like everyone … but am more a fan watching like everyone so don’t blog about the women’s racing much, I wish I could but think it would show if I tried.

      You’ll find better niche blogs and sites that focus on particular topics rather than this blog over-extending itself. The same for not much here about cyclo-cross, track, U23 racing, tech, bikepacking etc as well.

      • Exactly, no pressure on you to expand – this blog is supposed to be fun for you and you already have all of us (and our sometimes “tricky” comments) to deal with!

        Thanks for all your posts.

  2. I’m interested to see if Evenepoel can succeed in big races – San Sebastian in 2019 being arguably his biggest victory.
    Padun moving to a lesser team seems odd, but maybe he is looking for more opportunities to ride for himself.
    Get well soon, Bernal.

  3. “Mark Cavendish buried the talk of decline after a four year spell with just two wins.” The Manx Missile shut people like me up forever when it comes to time to call time on your career. No doubt now he’ll keep going now until his legacy is badly tarnished, but it can probably be polished with time. “Ivan Sosa is both a great signing and marks a reversion to tradition for Movistar but now he’s got a normal season ahead with fewer outside pressures” But he’ll suffer the fate of all the non-Spaniards on this team. Worse than not being a Brit on INEOS. Padun – “The apparent ease of his wins, plus riding for Bahrain, did more than raise eyebrows so some are waiting to see how he fares with EF Pro Cycling” Would JV hire a guy with a dodgy past? “Ethan Hayter was pushing Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert hard in the Tour of Britain” I’d like to see this guy do well, the Brits need another hero to go with Pidcock. “Peter Sagan, along with his large entourage of loyal riders and support staff” I think we’ve not seen the last of Sagan, he’s still got some life left in him.
    Sad about Bernal, but it seems another “own goal” like Froome’s. It’s one thing to get taken out by another rider or motorist but whose fault is it when you’re not looking WTF you’re going and smack into the back of a stopped bus? Victor Campenerts was quoted somewhere about how these electronic gizmos take the fun out of cycling for pros like him (pointing out how silly it is for non-pros to fool with them) and now maybe they’ve really taken the fun out of it for Bernal…one hopes not forever since he’s a lot younger than Il Frullatore.

  4. Did you really think there was any doubt about the identity of this particular “Anonymous”?:-)

    Anyway, I don’t think we know enough about Bernal’s accident to allow ourselves to use it as a case in point in an argument against our pet hate, whether it is riders staring at their electronic gizmos or car drivers moving dangerously left or right or slowing down suddenly or whatever.

    • Fair enough. So when/if more reports follow the ones that have said he wasn’t looking where he was going but instead looking down while riding a chrono bike (it was my assumption that he was looking at an electronic gizmo though I guess he could have been admiring the top tube) and ran into the back of a stopped bus, can I then argue against (one of) my pet hates? As cyclists we all like to complain about motorists looking at their electronic gizmos instead of WTF they are going, but are we as cyclists just as bad? Certainly not as dangerous, but this practice is risky even when simply walking down the street.
      I noted Campenaerts comments https://www.tuttobiciweb.it/article/2022/01/02/1641069945/campenaerts-lettera-cicloturisti
      to point out that it’s not just me, but in any event I hope Bernal recovers 100% and soon, no matter whose fault the crash was.

    • I agree on both points! 😉

      On Bernal’s accident, my first thought was that it was possibly related to his being on a TT bike. I’ve never had a TT bike but when I do the “invisible TT bars” on my road bikes I usually quit after a minute because I just can’t see as far down the road without straining my neck.

      • “invisible TT bars” are banned, just like Spinaci, etc. back-in-the-day, IMHO for good reasons, some of them might be cited as reasons to ditch TT bikes altogether.
        I still laugh at how fast Spinaci and the imitators (after plenty of lectures from fans of them, who basically implied I was an idiot for not having them) vanished from bikes overnight once the pros could no longer use them. Another was the cheater brake levers on the bar top for ‘cross. They were a must-have…until hydraulics replaced cables and they too vanished almost overnight.
        Get well soon Bernal, and look where you’re going once you’re back on the bike.

    • Eskerrik – exactly, we just need to hope Egan can recover from this, and that all of us remain safe on our bikes today. 99% of our falls are stupid and can be funny, but some are extremely serious – I’m still recovering from a concussion. The driver was at fault and charged, but honestly, I don’t really care – I just wish I had been that extra bit more careful.

      Forget about Egan racing the Tour, we just want him to be able to return to a happy and high quality life and return to his family.

      All the best to him and to all of us, be safe out there so you can ride again tomorrow!

  5. What does it mean that the dream that Pogacar might not handle long climbs in this year’s tour were extinguished this week?

    Thanks for the writeup. All of this anticipatory posts are great to whet the appetite for the new season.

    • Bernal was tipped as being one of Pogs best competitors for the Tour, especially on the longer climbs where Pog has admitted a weakness and Bernal is more of a pure climber, but Bernal – just this week – is now hospitalized with significant injuries likely requiring multiple surgeries.

  6. Re: Bernal let me just add that from Colombian reports it looks like that he ran into “a bus which stopped”, so to say, rather than “into a stopped bus”. It doesn’t necessarily make much difference, of course.

    • I’ve seen the report that the bus stopped to let off a passenger and then Bernal ran into it. From the dent in the rear of the bus, it must have been stopped, otherwise the speed differential wouldn’t have been great enough to cause that much damage (to the bus and to Bernal). I don’t know if this was the kind of bus that stops at regular stops, and so the stopping should have been anticipated, or if this is one of those buses where a passenger can pull the cord and get the driver to quickly stop at that point, which might be nowhere near a bus stop.

      • Exactly. We don’t yet know enough to know how long the bus had been stopped for. I’m sure we’ve all had incidents where a large vehicle has come to a halt unexpectedly in front of us.

        Hope he heals well.

      • There are conflicting reports about the bus stopping in order to let off or board a passenger. What’s absolutely clear is that there was no bus stop, but that’s apparently common practice and admitted by traffic laws in that area.
        Reportedly, the teammates noticed what was happening with the bus and yelled at Bernal but he couldn’t hear because of the noise.
        What’s crazy, yet apparently allowed as well, is that the bus sat half within the traffic lane, which implies troubles because of the other vehicles coming from behind.

      • I think it was on the cycling podcast this week when they spoke to a Colombian journalist who said that these buses jus stop when passengers want to get off and not at an official bus stop. I also heard that the main group had stopped and Bernal had carried on past the group which is when the crash happened so didn’t have a bike or car in front of him.

  7. It would be a shame for the UCI to have chosen the ‘Gong for the WC and then have the organisers not use the hilly terrain locally. No pressure on Ewan if that happens.

    • The Worlds circuits have been revealed (but not the exact number of laps of each) and they are not flat.

      cyclingtips dot com /2021/12/courses-for-the-wollongong-road-worlds-have-finally-been-revealed-sort-of/

      I think Ewan could handle the hills if he came into the race in perfect form, but I don’t think he has the tactical nous to make the right moves to win a World Championship until the next time there is a Copenhagen/Doha style proper flat circuit.

  8. Alessandro Covi is such an interesting pick. I was there with Equipo Lizarte at both his Giro U23 bids, and I remember we used to compare him to Vincenzo Nibali because of his steady yet aggressive way of racing.
    On a slightly different note, I am very interested as well on how Santiago Umba and Biniam Ghirmay Hailu perform this season. I deem them to be two super talents who are perhaps flying under the radar as of now.

  9. Seeing Peter Sagan on the list prompted me to look through the archives and see if he’d been featured before, perhaps in the “Neo-pros to watch in 2010” (it doesn’t look like such a post was written) or in the general “riders to watch” articles. The only instance I found was in 2011, which makes sense given his spectacular neo-pro year. It appears from that point it simply became the default expectation that Sagan would rider spectacularly, which I’ve at least anecdotally confirmed from watching videos of some of Sagan’s key races in 2011 and 2012. Such was his sudden ascension that in some of those races the commentators speak of Sagan’s second and third places in major classics (as a 21 or 22 year old!) as being disappointments! Anyway, cycling fandom hasn’t need to be reminded to watch Sagan over the years, they already were.

    Not that Sagan is absent from Inrng’s riders-to-watch lists over the last decade – he’s frequently mentioned as the reference for listed riders like Kwiatkowski, Matthews, GvA, Degenkolb, Kristoff, and so on (and cheekily showing up in the background of other rider’s photos). Plus he’s regularly brought up in the comments section.

    Sagan is one of the primary reasons I regularly watch bike races now. The complexity of the sport, and the way most top riders win only rarely, are obvious barriers for new fans like I was 5-6 years ago, but in most of his races when I first started watching he was finishing in the top 10, and regularly finishing on the podium with panache and boldness. Now he’s one to watch to see how he manages the tail of his career, how he’ll respond to a second COVID infection, how he’ll do with yet another team that will give him modest support, how he’ll cope with yet another COVID-disrupted season. One aspect that gives me pause is that his new team is so traditionally French, which seems to mean they are a step behind most other team in looking for marginal gains. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems from the outside that most French teams are doing things in 2022 much the same way they did in 2012, which wasn’t that different from 1992 perhaps.

    • “One aspect that gives me pause is that his new team is so traditionally French, which seems to mean they are a step behind most other team in looking for marginal gains.”
      As you might guess, I hope you’re wrong about “marginal gains” making any difference.
      Regarding your point, can you describe the “marginal gains” supplied by previous teams Sagan’s raced with and how they would explain his success, especially his 3 consecutive rainbow jerseys?

      • When I mention marginal gains, what I mean is attention to modern training methods, rapt attention to aerodynamics and equipment, nutrition, etc. My impression is that French teams are more likely to be doing things the way they did them a generation ago. I don’t think Sagan himself is too caught up with that stuff, but is much more instinctive and seat-of-the-pants. This makes him fun to watch and to root for, but I suspect it’s cost him victories over the years. As his incredible prowess subtly declines, he doesn’t need to be giving anything away.

        I could be wrong, though, and Sagan may have a better idea from years of trial and error of what works best for himself, and his hand-picked entourage may ensure that regardless of the team around him. And note, I did not make any reference to Sagan’s previous teams’ or suggest they were responsible for his success. I think it’s the opposite – he’s never had a team that really catered to him and supported him the way other top riders have been supported (at least in races). Not Liquigas, not Cannondale, not Tinkoff, not Bora. This is undoubtedly one of the measures of his greatness – he’s had a target painted on his back since he was 20 years old and yet, with minimal support on the road, he’s performed outrageously well for year after year.

        • “When I mention marginal gains, what I mean is attention to modern training methods, rapt attention to aerodynamics and equipment, nutrition, etc. …but I suspect it’s cost him victories over the years.”
          I thought I understood what you meant but wanted some examples of how such a thing “cost him victories.”? Otherwise your statement comes off as some sort of marketing-maven bullspeak rather than anything concrete.

          • Larry, I’m (once again) questioning your reading comprehension. In my original comment I was referring specifically (and I think rather obviously) to his NEW team and my concerns that they couldn’t support him very ell. You jumped on me as if I had suggested such support by his PREVIOUS teams was the reason for his wins (I’m still shaking my head over how you could jump to such a conclusion). To help you understand where I was coming from, allow me to go deeper on my concern about TotalEnergies – several years ago they were winning a fair number of races (they averaged 21 wins/yr from 2016-2019), but over the last two seasons combined they’ve won a total of nine (9!) races, and only one at WT level. They signed Terpstra and EBH, two aging stars, neither of whom has shown the slightest career resurgence while on the team. So my concern is that Sagan will be even more on his own (relatively speaking, of course) than he’s ever been.

            As for marginal gains, one example I was thinking of relates to this Lanterne Rouge podcast with Alex Dowsett (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hG8rEsbivMw), in which Dowsett did a wind tunnel test doing a 200 m sprint with either regular cycling clothes or a skinsuit and more aero helmet. The difference was 1.7 m at the finish line. How many of Sagan’s 110 second place finishes have been by less than that? That’s the kind of marginal gains that a savvy, forward-looking team is going to try to give to their riders, and I worry that TotalEnergies is not that team.

      • In the recent years some Sagan’s wins were built on shoulders of the whole team. Bora (but even before that also Tinkoff) guys were pushing hard through the mid-level climbs to get rid of pure sprinters, with Sagan managing them to the tempo just possible for him. Thinned peloton then sprinted with Sagan having much better chances than most. If I am not wrong, that is also one of regularly repeated clips on Eurosport where commentator excitedly yells that Sagan finishes the job.

        Among WC titles, perhaps the Qatar win included the biggest contribution from the teammates. As you know, Slovakia fields fewer men that top nations due to obvious reasons. In Qatar it was Sagan’s work at the crucial split moment when he managed to catch the first group, but then after gaining enough time by cooperation it was time of possible attacks from the group. Michael Kolář made extraordinary effort to disallow any attacks and then it was again Sagan to finish the job, with good deal of luck (nobody closed the door for him).

        • Yes, I agree with most of what you’re saying, and obviously Sagan values Oss and Bodnar enough to insist they more to TotalEnergies with him. But in the classics Sagan is usually left to cover late attacks on his own, he’s on his own to get over those final difficult climbs, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a situation like the top QS riders are in when they have one strong rider ahead in the break and several in the chasing group. Since he was 21 Sagan has been in the situation of no one wanting to ride with him if he makes a move or just gets into a break. And this is something that has been commented upon year after year by knowledgable commentators.

          Another example is in the 2020 TdF, when Bora was largely unable to help Sagan defend the green jersey (especially compared to what QS provided Bennett). This I think is a big part of why Sagan has such a prodigious number of seconds and thirds – he gets to the late stage of a race and he’s alone and riding against everyone else. He doesn’t benefit from an especially strong team, and he also doesn’t seem to benefit from the natural alliances that often spring up between competing riders from the same country.

    • Vingegaard almost made the list but since he’s going back to the Tour and Roglič is the likely leader, what can he do? But if shows up in the same form, it gives Jumbo-Visma big options, should be interesting to see. All the more a pity about Bernal’s crash and injuries, it was the prospect of whole teams trying to take on Pogačar that’s made July mouthwatering after last year’s grand tours often lacked a big contest.

  10. Like others I am also watching for MVdP, a proper “flahute” if his back holds up (so too Vermeersch, actually, maybe even more so — another one to watch), and Vingegaard.

    Two other riders I’ll watch for are Bernal to make (hopefully) a full recovery, whether he ever races again or not, and Pogacar: can he deal with hot weather in the mountains, and since he’s probably got a few years before he peaks, what’s his ceiling anyway?

  11. Hype overblown for Cav last year. Bear in mind Bennet, Ewan and Groenewegen and Jakobsen were AWOL.
    As for Sagan, if he has the same clique and coach then I can’t see performance improving. He should have made more changes.

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