It’s always fun to muse over the new names and faces from the cobbled classics with a view to seeing them again in the coming years. Here’s a selection of riders who made a name for themselves…
Arnaud De Lie was one of this blog’s “riders to watch” and has got off to a great start. An early win in Majorca and then he won the GP Monsére still aged 19. For his 20th birthday he had a third place in the Nokere Koerse and then won the Volta Limburg race. The “Bull of Lescheret” still finds time to help on the family farm and to have time out from his day job. He is more than a sprinter as his win in Limburg showed, he followed the decisive attack of Tom Dumoulin and this was athletically impressive but his race craft’s as good, his positioning and tactics show early wisdom and while he comes across as polite and modest in interviews, he’s not afraid to use his bulk to hold the right wheel. It’s made him Lotto-Soudal’s top points scorer this so far this season which says plenty about him, but also the squad’s struggles. As ever in Belgium the linguistic divide is never too far and a lot of Walloon hopes are pinned on him but his favourite races are the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Roubaix rather than Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He spent part of the early season in the company of Victor Camepenaerts for Dutch language lessons, something he’s tentatively deployed in victorious interviews with Sporza.
“I’m on that the neo-pros to watch list, took early season win in Spain, turned 20 and then won a race in Belgium? Who am I?” Not just De Lie but also Magnus Sheffield at Ineos. He took a stage of the Ruta del Sol with a late attack and this impressed with the power on tap late into the race. The junior 3,000m pursuit world record holder seems to be able to deliver this kind of power hours into a race. He won the the Brabantse Pijl with more of this, a long pull on the front and he was away and stayed clear. He’s keen on the classics but looks versatile enough to be able to do the same all year.
Staying with Ineos brings us to “Big” Ben Turner. No wins but seemingly an ever-present force in the cobbled classics, in part thanks to being one of the tallest riders but also because he was often in the kopgroep. He was part of Dylan van Baarle’s Paris-Roubaix win, when Kwiatkowski and Rowe decided to split the peloton early in the race Turner was helping with the damage… and late finished 11th in Roubaix, impressive for a 22 year old neo-pro. A former cyclo-cross rider, he’s relatively slender and could spend summers in the future as a helper, and it’ll also be interesting to see what he can do in time trials.
Now for Tadej Pogačar. Yes, yes, he’s hardly a new name to introduce but all the same he rode the Ronde for the first time and was arguably the strongest rider in the race and should have at least finished second and this was part-revelation, part confirmation. There was a win in the Strade Bianche too of course but remember Sanremo? That required more finesse. As long as he wins the UAE Tour and the Tour de France every year to satisfy his sponsors he can probably pick the rest of his calendar as he pleases. Finishing fourth in Flanders was probably the best result as it showed him he could win so he’ll be back for more. If he’d won he might opt for something else.
Biniam Girmay has been touted as a big talent for some time. One of the rare juniors who can say they beat Remco Evenepoel, he was placed with the Delko team for a gentle start but the team folded and he joined the Intermarché-Wanty team mid-season last year where he landed his first win, and finished second in the U23 Worlds. He was with the leaders in the E3 but inexperience showed as he tried to follow Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte up the Paterberg, the two team mates stuck to the smooth gutter but Ghirmay tried to power up the pavé and this surely cost him, he couldn’t sustain the pace and the gap grew. He won Gent-Wevelgem soon after and to borrow Antoine Blondin’s line of “tell me who you beat and I’ll tell you who you are“, he smoked Laporte, Dries van Gestel and Jasper Stuyven with a long sprint. It’s the sprint that’s interesting and he can both make the winning move and tidy up.
Peter who? Dries van Gestel has been Total Energies’ best rider so far, and their top UCI points scorer. He won the Ronde van Drenthe. But he’s no spring classics chicken, he’s 27 and in his seventh season as pro after an long spell with Sportvlaanderen and now in his third season chez Total Energies. A podium in Gent-Wevelgem and top-10s in Le Samyn and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne means he’s had a good time.
Speaking of Sportvlaanderen-Baloise, they usually have some riders who catch the eye but it’s been harder this year. Kamiel Bonneu though could be won to watch, although he’s less off a cobble-smashing flahute, he’s handy on the climbs of the Ardennes too with a slight build and made the same winning move as De Lie in the Limburg classic.
Arkéa-Samsic have had a great spring, we’ll see if they can do as well this summer. Mathis Louvel didn’t créver l’écran as they say in French, he didn’t “shatter the TV screeen” but look at his results and the 22 year old was Monsieur Consistent, almost always in between 10th-20th place including Flanders and Roubaix. Solid but not spectacular for a third year pro. Team mate Kévin Vauquelin’s looked useful too, especially as a neo-pro with a top-10 in Drenthe.
Dylan Van Baarle often attacks in the same place during the Ronde van Vlaanderen, just after the Paterberg is done and it’s where everyone needs a breather but he can push on. This year Fred Wright went with him and ended up spending plenty of time in the wind in the final 50 kilometres of the race before finishing seventh. He didn’t get many other results but this was in part because he was on team duties. In his third season he was one of Rod Ellingworth’s British imports at Bahrain.
Valentin Madouas got a podium finish in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, plus seventh in the E3. A neo-pro in 2018 he won Paris-Bourges in his first year but struggled to build on this. The longer a race, the stronger he seemed but had problems with the final phase and didn’t win again until last year. He has the makings of a French version of Van Baarle but this is also his problem, he can pull for hours but converting this into wins is hard… until the big day comes at the end of a seven hour race of course.
BikeExchange-Jayco have had such a tough time this spring that even kit has been hard to spot. But Kelland O’Brien is worth a shout. Part of the Aussie track team pursuit squad for Tokyo, he had a seventh place in Dwars door Vlaanderen but the manner was impressive as he’d been in the early breakaway for hours – accidentally as it happens, he wasn’t really supposed to go up the road – and then he managed to hitch a lift with an all-star move that swept past with 40km to go, racing alongside the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, Victor Campenaerts, Stefan Küng and Nils Politt while the rest of the early breakaway was ejected. As a rough rule if you can hold on when the big move comes past then you can probably join it when it forms next year.
Lastly mentioning O’Brien brings us to another Tokyo team mate, Sam Welsford who was on the podium in the Scheldeprijs, and got Team DSM their first win of the year in the Tour of Turkey. He looks to have huge amounts of sprinting power and can supply this for a relatively long period period too, a touch of Marcel Kittel even but this comparison is probably unfair as it’s not to raise expectations, just a question of style for now.
Any more riders caught the eye? Please share below…