Having tipped ten neo-pros to watch for 2022, time to look back and see how they fared.
Not long ago you’d look for a top-10 here or a best young rider prize there as proof of a promising debut. These days neo-pros are winning races as teenagers, making the podium in a grand tour and finishing in the top-10 on the UCI rankings but they’re still exceptions, but they certainly grab our attention.
Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) had a great 2021, winning the Tour de l’Avenir and much more along the way. His pro debut was sizzling with a win atop Mont Bouquet in February’s Etoile de Bessèges. A steady seventh place in the Volta Catalunya showed he could hold his own in the World Tour stage races and he finished tenth overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné where he took the best young rider competition, a coveted summer prize. Normally all of this would be perfect, only our reference points have been blown away by rival neo-pros, the story of placing here and winning white jerseys there used to impress – it still should – but we’ve got used to big wins. The second half of the season wasn’t as good, he’s had knee injuries before and more pain led to surgery. If he’s recovered he’ll be worth watching again on a team that’s packed with talent.
Mick van Dijke (Jumbo-Visma) didn’t get big results but he seemed to get everything right and when Olav Kooij was winning sprints, van Dijke was often launching him for the sprint. He was also influential in Christope Laporte’s overall win in the Tour of Denmark. The big result to write home about was fourth in the Deutschland Tour’s prologue where he left many big names in his wake and picked up the best young rider. He got a “rider of the future” award last year… and has just got it again this year too.
Filippo Baroncini (Trek-Segafredo) found 2022 much harder than he’d hoped. The U23 world champion crashed in February’s Volta ao Algarve and broke his arm, an unfortunate start to his pro career and if he got going again and picked up some handy top-10s here and there, he’d crash in the Bretagne Classic (ex Ouest-France Plouay), breaking his wrist and collarbone. He tells Italian website oasport that he’s learned a lot but found the transition to pro cycling a wrench, with fewer people around him but he’s ambitious about finding winning ways next year.
Marijn van den Berg (EF Education-Easypost) was one of the best sprinters on the amateur scene in 2021 but made a victory salute with his hand of talking on the phone, a “call me” for the pro teams as nobody had actually called him about a contract. EF came calling, presumably keen to have a house sprinter to boost their win rate. No wins but some placings, MvdB – to coin a name – thrived in the amateur ranks because a lighter build made him more agile but now in the pro ranks it can pay to boss one niche rather than do various roles although team mate Magnus Cort shows the way for being a lighter and crafty sprinter. In a team that needed points as well as results, he played his part as one of the squad’s top-10 scorers.
Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-Hansgrohe) jumped straight out of the junior ranks into the pros and the gap is huge. Measure it by distance and a long day in the junior ranks would be 100-120km, that’s doubled in the pro ranks. After the leap up, a step back of sorts to the U23 calendar where he won the Tour de l’Avenir, taking the two summit finishes, a giant result for a rider who’s still a teenager. This is where the design-feature of the development teams of World Tour squads come in, if Bora-Hansgrohe had one – they have a junior team but no U23 – then perhaps Uijtdebroeks could have ridden at U23 level during the season and joined the World Tour squad for some racing.
Juan Ayuso (UAE Emirates) technically turned pro midway in 2021 but was too good to leave out. He had a promising start in the Drôme Classic this year when he and Jonas Vingegaard rode away from the field on a climb and coming into the finish it looked like we might see Ayuso’s sprint but he cramped and the Dane won the day. Was a 190km race too much for the teenager that day? Apparently not, he coped well in the Volta a Catalunya and wasn’t supposed to do a grand tour but started the Vuelta and finished third thanks to consistent riding, he didn’t fade in the third week. He’s one of those smashing assumptions and shattering glass ceilings and its exciting to watch.
How good is Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Soudal)? He finished the season as the sixth best rider in the world on the UCI rankings, only Pogačar, Van Aert, Evenepoel, Vingegaard and Vlasov were ahead. Not bad, but this tells us more about the way the rankings are compiled and De Lie’s race program. He’s good but not that good. As Lotto-Soudal scrapped to avoid relegation, De Lie kept them in battle, scoring more points for the team than the next three best riders on the squad combined and if it wasn’t for him the team would have had their hopes dashed much earlier. The “Bull of Lescheret” got nine wins, eight in 1.1 races, sometimes complete with bovine victory salutes. Even when he lost he impressed others, take the Polynormande race in France when the breakaway stayed clear while behind De Lie launched such a powerful sprint he put time into the bunch and the Israel team’s social media account reported their rider Biermans won the bunch sprint, not thinking De Lie could open up such a gap. The next test is to see how he can cope in bigger races although he was strong in the Bretagne Classic but perhaps too strong, launching early with the confident sprint that would see him clean up in a 1.1 race but against Wout van Aert he got schooled that day.
Georg Steinhauser (EF Education-Easypost) had a perfect start, taking the best young rider prize in this debut, the one-day Vuelta a Murcia, albeit finishing 14th. Results-wise the big achievement was the team time trial win in the Tour de l’Avenir where Steinhauser helped Germany beat the Belgians by two seconds.
Luke Plapp (Ineos) started the year as a promising time triallist. He’d started the 2021 with the Aussie TT title, beating Rohan Dennis and finished the year with a silver medal in the U23 worlds. Turning pro he expanded on this range to show he can climb with the best too, at least on long steady climbs like the Jabel Hafeet finish of the UAE Tour and he got a tidy top-10 overall in the Tour de Romandie, a podium finish in the Tour of Norway and banked the Vuelta riding in service of Carlos Rodriguez. All impressive and while learning plenty.
The tenth pick was Victor Koretzky (B&B-KTM) as a mountain biker taking up road racing, an outsider pick and, aged 28, technically not a neo-pro as it’s 25 and under. As one of the best riders on the World Cup, could he make the switch? Now riders mixing and matching is all the rage as riders move from the track to road, cyclo-cross and more but Koretzky’s different, he’d barely raced on the road (good luck finding his name in even a village road race). So just learning about road racing was a job, all the things peers take for granted like moving around a peloton or crosswinds were new. He did alright, a trip to the podium in Paris-Nice for a combativity prize and even won a stage in the 2.2-rated Alpes Isère Tour, exploiting a tricky finish to give the bunch the slip. He’s not the new Wout van Aert or Tom Pidcock but for a team in need of results and publicity, he’s done alright in his first year.
Having picked these ten in January, now comes the benefit of hindsight… other picks could have been Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa-Samsic) but who saw him coming? Ditto Axel Laurance (B&B Hotels-KTM). People did see Magnus Sheffield coming but he as he wasn’t a neo-pro he didn’t make the list but still impressed, Ineos team mate Ben Turner did well. Corbin Strong (Israel) is one to watch. Sam Welsford (DSM) sprinted well. Axel Zingle (Cofidis) was winning and often on tough, wet days, perhaps its his background as a downhill skier… or maybe not. Daan Hoole (Trek-Segafredo) is good against the clock and solid support in the classics.